Why We Fell In Love With Lady Elliot Island In Southern Great Barrier Reef
Are you wondering what it’s like to stay at Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort in the Great Barrier Reef? Having just spent a weekend at the incredible Southern Great Barrier Reef resort (thanks to the team at Bundaberg Region for taking us), we were completely blown away by this fantastic hidden gem in Australia.
If you’re looking for one of the best family Great Barrier Reef holidays, or best snorkelling & diving in Great Barrier Reef, find out why Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is just the place to visit. I can guarantee you’ll more than likely want to come back time and time again.
Lady Elliot Island is approximately 80KM North East of Bundaberg and the only way you can get here is in a small plane from either Brisbane, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay or Gold Coast.
You cannot jump on a boat to get there, but it makes it much more fun by going in a small plane and seeing the island from above.
It’s also just 5km off the continental shelf which brings in warm waters year round, as well as plenty of incredible underwater life. And it’s also the most southern of the Great Barrier Reef Islands.
Watch Our Lady Elliot Island Video Below
What makes Lady Elliot Island different?
It’s not called an eco resort for nothing. Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is turning heads so much, Prince Charles used the island as a case study when he brought 70 of Australia’s biggest CEOs over to it to show them how to protect the reef going forward.
It’s crazy to think the island was nicknamed ‘The Rock’ back in the 1950s because there was zilch on it. In fact, over the last 50 years, it’s been an ongoing project to regenerate the island which is now home to thousands of birds who come to nest every year in the trees.
The more we learnt about the island and what they have done / are doing to protect the reef is so remarkable, we felt like we had visited the best place in Australia. Not only did we leave feeling inspired, it’s the type of place we would love to come back to.
It’s also home to over 1200 marine life and according to PADI it’s the world’s best diving with mantra rays. And it’s home to the world’s only pink mantra ray too which attracts divers from all over the world.
It’s no wonder the Irwin family visit Lady Elliot Island a couple of times a year on their holidays and that the legendary David Attenborough sent his film crew over to capture the marine life in their Great Barrier Reef episodes.
What does a Lady Elliot Island holiday look like?
So I’m going to share with you what our weekend at Lady Elliot Island looked like for anyone wanting an insight into what to expect. I’ll try and share as much detail as possible so you can prepare for the most amazing time on the island.
The Flight to Lady Elliot Island
The pilot met us at Bundaberg airport at 8:30am on the Saturday morning and whisked us off onto an incredible small plane. If you’re lucky (like me!), you might be able to sit in the front seat, next to the pilot!
The flight itself is a huge highlight as you get to see the island from above. Although it took just 30 minutes, I wanted the pilot to just keep circling the island because it’s just so amazing to see it from above.
If you’re wondering what side of the plane to sit on, it’s a tough one because if you sit on the right, you’ll see the island first. The pilot then circles around the island on the left but you’ll be closer up to it. It just depends on what kind of angles you want to capture.
What happens when you land at Lady Elliot Island
When we landed at Lady Elliot Island, we were greeted by a team of staff and taken straight to the Island map board to get our bearings.
We were then told about all of the activities on offer throughout the day. From learning to snorkel, island tours, fish feeding tours, behind the scenes tours, glass bottom boat tours, even night time activities like bingo… the list goes on. We knew we were in for a jam packed time!
We were surprised about how developed the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort actually is. After exploring the nearby Lady Musgrave Island which only has a camping area, this island was much more developed but in a good way.
We were pleasantly surprised how well set up Lady Elliot Island is. With a dive shop, reception & tourist shop, restaurant & bar, games room, playground, volleyball court, swimming pool and even a departure lounge to wait in for your flight out of the island, we were really impressed as soon as we started to walk around.
Although it’s obvious the resort was built in the 1980s, you can see the amount of work that’s gone into the building & accommodation upgrades around the island.
Watch our video at Lady Elliot Island below!
Lady Elliot Island Accommodation
There’s four different types of Lady Elliot Island accommodation which can hold up to 150 guests, although they always take much less to ensure the island isn’t over crowded. If spending your time on a quieter island is your thing, then you’ve come to the right place.
