We drove to Hervey Bay from Buderim, Sunshine Coast - a leisurely 2,5 hour drive and checked into the Lady Elliot Island Counter at Hervey Bay Airport, leaving our vehicle in the secure Long Term parking, a bit pricey at $22 a day, but we felt, worth it! Our Island transfer was in a Cessna Caravan, a little 12 seater - bit small for me as I knew every little bump in the air would be felt - but luckily we were supplied with the obligatory "sick bag" which weren't required at all. I sat with my knees in the pilot's back and was too scared to touch anything in case I erroneously ejected the pilot and he had forgotten to tell us where the parachutes were!
Aerial view of the ocean
The forty minute flight was a magical experience in itself flying at 2000 metres, we were exposed to the sight of the magnificent Coral Sea from the air and even managed to spot a whale breaching, just before landing at Lady Elliot, our home for the next three days!
Views coming into Lady Elliot Island from Plane!
Lady Elliot Island is a coral cay located at the southern tip of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. Located approximately 80 kilometres north-east of Bundaberg and nestled in between Fraser Island and Lady Musgrave Island. Positioned within a highly protected 'Green Zone' the island is a sanctuary for over 1,200 species of marine life and is known for its abundance of manta rays, turtles, amazing array of spectacular marine life and unspoilt coral reef. Lady Elliot Island is regarded as one of the best snorkelling and diving destinations on the Great Barrier Reef.
Humpback Whale Breaching, Photo Courtesy of Tourism QLD, courtesy of Tourism Australia
Every year between May and November, Lady Elliot Island comes alive with the spectacular acrobatic displays of the Humpback Whales as they pass on their journey after a summer of eating krill in the Antarctic waters. Humpback Whales undergo some of the longest migrations of any mammal as a result of their breeding habits, when they leave the Antarctic they move to warmer tropical waters for their females to give birth - the reason being that the Antarctic waters are too severe for newborn calves, who have no protective blubber. During this migration they live mostly off their fat reserves, however they do feed on fish and plankton on their journey. Within thirty minutes of birth, the calf can swim unaided. The males do not stay with the female and calf after mating but the female Humpbacks stick together as a group and help each other with the newborn calves.
Blacktip Shark, Photo courtesy of antos777/Shutterstock
We spent the afternoon walking around the island - as it was low tide there was much to see and explore! We could see the magnificent Humpbacks breaching beyond the reef and even saw some Blacktip Reef sharks about one metre off shore - this species is typically found swimming along the shoreline in shallow waters on or near the reef. As this was a totally new experience for us, we were quite happy to sit on an exposed outcrop and watch for their re-appearance.
Dinnertime is the time of day to book your diving/snorkelling trips for the next day - an easy decision to make as we had already decided to try our luck on the combined tour on the glass-bottomed boat with snorkelling on the reef (included in our stay package).
Day Two dawned blue skied and sunny - and after a very satisfying buffet breakfast and being rigged out with wetsuits (not really necessary as the water was a balmy 21 degrees) we boarded the glass bottom boat and were treated to the most beautiful sight of manta rays! Did you know that these magnificent harmless giants of the ocean can be viewed all year round at Lady Elliot Island? They use the island surrounds as a "cleaning station" - much like a day at the beauty spa! A different variety of small fish for example the Wrasse are responsible for removing parasites from their skin. Humpback whales, green turtles and dolphins were all ready to give us a magical display! The glass-bottomed boat initially takes you on an educational tour of the reef and then anchors offshore so that the snorkellers can explore on their own - a truly addictive experience according to my son!
Heritage Listed Lighthouse - still active
Sundowners on the Lighthouse beach in front of the Heritage Listed Lighthouse are absolutely spectacular - you can pre-order your drinks and snacks, which are delivered for your enjoyment, or you can choose to take pot-luck and make a choice on arrival at the beach - all the beverages and snacks are delivered via a buggy with a very charming staff member on hand to assist. Chairs and loungers are provided and the sunset is truly breathtaking!
The first lighthouse was built in 1866 on Lady Elliot Island, but was destroyed by a cyclone six years later. The current active lighthouse was built in 1873 and is a landmark feature, made of cast iron and wood, it still stands strong and was listed on the Commonwealth Heritage List in 2004.
Manta Ray with divers - Photo courtesy of Ryan Jeffery, Lady Elliot website
Day Three for us was THE magical day! We chose to do the Snorkel Safari, which is designed for confident snorkelers (even though I'm not a good swimmer, with the aid of a pool noodle, I was quite happy that I would float). This Safari lasts an hour, mostly drifting with the current - the boat follows your around, so that you can board at any time (if you're tired…..or cold) and the aim is to access areas that are not easily accessible from the shore and to view the 'big' fish. We swam with the Manta Rays, (did you realise that Manta means blanket in Spanish?) these gentle giants of the ocean are a sight to behold, with a wing span of between five and seven metres. Despite their size, these huge 'kites' of the ocean are harmless and Lady Elliot Island is one of the best locations to swim with them especially this time of year when the water visibility is the clearest and during our Snorkel Safari we were very fortunate to have them close enough to touch, a life-time memory! Your own underwater camera would be a huge plus to record these stunning experiences.
Reef Walking at low tide
Stays at Lady Elliot Island include:-
Full buffet breakfasts and dinner daily;
Free use of snorkel equipment (mask, snorkel and fins);
Snorkel lesson (if necessary);
Range of free Island activities and tours - Guided reef walking, Island discover tour, History tour, Behind the scenes tour, Bird and Turtle tour (in season); Environmental Management Charge
Bonus: One complimentary glass bottom boat and guided snorkel tour per person.
Day Visits are also available offering a range of departure points:-
Bundaberg, Hervey Bay/Fraser Coast; Brisbane (Redcliffe) and the Gold Coast.
Views circling Lady Elliot on departure - sad to leave!
Looking to relax and re-charge? Then put Lady Elliot on your "To-do" List, you will definitely be blown away!