Lady Elliot Island

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Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is an award-winning Advanced Eco-tourism destination. Only 45 hectares in size, the island is a coral cay featuring an Eco-Resort, heritage-listed Lighthouse and Keeper’s Cottages, with white coral beaches surrounded by a stunning aqua sea. So, where exactly is Lady Elliot Island? Picture yourself 85km northeast of Bundaberg between Fraser and Lady Musgrave Islands. Lady Elliot Island is the southernmost island of the iconic Great Barrier Reef and closest to Brisbane.

Why Visit Lady Elliot Island? This world-class destination offers clear sub-tropical waters, over 1200 marine species, including three turtles and protected coral accessed off the beach. Snorkelers and scuba divers can be guaranteed an experience of a lifetime. One of Lady Elliot Island’s claims to fame is the ‘Home of the Manta Ray’. This truly awesome creature is the world’s largest ray with its 7-foot wingspan. And, it visits the island all year round.

For landlubbers, Lady Elliot also has over 100 species of birdlife, a birder’s dream. With a restricted number of visitors allowed on the island at any one time, this un-crowded island makes for the perfect immersive nature experience.

Lady Elliot Island Eco-Resort also operates in an ecologically viable way to limit its impact on the sustainability of the coral cay and its wildlife inhabitants. Maintaining its natural beauty and fragile ecosystem for years to come is one of the resort’s mantra. So, if you feel stressed, tired, over covid restrictions, and need a relaxation ‘circuit breaker’ and battery recharge Lady Elliot Island is the place for you!

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Lady Elliot Island is an island paradise in Queensland. Photos: Irene Isaacson – iFotoTravel.com

Lady Elliot Island

14 Things To Do On Lady Elliot Island

1- Snorkel The Lagoon

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You don’t need to be a diver to see turtles in the waters around Lady Elliot Island.

Snorkelling is one of the most popular activities on the island.

The lagoon is on the east side of the island.

Shallow, protected, and coral right up to the edge of the beach, you will find hundreds of fish, moray eels, small sharks, and rays.

Oh, and did I forget to mention turtles?

Yes, the waters of Lady Elliot are full of turtles; there are so many turtles Lady Elliot should be re-named Turtle Island!

From Green to Hawksbill turtles and even the odd Loggerhead, the turtles are all very chilled and so relaxed that we snorkelled alongside them for 15 minutes without them bothered by our presence.

Shallow water and glorious sunshine make for great photos, and a GoPro or underwater camera is a must.

The turtles are quite photogenic and make for excellent shots, especially when you have a dome port.

Wait for the calmest sea days with flat water, or you will shoot lots of froth and bubble but no turtle!

Also, do check the time of day when the lagoon is open for snorkelling.

During low tide, the water is so shallow that the coral is exposed, making a swim or snorkel impossible.

2- Snorkel the Western Beach

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If you’re a strong swimmer, you’ll enjoy the challenge of snorkelling around the western side of Lady Elliot Island.

The western side of Lady Elliot Island has deeper water, strong currents and coral reefs about 30 to 40m from the beach.

This beach is for advanced snorkelers only and you should always check the direction of the tide and wind and never snorkel alone.

Even if you’re snorkelling with a buddy, let others know where you intend to go and when you expect to return.

While snorkel gear is free to hire from the Dive Shop, it is best to use your own prescription mask and longer fins, especially if you’re planning to tackle the strong currents here.

At the northern end are the beautiful Coral Gardens.

The Lighthouse and Manta Bommies include a popular ‘cleaning station’ where many fish, including larger sharks and manta ray, go to be cleaned of their parasites.

A guide rope between both areas helps you snorkel from one end to the other but always go with the current, or you will soon tire trying to battle it.

3- Take A Glass Bottom Boat Cruise

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The turtles are everywhere around Lady Elliot Island.

This is a regularly offered trip booked through the Dive Shop.

