The reef actually a formation of thousands of neighbouring clumps of reefs — runs close to shore in the north of Queens-land but slants ever further out to sea as it extends south-wards. Hundreds of islands are scattered across the protected waters between the coral barrier and the mainland. More than a dozen have been developed into resorts, ranging from spar-tan to sybaritic. But only two resort islands — Heron and Green — are on the reef itself. From all the others you have to travel, by sea or air, from 5-70 km (3-43 miles) to reach the main attraction.
Here are some details about the character and facilities of the resorts of the Great Barrier Reef, heading from south to north: Fraser Island is actually south of the Great Bather Reef but it is close enough to it, and interesting enough, to rate inclusion in this list. About 120km (75 miles)
A snorkel and flippers are all you need to explore a coral wonderland
long, Fraser is considered to be the largest sand island in the world, and is listed as a World Heritage site. But there’s more than just sand: lakes, marsh, pine forest and rainforest. This is an unspoilt island for fishing, beachcombing and four-wheel-chive trekking, not swimming or coral dives.
You can take excursions and flights to the island from Hervey Bay, or stay overnight at resorts, lodges, cabins or campsites. Lady Elliot Island is a coral isle, part of the reef, but situated south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Activities centre on diving, swimming and windsurfing. The gateway airport is in Bundaberg, a sugar-producing town 375 km (233 miles) up the coast from Brisbane, and day-trip flights include use of the island’s resort. Heron Island is heaven for divers.
It’s a small coral island right on the Great Barrier Reel Amazing coral and hundreds of species of fish are waiting to be sighted just outside your door. Alternatively, nature-lovers can concentrate on the
giant green turtles, which waddle ashore between mid-October and March to bury their eggs in the sand. Heron Island is also the goal of thousands of migrating noddy toms and shearwaters. A resort on the island accommodates up to 250 people.
There arc no day trips and no camping. Great Keppel Island is one of the larger resort islands in area and in tourist population (there is even a youth hostel). The great white beaches are simply gorgeous. The Great Barrier Reef is fully 70 km (44 miles) away. but Great Keppel is surrounded by good local coral, and there’s an underwater observatory.
Its beaches arc among the best in the resort islands. Great Keppel is also one of the cheapest islands to reach from the mainland— a return ferry trip from Rosslyn Bay costs about AS30. For other angles on the sea’s secrets in the area, rent a sailboard. catamaran, motorboat and/or snorkelling gear, or try water-skiing or parasailing.
Lake McKenzie is just one of Fraser Island’s freshwater lakes
Brampton Island, with its P&O resort, is easily reached by air or sea from Mackay. With forested mountains and abundant wildlife, it’s worth exploring the mountainous interior of the island.
You can also discover neighbouring Carlisle Island. uninhabited and connected to Brampton by a reef that is wadeable when the tide’s out. If the many sandy beaches don’t suffice, there’s a saltwater swimming pool. Lindeman Island is the most southerly of the islands in the Whitsunday archipelago, which was named by Captain Cook after the feast of Pentecost, approximately the time of year when he passed through.
Lindeman Island was almost overrun by feral goats, but they have been eradicated. If you want an all-inclusive vacation you can stay at the Club Med Resort there. There’s a campsite as well. Travel there by boat from Shute Harbour or fly from Hamilton Island below). With its jet airstrip, I4-storey apartment tower, nine restaurants, five bars, a 200-boat marina and the largest freshwater pool in the Pacific.
Hamilton Island is the slick-est international resort in the Coral Sea. It’s all carefully thought out, from the busy yacht marina and shops to the landscaping around the Polynesian-style cottages. Divers can rush out to the reef by catamaran or helicopter. The island’s rainbow lorikeets not only eat out of your hand but sit on your arm while doing it. There are tame kangaroos, too. You can fly to Hamilton Island from Sydney. Melbourne, Brisbane or Mackay, or fly to Proserpine and take a boat from Shute Harbour. Long Island is Ilkm (7 miles) long — narrow and hilly
. Close to the mainland and far from the reef, it has three resorts: Club Crocodile Long Island, Peppers Palm Bay and Whitsunday Wilderness Lodge. There’s also a campsite. Most of the island is national park rainforest. South Molle Island also consists mainly of national park. plus a resort.