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12 Places To See Great Barrier Reef Hidden Gems With The Greyhound Bus Australia

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Wondering how to plan your Greyhound bus in Australia travel? With the backpacker scene rising back up again, the Greyhound Australia bus company are now offering a sweet deal to travel the East Coast of Australia!

For just $299 (normally worth $539), you’ll get a one-way ticket to travel up the East Coast from Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra and unlimited travel within Queensland (which is unbelievably cheap when you think about it!). Plus! You’ll get a $200 Backpacker Deals voucher to do some epic bucket list experiences with the Working Holidayer Pass!

And, you can’t come to Australia without seeing the Great Barrier Reef – a major Australian bucket list item! As we’ve explored many Great Barrier Reef hidden gems, we’re sharing some of the fantastic Greyhound bus stops you need to add to your list to see the true beauty of the Great Barrier Reef!


12 Places To See Great Barrier Reef Gems With The Greyhound Bus Australia

While many backpackers in Australia head up to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef, it actually stretches over 2,300km of UNESCO World Heritage Listed Area. We’ve been lucky to explore some absolutely cracking Great Barrier Reef Islands which you too can see when you use the Greyhound bus too.

1. Lady Elliot Island

From Gold Coast, Brisbane, Hervey Bay, Bundaberg

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If you’re travelling Australia, the likelihood that you’ll be stopping off in Gold Coast, Brisbane, and Hervey Bay is pretty big. While you can’t jump on a boat to reach the Great Barrier Reef from either place, you can indeed jump on an awesome small plane over to the mind-blowing Lady Elliot Island.

Not heard of Lady Elliot Island? Neither had I until I moved up to Queensland. This is an incredible island that is small enough to walk around in about 30 minutes or so.

Wondering why you should visit? OK, it’s home to the only pink manta ray in the world!

Diving inside the Reef is absolutely incredible and is by far the best diving in the world that I’ve experienced.

Not a diver? It’s also home to the best snorkelling in the world. They have a lagoon that’s only accessible at high tide, so you’ll need to stay overnight. But man, once you get in there, you’ll see 30 turtles like we did, all swimming around and right up to you.

I can only explain Lady Elliot Island as such a magical place, it’s like a Disney movie for the underwater life. There’s so much going on underwater here, it’s amazing. Plus, if you get chatting to the staff and specifically the owner, you’ll have more admiration for the incredible conservation work going on here. They’ve got a cracking story you must hear about how the resort started.

Read our Lady Elliot Island guides below!

10 Reasons You Need To Visit Lady Elliot Island

Why We Fell In Love With Lady Elliot Island

Watch our Lady Elliot Island video


2. Lady Musgrave Island

From Bundaberg & 1770

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While many people have only heard of Bundaberg Rum, there’s so much more to this regional town than you think. As the Southern Great Barrier Reef gateway, you can jump on a two hour boat ride and head to the beautiful Lady Musgrave Island.

Although Lady Musgrave Island is super close to Lady Elliot Island, the two islands are so different. Lady Musgrave Island is home to thousands of birds, and while you can only camp here, you might like to try the brand new Reef Sleep from here which is accommodation on a pontoon next to the island. It’s been on our list to stay here for ages because we only know too well how beautiful this island is.

You can also head over to Lady Musgrave Island from 1770 which is where we used to live. Make sure you go to Agnes Water & 1770, it’s our favourite beach town in Australia. Honestly, I doubt you’ll find a more beautiful stretch of coastline than here.

Read our Lady Musgrave Island Guides:

What A Day Trip To Lady Musgrave Island Looks Like

30 Best Things To Do In Agnes Water & 1770

10 Best Places To Eat In Agnes Water

Watch our Lady Musgrave Island video


3. Heron Island

From Gladstone

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When we moved to Agnes Water, we were lucky enough to live just 1h30m from Gladstone. You can get the Greyhound bus to Gladstone, which as you’ll see isn’t exactly worth staying in. But, what’s absolutely special about Gladstone is Heron Island. It’s an incredible Southern Great Barrier Reef Island and if you time your visit with the annual turtle nesting season (between Nov – Feb), it will honestly blow you away as it did for us.

