Mindful Travel, Part 3: A Day Trip to Lady Elliot Island
So What’s All the Fuss About? What is Lady Elliot Island?
This past August, I had the good fortune of flying out to a little island north of Fraser called Lady Elliot. Located off the coast of southern Queensland, it is one of the southernmost cays of the Great Barrier Reef and is known for its abundance of sea turtles, manta rays, reef sharks, and spectacular array of other marine species. The moment I arrived in Hervey Bay, I was surrounded by chatter about Lady Elliot and people who gushed over how amazing it was. Literally, I’d be sitting at the office at work and multiple other crew members from different boats in the harbor would bustle by and stop in for a chat, and inevitably, Lady Elliot would come up. “You have to go. That place is insane.”
So, I was pretty much sold on the place by day one. You don’t really need to tell me twice to visit an island regarded by many as the home of the healthiest parts of the Great Barrier Reef. I have to say, I had some high expectations after all the buzz.
They were met.
I’ve included this post in my Mindful Travel Series because Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is, in my opinion, a responsible choice when it comes to choosing tourist activities in the Fraser Coast area of Queensland. Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is actively working towards preserving the environment, particularly the Great Barrier Reef, and they invite their guests along for the ride with friendly and open hospitality. It’s an experience full of educational opportunities, breathtaking marine life encounters, and plenty of chances to immerse yourself in the pure bliss of island life and isolation.
Booking Your Trip
Booking was simply a matter of making a phone call and picking what day I wanted to go. It is a pricey trip, but well, well worth it if you can cough up the cash. I only had time to do a day trip, but the whole island (it’s teeny) is managed by Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, so there are rooms and cabins where you can stay overnight. The rooms are “small and unpretentious,” according to the website, which I think is part of the charm. They’re focusing on the ecology and preservation of the environment they’re lucky enough to be surrounded by instead of trying to make it a luxurious retreat - staying there is an invitation for you to join them in experiencing what it mean to be a part of an eco-community. They provide guests with educational experiences focusing on the island’s fragile ecosystems, the renewable energy and various technologies they’re using to reduce their impact, and information about how anyone can join in the conservation efforts. It’s a beautiful way to learn more about how humans and nature can live in harmony. I wish I could’ve stayed a week! Don’t make the same mistake I did - if you can stay longer, do. You won’t regret it.
Getting to the Island
Seeing as it is an island, and it is located a fair ways off the coast, the only transport available for visitors is by plane. This was one of the greatest joys of the whole experience, especially since I went during whale season (July - October) - chances are you’ll see a humpback or two cruising along down beneath you! Their blows and splashes are unmistakable, even from a few hundred meters up in the air. The pilots were chipper (they have the world’s best office, my goodness) and happy to point out the sights along the way. I made sure to hop in the front seat of the plane - make sure to ask, they’re happy to have company up there and you’ll get some breathtaking views!
The landing strip is quite literally a strip of grass running the whole length of the island, splitting right through the middle. On one side, you’ll find the actual buildings that make up the resort, including accommodations, dining areas, the dive shop, locker rooms, reservations, and the like. On the other side of the landing strip, tucked away in the trees, are the staff accommodations as well as access to some of the mind-blowing snorkel and dive sites on the island.
After our scenic flight, we tumbled excitedly out of the plane. I was one of the few day-trippers, so after a thorough briefing by a cheerful staff member on the activities scheduled throughout the day and general safety procedures on the island, I breezed through check-in, hit up the locker rooms, pulled on my wettie, grabbed my mask and fins, and practically ran to the beach.
Beginner Snorkel Spots on Lady Elliot Island
As I mentioned earlier, the snorkeling on the island is one of the biggest draws to visit. There is an incredible array of marine life and a snorkel site to suit every ability. The lagoon (located on the east side of the island, by the accommodation) is ideal for novice snorkelers, as the water is very calm and protected. It is tide dependent, so that’s why I practically ran here after the orientation to dunk myself before it got too shallow. Just because it’s a beginners spot doesn’t mean it should be skipped by those more experienced - many people exclaim they’ve had the most amazing snorkel experiences of their lives here. I was blown away by how many sea turtles cruised by, gracefully winging their way over the colorful coral and fish below them. I even tagged along behind a black-tip reef shark for a while, but quickly figured out these animals are much stronger swimmers than I am! I was wiped out.
The other snorkel spots are on the west side of the island. It certainly is more of an adventure and only recommended for experienced snorkelers, but even if you’re a salty newbie, they do offer guided snorkel tours and glass-bottom boat tours throughout the day free-of-charge. You just need to sign up on arrival. Even though I could’ve just spent the day snorkeling on my own, I decided to go on the glass-bottom tour per a friend’s recommendation, and I am so glad I did! The crew was very knowledgable and it was great to learn about the ecology of the island and the reef surrounding us from folks who have been living on the island for a while. We saw four different manta rays, which frequent the waters around Lady Elliot, and they were massive. I’ve snorkeled with them before on the Big Island of Hawai’i, but there is something so calming about seeing these massive winged beasts. It never gets old. I met some happy, cheerful people onboard the boat as well, but I was mostly excited to talk to the guides and captain. I love interacting with those who share the marine tourism lifestyle - we have so many things in common, and it’s a curious but delightful life we lead. Plus, captain dude was pretty cute. That helped.
What to Eat
After the boat tour, I headed to the dining area for the included lunch buffet. Perfectly content to stuff myself with their plethora of veggie options, I perhaps ate a bit too fast. I just wanted to be back in the water! After giving my stomach approximately two minutes to digest, I grabbed my gear again and headed back to the west side of the island, determined to explore more of the magical snorkel sites I had become oriented with on the glass-bottom boat.
West Side Snorkel Spots on Lady Elliot Island
The advanced snorkel sites are called Lighthouse and Coral Gardens, and if the tides and current are right (check with the dive shop before you head over), you can turn it into a drift-snorkel (my favorite!). I got into the water at the Lighthouse and slowly floated my way into an aquatic wonderland. My senses were on overdrive as I turned my head in every direction, blown away by the sheer variety of fish, coral, and invertebrate species surrounding me. There were so many divine types of coral that I had never seen before, particularly the soft corals that were waving around as if an underwater breeze was dancing through their branches. And that wasn’t even the best of it! Whale song was loud and clear the moment I dove down a few feet (I was there in August after all, prime time for the humpbacks to be heading south along the Fraser Coast). I love having my own personal soundtrack when I’m snorkeling. I saw three species of turtle, including my first loggerhead. I saw reef sharks and rays. I swallowed water from smiling. It was pure bliss.
I stayed in the water for hours, completing the drift snorkel twice before taking a peek at my watch and realizing I had ten minutes to make it back to the plane. I ran out of the water, peeling my mask from my face, and hustled back to the plane. I was cutting it close, but luckily no one seemed to notice a salty, dazed, blissful girl running behind schedule. I pulled on dry clothes, hopped on the plane, and gazed below me at the wonder of Lady Elliot Island as we took to the skies for our return flight to Hervey Bay.
An Experience You’ll Never Forget
Have I convinced you to check out Lady Elliot yet? You have to! I made a short little video highlighting some of my GoPro footage and posted it at the top of the post, so check it out if you haven’t already and let me know what you think. I haven’t had much of a chance to explore the world of underwater photography, sadly, but that sure as hell won’t stop me from etching the most perfect memories in my mind forever and attempting to share them with you in words and whatever other documentation I have on hand.
Let me know if you have questions, and remember to enjoy our world right now, today, as it is. Don’t put off the trip of your dreams. Travel responsibly, travel well, and bring your own water bottles please :)