Australia is the world’s biggest island and Australians are fortunate to access island life from wide-stretching beaches that orbit the country. Australia is also the mainland from which travellers can embark on the ultimate island hop, from balmy days spent off the Queensland coast, to the rugged and fresh outlook from Victoria’s south-eastern tip. Here are eight top islands to kick-start your island hop.
Lord Howe Island, New South Wales
Head 600 kilometres off the New South Wales coast to the ‘last paradise’ – Lord Howe Island; one of the most beautiful islands in the Pacific and one of the most secluded. Only 400 people are allowed on the island at any time and there are no cars, giving guests an exclusive, and environmentally conscious, island experience. Leverage Lord Howe Island’s natural beauty by hiking Mount Gower, listed as one of the world’s great walks. Head to the emerald waters where surfing, sailing, snorkelling and scuba diving is in abundance, not to mention spectacular marine life, coral reefs and over 60 dive sites to choose from. Or, settle into island life with a lazy bike ride or stroll throughout the island.
Phillip Island, Victoria
One of Australia’s most accessible islands for families and day-trippers is Phillip Island, one and half hour’s drive from Melbourne. Phillip Island is privileged by natural beauty with 97 kilometres of coastline to fuel the most memorable of summer memories. Rocky outcrops, windswept beaches and rambunctious blowholes make for a captivating, beachside sojourn. Local wildlife is abound from koalas to mutton birds and seals. The pinnacle of Phillip Island’s wildlife is its little penguin population. The main town of Cowes plays host to a string of cafes and restaurants where visitors can eat and drink the long summer days away. Summery nights can be spent wandering the waterside market stalls or watching little penguins meandering along the back-beaches at Phillip Island’s world famous attraction – the Penguin Parade.
Bruny Island, Tasmania
Take a 20-minute ferry ride across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel from the southern Tasmanian town of Kettering to find an island with open roads and only 600 residents. Explore both the south and north islands, connected by ‘The Neck’, and wonder as you drive through rich South Bruny National Park. Bushwalkers are spoilt for choice here and gourmet palates will drool over Bruny Island’s uber-local produce. For uninterrupted views, hike the steps to Truganini Lookout at The Neck or discover endless sea cliffs, cavernous blowholes where the power of the Southern Ocean can be witnessed.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia
Australia’s third largest island and first free settlement – Kangaroo Island – holds plenty for wayfaring travellers. It’s where white sandy beaches roll into lush farmland and local wildlife wander the shores. Wildlife spotting is therefore assured here; sea lions and penguin colonies punctuate Kangaroo Island’s unspoilt surrounds and migrating whales give visitors a commanding wildlife experience. Fresh, local produce is plentiful, with an array of artisan foods and wine to pack your picnic basket with. Load your culinary haul into a car and take in a scenic driving tour of the island. Or, get closer to nature with incredible bushwalks through Flinders Chase National Park.
Rottnest Island, Western Australia
Accessible by a relaxing ferry ride, Rottnest Island is a stone’s throw from Fremantle. Rottnest Island was originally attached to the mainland over 7000 years ago before rising sea levels detached it. Traditional owners named the island Wadjemup, meaning ‘place across the water’. The Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh explored Rottnest in the 1600’s and labelled it ‘Rotte Nest’, or rats’ nest. He had mistaken the island’s gorgeous marsupial, the quokka, for a rat! Now, Rottnest Island is a playground for those looking beyond mainland Western Australia for a casual trip. Snorkelling, bike-riding and walking trails, such as the Wadjemup Walk Trail, are on hand for curious visitors, and many opt for a simple dip in one of the island’s laidback beaches. For a closer eye across this easy-going island, scale the steps of Wadjemup Lighthouse and take in the sea-swept views.
Fraser Island, Queensland
The world’s largest sand island is on our doorstep and beckons anyone in search of adventure. The four-wheel drive enthusiasts will delight in the 123 kilometres of sandy beach here. Though, it’s even more discerning to explore Fraser Island via foot. There are rainforests to discover, one of which is the only one in the world growing directly out of the sand at an elevation of 200 metres. Freshwater lakes can be found at this K’gari, or ‘paradise’ as known by the local Butchulla people, and nature enthusiasts can take a fascinating sailing trip to spot humpback whales, dugongs or turtles. Guests can appreciate an overnight stay at the luxury eco-resort or bunker down under the stars in their own tents.
Magnetic Island, Queensland
If the Great Barrier Reef is the crown of Queensland’s treasures, then Magnetic Island could be its jewel. The natural beauty here seems never-ending – from dense, rainforest inland to its reef-skirted coastline. Travellers can schedule the assuming activities, from snorkelling and diving, to beachcombing and wildlife spotting, though there are so many choices available that travellers will be find it tricky to decide on what to do next. Magnetic Island is home to one of Australia’s largest koala populations and can be admired by embarking on the Forts Walk trail, where Magnetic Island’s natural surprises and World War II history collide.
Thursday and Horn Islands, Queensland
Reach out beyond Cape York and discover the heart of the Torres Straight Islands – Thursday Island. Tradition and heritage narrate local life here, and travellers to Thursday Island are absorbed by its arresting ocean views and stunning wildlife. History buffs can hop across to Horn Island for its substantial World War II history.