Queensland has been blessed with the Great Barrier Reef and its variety of islands. Since there are so many to choose from, Getaway
has put together a Guide to the Reef an island for every budget. We started at the southern end of the reef off Gladstone and worked north through the Whitsundays, then to the islands off Townsville and Cairns, north past Cooktown and finally to Lizard Island.
Lady Elliot Island
One of three islands to offer direct air access, Lady Elliot is a 42-hectare coral cay, which has evolved over thousands of years. It is an important sea-bird and turtle rookery site, and whales pass by from June to October.
There are just 49 rooms in the resort, which is a low-key, relaxed and environmentally friendly place offering four types of accommodation. Tent cabins have shared facilities. Shearwater rooms have six single bunks and a bathroom. Reef units are self-contained with a bathroom. Island suites are self-contained with a bathroom and refrigerator.
It's all about nature and the sea and there are no telephones, televisions or radios. Fans keep the air moving and doors have no keys but can be locked from inside.
Lady Elliot has a reef education centre and a dive shop with equipment for hire. Scuba diving is conducted every day and staff escort all dives.
Tariff: Eco huts are $99 per person, bunkrooms are $181 twin/triple and twin suites are $273. Prices per night. Buffet dinner and breakfast, a glass-bottom boat tour or boat snorkel, use of snorkel equipment and a range of activities are included. Valid until August 31, 2008.
Lady Musgrave Island
Even less developed than its neighbour Lady Elliot, Lady Musgrave is the southernmost island of the Bunker Group and the 14-hectare coral cay has a surrounding reef. Half of it was declared a National Park in 1938, the remainder in 1967.
Daytrips from the Town of 1770 are the most popular way to experience the island, but you can also camp on the island. You do need to take fresh water and food with you, though.
A central pisonia forest is a feature of the island and it plays host to a wonderful variety of bird life. Snorkelling and immediate access to the reef are also big attractions, and if you are there between June and October, you will be sharing the water with migrating humpback whales. Loggerhead turtles are also a treat for divers and snorkellers.
Tariff: Camping starts at $5 a night. It is closed for regeneration purposes from January until Easter.
Two hours by boat from Gladstone, Heron Island's coral cay is heaven island for snorkelers and divers. Around half of its visitors are international; there are no day-trippers and no buildings taller than the tree line.
You can swim straight from the beach into an endless coral garden full of beautifully coloured fish and enjoy more than 30 dive sites. Half of those are just 15 minutes from the beach!
Heron has six levels of accommodation to suit most budgets and guest rooms don't have television or telephones. There are loads of complimentary things to do: guided reef walks, ecology and birdlife walks, beach picnic hampers, snorkelling lessons in the pool, night and day tennis, table tennis and trivia nights. At low tide the Junior Ranger program gets children out on the reef with an ecologist.
Shearwater Restaurant is open for all meals and each Saturday they serve a seafood buffet. There is an Aussie-style barbecue mid-week. Pandanus Lounge and Baillies Bar has a library on the mezzanine level and a terrace opening to the views. To relax after a big day exploring the reef, Aqua Soul Spa is the place to go.
Tariff: Rates start at $191 per person a night, twin share. Buffet breakfast and many island activities are included.
A 45-minute boat transfer from Heron takes you to Wilson Island. It's a third the size and more intimate if you were stranded on a deserted island, this is the place to be.
Guest capacity is just 12 people who escape to isolation. Six luxurious designer tents sit on raised wooden floors and have king beds and a hammock on the balcony. Solar power provides hot water and other comforts. The tents are steps away from a sweep of castor sugar beach. The tiny coral cay's pristine waters are home to an extraordinary variety of marine life and are crammed with coral and fish in every colour.
Guests are treated to exceptional snorkelling, bird watching, island and reef walks and views that never end.
Meals, served in the communal Longhouse, are distinctly Australian, starting with a tropical buffet breakfast, smorgasbord lunch and sunset dinners starting with drinks and canapés at sunset.
There are various packages available, but Wilson Island is not available during the February seabird nesting season. The island does not accommodate for children below 12 years of age.
Tariff: Wilson Island two-night packages start at $990 per person. All meals, a selection of beverages, snorkelling equipment and launch transfers to Heron Island are included.
Great Keppel Island
You may have heard that Great Keppel is undergoing extensive renovations. Once completed, the popular island will be bigger and better. Until then, Great Keppel Islanders want you to know the entire island isn't closed. Cruise boat companies are still visiting and you can stay there in privately rented holiday homes or in the low-budget holiday village.
The coral gardens, turquoise waters and sun-drenched beaches are still there for you, as are the hectares of bushland with walking trails and abundant wildlife in the island's interior.
Tariff: Camping is $80 a double a night. Rooms start at $130 a double a night.
On the southern entrance of the Whitsunday Passage, Brampton is a blue water, white sand tropical haven. Accessed from Mackay, Brampton is almost entirely National Park. It has seven wonderful beaches and its own coral reef.
The island overlooks the Cumberland Group and has just one resort with 106 rooms. It is not a day-tripper destination and guests are treated to unexplored places and loads of activities, land and water-based, many free of charge. Meals are included in the tariff.
Native bush and wildlife are visited on leisurely bushwalks. Guests can paddle ski, sail a catamaran or just laze in a beachside hammock. Many activities are seasonal or weather dependent, and some are free of charge. There's beach volleyball, aqua aerobics, badminton, bocce, an air-conditioned gymnasium and even a six-hole golf course! For adventure, take an island jet ski safari or head out to sea on a sailboard.
The Melaleuca Forest is a natural wonder and two-hour tours begin with a boat ride to Carlisle Island. Its canopy forms a natural roof and thriving inhabitants include thousands of blue tiger butterflies and delicate green tree frogs. Locals refer to the forest as "The Cathedral", and it's easy to see why!
Tariff: Rooms start at $149 per person a night twin share. Buffet breakfast, many non-motorised water sports and island activities are included. Between August 1 and December 24, 2008, stay three nights and pay for two. Prices start at $298 per person. An upgrade to include all meals is $65 per person a night.