With 8,222 islands off the coast of Australia, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to island getaways. Whether it’s adventure or relaxation you’re after, we’ve handpicked the top ten islands of Australia to explore.
Lord Howe Island
World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island made the National Geographic’s top 25 destinations in the world list in 2021, but you need to plan ahead if you want a piece of this pie – only 400 visitors are allowed on the crescent-shaped island at any one time. If all 18 accommodation lodges are booked out – Pinetrees Lodge and Capella Lodge come highly recommended – visitors outnumber residents.
The restrictions were put into place to protect the island’s delicate ecosystem, and in a way, they help emphasise just how amazing this paradise is. Located 700 kilometres northeast of Sydney, the 11-kilometre-long island is covered in dense kentia palm and banyan forests, with the lush greenery tumbling right down to the turquoise water’s edge. Walks are a great way to explore, and there are short easy trails and multi-day escapades. The challenging 875-metre Mount Gower climb is rated as one of the best day treks in the world, with early starts recommended to beat the heat and reap the rewards of the impressive vistas before lunch. All walks include complementary tickets to the island’s 170 species-strong bird orchestra.
The 11 island beaches each offer something unique. Blinky Beach is popular for its surf breaks, while Old Settlement Beach provides the best opportunities for spotting turtles swimming close to shore.
Under water is just as incredible. Visitors can swim, snorkel and scuba dive alongside three species of turtles, over 450 species of fish, and intricate and stunningly beautiful coral formations.
Lord Howe Island is protected by the world’s southernmost coral reef.
This nature reserve located off New South Wales’ South Coast may be compact in size (it’s only 1.4 kilometres long and 525 metres wide), but it delivers big on experiences.
Fill your adventure cup by skirting the water alongside fur seals, who are at their peak numbers in spring; count how many different species of birds are flying and wading about; and watch little penguins scatter to their burrows in the evenings after a hard day fishing.
The only way to access the island is via a guided tour or by staying overnight, and there is a minimum age requirement of five. If you can make it work, it’s well worth it.
Montague Island was called Barunguba by the local Aboriginal people [yuin], and some of the Aboriginal sites on the island – such as middens and artefact scatters – are thought to be over 4,000 years old.
No stay is complete without visiting the historical lighthouse, which has remained untouched (except for necessary restoration work) since its completion in 1881. The lighthouse is also home to two accommodation options – the five-bedroom Montague Island Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage and the three-bedroom Montague Island Assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage – for those who wish to linger on the island longer.
Montague Island is home to the largest colony of little penguins in New South Wales. Over 8,000 pairs call the island home.
The world’s largest sand island will take your breath away, with its unique ecosystems, awe-inspiring sights and adrenalin-infused adventures.
Listed as a World Heritage Area in 1992, the 123-kilometre-long landform is 22 kilometres at its widest point, with long stretches of sandy beaches, colourful soaring sand cliffs, perched lakes, dunes that rise hundreds of kilometres above sea level, and rainforests that sprout from sandbanks.
The perched dune lakes are one of the island’s most fascinating features, with 40 of them (half of the world’s perched lakes) dotted around the island. These unique lakes contain only rainwater and have been formed through organic plant matter build-up, which has hardened with wind pressure and over time. Lake McKenzie – or Boorangoora in the local Butchulla language – is the most visited.
Because Fraser Island is so big, exploring in a 4WD is an enjoyable way to cover ground, with the sand track along 75 Mile Beach offering stunning vistas in every direction. Aussie Trax 4×4 Rentals is Hervey Bay’s largest 4WD adventure tour operator, so you can pick and choose what’s best for your clan.
For a slower pace, the Fraser Island Great Walk weaves its way through the varied ecosystems. The trek is 90 kilometres one way, so pick a section or allow eight days walking time.
There’s no other place in Australia with such a high concentration of lakes except for Tasmania.
Lady Elliot Island
There are about 700 manta rays living in the waters surrounding Lady Elliot Island, so it’s no surprise that the island is often referred to as the ‘Home of the Manta Ray’. There are plenty of turtles, too, as well as brightly coloured fish, starfish and crabs. The southernmost island on the Great Barrier Reef is home to over 1,200 species of marine life, and the coral reef is easily accessible just off the beach.
