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.
“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.
- 1 About Lady Elliot Island
- 2 A Scenic Flight to Lady Elliot Island
- 3 A Tour of the Lady Elliot Island
- 4 On a Glass-bottom boat to the first Snorkel Point
- 5 Swimming with the Turtles
- 6 Meandering the maze of the Great Barrier Reef
- 7 Other activities at the Lady Elliot Island.
- 8 Back to Gold Coast from Lady Elliot Island
- 9 Getting here
- 10 Travel Tips
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 –
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
A Tour 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.
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.
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.
On a Glass-bottom boat to the first Snorkel Point
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Back to Gold Coast from 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.
- 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.
- 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
Popularly referred to as a Restless Ball of Energy. My Mom refuses to entertain my complaints about my equally restless daughter & assures my husband that I was born with a travel bug.
I am a Post-Graduate in Marketing by qualification and a travel blogger by passion. Besides travel, I enjoy photography and if you don’t find me at my desk, I would be out playing badminton or swimming or just running. I believe in planning for every long weekend through the year. And when I cannot travel physically, I travel virtually through this travel blog. My travel stories have also, got published on various websites and magazines including BBC Travel, Lonely Planet India and Jetwings. I have recently published my first book – When Places Come Alive – a collection of stories that are based on legends, landscapes, art and culture of a place which is available in both ebook and paperback format.
74 thoughts on “Exploring the Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island, Gold Coast”
awesome travel diary thanks for sharing
Thank you. Glad you like it
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.
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.
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!
Thank you Ryan. This island was a dream come true and when you get back, you should definitely get to this island . Cheers
Beautiful place indeed of aquatic beauties of nature ❤
Thank you Mariyam.
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. 🙂
Not just the name, the whole island is so so charming. I am glad that you liked it too. And I hope you get to visit it soon. Cheers
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.
You are so right about the dive restrictions. If only I was staying there and did not have a flight back immediately :(. Ah well, next time for sure.
What an awesome destination to experience the reef! It’s wild looking at the island from the air and seeing just how much of it is airport! I love the glass bottom boat for the snorkeling. It really gives a good idea of what you’re going to see when you dip beneath the waves.
Thanks Kevin. The Glass bottom boat makes you itch to dive in – a perfect teaser of sorts.
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.
Snorkel just whetted my appetite for diving here. Imagine if you can see all this with a shallow swim what lies beneath 😀 . I use a SJCAM and it is the clarity of water here that allowed me these pics. All in the magic of the Great Barrier Reef.
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.
Thanks Marvi. I did read about your turtle experience and loved it. Hope you get to do this while I pray I get to do what you did 😀
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?
Yep, there was phone coverage through the flight – almost upto the island. Thanks for stopping by, Anne.
It is a dream of mine to explore the great barrier reef… i didn’t known that you can visit by plane! Your pictures really make me want to book this trip
There are various other spots to explore the reef but the Lady Elliot Island is deemed to be one of the best for it. Hope you can visit it. Thanks for stopping by
Lady Elliot Island looks like such a magical place to explore the Great Barrier Reef! Exploring the ocean life of Australia is definitely on my bucket list.
And rightly so. Thanks for stopping by 😀
This looks amazing! I’ve never been on a seaplane! Maybe it’s because I live off of lakes but I’ve never heard about no snorkeling after flying. Is it an air pressure thing?
Not snorkeling. It is diving before a flight. It is the airpressure bit as well as the DNS issue. 😀 Thanks for stopping by
Wow one if the most beautiful parts you can visit on this earth. Top on my bucket list and surely your post has helped me work towards it more. Great visuals of the reef and the marine life. Detailed post from travel to equipment hire. Thanks for sharing such a lively post. Visuals are great as well
Thank you Amar. I do hope you get down to exploring this. Trust me, it is mindblowing.
