Australia's best islands for a holiday: The pick of 8000 islands

Lady Elliot Island, Queensland.
TOURISM AND EVENTS QUEENSLAND

Lady Elliot Island, Queensland.

Say the words "island nation" and we tend to think of somewhere in the South Pacific: Fiji, perhaps, or the Solomon Islands. Yet with more than 8000 islands scattered around our neighbour's coastline, Australia has plenty of island escapes  – and not all of them are off the coast of Queensland.

From storm-tossed islands in the Southern Ocean, where cows graze by the roadside, and pristine forests shelter everything from bandicoots to echidnas, to sandy islands studded with pristine lakes, the diversity of Australia's islands is as dazzling as their number.

Want to get away from it all? The colourful cliffs of Maria Island and the Kentia palm forests of Lord Howe Island are great places for crowd-free hikes.  Prefer a bit of holiday buzz?  Head for Phillip Island or Hamilton Island instead, where there is always something new to do. 

Whether you are a foodie or a four-wheel-drive fan, into indigenous cultures or eco-adventures, you will find something to suit your holiday style in this list of ultimate Aussie island escapes.

One of Maria Island's lovely landscapes in Tasmania.
PIERRE DESTRIBATS/TOURISM TASMANIA

One of Maria Island's lovely landscapes in Tasmania.

Kangaroo Island, South Australia

WHY WE LOVE IT Arguably the best place in country to see wildlife – koalas, echidnas, seals, sea lions, and more – Kangaroo Island also scores high in the gourmet stakes. 

BEST FOR Furry creatures and foodies.

Lake Mackenzie, Fraser Island.
TOURISM AND EVENTS QUEENSLAND

Lake Mackenzie, Fraser Island.

MUST DO Flinders Chase National Park is great for spectacular scenery and wildlife spotting.  Schedule some time to visit artisanal producers such as Island Pure Sheep Dairy, The Islander Estate winery, and The Island Beehive.

STAY Every room at Kangaroo Island Seaside Inn has an ocean view.  From $119 a  night twin share.  7 Cygnet Rd, Kingscote,  kiseasideinn.com.au

Kangaroo Island Acacia Apartments' self-contained apartments suit families.  From $448 for two nights twin share.  3-5 Rawson St, Kingscote,  acacia-apartments.com.au

Pumpkin Island, Queensland.
TOURISM AND EVENTS QUEENSLAND

Pumpkin Island, Queensland.

Southern Ocean Lodge is one of Australia's best luxury retreats.  Rates from $2294 a person for two nights twin share, including meals and signature activities.  Hanson Bay Rd, southernoceanlodge.com.au

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MAKE IT HAPPEN Head there in summer for the beach, or winter for the wildlife.  Kangaroo Island is a 45-minute ferry ride from Cape Jervis, or a 30-minute flight from Adelaide.  tourkangarooisland.com.au

Lady Elliot Island, Queensland

Fish swim in the clear waters of Champagne Pools - natural rock pools flanking the sea on the north-east tip of Fraser ...
ANDREW WATSON/GETTY IMAGES

Fish swim in the clear waters of Champagne Pools - natural rock pools flanking the sea on the north-east tip of Fraser Island.

WHY WE LOVE IT Yes, you can still find spectacular coral on the Great Barrier Reef, and Lady Elliot Island is the place to revel in it. 

BEST FOR Families, snorkellers, and divers.

MUST DO More than 1200 marine species live in the surrounding waters, so it's no surprise that most visitors spend their days snorkelling or diving.  Depending on the season, close encounters with manta rays, turtles, and whales are possible. 

Lord Howe Island, NSW.
TED MEAD/GETTY IMAGES

Lord Howe Island, NSW.

STAY The resort's Eco Cabins are safari-style tents with two sets of bunk beds and shared bathroom facilities.  From $180 a person per night twin share, including breakfast and dinner.

The Reef Units sleep four, with ensuite bathrooms and a balcony.  From $310 a person a night twin share, including breakfast and dinner.

The Island Suites have two bedrooms and a beachfront position with lagoon views. From $370 a person a night twin share, including breakfast and dinner.

