Exploring the Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island, Gold Coast

posted in: Australia, Nature | 13

If Koala and Kangaroo were synonymous with Australia for most of you, for me, there was one more thing that this country meant. The Great Barrier Reef. A dream for every Scuba diver. Naturally, when the invite from Queensland tourism came in, I kept my fingers crossed for a dive in the Great Barrier Reef. While I did not dive, my dream of exploring it came true. I snorkeled at one of the “Best Snorkeling and Diving Destination on the Great Barrier Reef”The Lady Elliot Island.

Lady Elliot Island as seen from the Seaplane
Lady Elliot Island as seen from the Seaplane

“Day Five – A Whole day at Lady Elliot Island”  – read my itinerary from Queensland Tourism. During the course of my research on the Great Barrier Reef, I came across this article listing the 10 best spots for a dive or a snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef. Lady Elliot Island featured as one of them. Thus, you should not be surprised when I say that I was leaping up with joy when I saw that on my itinerary. Though it said Snorkel not Scuba for technical reasons that I will share later, I still could not feel any less pleased. After all – all said and done – I was going to swim in the Great Barrier Reef.

Lady Elliot Island far exceeded my expectations. Pristine and Perfect, a day did not feel enough for this small island. The time spent here was like a teaser that has made my resolve to return stronger. I can safely endorse and say that a trip to the Lady Elliot Island in Queensland is one of the most amazing things to do in Gold Coast.

About Lady Elliot Island

The Great Barrier Reef, deemed as one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, extends over 2300 kilometers.If you are in Gold Coast, the closest place to experience this phenomenal reef is the Lady Elliot Island. If you think that this name was owing to a Lady who found it, you might be partially correct. It was a Lady, except that this was an inanimate lady. Confused? Read on –

The shore of Lady Elliot Island
The shore of Lady Elliot Island

Though the Coral Island surfaced years ago, it was in 1816 that Captain Thomas Stuart’s ship got wrecked on this reef. The ship was built in West Bengal (had to mention the connection to India) and it is she who was called Lady Elliot. The Coral reef was a haven for a lot of birds and owing to that was covered with Bird Droppings. This made the Island invaluable for these droppings were used as Guano (a type of manure). Upon its discovery, Lady Elliot island initially became a mining hub and this resulted in the Island turning barren.

Lighthouse on Lady Elliot Island
Lighthouse on Lady Elliot Island

With the scanty vegetation, the bird population on the island started declining. To address this, the residents of a lighthouse on the island, started a revegetation movement. As the greens grew, the birds returned and today, the Lady Elliot Island is a popular nesting destination for not just the birds, but turtles as well. The Island is a small walkable one with just one eco-friendly resort and the only way to get to it is by Air! 🙂

A Scenic Flight to Lady Elliot Island

Seair- our ride to Lady Elliot Island
Seair- our ride to Lady Elliot Island

One of the cardinal rules of Scuba Diving is that you cannot dive if you are flying within 12 hours of dive. And Lady Elliot Island was all about flying in and out for a day trip. Thus, the Scuba Diving urge had to be quelled for Snorkeling. I will admit that in some corner of my heart, I wished against the obvious but I also tried to accept the constraints. Still excited, I did not need an alarm to wake up by 5:30 am and get to the tiny hangar of Seair to board my seaplane for this much-awaited adventure.

Inside the Sea Plane
Inside the Sea Plane

This was my first time in a Sea Plane and I sure was excited. It was so tiny that even a midget like me had bend inside. Grabbing a window seat, I waited to capture the scenic views that everyone had told me about. The one thing that I must mention is that the team had thought of every possible comfort for the passengers. They provided us with a small blanket as it gets cold on the flight. A small breakfast box with a cereal bar, dry fruits and juice was handed out to each of us. We were told that we could use the Lady Elliot app on the phone to track our 2-hour long flight as well as keep the mobiles on throughout the journey.