I have been to the Great Barrier Reef and I loved it but I haven’t heard about Lady Elliot Island. It sound amazing! I would love to dive there. Hopefully I can get back to Australia one day and put the island on my list 🙂
There are plenty of spots to explore the reef and it is easy to miss the Lady Elliot Island in that. However when it comes to the best spots, this one is one of the toppers on the chart. Glad that I got to see it. Hope you too. Thanks for stopping by
Although I’ve been diving in Japan and Mexico, I’m not certified. I told myself that I couldn’t visit the Great Barrier Reef until I got that certification. This post is the kick in the butt I need. Lady Elliot Island looks like THE place I need to go first!
Maybe, you should do your certification here. It is a great way to do multiple dives 😉 Cheers
What sensational aerial views. I am not great on watersport, but I do like turtles.:-) I went for a swim when I was in Mauritius and 7 large turtles of them decided to join me. What an experience! The Great Barrier Reef is a bucket list item for me. I plan to head to Aus next year so I have bookmarked this post. Thanks for an interesting read.
Thanks Janine. I hope you get to see more turtles and Manta Rays here.
Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s top attraction and you made it so beautifully. I loved living in Australia but missed this beautiful place. You have taken amazing aerial views from sea plane. Also viewing under water sea life from glass bottom boat looks so interesting and adorable. I loved those cute shower areas for day tourists. Thanks for sharing a very detailed post on Gold Coast.
Oh, I hope you can revisit Australia just for this. It is worth every moment and every penny. Thanks for stopping by with these lovely compliments.
Whoa! What an amazing experience! I’ve always wanted to swim with turtles! The views from the flight look so out of this world. Good to know that there’s no plastic on the island. Thanks for the tips.
Thanks Shruti for stopping by. It sure was a memorable experience and one that I hope to go back to.
Wow this is some experience you had. Looked beautiful. That little plane would have been a tad scary to me, but I would have did it for the adventure. The views are great. I heard about the reef and how it is being effected and it would be nice to see it now.
It is one experience that is still fresh on my mind. I loved it here. Thanks for the lovely comment Holly and I hope you can make it here too.
It’s a shame you didn’t had chance to dive but thats another excuse to go back there I suppose. In contrast i love snorkelling too so not a bad idea to enjoy the area! I would love to visit and maybe one day try to experience diving there!
I hope you can visit here too. I agree that the dive is now an excuse to get back. Sigh! Someday!
Diving on the Great Barrier Reef is one of my dream activities, although I would also take snorkeling – better that than risk the dangers if you have a flight 🙂 The island sounds like a wonderful place to visit, I am glad they are so eco-conscious about plastic!
Thanks Claire. Well, snorkeling was good too but as I said, it was a teaser for a dive. Hopefully someday I can get back and stay there for it. 😀
This is just awesome .I loved all the gorgeous pictures and I am facinated with the history of lady elliot island.And those snorkelling pictures and flights pics gave me thrill during my reading this post.I can see there is so much beauty here.Also glad to know about Not to use plastic here.Thank you for bringing such nice hidden gem ami.
Thanks Mayuri. I was lucky to have gotten this opportunity and I hope that I can now get lucky enough to get back and complete my dives here. Cheers
I actually felt, that I was with you at Lady Elliot Island. The underwater life is just so beautiful and colorful. Those corals actually look like some engraved buildings. After seeing your these posts, I wish to learn diving soon. Great Barrier reef is just amazing. Great pictures.
Thank you Suruchi. If you enjoyed the virtual dive with me, time to get it to reality. Let’s plan a venture – what say?;-)
Wow. What an experience. Great barrier reef is of course very famous but i didnt know about lady Elliot island being the go to place for seeing corals. Your account is filled with wonderful pictures and i so wish to visit and see this underwater city. I woukd infact love to stay longer in the resort.
Amen to your wishes and I hope you can stay there longer too. I too, hope to return for that. Thanks for stopping by. Cheers
These are amazing underwater photos. Thums up! Good to learn that the people decided to re-vegitate Elliot Island and from the sky it looks like they have done a great job. We still have to explore that part of Australia.