It’s an opportunity to see the deeper coral reefs and larger marine life along the western beach, especially for non-snorkellers.

Plus, if the conditions are right, you can also drop overboard for a guided snorkel with one of the Dive Guides if you wish.

4- Dive The Deep Blue Waters

lady elliot island snorkeling
Lady Elliot Island is a perfect destination for scuba diving.

Scuba diving is also very popular around Lady Elliot Island.

The Dive Shop is on the edge of the runway next to the reception and has dive gear for hire as well as a repair service in case your gear fails you.

20 different dive sites are available, but tide and current dependent.

Lady Elliot Island diving packages include two escorted dives each day of variable levels of difficulty.

Explore the Eastern Wall, Second Reef, Coral Gardens and the Lighthouse Bommies.

Night diving is also offered at Lady Elliot Island.

5- Try Your Hand At Landscape Or Wildlife Photography

Lady Elliot Island eco resort
Grab those perfect beach shots on Lady Elliot Island!

The island’s natural beauty makes for excellent photography opportunities.

Whether a mobile phone is your camera or you favour a digital SLR, Lady Elliot Island lends itself to photography.

There are stunning sea and landscapes with incredible lighting at sunrise or sunset.

If a ‘misty water’ effect is what you are after, use a long exposure time but don’t forget your tripod, remote shutter release mechanism, wide-angle lens and some neutral density filters.

The birdlife on the island is pretty incredible.

Be ready with a long or zoom lens for those in-flight action shots but more commonly, you will capture right up close and in your face type of bird pics.

More often than not, you have to stand back from the birds as they come right up to you!

Spot sea-eagles in the mid-afternoon on the northeast beach.

White-capped noddies are everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE!

Check out the reclusive mutton birds in their burrows at night – look around under your cabin or in between the roots of the old Pisonia tree.

Their haunting, mournful cry will often give them away.

Don’t forget macro photography, after all, it’s the little things that do matter.

The local flora, insects and bleached coral are fascinating subjects.

Don’t forget night and astrophotography as there is very little light pollution on the island.

Try shooting milky way and moon shots with foreground action around the old lighthouse.

If drone photography is your passion, check in with the Eco-Resort first.

CASA regulations limit drone usage due to the island’s runway and regular flights.

The software of my DJI Spark detected I was within 5.5km proximity of an airport and automatically landed it after 20 secs of take-off.

Since all flights end around 4.30 pm each day, I thought I could appeal to the authorities regarding the Yellow Zone I was in and perhaps fly my drone after the last plane had taken off.

It’s possible but requires good phone and internet reception.

As both were bad on the island, my poor drone never made it into the skies.

So don’t waste a lot of time, effort and luggage weight carrying a drone to the island.

Do your research before you arrive and get all the necessary permissions beforehand.

6- Go On A Reef Walk

Ranger-guided reef walks during the day are dependent on a low tide in The Lagoon and leave from the Education Centre.

Take a magnifying tube and a walking stick with you to best experience the coral, seashells, and fascinating sea cucumbers.

Reef walkers are a must, as well as water to drink and sun protection.

Try walking along the edge of The Lagoon at night when the (very slippery) limestone rock plates are beginning to be exposed.

You may see moray eels feeding in the shallows and if lucky, the elusive epaulette ‘walking’ shark!

7- Watch Fish Feeding At The Fish Pool

lady elliot island day trip
Feeding the fish is a fun activity for kids on Lady Elliot Island.

Popular with all ages is the 3 pm Fish Feed on the eastern side of the island.

Meet at the Fish Pool sign on the beach and learn all about the types of fish in the shallow water and experience their frenzied fighting over fish pellet treats.

It’s a fantastic activity for kids.

8- Enjoy Drinks At Sunset

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The sunsets at Lady Elliot Island are a wonder of nature.

Head over to the Lighthouse Beach for a bit of sunset relaxation and meditation with drinks and nibbles.

