There are some 900 islands in the Great Barrier Reef of which less than 100 are inhabited. With so many islands to choose from, how do you decide which islands are the best and which ones to avoid, which are easily accessible and which ones are hard to get to. In this post we answer these questions and more about these Great Barrier Reef islands, so you can decide which islands are best for you based on your personal requirements, holiday choice and budget.

 

Top 10 Great Barrier Reef Islands

 

1. Hamilton Island

 

Great for: Families, stop & drop holiday, active visitors

Avoid if: You want isolation, tranquil holiday

Distance from the mainland:  20 km from Shute Harbour

Transport options: Air, boat

Accommodation options: Resorts, hotels, apartments

Kids Club: No

Activities: Living Reef outdoor aquarium, mini golf, water sports, walking tracks, rainforest walks, snorkelling & diving

Budget: Moderate to expensive

 

Hamilton Island tops our list of Great Barrier Reef islands for several reasons. Firstly, it’s situated right in the heart of the Whitsundays and is one of the 74 tropical islands that lie between the Queensland Coast and the Great Barrier Reef. This means it’s easy to get to by air (Jetstar and Virgin Blue) and boat (Fantasea) and you’re minutes away from the beautiful reef. Secondly, on Hamilton Island everything is at your doorstep – from idyllic coral fringed beaches to shops, from beach activities to snorkelling and diving trips. The sheer range of accommodation options, restaurants, bars and activities makes this a hugely popular destination for many visitors. The option of hopping on to a ferry anytime of the day and be taken to any of the nearby Whitsunday Islands is an added bonus.

If Hamilton Island sounds like the perfect destination for you, read more about this island on our Hamilton Island page.

 

2. Hayman Island

 

Great for: Honeymooners, high-end travellers, those wanting luxury and pampering

Avoid if: You’re looking for an active holiday or if budget is a primary concern

Distance from the mainland: 29 km from Shute Harbour

Transport options: Cruise or seaplane charter service from Hamilton Island

Accommodation options: Resort

Kids Club: Yes

Activities: Walks and hikes, golf, tennis & squash courts, snorkelling & diving, water sports, day spa treatments, poolside relaxation and fine dining

Budget: Expensive

 

Hayman Island comes in at second place on our list of Great Barrier Reef islands for one main reason – its sensational upmarket, luxurious deluxe-island-paradise-style resort. With a beauty spa to put most beauty spas to shame, upper end accommodation options – think penthouses, villas and other luxurious offerings, nestled around a beautiful bay, why would you want to holiday anywhere else. Well, there is the price tag that makes this an exclusive place to holiday. Hayman Island is popular with honeymooners, for island destination weddings and those looking for a pampering and indulgent vacation. If you have the money to spend, this is the place to be.

If you’re looking for a holiday destination like Hayman Island, check out our Hayman Island page for more information to plan your dream vacation.

 

3. Daydream Island

 

Great for: Families, those looking for resort-style comfort and facilities

Avoid if: You’re a couple looking for a peaceful and quiet getaway

Distance from the mainland: 1.2 km from Shute Harbour

Transport options: Boat

Accommodation options: Resort

Kids Club: Yes

Activities: Living Reef outdoor aquarium, snorkelling & diving, water sports, walking tracks

Budget: Moderate to expensive

 

What makes Daydream Island so popular with vacationers is its proximity to the mainland. Located only 1.2 km or a 30-minute boat ride from Shute Harbour, it makes for a popular day-trip for those staying at Airlie Beach. Besides the island being much smaller in size and having only one accommodation option, it’s very similar to Hamilton Island in most other aspects. With a range of activities to choose from, many dining options and great beaches, some fringed with living coral reefs, it’s easy to see why it’s such a favourite with many travellers. With a Kids Club to boast of, it’s a great family destination which allows mums and dads to get some much-needed R&R.

Is Daydream Island the right destination for you? If you hear yourself saying yes, read our Daydream Island page for more information to help you plan your holiday.

 

4. Fitzroy Island

 

Great for: Families, couples,

Avoid if: You’re a family looking for an active holiday or if budget is a primary concern

Distance from mainland: 24 km from Cairns

Transport options: Ferry from Cairns

Accommodation options: Resort

Kids Club: No

Activities: Snorkelling & diving, rainforest walks, water sports

Budget: Moderate

 

Fitzroy Island sits on our list of Great Barrier Reef islands for its close proximity to the mainland and its unspoilt beaches. A short ferry ride from Cairns takes you a tropical paradise which is easy on the pocket. Further, the island is fringed by coral reefs which provide for some amazing and snorkelling and diving close to the beach. With a wide range of activities on offer, such as water sports and rainforest walks to white coral beaches and spectacular lookouts, Fitzroy Island is an island destination worth exploring.

To know more about Fitzroy Island, read our Fitzroy Island page.

 

5. Green Island

 

Great for: Families, short holidays, those looking for resort-style comfort and facilities

Avoid if: You’re a couple looking for a peaceful and quiet getaway

Distance from mainland: 28 km from Cairns

Transport options: Ferry from Cairns

Accommodation options: Resort

Kids Club: No

Activities: Water sports, snorkelling, underwater observatory, Marineland Melanesia

Budget: Moderate

 

What makes Green Island so attractive to families is its close proximity to the mainland, the variety of activities on offer for kids and its moderate price tag. Just a 45-minute ferry ride from Cairns, this island makes for a perfect day trip from the mainland. In fact, it is one of the primary tourist attractions in Cairns. Apart from snorkelling and water sports, Marineland Melanesia, with its crocodiles and marine life is hugely popular with kids and adults alike.

