10 best islands to visit in Australia and New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand are two of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. Travellers adore our prized assets: Uluru, Sydney Harbour, Kakadu, the Great Barrier Reef, The Daintree, Auckland Harbour, Queenstown. But one of our crowning glories is the enormous number of islands Australia and New Zealand boast.

Not content to be an island paradise in itself, Australia has 8222 of its own islands to tempt off-shore visitors and locals alike, and for its size, New Zealand isn’t far behind. Choosing the best islands to visit in Australia is not as easy as you’d think.

From Melville Island in the north to Stewart Island in the south, Australia and New Zealand’s islands are some of the world’s most pristine and naturally beautiful islands on earth.

Many are marine parks, overflowing with protected vegetation, mountains, beaches, rivers, inlets and wildlife, some are even protected under a World Heritage Listing making them amongst the most valuable ecosystems on earth.

Western Australia’s Rottnest Island is world renowned for night life, while others, like Maria Island and Stewart Island are better known for their peacefulness.

Some, like Auckland’s Waiheke Island, are epicentres for the wine and hospitality industry. While some, like Queensland’s Magnetic Island, are just the perfect place to work on a deep tan under a warm, tropical sun.

best islands to visit
Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland

Of course, not all our islands have been the ultimate place to relax under the sun in years gone by. Many of our islands, because of their inaccessibility, were used for far harsher purposes than recreation.

Norfolk Island, today one of Australia’s most pristine and remote islands, was once the most brutal penal colony in the world.

Settled in 1788, thousands of convicts died at the hands of brutal soldiers, a far cry from the tranquil oasis it is today.

best islands to visit
Photo: Norfolk Island Tourism

Of our list below, Maria Island was a particularly harsh penal settlement in the first part of the 19th Century. And while reports differ, most historians agree the treatment of Aboriginal prisoners at Rottnest Island while the island was Western Australia’s main Aboriginal prison from 1838 to 1903 was horribly inhumane.

Some suggest their ghosts still roam the island today. Even after the prison was shut down, the island was used to lock away naughty young boys from 1880 to the start of last century.

Likewise, Magnetic Island, for all its appeal today, was once an outpost for leprosy sufferers who were locked away from the world while they waited to die.

The gorgeous Peel Island, in Brisbane’s Moreton Bay, was also a major leprosy death camp. Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour was a prison camp.

whitsunday islands
Photo: Brisbane Marketing

By the way, if you have a spare million or two, why not buy your own island, all 61 acres of Little Green Island could be yours for 2 million dollars or if you’re willing to shell out more, Peninsula Point in Auckland is a bargain at 10 million.

whitsunday islands
Photo: Tourism Australia

Here are our top islands.

1-Rottnest Island – Western Australia

island destinations
Photo: Tourism Australia

2-Kangaroo Island – South Australia

island destinations
Photo: Tourism Australia

3-Magnetic Island – Queensland

whitsunday islands
Photo: Townsville Enterprise Ltd

4-Lord Howe Island – New South Wales

island destinations
Photo: Tourism Australia

5-Phillip Island – Victoria

island destination
Photo: Tourism Victoria

6-Waiheke Island – North Island, New Zealand

 island destinations
Photo: Julian Apse

7-Stewart Island – South Island, New Zealand

 island destinations
Photo: Venture Southland

8-Maria Island – Tasmania

island destinations
Photo: Maria Island Walk

9-Melville Island – Northern Territory

island destinations
Photo: Tourism Australia

We need one more. Do you have any suggestions?

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I’m a freelance travel writer based in St Kilda, Melbourne, but most of the time I seem to be somewhere else. For the past 14 years I’ve had no office and have spent far too much time on airplanes and in hotel rooms around the world, getting to around 50 countries or so in my quest to see as much of Earth as I possibly can while someone else is (generally) paying for it.


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