Lady Elliot Island lies roughly 86 kilometres north-east of Bundaberg and is accessible by air, courtesy of its small on-island grassy airstrip which can accommodate light aircraft, and has a general atmosphere of being laid-back rather than luxurious.
A picturesque coral cay that features impressive and picturesque fringing reefs, Lady Elliot Island is famed for being one of the world’s best spots for swimming with manta rays. International dive regulator PADI rated it the best place on earth for getting up close with these graceful, gliding marine inhabitants, and when coupled with some of the most brightly coloured and diverse marine life on the entire Great Barrier Reef, the island’s natural offerings speak for themselves.
As with other southern reef islands, water clarity is at a premium here, too, so you’ll not only be able to witness sheer quantity, but also quantity of marine life while snorkelling or diving off Lady Elliot Island.
Lady Elliot Island is ringed by a shallow lagoon on its eastern side that contains a great variety of corals in close proximity to the shore, and with calm and predictable waters it makes for good snorkelling at high tide – particularly for families. Starfish, clams, turtles and a huge amount of colourful coral can all be spotted without much effort here. The west side of the island, meanwhile, offers deeper water that tends to be better at low tide, and allows the spotting of fish and mantas as well as turtles and even the occasional dolphin or whale.
Divers, meanwhile, can explore the range of bommies that come blanketed in fish species reachable just a short boat ride from the cay, with dives on offer up to 30 metres deep. These dives enable an even better chance at spotting manta rays, particularly during their peak period from May to July. Lady Elliot Island’s surrounding dive sites include the Blowhole cave, Lighthouse Bommie, and the wreck of the Severance which has grown an impressive amount of corals since its sinking over 15 years ago.
The island’s location in the highest protected zone of the Great Barrier Reef means that marine life here remains largely undisturbed and visible in abundance; there’s something to see in every direction whilst submerged.
Equipment and diving is organised through the Lady Elliot Island Dive Shop (equipment for snorkelling is provided free to guests), while visitors also have the option of taking part in daily glass bottom boat and guided snorkel tours as well as reef walks at low tide. Relaxing on the beaches is also a viable way to pass the time, however their rougher surface is made up mostly of broken down coral rather than sand so be sure to bring footwear and a towel if you’re looking to soak up some sunshine.
The island itself is quite sparse and basic – reflecting its overall low-key nature – and is far less “touristy” than many other Great Barrier Reef islands; it’s also quite small and can be walked around in less than an hour. One of the island’s few landmarks is its historic lighthouse that was constructed in 1873 and can be encountered via a walking trail that covers the island’s modest history. This is mirrored by its sole accommodation: the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, which is basic but sufficient, and comes at a far more reasonable price than comparable overnight stays on other reef islands.
The resort does offer a nice dining and bar area with views out to the surrounding ocean, and food on offer is surprisingly decent given the island’s supply chain. Lady Elliot Island’s air-only access means getting there is a matter of picking a departure point and booking a flight; flying out from Hervey Bay and Bundaberg in particular can dramatically reduce the cost of an air transfer, so if you’re able to drive to either of these cities beforehand you’ll save a significant chunk of money. If all else fails, think of the flight over as an added bonus – the scenery on the way to Lady Elliot Island is incredible.
If you’re looking for an island stay in the Great Barrier Reef whose main focus is simply enjoying beautiful waters and stunning marine life without extra frills or pampering, then Lady Elliot Island makes for one of the best overall value propositions in the entire region.