We saw at least 50 turtles lined up on the beach coming in to nest. It turns out a lot of them come from the Solomon Islands which is just incredible that they’ve made it this far.

While Heron Island Resort isn’t a luxury or glitzy resort, it’s a good affordable option to spend a few days in the Great Barrier Reef with super clear turquoise water. Also, snorkelling around the shipwreck is amazing as well – take me back!!

Read our Heron Island guides

20 Best Things To Do On Heron Island

Heron Island: The Ultimate Guide To Paradise

Watch our Heron Island video


4. Wilson Island

From Gladstone

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Heron Island’s sister island called Wilson Island is an absolutely amazing Great Barrier Reef Island to visit. OK, it’s a luxury glamping experience island that isn’t cheap, but it’s absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I think everyone should see. You’ll have a chef to cook amazing meals, with space to chill out on your own for the day and you’ll honestly feel like you’ve booked your very own Great Barrier Reef Island.

We absolutely loved our stay here, saw the best star-lit sky we’ve ever seen, and appreciated every minute on this gorgeous castaway but authentic Great Barrier Reef Island experience.

Read our Wilson Island guide: A Guide To Wilson Island: Glamping In Paradise

Watch our Wilson Island video


5. Great Keppel Island

From Yeppoon

Many backpackers in Australia head from Agnes Water & 1770 to The Whitsundays without stopping. To be honest, you’ll be missing out on a proper gem which the town of Yeppoon and the area of Rockhamptom.

I know it sounds random, but after exploring the area a lot, Rockhampton and Yeppoon are home to some incredible gems. Go check out our Blackdown Tablelands National Park guide where you’ll swim in the most insanely perfect swimming holes.

Don’t forget to visit the mind-blowing Capricorn Caves, and if you can head over to Carnarvon Gorge which is home to one of Australia’s best walks.

And yeah, let’s get back to the Great Barrier Reef, because 30minutes from Rockhampton is Yeppoon’s beautiful coastal town, where you’ll be able to see some of the Great Barrier Reef Islands.

You can head over to Great Keppel Island for $50 return ferry for the day like we did, which is a brilliantly authentic island. It’s also home to one of the best-rated beaches in Australia called Long Beach, which is worth visiting alone. You can camp on this island if you want to spend a few days chilling out while visiting the Great Barrier Reef on the cheap.

If you head back to Yeppoon, go visit Byfield National Park if you can, it’s awesome.

Read our Great Keppel Island guides

20 Things To Do In Great Keppel Island

What To Do On A Great Keppel Island Day Trip

35 Best Things To Do In Yeppoon

Watch our Great Keppel Island video


6. Keswick Island

From Mackay

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Image via queensland.com

We found out about Keswick Island purely because we saw a rental come up on this island, and when we looked further into it, we thought how cool it would have been to live here.

You can jump on a day trip tour from Mackay and explore some of these most hidden islands in the Great Barrier Reef. I have heard you can camp on Keswick, but with just a small cafe on the island, you’ll need to bring everything with you.


7. The Whitsunday Islands

From Airlie Beach

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As some of the most popular islands in Australia, The Whitsundays are known as the official heart of the Great Barrier Reef (and it’s where you can see the famous Heart Reef). Home to the whitest sand beach in the world, a trip up the East Coast of Australia isn’t complete without taking a photo of the famous Whitehaven Beach.

After exploring the East Coast of Australia many times, I can totally see why The Whitsundays are popular. It’s an incredible part of the country you must see for yourself. Plus, Airlie Beach is always fun for backpacker bars that line the main street.

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I would recommend doing a helicopter flight over The Whitsundays to see it in all its glory and of course, catch a glimpse of the Heart Reef. There’s also a ReefSleep here like in Lady Musgrave Island, which is a must-do experience. If you’re looking to go snorkelling, The Whistundays aren’t the best, as Cyclone Debbie destroyed a lot of the Reef in 2017.

