Great Barrier Reef Islands, best seasons
April-November is the best season, 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.
Lizard Island and its spectacular Great Barrier Reef environment lies 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Cairns. It’s popular among the glitterati for its romantic five-star hotel, Lizard Island Resort, and 24 white sand beaches. The island was named by Captain Cook when he came across the large goannas that wander this national park.
Activities possible on Lizard Island (named by Captain Cook) include diving into Cod Hole, a quiet and reef-encircled patch of tranquil water loaded with spectacular coral and monstrous, friendly cod fish an hour’s boat ride away, and climbing 360 metre (1181 feet) up to Cook’s Look, where Captain James Cook went in search of safe passage in 1770.
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.
Haggerstone is a privately-owned resort island in the northern sector of the Great Barrier Reef, a two hour flight from Cairns. The island’s eco resort is outfitted with luxury in mind and generally hosts less than 10 guests.
Apart from lounging around activities involve exploring some of the island trails and diving local waters onto World War II shipwrecks, coral and varied marine life.
Heron Island photo by LBM1948.
This small southern Barrier Reef island is home to marine turtles and many varieties of sea bird. The Heron Island Resort is low-tech so guests should not expect wifi or TV., just plenty of nature and wildlife, both above and below the waterline. Heron Island Resort.
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.