Organise these at the Bar earlier in the afternoon and share a beach-washed bench seat with a habitual tern who call it home.

9- Join An Educational Talk

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Lady Elliot Island’s educational centre puts on an impressive programme for young and old.

Don’t miss the varied free talks given by the rangers.

We enjoyed excellent informative talks about turtles, rays, manta rays, and a talk from a visiting professional astrologist during our week’s stay.

The Turtle Update Talks are wonderful and every guest has to attend at least one during turtle egg-laying and hatching season.

The rangers may show you the turtle nesting sites on the eastern beach and you may get lucky enough to see a turtle laying her eggs in the coral dunes during the evening or early mornings.

Sadly though, despite all efforts to dim lights around the resort at night, some turtle hatchlings accidentally follow artificial light and not the moonlight to the ocean.

Retrieved by staff in the early hours from around the café, they are released after the evening’s turtle update.

This opportunistic event is very popular with guests and the sense of pride escorting these paddling cuties to the water’s edge warms your heart.

10- Go On An Island Discovery Tour

For those interested in the history of how a coral cay is formed, this fascinating free ranger tour takes you around the beaches, dunes and trees of the island.

The birth of a coral cay island relies on birds landing and dropping poop and seeds onto exposed coral.

Rain makes the seeds grow into plants.

The Octopus shrub is born first, then the coastal Casuarinas develop and finally the Pandanus and large Pisonia trees.

This tour often ends at the fish pool for the fish feeding event.

11- Step Back In Time On A Historical Lighthouse Tour

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See the start at night as the sky above Lady Elliot Island is clear and unpolluted.

Learn about the island’s history of occupation.

Indigenous folk never came to Lady Elliot Island as it was too far out from the coast for their canoes.

Guano miners moved in from 1856 to 1907.

They mined two metres deep of the bird guano that covered the entire island.

The height of the guano removed can still be seen today as a line on the roots of the eight original Pisonia trees next to the pool.

And mining the guano meant all the natural vegetation was stripped bare over the whole island.

A lighthouse was erected to help guide ships bringing provisions for the miners.

An original kerosene one was later replaced by the white and red heritage-listed lighthouse.

A more modern automated lighthouse now stands adjacent to the heritage building.

Three original cottages used by the lighthouse keepers and their families still stand today (currently used as Staff Quarters).

One of the original sheds is now a small museum.

A nearby historic graveyard marks the grave of Susannah McKee, wife of a lighthouse keeper and one of her son’s PJM Phillips.

There are various stories of her murder or depression-driven suicide.

She is even said to haunt the lighthouse and one of the cottages.

12- Learn About Ecology And Revegetation

This free tour covers similar topics to the Island Discovery Tour and takes you through the nursery.

The island is slowly being re-vegetated by the resort’s management with the help of a few passionate volunteers.

It’s a formidable work in progress to restore it to its original natural state.

13- Join A Behind The Scenes Tour

Discover how Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort manages its water, waste and power.

The tour starts at the waste treatment facility behind the reception.

The desalination equipment is housed next to the dive shop and provides all the drinking water on the island, which is about 20 kilolitres a day.

Rainwater tanks and water siphoned from waste are both used for plant irrigation.

Stored in batteries, the power for the island is now virtually 100% solar (started in 2005).

This is despite some major seasonal bird pooping on the panels.

Diesel requirements are down to delivery once every three months from Gladstone and are mainly used as a backup.

14- Learn All About The Birdlife On Lady Elliot Island

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The birdlife on Lady Elliot Island is impressive.

With over 100 species of birds, Lady Elliot Island is a birder’s paradise.

Binoculars are essential for a stay on the island.

Seabirds mostly nest from October to April.

Mutton birds are a regular visitor, as are numerous terns, including Crested terns who love to dance on metal rooves at night.

Who doesn’t like the cute White-capped noddies who nest in trees and shrubs all over the island?