Snorkelling and diving are the highlights here, but on-ground adventuring can be just as exhilarating. There are two trails on the island that knit their way through rainforest terrain, wetlands and along the coastline, and it’s very likely you’ll see tropical seabirds and wading birds going about their day. Summer is prime time for bird-watching, when over 100,000 birds nest on the island.
Any time of the year to visit is magical. Lady Elliot Island is located just north of Hervey Bay, and humpback whales are often seen in the surrounding waters from June to October. If you’re exploring under the sea, hearing their eerily beautiful singing will leave you breathless.
Lady Elliot Island has won a number of ecotourism awards, and the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is the place to stay to support sustainable tourism.
To combat the decline in visitors to the island in recent times, the Tasmanian Liberal Government recently offered a discount to bookings in an aim to drive visitation.
We predict it won’t take long for tourism to bounce back to pre-COVID levels, and the adventure starts before you’ve even arrived – the flight into King Island offers a wonderful view of a sparsely populated and predominantly flat expanse waiting to be discovered.
The experiences are as varied as they are plentiful. Keen golfers can play a round or two in one of the three picturesque golf courses, then cool off with a surf at Martha Lavinia Beach (touted as one of the best surf beaches in the country).
Hunger will no doubt make an appearance, and whether you choose to dine in or take out, the produce is the star of the show here. Be sure to try King Island Dairy cheese, King Island pure honey, lobster, oysters, beef… or perhaps pack an Esky and stock up to take home.
Natural attractions include Seal Rocks and Disappointment Bay, which is inaptly named because it has quite the opposite effect.
Kind Island produce is sought out by chefs in top restaurants in both Australia and overseas.
One of Australia’s top nature-based destinations, South Australia’s Kangaroo Island really has it all. There’s wildlife aplenty, 509 kilometres of rugged coastline, stunning nature walks, beautiful food and wine, and a band of locals keen to share their stories.
The island is most famous for its diversity of wildlife, with native animals such as kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, sea lions, seals, penguins, dolphins and around 250 species of birds that all call the island home.
The devastating bushfires of 2019/20 scorched half the island – and with that came loss of lives, homes and a great deal of wildlife habitat – but today the island is very much flourishing in its renewal phase. A plethora of green shoots are rapidly rising over previously burnt terrain and the wildlife is returning in great numbers, thanks in part to the effort and hard work of passionate locals.
Education and conservation both play a key role in tourism offerings, and Exceptional Kangaroo Island – part of the Australian Wildlife Journeys portfolio – has some of the best sustainable tourism offerings on the island.
Flinders Chase National Park, home to the iconic Remarkable Rocks, Admirals Arch and a fur seal colony, can’t be missed, and swimming in the iridescent blue playground that is Vivonne Bay refreshes the mind, body and soul.
Under the sea is just as thrilling, with more variation in marine species found in the surrounding waters than along the length of the Great Barrier Reef.
At the end of the day, take a long breather to enjoy the quality food and small-batch wine, where seasonal, local and fresh produce lead the way. The Oyster Farm Shop is a working oyster farm and farm gate, while The Islander Estate Vineyards is the only winery making Australian temperate climate wines with a French twist.
Kangaroo Island is seven times the size of Singapore.
Yes, this is where you come to see the quokkas, the happiest animals on earth. Just a short ferry ride from the coast of Perth, you will find yourself sharing an 11 by 4.5-kilometre paradise with 10,000 to 12,000 fluffy-furred creatures munching on scrubland.
The name Rottnest stuck thanks to the quokkas, after Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh incorrectly presumed the macropods were big rats (and consequently named the island Rotte Nest).
After you’ve managed to snag a selfie with a quokka (be sure not to touch the animals), you can spend the day exploring the coastline. There are 63 beaches and 20 bays for swimming, snorkelling, rest and recuperation. You can meander from one pretty spot to the next on foot, cycle (try Paul’s Eco E-Bike Tours), Segway around (Segway Tours WA will look after you), or even ride a bike across water (Aquaplay Tours run excursions on water bikes)! For an Aboriginal perspective, Go Cultural Aboriginal Tours & Experiences run fascinating walking tours run by a local Noongar guide.
If you want to spend more time playing in the sand and sea, accommodation spans everything from camping and glamping to rooms with commanding ocean views on offer.
