Check Out These Ten Secret Tropical Islands on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Aerial view of Great Barrier Reef in Australia

Australia is home to vastly different landscapes, from the arid desert that makes up the Outback to lush green rainforests filled with unique wildlife to pristine beaches surrounding its coastline. I've been lucky enough to visit many of these features, but nothing compares to the Great Barrier Reef. This beautiful expanse of coral gardens and marine life has been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Register for a reason.

10 Secret Islands on Australia's Great Barrier Reef

12 Apostles Australia
Image Credit: VH-MEL34.T – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wiki Commons.

The Great Barrier Reef enjoys an average temperature of 86 degrees year-round, though it sometimes gets to 70 in winter. Due to its beauty and these conditions, the reef receives almost 7 million visitors yearly, meaning some areas will be more crowded than others. If you'd prefer a quieter vacation, here are some lesser-visited islands where you can have a more relaxing vacation while enjoying this natural wonder.

While the weather is excellent year-round, there are certain months when swimming is slightly more restrictive than others due to Box Jellyfish inhabiting the area. To get the most out of your vacation, the best time to visit is between April and October—the colder months in Australia.

1. Lady Elliot Island

Lady Elliot Island SVII
Image Credit: Jon Connell, CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia Commons.

Lady Elliot Island, located at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, offers both eco-resort stays and day trips for visitors. It's famous for fantastic snorkeling, diverse marine life, and day trip packages that include scenic flights and snorkeling tours. The island hosts over 1,200 species of marine life in its pristine lagoons and reefs, with opportunities to observe whales, dolphins, rays, and various fish. It's also a turtle nesting site from November to March and a hotspot for manta ray sightings. Humpback whales make a seasonal appearance from May to November.

2. Lizard Island

Untitled Project2 3
Image Credit: Luka Peternel, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons.

Lizard Island, the northernmost island resort in Australia, is a natural haven featuring 24 pristine white sand beaches and a concealed lagoon, all waiting to be explored. The island draws its name from the wild goannas (local lizards) that inhabit its expansive 1,000-hectare (2,500-acre) national park. Amidst lush palm trees, the secluded Lizard Island Resort offers guests the opportunity to relish the island's beauty with sunset picnics on private beaches, followed by a return to one of its 40 luxurious suites. For those seeking to experience this paradise, a scenic flight with East Air from Cairns is the way to go.

3. Frankland Islands

Frankland Islands
Image Credit: Tourism and Events Queensland.

This group of islands, just off the coast from the city of Cairns, are uninhabited by humans. However, Frankland Islands Reef Cruises is the only commercial operator permitted to bring visitors to explore the rainforest, reef, and river located on Normanby Island within the group. The islands are a protected national park.

Normanby Island shores are adorned with rock pools and vibrant fringing reefs that invite you to embark on a snorkeling adventure right from the beach. This is a chance to check out river and sea life in Australia. While cruising the river, you may encounter crocodiles — from the comfort of an air-conditioned cabin! While on the island, you may discover many species of marine life, including clownfish, octopus, and turtles. The trip also includes a buffet lunch.

4. Wilson Island

Wilson Island
Image Credit: Jon Connell, CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia Commons.

Wilson Island, a tranquil retreat on the Great Barrier Reef, offers a luxurious castaway experience just north of the Tropic of Capricorn. It's accessible only via Heron Island, located 80 km northeast of Gladstone. The island is closed for bird breeding season from February 1st to April 1st. All your meals, drinks, and snacks are included during your stay on Wilson Island, allowing for a worry-free and indulgent experience.

With only nine permanent Reef Safari Tents, the island hosts a maximum of 18 guests at any given time, creating an intimate and secluded atmosphere. Activities range from self-guided island strolls to guided tours, self-guided nature walks, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling, and more. The island perfectly blends relaxation and exploration in a stunning natural setting.

5. Orpheus Island

Sunset Over Hinchinbrook Island
Image Credit: Jack Breedon, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons.

This island offers a luxury 5-star experience focusing on the environmental conservation of the Great Barrier Reef and has limited accommodations. Orpheus Island Lodge is an exclusive tropical paradise with 14 rooms, suites, and villas. Stretching along 7 miles of immaculate turquoise coastline and surrounded by a vast fringing reef, this luxury resort accommodates up to 28 guests. Your stay includes three daily gourmet meals, water sports equipment, a variety of beverages, and a unique Orpheus experience. The nearest coastal city is Townsville. 