Gold Coast City from the Sea Plane enroute to Lady Elliot Island
Gold Coast City from the Sea Plane enroute to Lady Elliot Island
Glimpse of Brisbane on the seaplane enroute to Lady Elliot Island
Glimpse of Brisbane on the seaplane enroute to Lady Elliot Island
View from the Sea Plane enroute to Lady Elliot Island
View from the Sea Plane enroute to Lady Elliot Island

And with that, soon we were off to some enchanting views of Gold Coast city , including the Hot Air Balloon that floated over the Hinterand. We even, got to see Brisbane – where we had a short stop at Red Cliffe to pick up some more visitors. The blue-green waters kept bordering different landforms – high cliffs to flat plains and before we knew it, the stunning Emerald Lady Island came in sight. Our pilot circled around the island – thrice and soon we taxied down the narrow air-strip of Lady Elliot Island.

Circling over Lady Elliot Island
Circling over Lady Elliot Island

A Tour of the Lady Elliot Island

The beautiful beach outside the dining hall of the Lady Elliot Island
The beautiful beach outside the dining hall of the Lady Elliot Island

The tiny island charmed me from the moment I stepped on to it. There was something very peaceful about it. Maybe it was the salty air or the sound of the waves around the island – it was just perfect. Lena – our lovely hostess from Gold Coast, oriented us to the resort facilities on the island.

Shower Area for the day tourists on Lady Elliot Island
Shower Area for the day tourists on Lady Elliot Island

A green zone, the resort ran on solar power. The water used here was purified by reverse osmosis. There are around 43 rooms or cabins at the Lady Elliot Resort. These are a range catering to different budget types – the top end being the AC cooled Bedroom Suites and the lower end being the Eco Cabins with free standing fans. For the Day Tourists, there were small shower stations to clean up after the snorkeling sessions.

The Lady Elliot Island Resort Rooms
The Lady Elliot Island Resort Rooms

After checking the Snorkel timing displayed near the small dining room of the Resort, we headed to the Snorkeling Storage area where colorful fins and equipment were lined up for the visitors to use. I must say that they were in a pretty decent condition as compared to a lot of other equipment that I have hired elsewhere. In case of Lady Elliot Island, the equipment is free to use for all visitors. Feet into the pretty reef shoes, we set off for our first expedition to see the depths of the Great Barrier Reef.

Snorkeling equipment at Lady Elliot Island
Snorkeling equipment at Lady Elliot Island

On a Glass-bottom boat to the first Snorkel Point

The Glass bottom boat to Lady Elliot Island
The Glass bottom boat to Lady Elliot Island

Welcomed onto a Glass-Bottom Boat with a life jacket!

I first thought it was a norm to wear the jacket but Lena politely (and happily) announced that her guests from India were Certified Divers and would not need one. Happy to give those back, we settled into our seats on either side of a clear glass floor. Our guide for the day, introduced the Great Barrier Reef and its various inhabitants as the boat sailed forth.

On the Glass bottom boat
On the Glass bottom boat
Through the glass bottom boat
Through the glass bottom boat

Passing over several Bommies, I caught glimpses of the various colored corals and the fish hiding amid them. Our Guide explained that though the Coral Reef might appear brown, it was not because it was dying. It is because a new layer of Coral was growing on it. She also, pointed out to small areas that were termed as Cleaning stations for Manta Rays and Turtles – where they generally came to have a Bath (?).;-) Soon, we docked and it was time to plunge in!!!

Swimming with the Turtles

First feel of the Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island
First feel of the Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island

Here is what I was secretly wishing for – I wanted to swim with the Turtles. They say that the two creatures that you can swim with at the Lady Elliot Island were Turtles and Manta Rays. Ideally swimming with both would have been awesome but if one is what I had to pick – it would be the Turtles. No, not scared of Manta Rays but I had an awesome experience with them at the Pink Beach in Indonesia.

Parrot Fish swimming around in the Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island
Parrot Fish swimming around in the Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island

Flippers on and for once, I did not check the temperature of the water! I just plunged in to get my first feel of the Great Barrier Reef. It was just exhilarating to be at the place that you have always dreamt of.  The Ocean floor was far far below and I did a few shallow dives to capture pictures of a few Parrotfish and Angelfish but the rest had to be seen from atop. And then…I saw the first one! A little turtle grabbing his food and come to the surface for a breath.