Although the quokkas might be the most photographed animal species on the island, fur seals are also found here and hang out on the western end of the island.
Divers, this one is for you – an underwater paradise located 260 kilometres offshore from Broome, only accessible by boat. The operator BlueSun Travel has been taking visitors here for nearly two decades.
The three coral atolls – named Clerke Reef, Imperieuse Reef and Mermaid Reef – are part of the Rowley Shoals Marine Park, which sits on the edge of one of the widest continental shelves in the world.
Each islet covers approximately 80 to 90 square kilometres and boasts a shallow lagoon. The walls, cracks, crevices, and swim-throughs make for an incredibly remarkable marine environment, and the diving here is renowned as some of the best in Australia. Sea turtles, manta rays, dolphins and whales are some of the larger species sighted, while giant clams, wrasse, giant potato cod and countless species of tropical fish follow divers around.
Each of the three atolls has near-vertical sides that jut out of the water, and these make for a spectacular backdrop when coming up for air. Clerke and Imperieuse Reef each have a small sandy cay, offering a lovely spot to sit and watch the birdlife. Seabirds are abundant here, and a small colony of red-tailed tropicbirds – one of only two colonies in Western Australia, are often spotted.
Because of the limited number of visitors here throughout the year, Rowley Shoals is also considered to be one of the best fishing destinations in Western Australia.
Big tidal movements here can create adrenaline-charged drift diving and snorkelling opportunities.
Every year thousands of motorsport fans head to Victoria’s Phillip Island – just 1.5 hours’ drive time from Melbourne – for the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, World Superbike Championships and the V8 Supercars. But even when no events are on, thrill-seekers can satisfy their need for speed on the Phillip Island Go Cart track or on a jet boat adventure.
If something more calming is your cup of tea, there’s plenty to choose from. For those who like to be wined and dined, it’s all about fresh seafood teamed with local cool-climate wines, with beautiful vistas to elevate the experience.
The backdrop is impressive any time of day, especially when it’s dotted with wildlife. Phillip Island’s penguins make a regular appearance nightly, in an event managed by Phillip Island Nature Parks called the Penguin Parade. The cute critters waddle home to their burrows from the ocean, while viewers watch from the platforms and boardwalks. Thousands of seals lounge around off the coast of the island at Seal Rocks, and they are best seen on a coastal cruise with Wildlife Coast Cruises. There’s also the Koala Conservation, and plenty of bird life to spot.
If you have the kids in tow and they still need more, the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory will help ramp up their energy levels for the next activity. The mazes and puzzles at
A Maze’N Things will tire them out with any luck.
Everyone in the family will enjoy the many beaches along the island’s coastline, and the cultural offerings include museums, galleries and Aboriginal sites, including a midden that experts believe is approximately 2,000 years old.
Phillip Island is home to the largest little penguin colony in the world and the largest fur seal colony in the country.
Towering dolerite sea cliffs – some reaching up to 200 metres in height – loom over sand beaches, pine forests surge into the sky, and wild waves crash and cradle the jagged coastline. Welcome to Tasmania’s ruggedly handsome Bruny Island.
The 100-kilometre-long island is comprised of two land masses connected by a narrow isthmus called The Neck, which is the best place to spot little penguins returning home after a day out at sea. Truganini Lookout is also found on the isthmus – a perfect spot to enjoy panoramic views of both sides of the island.
North Bruny is drier than the south, with open pastures and bushland covering most of the land. The topography of South Bruny is more mountainous, with large rainforest expanses and timbered areas carpeting the terrain.
Bushwalking is high up on the list of things to do on the island, with plenty of trails covering everything from short walks to multi-day jaunts. The coastline is best explored in a kayak, sail boat or on an eco cruise – the smaller the vessel, the greater access to the many mesmerising sea caves and rock arches that skirt the coastline.
When hunger strikes, the famous Bruny Island Cheese Co. is where you’ll find the island’s famous cheese, along with boutique ales, stouts and IPAs. Smoked salmon from Bruny Island Smokehouse goes down a treat after a beer or two, as do oysters from the amusingly named Get Shucked Oysters.
There are over 200 white wallabies on Bruny Island. They are albino Bennett’s Wallabies and have thrived due to a lack of predators.
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Travel to Australia’s islands
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