Thanks Nisha for the compliments. This place is a perfect example of how we need to take care of our natural surroundings. Am glad to have been able to see it for myself. I hope you can visit the place soon. It is just amazing.
With social media publishing too many articles about the destruction of the GBR, this article is really refreshing. I am happy that they decided to revegitate and do something about the decreasing bird population. I am not so much into water sports, but this is really inviting. GBR is really beautiful, and humans need to be reminded of its beauty and its importance! Your aerial photos are amazing, BTW!
Thank you Kirstie. I agree that this place does give a positive spin to the whole GBR news. And I can see that it is largely due to the efforts on the island.
this article made me to become a travel addict….world is beautiful…
Glad it has. Thanks for stopping by
We explored GBR from a dive boat on the Northern reef for 4 days and saw some beautiful spots – some similar to yours, many different – Cuddle Fish, Potato Cod, lots of Giant Clam. If you go, I recommend TUSA dive. I would have liked to snorkel off the Gold Coast but we did not have enough time there.
I will take up your suggestion on this for the next time. While I would love to go back to Lady Elliot, maybe a few dives from the other spots would be lovely. Thanks for stopping by with this lovely comment. Cheers
You are so lucky to explore this island and experience her unique beauty! She might be small but exceptionally gorgeous. I want to visit soon.
I hope you do, Blaire. It is one amazing destination and quite uncrowded
What an incredible adventure you had here! I’d absolutely love to visit the Great Barrier Reef one day in Australia, it’s quite a way from Italy! But also reading more about Lady Elliott Island has really peaked my interest. I love turtles and seeing them underwater in their own habitat must have been so special. I’d be terrified of that sea plane though, it’s so small!
The sea plane is fun actually, Lisa. I think you will enjoy it despite it being so small. Hope you can visit this island. Thanks for stopping by
My own visit to the Great Barrier Reef was disappointing. Granted, I can only snorkel! But, I do want to go back as a diver and I am glad to have recommendations on the best places to go for it. How cool that you got to take a scenic flight as a part of the scuba trip!
Even for snorkeling, this is an amazing destination. I highly recommend that you give it a shot. Thanks for stopping by
OMG you are so lucky to explore the reef! I always want to experience that because not all reef are the same.
I’m so happy that this is not explored well because overcrowded guests might destroy its beauty.
These guys are keeping it exclusive and also, owing to its location, not many get there. Like you said, I was lucky to have been able to see it for myself. Thanks for stopping by, Blair
It feels great when your dream comes true. I can feel the joy reading your post. Sea turtles and Manta rays are my most favourite sea creatures. What a gorgeous location to even land. Loved reading your experience.
Thanks Parnashree. Glad you enjoyed reading this one. It was a special visit for me.
Loved reading a bit of the history and the Lady. Very cool that they were able to regenerate the island as well as attract turtles. I’m a diver so an overnight would be my choice. I so hope this part of the Great Barrier thrives in the warming waters. Thanks for the inspiration.
The water was not that cold to be honest and so, am sure you will be fine. I would have loved to scuba too but well, hope you have better luck. Cheers
Lady Elliot island is new to me too. They have have taken excellent arrangements to details to make the trip a memorable one. The views from sea plane are mind blowing. Good to know the resort is a eco friendly one.
Indeed, they really have taken care to make this island so beautiful and green. And just for that, one needs to go there. Of course, the journey too is amazing.
Great Barrier Reef has been on my bucket list for a really long time and I am so happy that I have finally planned a trip to Australia in March 2018. I can’t believe you saw turtles from the surface of the water only while snorkelling, did not even need to go diving. And the scenic flight to Lady Elliot Island looks so amazing, you’re so lucky to have been invited by Queensland Tourism for this beautiful experience. Amy, I will be reading all your Australia posts one by one because I am now making my final itinerary spanning 3 weeks and want to read about all the superb experiences you had!
This was a mind-blowing experience for me and one that is still fresh in my mind. I hope I can visit here again. Good luck with your itinerary.