Discover the best island holidays in Australia – here is 21 to 28 of the 100 ways to holiday here this year.
21. Escape to private Picnic Island, Tas
Picnic Island is a privately owned island in Tasmania’s Coles Bay, within Freycinet National Park, that’s available in its entirety for holiday lease. Owner Clem Newton-Brown originally used the island for rugged camping trips with his family, but it now boasts two beautifully weathered copper-clad buildings.
These buildings are connected by a boardwalk: one contains five bedrooms, sleeping up to 10 people, while the other features a kitchen, dining and living space, complete with suspended fireplace and magnificent ocean views.
Accessible only by boat, Picnic Island has spectacular views of the Hazards mountain range. Dolphins can be spotted passing by, and a walk around the island after dark reveals scores of fairy penguins returning to their burrows for the night.
Guests can enjoy fishing, swimming and foraging for mussels at low tide. It is the ultimate setting for an off-grid getaway, family adventure or simply to reconnect with nature.
22. Revisit Kangaroo Island, SA
Take a short break (and make a big difference) on Kangaroo Island.
Come next summer, Hamilton & Dune, a duo of private-hire lodges overlooking picturesque Emu Bay, is sure to be the place to be. Choose between the architecturally designed Dune House, or Hamilton House, a property that can house larger groups but is a little less ‘designer’.
Much has been made about the devastation of local wildlife but the happenings on the pristine beach that makes up Seal Bay Conservation Park is the ultimate good news story: with more than 225 seal pups born during the latest breeding season. Take a guided tour down to the beach or a self-guided stroll along the boardwalk.
Dine at Emu Bay Lavender, a rustic farmgate cafe serving homemade lavender scones the size of plates and handmade lavender ice-cream alongside views of lavender fields. Load up on plenty of local produce before you leave.
Dreaming of diving into the shallows to swim with pods of dolphins? Look no further than Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures. Expect to swim and snorkel with anywhere between 20 to 50 wild dolphins at any one time.
Whether you’re into hooning on a quad bike, sandboarding dunes at Little Sahara or quietly kayaking through picturesque countryside, Kangaroo Island Outdoor Action will deliver the action you crave.
Kangaroo Island Spirits offers a tasting tour of its quirky gin, vodka and liqueur flavours. Or if you prefer a cold one, Kangaroo Island Brewery, located just outside Kingscote, serves up eight craft beers as well as a decent menu.
While we are talking about alcohol, some of the island’s best wineries were affected by the bushfires, but you can get a bottle of The Islander Estate’s flagship Investigator Cabernet Franc at the vineyard’s cellar door. Other wineries to add to your itinerary include Dudley Wines and Bay of Shoals.
Take a seriously picturesque road trip around the island. You’ll need a 4WD with powerful brakes (to avoid the kangaroos) and while there are quicker ways to get to Kangaroo Island than taking the Sealink Ferry, there are none more scenic. First, there’s the drive through the lovely Fleurieu Peninsula, and then the post-ferry bite to be had at Millie Mae’s Pantry, by the ferry terminal.
Fill up your petrol on the island and kit out your rented accommodation with items you’ve purchased from the local supermarket. Head down to Kingscote Gift Shop and load up on souvenirs and check out Penneshaw Market Day if you are on-island on the first Sunday of the month between October and April.
23. Discover Fraser Island’s many surprises, Qld
Fraser Island’s 75 Mile Beach disappears completely at high tide, but when the water recedes it morphs into a surprisingly busy road with speed limits and even booze buses during the summer holidays.
Some 400,000 visitors arrive on the island each year and Wayne, an easygoing larrikin who doubles as driver and guide with Fraser Explorer Tours, estimates that 399,000 of those stop at Lake McKenzie. When we arrive, one glance is enough to tell me why. This is a place so absurdly picturesque that it almost doesn’t seem real.
It would be easy to spend days here, but soon we’re back in the car and tackling ‘the roller coaster’, a particularly bumpy stretch of track just outside Kingfisher Bay Resort. The low-rise eco resort hidden in the trees on the island’s western side was built in 1992, just as Fraser Island gained UNESCO World Heritage listing. Accommodation options further afield include Eurong Beach Resort and private homes for rent on the island’s east coast.