It might not be a five star resort because the main focus is the reef and the natural beauty of the island. There’s no TVs and barely any mobile reception, so you can leave your phone at home. Even though we purchased wifi from reception when we arrived, we actually didn’t touch our phones the entire weekend because we were too busy enjoying the island.
Accommodation is basic but affordable with a strong focus on families, couples and single travellers. Whether you want to learn all about the island or just sit back and relax, it’s totally up to you.
During our stay, we were actually shown around some of the different types of accommodation. There are some lovely new cabins which have just been built, which are more affordable and with a communal shower block just a hop, skip and a jump away. I heard everyone saying how good the showers in that block are too.
We also saw two bedroom apartments right on the reef which are popular with families as well as glamping tents which are stunning.
On our final night, we were actually upgraded to the glamping tents because the pilot was sick to take us back to Bundaberg on the final flight of the day. This meant, we were given an extra night stay and in the beautiful glamping tents. We had literally hit the jackpot because we didn’t want to leave.
The staff, particularly the manager Erin had gone well above and beyond to organise another night’s stay for us so we could get back into Bundaberg at 6:30am the following day (in time for Steve to get back to his web based job). We couldn’t believe the effort she went through to do that for us. This also meant that we were able to snorkel in the famous lagoon, something I’ll take about in more detail in this post.
Scuba Diving In Lady Elliot Island
We then popped over to the dive shop and organised our scuba diving on Lady Elliot Island. Because we were supposed to be flying out the next day, you can’t dive 12 hours before a flight so we could only go as soon as we landed on Lady Elliot.
Our diving instructor was a lovely guy called Marcello, originally from Brazil. He claimed Lady Elliot Island is the best diving in the world, and he was right.
During our one dive we saw loads of eagle rays and sharks all hanging out together. I have never seen this amount of underwater life before whilst diving and more notably how alive the coral is. We have done a liveaboard off Cairns before and literally saw nothing in four days.
Unfortunately we didn’t see the pink mantra ray which is extremely rare to find. When we asked one staff member about it, she said in the 2.5 years since she has been working on the island, she had been 15 metres away from it but had no idea. The pink skin can only be found on the bottom of the ray so it would look like any other mantra ray from viewing it from above which is why you can only see it whilst diving not snorkelling.
We did however see what looked like a white eagle ray which could have been an albino eagle ray – something our diving instructor hadn’t seen before.
We also didn’t see any manta rays as the best time of the year to spot them is in August along with the whale migration. Just imagine diving with humpback whales and manta rays? Although whales don’t tend to come into reefs, they do at Lady Elliot Island. I actually saw one jumping up just metres from the beach near to the Lighthouse when we first arrived.
Snorkelling in Lady Elliot Island
You can see there’s a lot of effort been made for the snorkelling on Lady Elliot Island. The beauty about the island being a coral cay is you can go snorkelling straight from the beach. You don’t need to spend hours on a boat to get to the snorkelling spot.
There’s been a lot of thought gone into the snorkelling areas on the island. With a seating station just out on the water, you can change between your water shoes and fins and leave your water shoes in the basket above the seat.
There’s also lines out in the reef so you can just follow them on your snorkel. It’s something that has been well and truely thought out and a brilliant way to encourage kids to see the underwater life or for anyone new to snorkelling. They also run snorkelling classes for anyone who hasn’t snorkelled before.
We went snorkelling around the Lighthouse Beach which was absolutely amazing. We saw a huge pod of fish swimming in a formed circle as well as reef sharks which was incredible.
Even one of the guys on a boat offered to give us a lift down to the other end of the beach so we could float back to see the fish. It was awesome!
Snorkelling at the lagoon
We also snorkelled the famous lagoon which you can only go out at during high tide. Mind you high tide was something like 1.2m at the time of visiting, but we were determined along with the other guests to get out there.
And what we saw was mind blowing. Before we knew it, we had come into contact with at least 10 turtles, right up close to them as well as reef sharks.
We might have been lucky to see 10 turtles that day but we’ve heard you can spot a good 30 or so.
