Experts in Australia, New Zealand & South Pacific

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Hamilton Island, Queensland
Hamilton Island, Queensland

Why explore the Great Barrier Reef islands

Posted 23 March 2016
Adventure awaits under the water of the Great Barrier Reef, but as land-dwelling species we unfortunately cannot spend all our time below the surface. But we do have the Great Barrier Reef islands - sparkling jewels scattered across the Pacific Ocean.

There are approximately 900 islands spread across the Great Barrier Reef and while it may be impossible to visit them all – especially in one holiday – there are some that deserve a special mention. 

While all provide great swimming and snorkelling opportunities off their shores, the islands themselves each have something unique to offer guests. Want to relax in a hammock surrounded by palm trees? We know the perfect spot. Want to explore a lagoon in your own kayak? We know just the place. 

Here are our top suggestions of where you should begin or end your reef discovery:

Hamilton Island - best for luxury

Hamilton Island sunset

Surround yourself with pristine white sand and an abundance of marine life on Hamilton Island. A trip here can be as active as you like: sail around the island and the rest of the Whitsundays, snorkel the reef, see the architectural wonder of the Hamilton Island Yacht Club or simply sit beside a pool with a cocktail and relax at one of the many swish hotels. With a host of new or refurbished resorts, restaurants and shops on the marina, Hamilton is a fresh and lively place to stay or visit for the day.

Where to stay:

All rooms at the boutique Beach Club hotel look out onto Catseye Beach, with views of the Coral Sea. This adults-only oasis has 57 luxurious rooms and all the pampering you can take. If you're looking for a quiet (or rather, a child-free) escape, this is the place.

Located on the northern tip of Hamilton Island, <a "="" href="/hotels/qualia" target="_self">qualia is a world-class luxury resort that offers incredible hillside pavilions with panoramic views of the Whitsunday Islands. The word itself means 'a collection of deeper sensory experiences' in Latin and this resort certainly lives up to its namesake.

Lizard Island - best for activities

Lizard Island bay

A national park with 24 glorious beaches, Lizard Island is midway between the coast of Queensland and the outer Great Barrier Reef. The gardens of coral slightly out to sea are home to hundreds of species of tropical fish. Lizard Island's lagoon perfect for snorkelling or with water this clear, you can hop in a kayak and still manage to see the marine life. If you’re looking for a little more adventure, there’s also game fishing at the ribbon reefs nearby.

Where to stay:

Just a short flight from Cairns, Lizard Island Resort, sits right on the Great Barrier Reef. As such it’s a brilliant spot for couples to snorkel and dive together, or enjoy bushwalks on the island itself. Finish your day of activities with a pampering session at the on-site Essentia Day Spa.

Lady Elliot Island - best for the eco-friendly

Lady Elliot Island aerial view

At the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef is the coral cay Lady Elliot Island. It’s one of the best places to see manta rays in the wild, as water visibility remains more than 20 metres on average all year round. In total, over 1,200 species of marine animal can be spotted here; it really is a diver’s paradise.

Where to stay:

Lady Elliot Island is an eco resort with just 41 rooms. Each suite or cabin is designed to blend in with the ecology of the reef, which helps minimise the environmental impact of the resort and enhances the wildlife experience of guests. If you’re looking for a genuine eco-tourism experience, you’ll be at one with nature when you stay at this low-key eco resort.

Hayman Island - best for peace and quiet 

Hayman Island One & Only pool

The northernmost island in the Whitsundays, Hayman Island is right at the heart of the reef. Though one of the smaller islands in the Whitsundays, the island offers bushwalks, waterfalls and stunning gardens to explore. Also, let’s not forget the inviting turquoise water, perfect for a dip when you’re a little warm from lounging in the sun.

Where to stay:

The aptly named, One & Only Hayman Island, is set on a crescent-shaped bay and is, as the name suggests, the only resort on the island. The resort boasts fabulous restaurants and bars, and is famous for the fantastic culinary experience it offers guests. There’s no better way to take in the reef surroundings as you dine with your loved ones, looking out at the Whitsundays and mainland Australia.

So, whether you pick a cruise or a series of reef excursions from the mainland, which islands will you choose to set foot on when you visit the Great Barrier Reef?