King Island, Tasmania.
Andrew Wilson and Everything Eve/TOURISM TASMANIA

King Island, Tasmania.

MAKE IT HAPPEN Lady Elliott Island is a year-around destination, but water visibility is particularly good during May and June.  ladyelliot.com.au

Lord Howe Island, NSW

WHY WE LOVE IT With great bush walking, magnificent snorkelling and diving, sheltered lagoons and verdant forests, Lord Howe Island is heaven for nature lovers. 

BEST FOR Families, hikers, divers.

MUST DO Will it be a leisurely stroll through a Jurassic Park-style forest, or an energetic all-day hike up a mountain?  Body surfing at the beach, or a snorkel through the world's southern-most coral reef?  Or perhaps you will simply find your own stretch of sand for a spot of beachcombing. 

STAY Guests at Beachcomber Lodge can walk to two of the island's loveliest beaches. From $177 a night.  beachcomberlhi.com.au

Pinetrees, Lord Howe's oldest and largest lodge, has a simple chic fitout.  From $1850 a person twin share for a five-night all-inclusive package.  pinetrees.com.au

Capella Lodge is the island's premier accommodation, known for its superb cuisine.  Rates from $782 a person per night.  lordhowe.com

MAKE IT HAPPEN Warm summers and mild winters make Lord Howe Island a year-around option.  Flying time is two hours from Sydney and Brisbane. lordhoweisland.info

Fraser Island, Qld

WHY WE LOVE IT An island created by sand drifting across from the mainland, studded with more than 100 freshwater lakes – no wonder Fraser Island has so many fans. 

BEST FOR  Families and four-wheel drivers.

MUST DO You can walk through the rainforest or swim in lakes McKenzie and Wabby, but for many visitors, the main attraction seems to be the superb four-wheel driving, whether that is bush-bashing or hooning down the amazing expanse of 75 Mile Beach. 

STAY Central Station Camp Site has hot showers and barbecue facilities.  Rates from $6.20 a person or $24.80 a family a night. , nprsr.qld.gov.au  

The beachfront Eurong Beach Resort offers a choice between motel-style rooms and self-contained apartments. From $130 per room per night.  eurong.com.au

Kingfisher Bay Resort is elegant and eco-friendly.  From $196 a room a night.  kingfisherbay.com

MAKE IT HAPPEN The warmer months are the best time to enjoy the lakes.  Vehicle and pedestrian ferries depart for Fraser Island from Hervey Bay, River Heads, and Rainbow Beach.  See visitfrasercoast.com

Maria Island, Tasmania

WHY WE LOVE IT This lovely, car-free island wilderness is known for its convict ruins and its pristine bushland. 

BEST FOR  Families, bushwalkers. 

MUST DO Take a hike.  Maria Island is all about the great outdoors.  Wander through the remains of the convict settlement at Darlington, or tackle the tough Bishop and Clerk trail, culminating in a cloud forest.  Don't forget the Painted Cliffs, with their pretty sandstone patterns, and the amazing Fossil Cliffs.  While you are walking, keep an eye out for dolphins and eagles.

STAY The campsite at Darlington costs $13.60 a night twin share.  Book through parks.tas.gov.au

The Old Penitentiary offers twin rooms for $46 a night.  Book through parks.tas.gov.au

The four-day Maria Island Walk is a guided walk where walkers sleep in comfortable camps.  From $2500 a person.  mariaislandwalk.com 

MAKE IT HAPPEN The mild summer months are the most popular time to visit.  The Maria Island Ferry departs Triabunna, north of Hobart, twice a week.  discovertasmania.com.au 

Hamilton Island, Queensland 

WHY WE LOVE IT On this Whitsundays hub, you can choose between bushwalking and teeing off on a championship golf course, dining at one of a dozen restaurants or partying with the fleet during Race Week.

BEST FOR Families, sailors, golfers

MUST DO There is lot more than just swimming and snorkelling on offer. After a morning bushwalk or an ATV tour, enjoy lunch at the yacht club before relaxing with a either massage or some serious beach time.