Turtle in the Great Barrier Reef, Lady Elliot Island
Turtle in the Great Barrier Reef, Lady Elliot Island

I looked up and pointed to the others – “Turtle Alert” while swimming right next to it. The little Squirt was busy eating what it had in its mouth and was the least bit interested in us. It took a quick breath and went back down. I swam around there for a bit before taking off to another place where I saw a different turtle. This one was reluctant to come up and was happy staying at a depth. I tried doing a shallow dive but could not get too close to it.

And then, came the third and the cutest Hawk Billed Turtle. He came up right next to me and swam alongside us for a good minute or so before going back to the depth of the reef. That minute and a half was my highlight of the day. And why not – my one wish had come true. I swam with the turtles.

Meandering the maze of the Great Barrier Reef

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef
Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef

One hour passed and I was just not tired. It was time to get back to the Island and well, with that last wave to the Turtle, I returned to the boat. The good news was that my exploration was not yet over. It was time to swim along the shallower side of the Island. This was where I got a good feel of what the depths of the Great Barrier Reef might look like.

The inspiration for Nemo - Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island
The inspiration for Nemo – Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island

The shallower side of the island was right where the Dining Hall of the Resort was. All you needed to do was walk backwards into the waters and start swimming from the shore. The reef was right below and you could well see all the fish and their little homes amidst those blue, green and red corals.

Sea Cucumber and Clam shells, Lady Elliot Island
Sea Cucumber and Clam shells, Lady Elliot Island
The little lanes and arenas of the underwater city ;-)
The little lanes and arenas of the underwater city 😉
Clown fish peeking out
Clown fish peeking out

The underwater world at the Great Barrier Reef is just unbelievable. I can now, understand the inspiration behind Nemo. The corals stacked around as if they represented various buildings. Large mushroom ones must have been the playground of the smaller fish while the pathways between those corals must be their highways. Go closer and you will find clam shells that possibly might have been their prisons and then, as hiding amid the corals, you will find little clown fish hiding from you.

Traveling with the Fish
Traveling with the Fish
Following the Parrot Fish
Following the Parrot Fish

I chased a few Parrotfish and Angelfish around. Swam right behind them through their narrow lanes. It was as if they were guiding me to their little underground world. Soon, another hour up and Lena recommended that we make our way out as the tide was receding. I almost wanted to be a brat and refuse. However, I guess, sometimes, you just got to do what you got to do.

Other activities at the Lady Elliot Island.

Showered and changed, we made our way to the Dining Hall for some yummy Vegetarian Buffet. The only non-vegetarian thing on the menu was Prawns. Lena explained that all the food was brought from the mainland. Lady Elliot Island, being a part of the UNESCO Heritage site, had a fair bit of restriction on fishing and other activities. Hence, the only seafood on their menu was Prawns, which again, came in from the mainland.

Guests enjoying Beach Ball at Lady Elliot Island
Guests enjoying Beach Ball at Lady Elliot Island

Tummies full, we explored the rest of the resort including their little Nursery where saplings were grown to revegetate the island. There were not many birds around at that time of the year but I did spot a few Noddies.

A Noddy Staring back , Lady Elliot Island
A Noddy Staring back , Lady Elliot Island

Besides Snorkeling and Scuba Diving, one can do reef walks and fish feeding around the island. The Lady Elliot Resort offers activities like beach volleyball and a few tours like the Heritage trail of the Island. There is a swimming pool too, though that is primarily used for the pool training sessions of the PADI Scuba course.

Swimming Pool at Lady Elliot Island
Swimming Pool at Lady Elliot Island

Back to Gold Coast from Lady Elliot Island

Bidding Adieu to the Lady Elliot Island
Bidding Adieu to the Lady Elliot Island

It was time to head back to Gold Coast. As I walked the last mile on the lovely Lady Elliot Island, I saw a pair of scuba divers getting ready for their dive. I was green with envy but that is when I told myself – One wish of swimming with the turtles did come true. All I have to do is wait for the Witching hour and pray real hard for a dive at the Lady Elliot Island. I need to believe that someday that might happen and I will return to complete my exploration of the Great Barrier Reef at the Lady Elliot Island. With that positive thought in my head, I slept through the rest of my flight all the way back to Gold Coast.