If you’re after a no-fuss, short holiday, check our Green Island page for more information.

 

6. Lady Elliot Island

 

Great for: Divers, snorkelers and naturalists

Avoid if: You’re a family looking for an active holiday or if budget is a primary concern

Distance from mainland: 91 km from Bundaberg

Transport options: Charter plane from Bundaberg/Hervey Bay

Accommodation options: Low-key resort

Kids Club: No

Activities: Snorkelling & diving

Budget: Moderate to expensive

 

Lady Elliot Island makes it on our list of Great Barrier Reef islands for one reason only. A 40-hectare vegetated coral cay, this island is popular with divers and snorkelers for the stunning underwater landscape that surrounds it. Divers can walk straight off the beach to explore an ocean-bed of shipwrecks, coral gardens, bommies and blowholes, and abundant marine life. However, the downside of visiting this island is its lack of accommodation options (only one low-key resort) and lack of accessibility (charter seaplane from resort) which makes it quite exclusive.

If you’re an avid diver, Lady Elliot Island should be on your radar. If you’re planning a trip here, read our Lady Elliot Island page for more information.

 

7. Heron Island

 

Great for: Honeymooners, divers, snorkelers and naturalists

Avoid if: You’re a family looking for an active holiday or if budget is a primary concern

Distance from mainland: 81 km from Gladstone

Transport options: Launch or helicopter transfers from Gladstone

Accommodation options: Resort

Kids Club: No

Activities: snorkelling & diving

Budget: Expensive

 

Like Lady Elliot Island, we like Heron Island for the superb snorkelling and diving opportunities it presents. With the underwater reef world accessible directly from the beach, Heron Island is famed for superb scuba diving and snorkelling. However, this southern Great Barrier Reef island is not easy to get to so you’ll need a fair amount of cash to visit. However, unlike Lady Elliot Island, the resort on Heron Island is more comfortable and suited to families and couples.

If you want a great diving holiday and have the extra money to spend, visit our Heron Island page to read more about this island and plan your next adventure.

 

8. Lizard Island

 

Great for: Honeymooners, high-end travellers, naturalists, divers and those looking for an idyllic holiday

Avoid if: You’re a family looking for an active holiday or if budget is a primary concern

Distance from mainland: 252 km from Cairns

Transport options: Air, charter boat

Accommodation options: Resort, camping

Kids Club: Yes

Activities: beaches, snorkelling & diving, walking tracks, wildlife viewing, Lizard Island Research Station

Budget: Expensive

 

What makes Lizard Island attractive as an island destination is its location – it’s right in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. Its proximity to the outer reef is brilliant making it a great place for diving the outer Great Barrier Reef. The two most popular dive sites – Cod Hole and Pixie Bommie can be accessed from this island. If that’s not good enough, consider its beaches, which are nothing short of sensational. Ranging from long stretches of white sand to idyllic little rocky bays, with crystal clear waters and magnificent coral reefs surrounding it, Lizard Island is paradise found. With the Lizard Island Research Station, plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities and walking tracks to spectacular viewing spots of the Reef, it’s a perfect holiday destination if you’re willing to spend the money.

If you’re interested in taking a vacation to Lizard Island, you’ll want to read up more about it on our Lizard Island page.

 

9. Great Keppel Island

 

Great for: Those looking to get away from it all, backpackers and those looking for a castaway holiday

Avoid if: You’re a family looking for an active holiday and a variety of shopping options

Distance from mainland: 51 km from Rockhampton

Transport options: Ferry from Rockhampton

Accommodation options: Resort, bungalow, motel, holiday homes, backpackers,

Kids Club: No

Activities: beaches, snorkelling, bush walking

Budget: Moderate

 

What makes Great Keppel Island stand out among the Great Barrier Reef islands are its seventeen heavenly white sandy beaches. Ringed by 28 kilometres of idyllic beaches and bays, visitors to this island can enjoy excellent swimming, snorkelling and diving. With just a 30-minute ferry ride from the mainland, this island destination makes for a great day trip or overnight visit. Unfortunately, those who are looking for a resort stay will not enjoy their stay here as the Great Keppel Island Resort is currently under restoration. The alternative accommodation options are not bad especially if you can score one of the two secluded boutique castaway bungalows at Svendsen’s Beach. If you’re looking for a ‘castaway’ experience, this island is right for you.

Read more about Great Keppel Island to plan your ideal holiday.

 

10. Long Island

 

Great for: Short, convenient holidays, budget travellers, couples

Avoid if: You’re a family looking for an active holiday and a variety of shopping options

Distance from mainland: 11 km from Shute Harbour

Transport options: Boat from Shute Harbour

Accommodation options: Resort, backpackers

Kids Club: No

Activities: walking tracks, beaches, snorkelling & diving, water sports, kayaking

Budget: Moderate

 

Compared to the other islands in the Whitsundays, Long Island is highly underrated. That’s what makes this island such a standout for us. With its location so close to the mainland (15-20 mins ferry ride), it’s a perfect island destination for those wanting a quick holiday without the hassles. It’s also easy on the wallet making it a great place for vacationers who don’t want to splurge. However, it has everything required for a perfect island holiday. The beaches are some of the best in the Whitsundays; it has a variety of water sport options as well as sea kayaking on the southern side of the island; and it has lovely walking tracks with fine lookouts and a choice of three resorts.

If you’re looking for a quick getaway and don’t want to spend a lot, read up on Long Island to plan your next holiday here.

 

Tell us what you think. What is your favourite Great Barrier Reef island? What makes this island so special for you?   

We love to hear from you so please leave your comments below.  

 

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