STAY The stylish, self-catering Palm Bungalows come complete with kitchenettes. From $396 a night, hamiltonisland.com.au    

The Beach Club is an adults-only retreat with a prime position on Catseye Beach.  From $709 a night.  hamiltonisland.com.au/accommodation/beach-club-hotel-resort

The elegant four-bedroom Yacht Club Villas are the premier choice for small groups.  From $1063 a night.  hamiltonisland.com.au/accommodation/beach-club-hotel-resort

MAKE IT HAPPEN Hamilton Island's balmy climate makes it a year-around destination.  Marine stingers are more prevalent between November and May.  Virgin Airlines, Qantas, and Jetstar all offer direct flights from Melbourne and Sydney.  hamiltonisland.com.au

Phillip Island, Victoria

WHY WE LOVE IT Family-friendly beaches and wildlife encounters, coastal hikes, and superb surfing: this island has it all.

BEST FOR Families, surfers, revheads.

MUST DO The littlies will enjoy Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm, and the Koala Conservation Centre, while the nightly Penguin Parade is always a winner.  Alternatively take a hike along Cape Woolomai or The Nobbies headland, home to a fur seal colony, or take to the surf on the island's south coast. 

STAY The beachfront Cowes Caravan Park has comfortable cabins as well as camp sites.  From $39 a tent a night, or $96 a cabin a night. 164 Church St, Cowes. cowescaravanpark.com.au

Genesta House offers charming bed and breakfast accommodation in a grand old house.  From $209 a room a night. 18 Steele St,  genesta.com.au

The modern Silverwater Resort offers guests a choice between rooms and apartments. From $260 a room a night.  17 Potters Hill Rd, San Remo,  silverwaterresort.com.au

MAKE IT HAPPEN Spring and summer are the most popular times to visit. The Motorcycle Grand Prix is in October. Phillip Island is a 90-minute drive from Melbourne. visitphillipisland.com

Pumpkin Island, Queensland

WHY WE LOVE IT It's not fancy. It's not bare bones. Pumpkin Island hits that sweet spot in between, with seven reasonably priced self-catering units.  For a splurge-worthy special occasion, consider renting out the entire island. 

BEST FOR Families.

MUST DO Don't expect too much in the way of activities on this six-hectare island.  Days are spent swimming, snorkelling, fishing, kayaking … you get the idea. Diving trips can also be arranged.  Depending on the season, you may see dolphins, turtles, or whales.  Choose between self-catering or pre-prepared meals package. 

STAY Oyster Box Cottage sleeps up to six people.  From $345 a night for four; additional guests $52 a night.

Pebble Point, the island's premium accommodation, has a private deck pool and sleeps up to four people.  From $548 a night for four.  

Book the whole island for you and two dozen friends from $2000 a night. 

MAKE IT HAPPEN Pumpkin Island is a year-around destination.  Boat transfers depart from Yeppoon, 45 minutes from Rockhampton.  Qantas and Virgin Australia fly to Rockhampton from Sydney and Melbourne.  pumpkinisland.com.au

King Island, Tasmania

WHY WE LOVE IT It is famous for producing some of Australia's best cheese, but there's a lot more to King Island: think windswept beaches, shipwrecks, and a fascinating history. 

BEST FOR  Surfers, foodies, lighthouse fans.

MUST DO Take a tour of the Currie lighthouse; go shipwreck spotting; take a dip in Lake Martha Lavinia or Disappointment Bay; or stroll along the cliffs or the coast.  The bigger the appetite you work up, the better: apart from the cheese, there is local crayfish, meat, and honey to feast on. 

STAY Boomerang By The Sea offers motel-style units just outside Currie.  From $177.  Owen Smith Drive, Currie,  boomerangbythesea.com.au 

OceanViews in Grassy has a selection of one-, two- and three-bedroom villas.  From $167 a night.  1 Bluegum Drive, Grassy,  kingislandholidayvillage.com.au

King Island Breaks has three architect-designed villas.  From $418 a night twin share.  Barnes Rd, Loorana,  kingislandbreaks.com.au

MAKE IT HAPPEN The most pleasant time to visit is between December and March.  Flights to King Island depart from Melbourne, Launceston, and Burnie.  kingisland.org.au

Melville Island, Northern Territory

WHY WE LOVE IT Just north of Darwin, Melville, and Bathurst Islands – better known as the Tiwi Islands – are a great place to encounter indigenous culture. 

