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Situated at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, Lady Elliot Island is regarded as one of the best destinations for snorkelling and diving. Although the island is only 42 hectares in size – small enough to walk around in 45 minutes – the main attraction is the natural environment, the unspoilt reef and the abundance of marine life.

Due to its location at the outer edge of the continental shelf, far from sediment-bearing rivers, the water is exceptionally clean and clear all year round – with an average visibility of 20+ metres – and the coral healthy. Situated within the highest protection zone, it is a haven for marine life including rays, turtles, whales, dolphins, sharks and the entire cast of ‘Finding Nemo’ – over 1,200 different species of marine life are found in pristine and easily accessed lagoons and on the reefs. Everyone from beginners to advanced snorkellers or divers can experience the wonders of the reef without the need for a long boat trip, and you can see a lot of marine life while reef walking or snorkelling. And being right at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef and 80 kilometres offshore, there are no marine stingers, so it is not necessary to wear a stinger suit.

Lady Elliot Island is known as the ‘Home of the Manta Ray’, wirh more than 700 individuals being identified in the surrounding waters, the chance of spotting one while snorkelling, diving, on a glass-bottomed boat and even while flying to or from the Island is high. The resident manta rays made a special appearance in Episode 2 of David Attenborough’s ‘Great Barrier Reef’ BBC TV series, as he marvelled at their cleaning station.

Several species of turtle, including green and loggerhead turtles, can also be seen at Lady Eliiot Island. They come to the beaches to lay their eggs from November to March, and the hatchlings make their way back to the water between February and May.

Between May and November, humpback whales grace the offshore waters on their long annual migration from the Antarctic, providing spectacular acrobatic displays and a soundtrack of whale song for snorkellers and divers.

Situated within a highly protected Marine National Park ’Green Zone’ on Australia's Nature Coast, the island is a sanctuary. The reef that surrounds it is in excellent condition, and divers can enjoy a wonderful mix of hard and soft corals, including magnificent fan corals; there is even the wreck of a schooner to explore. Excellent visibility and bright sunlight are common, making it easy to take good underwater photographs. The presence of numerous large and colourful coral trout on the reef are an indication of its health. A healthy reef is a noisy reef, and hydrophones can pick up the sounds it emanates at a distance of more than a kilometre.

As one of 16 coral cays in the Capricornia section of the southern Great Barrier Reef, Lady Elliot Island was once mined for guano and was home to a herd of goats that was kept to ensure food for shipwrecked sailors. Over the past 50 years the island has recovered due to conservation and re-vegetation efforts, and is now home to a fascinating mix of vegetation, birds and other wildlife.

The vegetation is a mix of iconic coral cay species such as octopus bushes, cassuarinas and pisonia; and various herb, shrub, and ornamental species that owe their presence in part to generations of lighthouse keepers. A pisonia forest in the southwest part of the island is associated with a large rookery of noddies, and a pair of sea eagles also frequent this part. Elsewhere, the herblands and shrublands are home to numerous birds, such as buff-banded rails, ruddy ternstones and silvereyes. Frigate birds soar overhead, boobies are common, mutton birds descend at night, and the island is even home to several breeding pairs of red-tailed tropicbirds. As one of the most important seabird nesting sites in the entire Great Barrier Reef, the island is a magnet for bird watchers. There is also a healthy population of green frogs and several species butterflies; fortunately there are few flies and mosquitoes.

Located 80 kilometres northeast of Bundaberg, Lady Elliot is the closest island to Queensland’s state capital, Brisbane. As it is composed entirely of crushed coral, the beaches and pathways can be hard on your feet, so bring comfortable walking shoes or reef shoes (with covered toes), as this will make the experience more enjoyable.

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Key info

  • Ideal for viewing: whaleshark, manta ray, brown booby, green turtle, red-tailed tropicbird
  • Where: Southern Queensland, Australia

Wildlife trips

This wildlife location is featured in the following itinerary:

Wildlife of Australia’s Nature Coast

Enjoy Queensland’s unique wildlife on this tailor-made itinerary. Fraser Island is home to dingos, dugongs, turtles, mangrove swamps and many migratory birds, Kondalilla National Park boasts wallabies, possums and birdlife, and on the Great Barrier Reef Lady Elliot Island offers marine biodiversity.

  • When to go: Aug-Oct
  • Duration inc. flights: 11 days
  • Price inc. flights: From £2,595 pp
  • Trip type: Tailor-made trip idea
Suggested accommodation is shown below. Please contact us for further recommendations.

Lady Elliot Eco Resort

With its 41-rooms, this simple eco-resort provides genuine experiences via stimulating land and water-based activities. Visitors enjoy the fragile ecosystem with minimal impact and reach an understanding of the importance of conservation and sustainable management to the Great Barrier Reef.