If you are into snorkelling and/or diving, you can only fall in love with Lady Elliot Island. The water clarity is unbelievable and so is the variety of corals and marine life. This incredible diversity made it one of the most protected areas of the Great Barrier Reef.
It is a fantastic weekend getaway from Brisbane – but not a cheap one! Allow between $700 to $1,000 for two nights (depending on your number of dives).
Diving in Australia? Check out this list of the best dive sites on Australia’s East Coast and this comparison of options to dive on the Great Barrier Reef!
How to get to Lady Elliot Island and where to stay
There are two options to explore Lady Elliot Island Reef:
I picked the first option, but an excellent friend did the second one and also had a fantastic time. However, a liveaboard going to Lady Elliot Island is hard to find.
Lady Elliot is a tiny island (450m2) with only an airstrip, a lighthouse and a small eco-resort on it. The resort itself is very simple, don’t expect luxury. Indeed, don’t go to Lady Elliot for the resort facility: it is all about the beauty of the underwater world surrounding the island.
You can go for a day trip to Lady Elliot.
If you are after a resort trip to an island on the Great Barrier Reef, I’d recommend checking Heron Island. It is accessible by boat from Gladstone. You’ll need at least three days off from Brisbane and I recommend allowing four days. If you have the budget to fly there, you could enjoy a shorter trip. Click here to read my full article about Heron Island.
If you are in Brisbane, don’t have much time and want to experience the Great Barrier Reef, Lady Elliot is one of your best options.
You’ll get a scenic flight and some incredible snorkelling opportunities in one day. However, I highly recommend staying at least two days. If you are a diver, you won’t have another option anyway as you cannot fly straight away after diving. Why stay longer? I enjoyed the relaxing slow pace on the island. We also had plenty of time to interact with the crew and learn more about the island, inland and underwater inhabitants. Fascinating.
If you’re travelling on a budget but still wish to do a coral dive with turtles near Brisbane, click here to check out Cook Island. It’s not as good as Lady Elliot and it’s not the Great Barrier Reef, but it’s easier and cheaper to organise from Brisbane or the Gold Coast.
What to do on Lady Elliot Island
Exploring the underwater wonders
I love diving. The feeling of being completely immersed underwater to explore the area slowly and quietly is unbeatable. Snorkelling is often not that quiet. But during our trip to Lady Elliot, I may have preferred snorkelling over diving. Don’t misunderstand me: the diving was amazing with even too many highlights to list. I loved every second of it, and I would sign to do it again anytime. But the snorkelling in the lagoon is the must-do on the island. It’s an aquarium in the wild with only about 1-metre water above the coral reef. With almost no water movement, no effort is required to admire the colours in the shallow waters and watch the great activity going on.
Seriously, having three turtles around you just became normal after a short while.
It is not allowed to touch or chase them, but I don’t think they receive the same brief on their side! By being relaxed and still, we got rewarded by fantastic interactions. One even entered a bit too much into my personal space to my taste, swimming under me, touching my legs and coming to my face! And when she was done, she did the same to my buddy. An unforgettable moment.
Snorkelling in the lagoon is only possible only at high tide so try to plan your other activities around this.
Every day the high tide is at a different time which makes each day special. At low tide, it is possible to walk in the lagoon with a magnifier to explore the reef without getting too wet. The resort team organise guided tours to help you spot the fascinating underwater elements.
Snorkelling on the other side of the island is a very different experience.
No more lagoon: it is deeper in the ocean. That’s most often where the divers go. The complimentary glass-bottom boat tour takes all visitors for a nice little boat trip. It was a great opportunity to ask the marine biologist about the species we would see while snorkelling and diving. The team onboard was good to spot turtles, sharks and manta rays. You can choose to go by yourself if you are not a beginner, or join a snorkelling guided tour otherwise.
We were on Lady Elliot Island on a very windy weekend so the ocean was quite choppy. Still, the visibility was most of the time over 10 metres, which was enough to see the bottom. And when the visibility was reduced – while we were in the main stream – it attracted the manta rays to feed at the surface, allowing us amazing and impressive face to face encounters with these majestic giants. Nothing to complain about. Lady Elliot Island is a perfect place for snorkelling. And diving.
If you are keen on a virtual dive, check this link!
Are you covered for scuba diving by your travel insurance? It’s worth double-checking. If not, I recommend DAN (Divers Alert Network) for those who dive regularly. WorldNomads* and Covermore* also make it easy to add adventurous activities like scuba diving to your plan.
Exploring the island
It is a small island, but they have arranged a few activities to do that are not water-based. There are regular short guided walks around the island to learn more about the birds on the island, climate change, the history of the island or how an eco-resort works.
We haven’t joined any of these tours as we spent most of our time in (or under!) the water. But we appreciated our interactions with the staff on Lady Elliot. They were always available, helpful and happy to answer questions. They have a marine biologist on-site who does presentations during some guided tours and also at night; it was a pleasure to learn more from him and the team at the Reef Education Centre.
When to go on Lady Elliot Island
May and June are known to offer the best visibility. It is also a great season for Manta Rays. Although they are around Lady Elliot all year round, numbers rise during the winter months. Winter is also when the whales migrate so you’d have a chance to hear them singing while you are in the water – or spot them at the horizon or during the scenic flight.
February and March could be another great option to try to spot the turtles hatching. Turtles come to nest between November and March.
The rare natural wonder of the Coral Spawning phenomenon can be seen on Lady Elliot Island, but it is hard to predict and organise a trip around that. Check with the resort and cross your fingers for this one!
The resort did this very useful calendar to help you make a choice about your visit to Lady Elliot:
Where is Lady Elliot Island?
Lady Elliot Island is 85km off-shore from Bundaberg, in South-East Queensland. It is the very south of the Great Barrier Reef. There’s an airstrip on the island so the access is very quick and easy: a direct flight from Brisbane only takes 80 minutes (exiting Redcliffe, not the main Brisbane airport)!
To cut costs, we chose to drive from Brisbane to Hervey Bay (3 hours) to catch a flight from there.
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