Twelve Incredible Australian Islands for When You Want to Get Off the Mainland
You don't need to travel to Bali or Thailand to have an island holiday — these adventurous and relaxing spots are just off the coast of Australia.
There are 8222 islands within Australia's watery borders. You could spend your entire life hopping from one Aussie island to another and never quite make them all (well, unless you're very, very quick). So, we thought we'd save you some time and handpick 12 of the best islands in Australia. They should at least get you started.
Next time you start imagining yourself on a white-sanded beach with quokkas close by, sea lions in the distance and your desk a few hundred kilometres away, these are the spots to catch a boat, plane, or ferry to. Remember: when you leave the mainland, you leave all your worries there, too. Right?
NORTH STRADBROKE ISLAND, QUEENSLAND
Located 25 minutes by ferry off the Queensland coast, Stradbroke Island is an easy day trip from Brisbane. It's the second biggest sand island in the world after K'gari (more on that Australian island later). For swimming in gentle waves, head to idyllic Cylinder Beach; for wilder surf, make your destination 38-kilometre-long Main Beach. Overnight stays include beach camping, as well as an array of cottages, hotels and B&Bs. Just north of Straddie is Moreton Island, a wonderland of long beaches, clear lakes and a national park. Consider sleeping over at Tangalooma, an eco-friendly resort where you can hand-feed wild dolphins and swim around a shipwreck.
LORD HOWE ISLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES
Just 11 kilometres long and two kilometres wide, Lord Howe, a two-hour flight east of Sydney, is explorable within a few days. Whenever you travel on this Australian island, you won't have to fear tourist crowds: only 400 visitors are permitted at any one time and the population is just 382. Prepare to have pretty beaches, spectacular diving sites and rugged terrain all to yourself. Among the best adventures are the Mount Gower Trail, a steep, eight-hour trek that carries you 875 metres above sea level, and Erscott's Hole, a natural wonder where you can snorkel among staghorn coral, bluefish and double-headed wrasse. With all this natural beauty, it's easy to see why it made our list of the best islands in Australia and best overall places to visit in Australia.
MAGNETIC ISLAND, QUEENSLAND
There are hundreds of islands in the Great Barrier Reef area, offering everything from secluded campsites to five-star luxury resorts. But, for convenience, outdoor adventures and, most importantly, koala spotting, Magnetic Island is hard to go past. You'll find it just 20 minutes from Townsville. Get active with sea kayaking tours and yoga classes, get artsy at beachside markets and galleries or relax at stunning beaches like Horseshoe Bay. If you're keen to venture further, jump aboard a Great Barrier Reef snorkelling, diving or sightseeing tour.
KANGAROO ISLAND, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
With a whopping 509 kilometres of coastline, Kangaroo Island could have you exploring for weeks. To get there, take a 45-minute ferry ride from Cape Jervis, on the Fleurieu Peninsula — around 100 kilometres south of Adelaide. Then gear up to share your holiday with sea lions, fur seals, little penguins, echidnas, koalas and, you guessed it, kangaroos. The Australian island is a haven for creatures who've struggled to survive elsewhere, especially local sea lions, who were hunted to the brink of extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries. There are numerous national parks and conservation areas, and the over 4000-strong population is big on food and wine. You also can't talk about this Aussie island without mentioning the spectacular beaches — our favourite being the one and only Stoke's Bay.
THE WHITSUNDAYS, QUEENSLAND
In total, The Whitsundays is made up of 74 islands. It's hard to choose the best, especially as each depends on what kind of holiday you're after. You can go camping on the famous Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, live it up at The InterContinental Resort on Hayman Island or even escape to an adult's-only oasis like Elysian Retreat on Long Island — one of the best adult's only accommodations in The Whitsundays. From any of these small islands in Australia, you can easily get to the Great Barrier Reef and countless other stunning natural landscapes. This region is also one of Australia's national parks, so it will continue to be preserved for many years to come — even if the reef itself does die off.
Editor's Tip: book one of our Concrete Playground Trips packages here, to take full advantage of The Whitsundays' natural beauty (including scenic flights, sunset cruises and luxury accommodation).