The odd Sea eagle flies over from Lady Musgrave Island and can often be spotted on the northeast beach near that end of the runway in the afternoons.

Let’s not forget the elegant Frigate birds circling on thermals, especially at sunset on the eastern beach.

Look out for a pair of Red-tailed tropicbirds whose nest is in front of the Beachside Units.

Especially watch out for the small Buff-banded rails when you eat at the café.

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It’s bird-feeding time on Lady Elliot Island! The Buff-banded rails are partial to croissants.

Never leave your food for a second, or your meal will disappear before your eyes.

Also read:

Best Time To Travel To Lady Elliot Island

Anytime is a good time to visit Lady Elliott Island and there are all year round flights except on Christmas Day.

Peak season is Easter and Christmas school holidays when a minimum three-night stay applies.

Depending on your interests, you may want to book at specific times of the year.

April to June offers the best water visibility for diving, snorkelling and is excellent for underwater photography.

Manta rays visit all year round, but peak manta season is often May to August.

Turtle egg-laying season is November to February, with hatchlings appearing from February to the end of April.

Seabird season is September to April so beware of bird’ blessings’ as you walk around the island at those times and, of course, the hottest time of the year is summer.

Most rooms are only fan-cooled and not air-conditioned, this may be uncomfortable for you, but a bonus is the warmer water temperatures than other times of the year.

Lady Elliot Island Packing List

A list of island-life essentials includes:

  • Anti-covid facemask – for use at the airport and on the plane (most airports provide them)
  • Reef walkers (Guest left overshoes are available for use from the Education Centre)
  • Walking shoes (for rough grassy and gravel ground, limestone rock and coral rubble)
    Sun hat or cap
  • Suntan and sunburn lotion
  • Insect repellent
  • Water bottle
  • Camera (if your phone is your camera, don’t forget to bring your charger!)
  • Binoculars
  • Bathers
  • Shorts
  • Tees
  • Warm clothing for cooler nights
  • A good book

How To Get To Lady Elliot Island

Lady Elliot Island is a private, closed island destination.

There is no boat access and all flights to the island are arranged by permission of the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort.

Visitor numbers are restricted, making you feel like a modern-day castaway on this un-crowded small island.

Direct flights via small Seair aircraft land on the island’s grassy airstrip, which runs the whole length of the island.

These flights are one of the highlights of the Lady Elliot Island experience.

This in-flight birds-eye view of the island is second to none, especially on a blue-sky day and whale spotting is thrown in for nothing.

Flights To Lady Elliot Island

Flights to the island leave from the four airports below:

Bundaberg to Lady Elliot Island

390 km from Brisbane, Bundaberg is a 30-minute flight to the island.

Day trips to Lady Elliot Island leave at 8.40 am to return at 4 pm.

For longer stay visitors, flights leave Bundaberg at 1.30 pm and return on an 11.30 am flight from the island.

Getting to Bundaberg includes self-drive (4 hrs from Brisbane) or by Queensland Rail via Tilt train from Brisbane.

Hervey Bay to Lady Elliot Island

With a flight time of 40 mins, day visit flights leave Hervey Bay Airport (Gate 2) at 8.10 am with a return flight leaving the island at 4.00 pm.

Longer stay flights leave Hervey Bay at 10.30 am or 1.30 pm, and return flights leave the island at 9.30 am or 11.30 am.

Hervey Bay is 289 km or a 3-hour self-drive from Brisbane but it is also accessible by rail from Brisbane to Maryborough, then via shuttle to the airport or via bus from Brisbane to the airport.

Redcliffe to Lady Elliot Island

All flights from Redcliffe leave at 7.15 am and return from Lady Elliot Island leaving there at 2.30 pm.

The flight takes about 80 minutes. Redcliffe is a 40-minute drive from Brisbane.

Coolangatta to Lady Elliot Island

All flights from the Seair hanger at Coolangatta Airport leave at 6.45 am. The return flight leaves the island at 2.30 pm.

