Great Barrier Reef Islands, East Coast Australia

Fraser Island, Lake McKenzie beach, Australia

Fraser Island, Lake McKenzie, on Australia’s central-east coast

Great Barrier Reef Islands and beaches

Best weather to visit GBR islands is April-November with cooler temperatures and less rain

December-February is OK but hot, crowded and may see considerable clouds and rain January-March.

Best Scuba Diving: September-December, especially three days in November when coral releases sperm and eggs by the zillion, turning the water into a seething, snowing mass of love objects. Note that tragically the reef’s coral bleaching is getting worse so there’s less colour and shape to the coral, less marine life of all sorts and perhaps worse visibility. More of Great Barrier Reef condition

Boating is a popular way to explore these islands. The choice ranges from big catamarans through tall ships to racing yachts (maxis).

Consider your needs carefully and ask questions before committing yourself. e. g. Are there snorkel stops? Do they provide snorkel gear and stinger suits? How much time is spent travelling, how much parked? Is it really worth several hours of rough seas and well over $100 for a couple of hours on some fine sand?

Whatever, book at least a few days in advance or you may be disappointed.

The southernmost section of the Great Barrier Reef, this tiny coral cay, a 90km (65miles) light-plane flight from Hervey Bay, is a cheerful little eco-resort, home to many tens of thousands of birds, particularly the white-capped noddy, but also at night amazing acapellas can be heard from the wailing, moaning, groaning wedge-tail shearwaters.

Actually just south of the end of the Great Barrier Reef, this is the world’s largest sand island (80m/125km) and a World Heritage national park – an island of rainforest, lakes and mountainous, sculpted dunes; a must-do for anyone cruising Australia’s east coast with an outdoors inclination.

Great Keppel Island, the surf stops here

17 spectacular beaches with no surf, clear water and excellent snorkelling immediately offshore. Accommodation varies from backpacker pads to top class resorts. Access from Rosslyn Bay.

The Whitsunday’s 74 islands have squeaky white beaches, turquoise water and thickly pine clad hills. Seven islands host resort hotels of all kinds but with a common marine theme – fishing, sailing, whale watching, castaway picnics, you want it, they got it.
Most folk go sailing around the islands. That’s fine, party on, but don’t have high expectations of wildly varied and exciting islands – they’re all basically green, rocky hills surrounded by water, with some exceptionally fine beaches.
Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island tops the Australian ‘Best Beaches’ list, with 6km of powder sand, sandwiched between tropical forest and clear blue water, though patrolled by toxic jellies in season.

Magnetic Island

Just off Townsville Magnetic Island is a spacious serene, green and rocky space populated by as many koalas as humans, with no shortage of typically big Australian beaches and accommodation. The island’s speciality is excellent bushwalking trails on land and very good value reef diving off the coast, though the famous Yongala wreck is long and rough 3. 5 hours from Townsville. There is now a much faster service from Ayr, just 45 minutes each way.

Hinchinbrook Island

Off Cardwell, this is the place for serious hikers who like to rest up on fine sand. The island is a rainforest national park of granite peaks, mountains, beaches, mangroves, wildlife and marked trails. The well-known Thorsborne Trail is 32km long, will take 4 days and needs to be booked months in advance. There is no accommodation but permits for camping are available in Cardwell. Day trips OK.

Dunk Island

One of the prettiest of the GBR islands 3 miles out from Cairns, Dunk is lined with superb beaches as well as a rainforested interior. The only serious hotel is very expensive but cheap camping in spectacular beach front sites is available if you book in advance. As usual, island walks are almost as popular as snorkelling, diving and getting wrecked on the beach. Day trips from Mission Beach? No worries.

Toxic Boxes patrol these waters October-May

. . . so swim with care, particularly if you have a delicate constitution. Stay inside stinger nets or wear a stinger suit – usually provided by your tour operator. See Jellyfish Stings page for full information on Box Jellies and Irukandji.