FYI – In general terms, the further away from the mainland, the better the Reef is. That’s why Lady Musgrave Island, Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island are spectacular for snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef because they take a couple of hours to get to. If you’re only visiting The Whitsundays to see the Great Barrier Reef, book an outer-reef tour to have chances of seeing as much underwater life as possible. 

Read our Whitsundays and Airlie Beach guides

Is Ocean Rafting Whitsundays Day Trip Worth It?

37 Best Things To Do In Whitsundays & Airlie Beach

21 Best Whitsundays Tours To Choose From

Watch our day trip to The Whitsundays with Ocean Rafting


8. Magnetic Island

From Townsville

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No backpacker trip to Australia is complete without visiting Magnetic Island. I remember it being one of the most memorable parts of my trip when I was a backpacker. There’s something really fun about driving around in barbie cars while discovering so many things to do on Magnetic Island that you’ll instantly fall in love with it.

While you’re there, book in a dive trip to Australia’s only Museum of Underwater Art which honestly looks incredible! It’s new too, and is on my bucket list for sure!

Read our Magnetic Island Guides

An Honest Review Of Base Hostel In Magnetic Island

Why You Need To Experience The Famous Cane Toad Racing Night In Magnetic Island

30 Best Things To Do In Magnetic Island

Best Day Trips From Townsville

Watch our Magnetic Island video


9. Hinchinbrook Island

From Cardwell

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One of the most underrated places on the East Coast of Australia is Cardwell. You can jump off the Greyhound Australia bus here and catch the ferry over to Hinchinbrook Island. We found a day trip tour as well but we couldn’t do it as we went in the Wet Season in December and the tours weren’t running at that time. But, wow, this island looks absolutely amazing like it’s something out of Jurassic Park.

Hinchinbrook Island is home to one of the best walks in Australia which is called the Thorsborne Trail. It looks fantastic but it’s not for the faint-hearted being 32km and takes a few days!

Try and hire a car when you’re in Cardwell if you can, as it’s home to some amazing swimming holes like Cardwell Spa Pools.


10. Dunk Island

From Mission Beach

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Mission Beach is another popular stop-off for backpackers travelling the East Coast of Australia. The town is small but really cool and has a lively dining scene. Plus, you might see some cassowaries which are super rare pre-historic looking birds and it’s also home to those famous Insta-worthy palm trees you can get a cracking photo of.

You can hire some kayaks in Mission Beach and head over to the nearby Dunk Island to explore this lesser-known Great Barrier Reef Island.

Read our Mission Beach guide: 26 Best Things To Do In Mission Beach


11. Green Island or Fitzroy Island

Cairns

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Fitzroy Island

Green Island and Fitzroy Island in the Great Barrier Reef are two very popular islands to put on your bucket list. Being super close to Cairns, you can pick up a day trip tour easily and spend the day exploring one of the islands.

If you’re not sure which one to choose, check out our Green Island vs Fitzroy Island article and work out which one will suit you best.

Alternatively, you might like to book the Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel Tour which is run by the crew of Indigenous Sea Country guides.

Read our Cairns guides

Green Island vs Fitzroy Island: Which One Is Better?

25 Best Things To Do In Cairns

28 Best Things To Do In Atherton Tablelands

13 Things To Know About The Amazing Paronella Park

Port Douglas vs Palm Cove vs Cairns


12. See the Mackay and Undine Reefs

From Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation

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Port Douglas is a hugely popular backpacker town in Tropical North Queensland, which is super close to the world’s oldest rainforest – The Daintree Rainforest – a must visit! You can jump on a snorkelling tour to the Mackay and Undine Reefs with Sailaway Port Douglas or with Ocean Safari in Cape Tribulation. Our writers Nina and Danny recently did the Ocean Safari tour which you can read about here.

Looking for more backpacking Australia inspiration? Check out our Backpacking Australia Tips page to learn more about travelling Australia!

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