BEST FOR Art lovers, fishing fans.

MUST DO Melville Island is primarily a fishing destination, with bountiful barramundi, mangrove jack, and Spanish mackerel.  You can also visit Jilamara arts and craft centre, take a dip in a freshwater pool, and visit the local cemetery where graves are marked with distinctive pukamani poles. 

STAY Clearwater Island Lodge is a fishing lodge with shared bathrooms. From $4457 a person twin share for a two-night fishing and cultural package.  clearwaterislandlodge.com.au

The Ultimate Tiwi Islands Tour is a three-day tour that combines fishing and cultural tourism, staying at Melville Island Lodge. From $2530.  sealinknt.com.au

Guests on the three-night Tiwi Islands Adventure Sail travel and sleep on a 50-foot sailing catamaran. From $1550 a person.  saildarwin.com.au/tiwi-islands-adventure-sail

MAKE IT HAPPEN The best time to visit is between April and August.  Melville Island is a 30-minute flight or a 2.5-hour trip from Darwin.  travelnt.com/en

FAR AND AWAY

Some of Australia's most far-flung islands are worth the journey.

Norfolk Island About 1450km from Australia's east coast, the nation's second-oldest settlement offers more than history: think beautiful beaches, welcoming locals, and some buzzy cafes and restaurants. 

Cocos Keeling Islands With palm-fringed beaches and magnificent coral reefs, the Cocos Keeling Islands would be a tourist magnet, were it not for their isolated location, 2750km north-west of Perth.  

Christmas Island Its detention centre hogs the headlines but Christmas Island, 2400km north-west of Perth, also lures visitors with its beaches and coral reefs, and the spectacular red crab migration.

Willis Island  On the far side of the Great Barrier Reef, the Coral Sea Islands are uninhabited – except for Willis Island.  Less than 500 metres long, the island is home to a meteorological station.

Macquarie Island A handful of cruise ships visit this sub-Antarctic island, 1500km south-east of Tasmania, for encounters with elephant seals, fur seals, albatross, and four species of penguin.

DAYTRIPPING

Stretched for time?  These islands offer a quick getaway. 

In Brisbane: try Moreton Island  From hiking up Mount Tempest and snorkelling among 15 shipwrecks to trying your hand at sandboarding, there is plenty to keep you occupied on Moreton Island. 

In Perth: try Rottnest Island A quick boat ride away from Fremantle lies the lovely Rottnest Island, a car-free retreat.  Top activities include swimming, snorkelling and quokka spotting.

In Sydney: try Cockatoo Island On Sydney Harbour's largest island, you can explore convict ruins, play a game of tennis, and even stay the night, with accommodation ranges from glamping to modern apartments.

In Melbourne: try French Island The passenger ferry from Stormy Point takes you to this national park, where you can spot plenty of koalas, as well as echidnas and birds. 

In Hobart: try Bruny Island With some of the loveliest landscapes in Tasmania, visitors to Bruny Island can choose from plenty of scenic drives and romantic strolls. 

THE LAST RESORT

Ready for a bit of spoiling?  These island resorts are as good as it gets.

Bedarra Island Resort: With a maximum of 16 guests, villas with private infinity pools and an all-inclusive rate, Bedarra Island is tropical perfection.

Southern Ocean Lodge: Elegant architecture, superb food, and an amazing help-yourself cellar make this Kangaroo Island retreat an unforgettable getaway.

Qualia: Why did Gina Rinehart's daughter choose to get married at this Hamilton Island resort?  Its luxurious pavilions and fabulous views probably had something to do with it.

Capella Lodge: Think of it as a five-star beach house, with warm staff and fantastic food that keeps guests coming back to this Lord Howe Island resort. 

Satellite Island: Technically it is a private island rather than a resort, but this Tasmanian retreat scores a mention for the amazing feeling of being the last people on Earth. 

Traveller.com.au

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