You know what we absolutely take for granted? The fact that we have a Natural Wonder Of The World a mere short flight away. But guys, stop doing that. Stop it right now. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure in the world housing more than 1,500 species of colourful fish, not to mention the coral, sharks, rays, and other creatures that call this habitat home. It extends very nearly the full way along Queensland’s south coastline, from Bundaberg up to Cape York. You can legit see this bad boy from space. As if I’m not blowing your mind yet!
While the whole thing is incredible, the Southern Great Barrier Reef moves away from an outer reef experience – aka one in which you catch a boat and jump right into the reef – to an island based one. Think loads of smaller sand and coral islands nestled into calm, lagoon-like sections of the reef. This means your chances of sighting creatures like rays and turtles go way up.
Sounds like a whole new dream world right? And yet, for an incredible experience that’ll turn your Insta game up to 11, all you need is a long weekend. Grab your flippers and book your flights, because these amazing experiences along the SGBR you didn’t even realise existed are DEFINITELY going on your long-weekender bucket list.
Lady Musgrave Island
Lady Musgrave Island offers a unique experience in and of itself. For starters, a maximum of 40 people are allowed to stay on the island. Then there’s the fact staying on the island itself means going au naturale and pitching your own tent. You’ll want to have a fair bit of experience under your belt, and you’ll have to make your own permit/boat transfer arrangement, but where else can you camp so close to the reef?
If camping isn’t quite your jam, there are plenty of day tours from Bundaberg to hook up with. Or you can combine an overnighter with a little more luxe thanks to Lady Musgrave Experience’s Sleep On The Reef tour. You’ll be on a 27-metre catamaran, custom designed for your snorkelling and diving adventures. Insider tip: the best time of year to head out here is April to September.
However you choose to experience it, Lady Musgrave Island will deliver an unforgettable reef experience on the GBR. Are you a turtle fan? You’re basically guaranteed to spot at least 20 on a single snorkel. What!?
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Want to see tiny turtle hatchlings take their first flips towards the @southerngreatbarrierreef this year? ???? (Of course you do!) Don't miss your chance to ???? turtle miracles on @visitbundaberg's #MonRepos. From November to January, witness the beauty as Mother turtles come ashore to nest at Mon Repos. In January to late March, you'll see tiny footprints dotted along the beach, meaning it's time witness the incredible sight ???? turtle hatchlings taking a once year dash to the water’s edge before starting life on the Great Barrier Reef. #thisisqueensland #visitbundaberg #turtleseason #southerngreatbarrierreef
If there’s anything cuter than a baby turtle, I’m yet to see it. If you want to see them IRL, Mon Repos is a beach in the Bundaberg region that you’ll want to plan a trip to between November to March. While the beach is pretty beaut in its own right, during the yearly turtle hatching season it’s also one of the main hubs for mama loggerhead turtles to lay their bbs. This species is endangered so Mon Repos is considered very much critical to their survival.
Tours of the experience are run by the parks department so you can get the most out of it and all the turtles are kept safe. Want to see the mums doing the laying? You’ll want to be here from November to January. If you want to see the ridiculously adorable hatched bubs making their way back to the sea? January to March is your time. Or just book yourself a cheeky long weekend for both.
End the day by sinking a few craft brews back in Bundaberg itself, where they’re pretty dang proud of their local brewing scene. In fact, it’s even starting to be called the new drinks capital of Queensland, so there you go. Obviously, that means there’s more than just the famous Bundaberg Brewed Drinks. Stick Kalkie Moon and Baragara Brewing Company on your tasting list too.
The adorably named Pumpkin Island is still kinda undiscovered and is a beautiful part of the Keppel Group of Islands. So if you’re hoping to experience the GBR with as few other tourists around you as possible, get in quick.
Once you get there, a world of marine delights awaits you. Lounge on the white sand beach, snorkel through the marine life, or view it from a glass bottom kayak. Heck, if you’re a seafood fan you can even harvest your own oysters here. Plan your stay for the right seasons and chances are high for you to also spot dolphins, turtles, and whales.
You can even book the whole island out to yourself. Wait, what? Yep, you and up to 34 mates, who can all stay in the island’s eco-friendly self-contained units that are entirely powered by the wind and sun. Where else in the world can you do that AND snorkel a Wonder Of The World AND go island hopping between the whole Keppel group. Nowhere, guys. Nowhere else.
Again it’s super easy to get to, whether you want to fly in or take a short 24-minute boat ride from Yeppoon, just outside of Rockhampton.
Lady Elliot Island
If Lady Elliot Island is good enough for a Sir David Attenborough doco, it’s good enough for literally everyone. Why did he get so excited? Probably because it’s teeming with over 700 individual manta rays. You’re also very likely to have run-ins with Green Sea, Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles. Plus it’s the place to come if you’re looking for an authentic experience of the GBR, where you can immerse yourself in nature and even the accommodation is one with the environment.
Located off the coast of Bundaberg, the whole island is actually a coral cay, and is the southernmost point of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s known as the home of the Manta Rays and has perfect snorkelling even if you’re brand new to it. The only hotel on the island, Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, are very serious about their ‘eco’ title, conservation of the island, but also about helping you have an untainted, authentic reef experience.
The best part? Seaplane from Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Brisbane or the Gold Coast is your only way in. That, friends, is heavenly seclusion. You can include the flight as part of your accommodation package or, you know, just go for a magical day trip. But why would you when you could stay for the weekend?
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The @heronisland wreck could honestly be one of the best snorkelling spots in the country. Flying the drone just before leaving on our final morning, I counted around a dozen reef sharks, even more eagle rays, five or so turtles and I’m not totally sure, but possibly even a manta ray! Swipe for a glimpse at a couple of locals cruising down the channel ⬅️
What the heck is a Bommie? It’s an underwater, offshore reef, and Heron Island just so happens to have one of the best in the world. How do I know this? Because a super famous diver, Jacques Costeau, dubbed it in the world’s top 10 himself. So did everyone’s favourite mate, Sir David Attenborough. So yeah, he really loves the southern GBR.
This is one of very few spots along the GBR where you can literally walk from the beach straight into an underwater wonderland. Yes, that’s complete with blacktip reef sharks, turtles, rays and all the colourful tropical fish you could want across the 16 sites either right off the beach or within 15-minutes of the island.
Seriously, if you’re passionate about snorkelling or diving you absolutely need a long weekend here. Fly right into Gladstone Airport, where a shuttle to the marina will hook you up with your easy 25-minute boat transfer to the island. Make it a day trip or stay at the eco-friendly Heron Island Resort.Image: Supplied by TEQ