The flight time is about 100 to 120 minutes.

Luggage Allowances

Day Visitors have a 4 kg hand luggage restriction. There are no overhead lockers on board so your day pack must be able to be stowed beneath the seats.

Don’t forget, all batteries also need to be placed in your hand luggage.

Overnight stays on the island allow 15kg of luggage, preferably in a soft bag 70 x 40 x 30cm. Extra luggage is possible (scuba divers note) but with a $7/kg one-way or $14/kg return excess luggage fee.

Lady Elliot Island Accommodation

Lady Elliot Island eco resort

While the resort buildings haven’t changed much since they were originally built, cosmetic makeovers have kept them low-key, clean, presentable and comfortable.

The resort’s range of accommodation options from the most to the least expensive are:

  • Beachfront Units (x5): sleep <4, next to the Fish Pool, private balcony, ensuite, A/C, bar fridge, tea & coffee making facilities
  • Reef Units (x15 in 5 blocks): sleep 2-4, are closest to the café, private balcony, ensuite, fans, bar fridge, tea & coffee making facilities
  • Garden Units (x9 in 3 blocks): sleep 2-4, balcony overlooking the gardens, ensuite, fans, bar fridge, tea & coffee making facilities
  • Glamping Tent (x2): sleep 2, private balcony, ensuite, fans, bar fridge, tea & coffee making facilities
  • EcoCabins (x 13) sleep <4, one sleeping <5, fans, shared bathroom facilities
  • If you can’t manage without some air-conditioning in your day, it is available in the Manta Lounge at the back of the Education Centre, and also in the Departure Lounge near the airstrip.

Lady Elliot Island Food

lady elliot island accommodation

The Beachfront Dining Room is the main food hub and meals are served buffet style or a la carte.

Reasonable vegetarian and vegan meals are also part of the daily choices but there are long queues at peak meal times.

Bar snacks are also available all day and you can eat indoors or enjoy the view from the front deck overlooking the lagoon.

The shade of the back deck next to the education centre may suit you in the hot parts of the day.

If you want to chill out is some peace and quiet, take your meal back to your accommodation if you wish.

Water bottles can be refilled at stations at the dive centre and on the education centre deck.

Free tea, coffee and hot water are available all day at the bar.

The dive shop sells a small selection of ice cream – now you’re talking!

Other Lady Elliot Island Tips

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Yet another stunning photograph of Lady Elliot Island.

Shopping For Souvenirs

The gift shop at reception has some lovely souvenirs to buy including a small selection of bright coloured clothing, unique homewares, postcards and paintings, many designed by local talented artists.

If you’re looking for something with a more marine flavour, check out the dive shop.

A small amount of merchandise is on offer such as a snorkel mask headband or a beach/snorkel shoulder bag emblazoned with the Lady Elliot Island logo.

Internet and Phone Reception

There is very little phone reception on the island.

You may get a weak 3G signal underneath the new lighthouse (I managed to receive some messages but not able to send a return text or make a call).

Internet is available if you’re willing to pay but expect woeful, frustrating and very slow speeds.

I managed to use my expensive 500Mb quota in one afternoon just sending a few short texts and trying to pay a bill via online banking, which took forever.

WiFi is only available for use in the departure lounge and the deck next to the education centre but not in your accommodation.

Must-Have Apps

“Lady Elliot Island” app – download this PRIOR to arriving on the island. It is a daily must-use tool. The menu’s Weather section is essential to plan your day.

The ‘Lagoon Open’ time graph lets you know when you can snorkel the shallow protected Lagoon.

Alternatively, the tide times are best to plan a snorkel on the west side where the currents can be very strong.

“Lady Elliot” app – Its icon is a black rayon with a sea blue background. Created by a past Guest on the island, it is quite a useful photographic guide of commonly seen fauna and flora on the island.

For more things to do in Queensland read:

Lady Elliot Island
Lady Elliot Island