Fans of Australia will know the Whitsundays and Fraser Island but there are isles all around its coastline bursting with wildlife, beaches and adventure. Abigail Healy rounds up the destination’s island highlights
In case you’ve missed it, Martin Clunes’ new ITV documentary Islands of Australia launched earlier this month, putting the destination’s isles in the spotlight. Your clients may well tune in and glimpse the wealth of experiences available on these offshore playgrounds and it’s well worth having travel suggestions for them in your armoury. Here are some of the highlights.
A Unesco World Heritage-listed area off the coast of New South Wales, east of Port Macquarie, Lord Howe Island is characterised by its twin peaks, pristine beaches and abundant wildlife.
Visitors access the island via a flight that takes less than two hours from Sydney. Once there they can snorkel the world’s most southerly coral reef, home to 500 species of fish and more than 90 coral species. Hikers will be enticed by the trek to the summit of Mt Gower, often cited as one of the world’s best one-day hikes, plus visitors can hire bikes and cycle around the island. Wildlife fans can discover the island’s endemic plant and animal life, including one of the world’s rarest bird species, the endangered woodhen.
Rebecca Turner, senior product manager, Asia & Oceania, Gold Medal and Pure Luxury, says the island is well suited to those looking to get away from it all: “Lord Howe Island only accommodates up to 400 visitors at a time so it’s perfect for those looking for an island escape.”
Book it: Gold Medal has a seven-night package combining Sydney and Lord Howe Island from £1,449pp including Gatwick flights, based on June 1-21, 2017 departures.
Fondly referred to as “Rotto” by locals, car-free Rottnest Island is 30 minutes from Western Australian capital, Perth. With 63 secluded beaches and 20 bays, beach lovers will have their work cut out, while wildlife fans can spot quokkas – marsupials found only in Western Australia – and pods of bottlenose dolphins. Snorkellers can try a guided trail taking in Rottnest’s natural underwater sculptures, 400 species of fish and 20 coral species at Parker Point.
Christie Lord, UK manager for Tourism Western Australia, recommends taking in sunset at Hotel Rottnest. “Overlooking Thomson Bay it is the perfect spot to unwind as the sun sets. Don’t miss the seafood risotto nero using local fish washed down with a Western Australia wine.”
From the end of this year there will also be a new glamping resort, Pinky’s Eco Retreat, featuring 29 luxury eco-tents with en-suites, 10 affordable family tents and 35 budget tents.
Book it: Austravel has a six-night Perth and Surrounds trip from £875pp including flights, accommodation in Perth and a day trip to Rottnest Island.
Just off Australia’s southern coast, Phillip Island is home to the country’s largest colony of little penguins. Visitors can watch the nightly Penguin Parade, when thousands of the world’s smallest penguins waddle out of the sea, back to their homes in the sand dunes.
Claire Golding, regional manager for the UK and Europe, Visit Victoria, says: “Several different viewing options are available but the new Penguins Plus and Underground Viewing experiences offer the closest viewing experiences.”
The island, which can be visited as a day trip from Melbourne or included with an overnight stay via a number of operators, is also home to the country’s largest colony of Australian fur seals. Golding says the best way to view them is up close on an EcoBoat tour.
Golding highlights that the island is fast becoming a foodie hotspot: “There are a host of quality local producers and restaurants including Bassine Speciality Cheeses, Purple Hen Vineyard, Phillip Island Winery, Rusty Water Brewery Restaurant & Bar and the new Cape Kitchen, which boasts stunning sea views and a delectable menu.”
Book it: Premier Holidays has a two-night Phillip Island self-drive tour from Melbourne from £169pp including room-only accommodation and three days’ car hire.
There are an impressive 2,633 charted islands off the Kimberley coast. Set in tropical waters they offer secluded beaches, ancient rock art and mangroves. Highlights include Bigge Island, home to the world’s oldest known indigenous rock art, the Bradshaw (Gwion Gwion) paintings; the Montgomery Reef, which appears to rise out of the ocean as the tides retreat; and the Horizontal Waterfalls.
Beach fans should head for picture-postcard Silica Beach on Hidden Island while wildlife lovers will be awed by the Lacepede Islands, where they may spot birdlife including roseate terns, Australian pelicans, frigate birds and egrets, plus green turtles, which often nest here.
Christie Lord, UK manager for Tourism Western Australia, says the best way to explore is on a cruise. “Coral Expeditions has a 10-night trip between Darwin and Broome. It includes a visit to Bigge Island with guest lecturers who can offer insight into the traditional art forms as well as other highlights such as the Montgomery Reef and Horizontal Waterfalls.”
Book it: Travel 2 offers the 10-night Coral Expeditions cruise from £5,369pp including all meals, drinks and excursions.
Tasmania is an archipelago of 300 islands in its own right, with many easily visited on day trips or as an overnight stay. However, Susie De Carteret, owner of Tasmanian Odyssey, recommends Flinders Island in the north-east. “It’s in the Furneaux group of islands rising out of Bass Strait, is largely undiscovered even by Tasmanians and has more than 80 white sand beaches, mountains, walking, wildlife, swimming, snorkelling, diving and boating on offer,” she says.
She adds that it is where the Aboriginal community were sent from Tassie so it is “very spiritual” and while most sadly perished, lots of Aboriginal history is still evident on the island.
Visitors can access the island via Melbourne with Sharp Airlines and then fly on to Launceston, Tasmania, so it works well as part of a fly-drive island-hopping holiday. De Carteret says further selling points are that once there, Flinders Island is “a fraction of the cost of mainland Australia and completely unspoilt even by Tasmanian standards”.
Book it: Tasmanian Odyssey offers four nights on Flinders Island and 10 nights’ self-drive from Launceston to Hobart from £1,395pp, including flights from Melbourne to Flinders Island and onwards to Launceston, plus compact car hire.
Jane Nicholson, Tourism and Events Queensland international director for UK, Ireland and Nordic regions, says: “Many British travellers have discovered the islands and experiences in Queensland’s tropical north, as well as the Whitsunday Islands, but the lesser-known southern part of the Great Barrier Reef also has much to offer.”
Heron Island is located just off the coast of Gladstone and is surrounded by reef home to several nesting spots for green and loggerhead turtles. Accommodation options range from comfortable three-star rooms to the private Beach House.
“From Heron Island you can walk off the beach and be surrounded by blacktip reef sharks, turtles and an abundance of marine life, plus it has 16 great dive sites close by and an abundance of bird life seasonally through the year,” says Nicholson.
Lady Elliot Island, at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, is just north of Fraser Island. Nicholson adds: “The eco resort of Lady Elliot Island is another top nature and dive spot, with its biggest claim to fame being its resident manta ray population, plus the chance to swim with sea turtles and its 30-metre visibility year-round. I’d describe it as castaway style, with basic but comfortable accommodation.”
Book it: Austravel has a 13-day Queensland Islands Adventure package from £2,589pp that includes stays on both Heron Island and Lady Elliot Island, and flights, based on June 2017 departures.