At the fine-dining Seabelle restaurant there’s a strong focus on native ingredients, and the Bush Tucker Talk & Taste offers a chance to learn more about them. It’s a satisfying way to end the night and when I get back to my room I fall asleep to a chorus of frogs chirping through my screen door.
A dingo fence keeps Fraser Island’s most notorious residents out of the complex, but today I’m on the lookout for some offshore visitors instead. From July to November each year, humpback whales stop in the sheltered waters of Hervey Bay on their migration up (and down) Australia’s east coast.
The island acts as a giant windbreak so there’s no swell as we head out to the Great Sandy Strait and it doesn’t take long before we spot two obliging juveniles that lift their heads above the water (a ‘spy hop’) and roll over to expose their white bellies.
Not to be left out, a nearby pod of dolphins frolics and dances as the sun glitters off the water and turns it into the world’s biggest mirror ball.
Fraser Island is 250 kilometres north of Brisbane and ferries leave from River Heads or Inskip Point. Once there, travel is only possible via 4WD so you’ll need your own vehicle and experience driving on sand, or you can sign up for a tour.
24. Unwind at Kittawa Lodge on King Island, Tas
Kittawa Lodge was dreamt up to be a place where busy people can unwind and breathe deeply – its island home, in fact, has some of the cleanest air in the world. Welcome to a unique new accommodation offering on Tasmania’s King Island, which lies, rugged and beautiful, off the state’s north-west coast (accessible by plane from the mainland or a 30-minute flight from Melbourne).
At Kittawa, two architecturally designed lodges sit snug in the sand dunes on the property’s 750 metres of coastline. The bespoke structures were made on mainland Tasmania from sustainable materials and feature charred timber cladding, which is inspired by a Japanese technique that provides a natural resistance to bushfires and is well equipped to weather the elements over time.
With sweeping views across the Bass Strait from every room, the two lodges are designed to maximise guests’ connection to the outdoors. The interiors feature luxurious bamboo linen, a handmade concrete bath and original artworks by renowned King Island-based artists.
And, of course, no Tassie experience would be complete without lashings of local produce, and King Island does it particularly well – it’s renowned for its seafood, cheese and beef.
25. Have an eco-friendly holiday on Rottnest Island, WA
Jump on a ferry from Fremantle or Perth to explore this pristine island playground – while treading very lightly. Rottnest Island has long been Western Australia’s holiday destination of choice and, while you can still enjoy its timeless slow-paced, laid-back charm, in recent years the island has been busy becoming a super-sustainable destination.
It is recognised as one of Australia’s best-managed ecotourism environments and has established a strong renewable-energy scheme along with a host of sustainability initiatives. Plus, the island and all its plants and critters – including its quokkas – are protected by law.
At 19 kilometres square, and with no cars, Rottnest Island is an ideal place to explore by bike. There are 45 kilometres of walking trails, too, which take in sand dunes, beaches and salt lakes. Alternatively – take an eco-friendly Segway tour to hard-to-reach corners of the island.
Stay overnight to soak up the serenity and people-free beaches after the daytime crowds have gone home: the first low-impact glamping experience on Rottnest opened at Discovery Rottnest Island on Pinky Beach last year. And keep your eye on Hotel Rottnest, which is being reimagined with an extra 80 rooms and a strong focus on sustainability.
26. Seek out the foodie secrets of Flinders Island, Tas
Flinders Island is the largest in the Furneaux Group, all at sea in the Bass Strait, north-east of Tasmania. Renowned for its pristine, if wild, waters that harbour some of Australia’s best seafood, it’s long been a chef’s secret pantry.
Some 900 islanders live on Flinders, among them farmers, growers and producers who are passionate about producing food the way it used to be done. Terrestrial spoils include beef, lamb, garlic, honey, fruit and vegetables, as well as premium Tasmanian whisky, gin and beer.
At the heart of the island’s community, The Flinders Wharf restaurant celebrates this abundance by hosting seasonal crayfish experiences, as well as a monthly guest chef culinary program, ‘On-Island Time’.
Providing another reason to visit – and stay awhile, The Flinders Wharf also manages two chic and cosy farmstays on the Quoin angus beef farm. Dwarf Cottage is a gorgeous studio space perfect for couples, while newly opened Wombat Lodge is a beautiful three-bedroom affair complete with a designer bathroom with a deep tub looking out across farmland and mountains (the lodges are ideally located for accessing the walking trails of Mt Killiecrankie, a large granite crag with spectacular scenery). And it’s got a chef-inspired kitchen, of course.