6. Bedarra Island

Bedarra Island
Image Credit: Banfield1, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons.

Located offshore from Mission Beach in tropical North Queensland, Bedarra covers 100 hectares of rainforest. This private island is an exclusive, all-inclusive resort in the Great Barrier Reef. It offers twelve private villas within a tropical rainforest, ensuring privacy and stunning ocean views. With a maximum of 24 guests, it's a secluded and personalized escape. Guests can enjoy various activities and fine dining at the open terrace restaurant. The island also offers adventures like snorkeling and certified SCUBA diving on the Great Barrier Reef. 

7. Heron Island

Heron Island Aerea
Image Credit: LBM194, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons.

Heron Island, 72 kilometers off Gladstone in Queensland, Australia, is a natural coral cay at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. It's renowned for its stunning coral reef and diverse marine life, offering eco-friendly accommodation. Guests can explore the reef through snorkeling and diving at 20 accessible sites.

The Turtle Experience Package lets you witness sea turtles nesting and emerging hatchlings. Whether in the Pisonia Forest or beachside rooms, you'll have immediate access to clear waters teeming with marine creatures. The island offers nature walks, stargazing, spa treatments, and Baillie's Bar with panoramic reef views.

8. Long Island

Long Island of Australia
Image Credit: S. Newrick, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons.

Long Island is a part of the Whitsunday Island group in Queensland, Australia. It's the closest island to the Australian mainland, just over half a mile away. The island is a national park with hiking trails leading to secluded beaches, headlands, and forests. There are three resorts on the island, and visitors can enjoy activities like waterskiing, parasailing, and bushwalking.

The area is rich in wildlife, including dolphins, turtles, birds, tropical fish, goannas, and wallabies. To reach Long Island, fly to Hamilton Island Airport or Proserpine/Whitsunday Coast Airport and then take a ferry. You can also spend a day on Long Island without staying overnight. Palm Bay Resort offers day trips to their child-free resort so that you can spend some just for yourself. 

9. Haggerstone Island

Haggerstone
Image Credit: Tourism and Events Queensland.

Located in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef, Haggerstone Island is a private oasis. It houses a self-sufficient luxury eco-resort and offers numerous island trails for exploration. The surrounding waters are home to shipwrecks, World War II artifacts, and the remarkable marine life that the reef is known for.

Haggerstone Island Resort maintains low guest numbers, often fewer than 10. Visitors are accommodated in a set of upscale huts arranged around the main house, a communal building constructed from driftwood, timber, and grass roofing from Bali. Guests can reach the island by a private charter flight from Cairns or Weipa in Queensland, Australia.

10. Green Island

Green Islands Western Australia seen from Sharp Point
Image Credit: Calistemon, CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons.

You can visit the island on a day trip from Cairns or at the acclaimed Green Island Eco Resort. Located within the lush world heritage rainforest and at the heart of the Great Barrier Reef marine park, the island offers a unique boutique accommodation experience in Tropical North Queensland. This remarkable ancient coral cay is distinguished by its rare combination of coral reefs and thriving rainforest.

The resort seamlessly blends environmental sustainability with luxury, providing an exceptional getaway just a 45-minute catamaran ride from Cairns. Guests can explore the island's rich history, experience various complimentary activities, from snorkeling to guided eco-tours, and witness the surrounding reefs' vibrant marine and bird life. With its idyllic location and strong eco-conscious ethos, Green Island Eco Resort offers an exceptional and sustainable tropical island escape that harmonizes with the natural beauty of the Great Barrier Reef.

Author: Ree Winter

Title: Journalist

Expertise: travel, food, history

Bio:

  • Expertise: Travel, History, Food
  • Education: Monash University, Australia
  • Over 400 articles published in newspapers, magazines, and across the web

Ree Winter is a versatile journalist hailing from Australia and now making New Orleans her home. Ree's passion for solo travel shines through as she expertly tracks down fantastic flight deals and accommodations, sharing her extensive travel experiences with readers. With a Master's degree in Journalism and a Bachelor's degree featuring double majors in history and literature, she brings a unique blend of skills to her work. Ree's historical expertise extends to the world of architectural history, where she has worked as a tour guide in historic house museums. But her journey doesn't stop there; she's even delved into the art of coffee as a barista, running a coffee van at events and markets, making her a genuine connoisseur of coffee preparation. Today, Ree channels her insights and expertise into sharing these topics with readers at Wealth of Geeks.