ROTTNEST ISLAND, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Rottnest Island is a 90-minute ferry ride from Barrack Street Jetty, Perth, or 25 minutes from Fremantle. Like Kangaroo Island, Rottnest has given a big dose of much-needed love to Australia's wild creatures, particularly quokkas, which now number 12,000 or so. Dedicate some time to spotting them (though please don't go touching, patting or feeding), before visiting pristine beaches, such as The Basin, where you'll find an underwater playground, and Little Parakeet Bay, backdropped by striking rock formations. The best way to explore the Aussie island is by bike, but we are also big fans of getting on a sea kayak for the arvo as well. Prefer to stay here longer than a day? We recommend spending a few nights in Discovery Rottnest Island's luxe glamping tents by the beach.
PHILLIP ISLAND, VICTORIA
Phillip Island's biggest drawcard is its penguin parade. Every night, at sunset, the island's resident little penguins return to their terrestrial homes, having spent the day out and about fishing. Beyond wildlife watching, go wine and craft beer tasting, bliss out with a massage or spa treatment or conquer a trail on foot, such as the Cape Woolamai Walk, which traverses dramatic clifftops along Phillip's southernmost point. Follow the links for suggestions on where to eat and drink and the best outdoor activities on Phillip Island. Unlike most the other islands on this list, you can reach this one by road: it's around 90 minutes' drive south of Melbourne, making it one of the most accessible islands in Australia.
BRUNY ISLAND, TASMANIA
Bruny feels completely remote, yet it's just a 20-minute ferry ride from the coast and, with driving time added, 50 minutes from Hobart. The beauty of this proximity to the city is that, despite all the wilderness, you can find some top nosh: for fish and chips head to Jetty Cafe; for pub grub swing by Hotel Bruny; for cheese visit Bruny Island Cheese Company; and for a tipple, there's the Bruny Island House of Whisky. Meanwhile, nature lovers will find white wallabies at Inala Nature Reserve, windswept headlands at Cape Bruny Lighthouse and head-clearing watery views at Cloudy Bay.
K'GARI (FRASER ISLAND), QUEENSLAND
World Heritage-listed K'gari (Fraser Island) is the biggest sand island in the world. There are 184,000 hectares of the stuff, made up of 72 colours and mostly in the form of magnificent dunes, much of which are covered in rainforest. If you've time on your hands, take on the Great Walk, an eight-day epic that visits many of K'gari's 100 freshwater lakes. If not, jump aboard a 4WD and cruise along 75 Mile Beach (one of our favourite adventure experiences in Australia), take a dip at Champagne Pools along the way and pay a visit to awe-inspiring Boorangoora(Lake McKenzie), a perched lake made up of rainwater and soft silica sand.
KING ISLAND, TASMANIA
You might have no idea where King Island is, but may have seen its cheese at the supermarket. King Island Dairy's decadent triple cream brie is an Aussie gourmet staple. But it's far from the only treat you'll be sampling in this lush place, which lies in the Bass Strait, halfway between Victoria and Tassie. Count, too, on super-fresh seafood, flavourful beef and a cornucopia of produce from local growers. When you're finished feasting, stroll along the white sands of Disappointment Bay, visit a 7000-year-old calcified forest and go horse riding by the sea. This under-the-radar travel destination is undoubtedly one of the best islands in Australia.
BRIBIE ISLAND, QUEENSLAND
Bribie Island isn't that far from Brisbane (a little over one and a half hours) but is a haven for local wildlife. That's because this Australian island is home to the Pumicestone Passage, a protected marine park where you'll find dugongs, turtles, dolphins and a diverse range of birdlife. All the classic Aussie land animals will be found all over the island, too. And, of course, the beaches are just stupid beautiful. Whether you're a local or tourist, this island offers all the quintessential Australian sites you must see.
ABROLHOS ISLANDS, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
The Houtman Abrolhos isn't just an island, it's an archipelago. 122 isles make up the marvel, more or less clustered in three groups across 100 kilometres. They lie 60 kilometres off the Coral Coast, west of Geraldton, which is four hours north of Perth. Lose yourself snorkelling or diving among colourful coral, spotting Australian sea lions and looking out for more than 90 species of seabirds, including majestic white-breasted sea eagles. For mind-blowing views, jump aboard a scenic flight and see the best Australian island from a bird's eye view.
Top images: K'gari Island, courtesy of Kingfisher Bay Resort
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