Afterwards, we looked at each other and said, ‘this is THE best snorkelling in the world’.
Learning about Lady Elliot Island conservation
After our underwater activities, we went on a couple of tours to learn about the conservation of Lady Elliot Island.
With a team of passionate and dedicated people working at Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, it is set to become 100% renewable by the end of 2020. They will be completely running on solar power and have even built an impressive system to make their own water from using the water in the ocean. And I have to say, their water is the cleanest water I’ve ever tasted!
You can actually learn all about this on the behind the scenes island tours like we went on. There’s a huge aspect of teaching the guests all about sustainability and the eco systems in the Great Barrier Reef.
We were firstly taken on a tour run by the Eco Systems Manager called Jim. As someone who moved from London to Australia in the 1960s, he has spent the last five years bringing Lady Elliot Island to life.
As I mentioned in this post, the island was completely bare until 1970 when trees were planted. It’s taken a while to learn about the eco system on the island and while Jim is in the process of removing some of the older trees and replacing them with trees which will flourish, you can clearly see the joy and passion about this huge project he has taken on.
He took us around the nursery where we were able to see all of the different plants and trees being grown to plant on the island. It was really cool to see how the regeneration of the island in process.
Everything is put back into the island, from food scraps to weeds and waste water, it’s all used as soil to help with the regeneration.
Later on another passionate staff member called James took us on a behind the scenes tour to teach us about the sustainability of the island. First we were shown how the desal water system works. Imagine being able to use the ocean water as your drinking water, shower water and waste water?
By building a filtering system, the island can easily make the 20,000 litres needed to run the island on a busy day. Their system works so well, many companies all over of the world specifically come to the island to learn from them.
We were also shown into the solar panel room. They are currently in the process of using more eco friendly batteries to run the island. By the end of 2020, the entire island will be running on 100% solar.
Why Lady Elliot Island is great for families
When we spoke to the owner, Peter Gash, he told us how important it is to teach children about what they are doing to ensure the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef continues on.
They take on school trips to teach kids all about the Great Barrier Reef and the tools they are using to regenerate the vegetation of the island. From going on the backstage tours like we did, to learning how to snorkel, there’s even a playground right in the middle of the resort too which is the perfect mix.
Lady Elliot Island food
Breakfast and dinner are included in your accommodation package at Lady Elliot Island and comes in a buffet style so you can easily go back for seconds or thirds.
Breakfast options range from pastries, fruits and a full English Breakfast, whilst dinner options include Sunday roasts, risottos and much more.
You’ll need to pay for lunch which is budget friendly around $20 for fish & chips or a burger. They usually hold a legendary lunch buffet but at the time of visiting they couldn’t due to the new covid restrictions.
There’s also a full bar at Lady Elliot so you can drink cocktails looking out at the reef to watch the day go by. It’s not a party resort though, most people are in bed by 9pm at the latest on this island. But that’s a good thing because you’ll want to get up and enjoy an action packed day.
Should You Do A Lady Elliot Day Trip Instead?
We were actually going to go on a Lady Elliot Island day trip but I’m really glad we ended up staying because there’s just so much to do there that you really do need the time to take it all in.
On the weekend we visited, it actually rained heavily for the first time in a couple of years. Luckily, the following day was absolutely beautiful so it gave us enough time to get around the island and do some of the activities.
To be honest, you need at least two days on Lady Elliot Island to get your head around how incredible it really is. There’s so much to do, you won’t be bored, ever.
Plus you’ll want to stay on the island to witness a stunning sunrise and a sunset with a glass of wine in hand. And as we sat there watching the sunset, we looked at each other and said “I can’t believe this island is in Australia”. I can’t recommend this island anymore!
Things to know before you go
Make sure you bring some decent shoes with you. I only brought my sandals as I forgot my flip flops. You’ll need some decent water shoes to walk around the island, otherwise your feet will be pretty painful walking on the coral sand. We bought a pair of reef shoes from the shop for just $15 on the island.
The best time to visit Lady Elliot Island Resort is in the Winter months. We visited in June and it was still quite hot but not unbearable. August is the best month to dive with manta rays and humpback whales.