To the South
On the southern end of the Reef lies Heron Island (www.heronisland.com). This island is one of the best for the diving enthusiast. Along with the colorful coral (although not as colorful as farther north) the aquatic life here is abundant. This is a private island resort so there are no “day trippers” which invade many of the other islands along the Reef; it’s exclusive for guests of the resort only. The accommodations here are comprised of 109 television-free rooms (take note that mobile phone service is not available as well). The island is small, taking only 20 minutes to walk around. There’s a swimming pool bar and restaurant that will more than satisfy anyone’s needs. The big pull here is the island’s location. Want to go snorkeling? It’s simple, walk off shore and begin your underwater adventure. Diving is just as easy with a quick boat ride (literally just minutes away) to one of the many marine parks located around the island. Access to Heron Island is logistically easy, although it will take some time. From Brisbane your clients will catch a short flight to Gladstone where they’ll transfer via ferry for a 2-hour ride out to the island. Note that seasickness on the ferry is very common, so be sure to encourage clients to bring motion-sickness pills for the ride. As of last year, a seaplane was introduced from Gladstone to Heron taking about 25 minutes, operated by Australia by Seaplane.
Continuing farther north along the coast of Queensland, the 74 tropical islands of the Whitsundays are the more popular islands when visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Most of these islands are deserted, some are private island resorts and others are very family friendly. The largest is Hamilton Island. Easily accessible with a direct flight from Brisbane, Hamilton Island is the perfect family getaway. There is a golf club, yacht club and a multitude of accommodations. One of the most kid-friendly resorts is the Reef View Hotel, offering a large swimming pool, bar, and restaurant. Guests of the hotel have complimentary use of non-motorized water sports and the hotel has a Tours and Activities desk. Children under 12 stay free when sharing a room with parents.
The most high-end resort on the island is the qualia (www.qualia.com.au). Nestled in the northern most tip of Hamilton Island, qualia exudes world-class luxury with 60 private pavilions facing the water, all with plunge pools.
The latest news coming out of the Whitsunday Islands includes a management takeover of the Hayman Private Island Resort by the One and Only hotel group. The resort island is the northernmost of the Whitsundays and offers a truly luxurious and private holiday experience. Currently closed for extensive renovations, the new One and Only Hayman Island (hayman.oneandonlyresorts.com) will re-open in 2014 under the new branding. Perfect for the honeymoon couples, the many villas and suites are nestled among pools, gardens and a powdery white-sand beach.
Heading farther north up the coast of Queensland is the resort town of Cairns, serving as a jump off point for many day-trippers to smaller islands along the Reef, including the kid-friendly Fitzroy Island (www.fitzroyisland.com) that offers activities from kayaking to diving. There is a resort here as well, and It’s a perfect spot for a day or two of fun with the kids. Just north of Cairns is the small resort town of Port Douglas, which I preferred over the massive hordes of tourists found in Cairns. If your client wants to stay on the mainland, suggest Port Douglas as an option.
The northern-most island beach resort along the Reef is Lizard Island (www.lizardisland.com.au). Accessible via a scenic 60-minute flight from Cairns in a single engine plane, Lizard Island is a remote, lush, tropical paradise with villas and suites at various price points. Diving and snorkeling excursions here are some of the best the Reef has to offer. The island was declared a National Park in 1937, while its surrounding water was declared a Marine Park in 1974. Lizard Island is also home to many large monitor lizards that are sure to frighten any visitor at first glance, although soon enough will become part of the scenery.
For more information on all the islands of the Great Barrier Reef go to www.destinationqueensland.com