Now that you have had your virtual journey with me – from the surface to the depths of the underwater world – don’t you agree – “Lady Elliot Island is one of the most amazing things to do when in Gold Coast”. Comment in – would love to know your views.

Getting here

  • The best way to get to Gold Coast is to fly down straight here. There are plenty of flights available from across the world, including low budget airlines like Flyscoot Airlines.
  • Once in Gold Coast, you will need to board a flight at the Seair hangar for the Lady Elliot Island. You can even access Lady Elliot Island via Brisbane.

Travel Tips

  • Here is the official website of the Lady Elliot Island. You can book your day trip or reserve a room through the website. A day trip from Gold Coast will cost you AUD 799. This includes all your transfers, flights and lunch at the Lady Elliot Island.
  • If you are keen on Scuba Diving, it is best to plan a stay at the Lady Elliot Island resort.
  • Book your rooms in advance as the Island has limited capacity and is generally full through the year.
  • November to March is the Turtle hatching and Bird nesting season.
  • You can even spot whales when you are at the Lady Elliot Island. This generally happens between May to September.
  • No plastic is allowed to be left behind on the Island.
  • There are no shops or stores on the Island. It only has one resort on it.
  • The Island resort provides all the Snorkel equipment for its visitors. If you wish to Scuba Dive, you will need to hire your equipment separately from the Dive Shop at the Island.
  • The shallow waters and the Reef Walk are pretty good for young kids. They are bound to have a lot of fun here. However, please ensure that as parents, they do not touch or harm the corals or the fish.

P.S: I visited Gold Coast and the Lady Elliot Island by invite from Queensland Tourism in collaboration with Flyscoot Airlines

 

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13 Responses

  1. Sandy N Vyjay

    That was a lovely read. Could feel the thrill of the whole experience through your words and pictures. The Great Barrier Reef is, of course, a legend in its own right and a place that figures in most travellers’ dreams. But I was really fascinated reading about the history of Lady Elliott Island. It is so heartening to note how the island which had become barred due to mining has been again transformed into a green paradise owing to the efforts of the people.

    • Ami

      Indeed, the history and the efforts on this Island is the reason that this place is so pristine and gorgeous now. I am blessed to have been able to visit it.

  2. Ryan Biddulph

    Fabulous images Ami! Eye-popping. I love that sea plane view as well. The Reef feels like a wonder of the world for its amazing scale. Australia just has so much to offer. We are back in the US for a bit but plan to see the place on a return trip to the region. Maybe after we see amazing New Zealand again. Rocking post!

    • Ami

      Thank you Ryan. This island was a dream come true and when you get back, you should definitely get to this island . Cheers

  3. Danijela

    What a nice experience! You are so right – Great Barrier Reef just has to come to one’s mind when mentioning Australia. I mean, how could one skip such an underwater beauty! I wouldn’t mind either just swimming and snorkeling there, scuba diving or not. 🙂
    Love your photos from the plane. And how lovely that the island is named after the ship. It really is a charming name for an island. 🙂

  4. Jennifer

    Lady Elliot Island is one of the best, if not THE best, dive spot on the GBR. No way am I going there and not diving.

    Just a little correction for you too. There is no increased risk of DCS if you arrive on a flight and head straight to the ocean – DCS is caused by high concentration of Nitrogen in the blood after diving. So you can get off the plane and literally be diving an hour later. In fact, that’s exactly what happened when we flew to the Bahamas to do our OW certifications.

  5. Teresa / Sunday Spritz

    Wow! Can you share what underwater camera you use to take those photos – they are incredible! I can’t believe you can see so much just snorkeling. I would love to dive there.

  6. Marvi

    Oh wow! This is just a dream! I’d love to go snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef too. This is such a cool press trip indeed! I swam with sea turtles too and it was really amazing especially if its your first time. haha. Lady Elliot Island does look like an island paradise and looks really relaxing too.

  7. Anne

    I love those views from the seaplane. It’s so much fun the first time you go in one but how cool that you got an app. Did you manage to get phone coverage too during the flight?

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