The Best Islands in the Great Barrier Reef

02 May 2018

Here’s a run-down of some of the best islands in the Great Barrier Reef:

The Great Barrier Reef stretches along almost half the coast of Eastern Australia and, as such, it provides a magnificent selection of experiences including the opportunity to visit one of many islands. Use the below guide to choose the perfect island for your travels. 

Haggerstone Island

This unique private island retreat is situated off the coast of Far North Queensland, it’s an all-inclusive boutique resort and has been the life work of Roy and Anna Turner. This island was voted number one destination of the 21st century by Conde Nast and caters for a small number of guests who want to fully immerse themselves in the surrounding wilderness. Guests here can explore some of the most magnificent coral gardens in the world, as well as shipwrecks.

This island is utterly remote, so perfectly suited for those wanting some peace and quiet and those wanting an opportunity to get back to nature in pure seclusion.

Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island is nestled in the centre of the Whitsunday Islands. It is covered in bushland and surrounded by reefs teeming with marine life. This is a great island for those who wish to actively explore the reef. You can discover the pristine waters surrounding the island by hiring dinghies, kayaking from the island, or staying on the island, where the bushwalking trails are plentiful and you can have a go at quad biking, go karting and golfing.

You can also easily visit Whitehaven Beach – the beach with the purest white sand in the world – from Hamilton island. This island has something for everyone and is great for families as there is a wealth of activities and accommodation.

Hayman Island

The most northerly of the Whitsunday Islands, Hayman Island is a private isle named after Thomas Hayman, Captain Cook's navigator. The island is home to a AU$300 million 5-star hotel shaped like a crescent and designed to blend with the natural surroundings. The hotel serves up excellent gastronomy which can be enjoyed in the remote eucalyptus-forested surroundings of the island.

The island is ideal for honeymooners.

Lady Elliott Island

Situated right at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, lying adjacent to Bundaberg on the Queensland coast and near Fraser Island. The island is known as the ‘Home of the Manta Ray’ and for good reason; it is here that you stand the best chance of viewing one of these enormous winged creatures. Mantas are attracted to the beautiful coral that surrounds this island, which also attracts turtles, sharks and an array of other spectacular marine life.

With 19 spectacular dive sites surrounding the island and a PADI dive shop this eco-friendly island is ideal for Scuba divers.

Fitzroy Island

Only 45 minutes by boat from Cairns, and within sight of the mainland, Fitzroy Island is one of the most unspoilt islands in the Great Barrier Reef. The island is almost entirely national park and has an array of ecosystems – from mangroves to woodland to rainforest and white sand beaches. The unique mix of ecosystems means that Fitzroy is home to several species which are endemic to the island. It is also home to a turtle rehabilitation centre where you can get up close and personal with green sea, hawksbill and olive ridley sea turtles. The island has very accessible peaks and is therefore great for seeing panoramas of the surrounding reef.

This island is best for those wanting to experience the reef island life without having to detour too far.

Green Island

Like Fitzroy Island, Green Island sits just 45 minutes by boat off the coast of Cairns. It is, therefore, perfect for day trips. Visitors can reach this national park via catamaran and will be rewarded with white sands with a rainforest ecosystem on one side and a diverse reef on the other – perfect for snorkelling explorations.

This island is best for day trippers.

Orpheus Island

Accommodating just 28 people and accessible via private helicopter, Orpheus Island exudes exclusivity. It is situated off the Queensland coast, south of Cairns and not far from Magnetic Island. It is also home to Orpheus Island Lodge – an all-inclusive accommodation, complete with a spa and an infinity pool that looks out onto immaculate coastlines and the UNESCO-listed reef.

This island is best for those wanting to experience the reef in unparalleled luxury.

Magnetic Island

Just off the coast of Townsville this island is known as ‘Maggie’ to locals. Over 70% of Magnetic Island is national park, home to koalas, wallabies, possums and myriad bird species. It is also one of the only Great Barrier Reef Islands to have its own postcode. Highlights to tick off on the island include 23 pristine beaches, the Hawkings Track and the stunning SS Yongala shipwreck, which is considered by many to be the best dive site in Australia.

This island is best for backpackers.

Bedarra Island

An all-inclusive, private, tropical haven, Bedarra is the ultimate location for relaxation. The island is in the Cassowary Region off the Queensland coast (halfway between Cairns and Townsville) and is accessible by either boat or helicopter. The island has eight villas uninvasively tucked away in 250 acres of rainforest which are perfect for secluded relaxation.

This island is best for disappearing into barefoot luxury.

Heron Island

Located at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, this coral cay is removed from the impact of modern civilisation. All flora and fauna here is protected, making the island a nature-lover's paradise. It is also home to world-class Scuba diving and snorkelling, with more than 20 dive sites only 15 minutes from the island. If you are here at the right time you can see turtles hatching.

This island is best for accessible privacy.

Lizard Island

Home to Australia’s northern-most beach island resort, Lizard Island is a haven of isolation and relaxation. Named after the goannas which are abundant here, the island surrounds a deep blue lagoon which is perfect for marine life exploration. The lagoon is home to the enormous potato cod, which can be found in the aptly named ‘cod hole’. Lizard Island Resort has a focus on sustainability and is the only development on the island which is accessible exclusively by plane.

This island is best for sustainable lagoon exploration at the far north of the reef.  

Joe Stevens

I work in the online marketing department at Flight Centre and am passionate about inspiring others to take the leap to travel. I love exploring the natural world - whether it’s under the waves, up mountain peaks or down in the dirt!