27. Get acquainted with Australia’s island paradises
It’s a true island paradise of tropical jungle fringed by turquoise waters that has so much more to offer than the headlines would lead you to believe. Come for the crabs made famous by Sir David Attenborough and stay for the luxury eco retreat Swell Lodge, secret swimming spots, snorkelling and an intriguing melting pot of cultures.
Like Christmas Island, the Cocos Keeling Islands is another external Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. About halfway between Perth and Sri Lanka, this is a tranquil and unspoilt atoll of 27 islands where days are spent lazing on long stretches of white-sand beaches, visiting uninhabited islands by canoe (only two are inhabited), kite surﬁng, ﬁshing and snorkelling.
Course across the water from Darwin to soak in the rainbow of landscapes and culture that is the Tiwi Islands: with its tropical rainforests, clay-like cliffs and white-sand beaches matched in colour by its residents’ artistic ﬂair and passion for sports. This strong pulse can be felt across the Tiwis’ two main islands, Bathurst and Melville, and culminates each year in the Tiwi Islands Football Grand Final and Art Sale.
Resting between New Zealand and New Caledonia, Norfolk Island is – geographically speaking – closer to Auckland than Sydney, yet it is officially part of NSW. A sub-tropical South Paciﬁc island of rolling plains and dense pine forests with a craggy coastline that gives way to sparkling bays and world-class dive sites, it’s full of surprises.
Harnessing the abundance of homegrown produce, from fresh ﬁsh and beef to honey and cheese, Norfolk Island excels in the paddock-to-plate philosophy, and visitors can experience everything from progressive dinners at locals’ homes to simple but superfresh sunset ﬁsh fries.
Like its ‘neighbour’ Norfolk Island, Lord Howe Island is World Heritage listed and the remnant of a volcano that was active two to three million years ago.
A tiny island in the Tasman Sea, east of Port Macquarie, it is characterised by sandy beaches, subtropical forests and clear waters surveyed by the impressive Mt Gower, rated as one of Australia’s best day walks.
Lord Howe is also synonymous with luxury. And not just barefoot luxury or the luxury of only 400 guests being permitted onto the island at any one time, but the ‘I never want to leave’ kind of luxury in the shape of Capella Lodge.
And when you’re not busy doing not much at all, see how many of the 500 species of ﬁsh and 90 species of coral you can spot while snorkelling, catch some ﬁsh, or dabble in some citizen science.
28. Cruise to the intriguing Abrolhos Islands, WA
Sixty kilometres off the edge of Western Australia, lies an island smaller than a footy oval. Only seven people reside on Basile Island, and that’s when it’s busy. We’re on a five-day exploratory cruise with Eco Abrolhos on a 32-person catamaran (the only tourism vessel permitted to stop at Basile).
Few people even know this remote archipelago of 122 islands, named the Houtman Abrolhos, exist. This is a special time for the islands, since 2019 marked 400 years since a Dutch merchant sailor came across the flat crusts of land en route to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Captain Houtman spotted the archipelago 151 years before Captain James Cook arrived on the east coast of Australia.
Now you can snorkel over coral gardens in the glass-blue water and spot wafting rock-lobster feelers. The Island of Angry Ghosts (the site of Australia’s first mass murder back in 1629) also makes it onto the itinerary. Its pristine inlet of white sand, crystalline water and a playful sea lion seems an incongruous match for the horrors meted out here when the marooned crew of the Batavia were murdered by a gang of mutineers. The Batavia shipwreck was officially discovered in 1963, which you can snorkel when the water is calm.
Nearby Big Pigeon Island is home to one of the last remaining community clubs, where beers start at $5 and dinner is advertised on the whiteboard: $8. There are fewer than a handful of punters inside.
As we dinghy back to our mothership, the molten copper hues of sunset reflect in the ocean, engulfing sky and sea. As darkness takes hold, we see a dozen sharks floating in the blue space at the back of the boat. Like everything in the Abrolhos, the scene is brutal and beautiful in one.
When you’re not on the water, dine at the nautically themed rooftop bar in Geraldton The Old Man and the Sea. Stay at The Gerald boutique hotel. And stop in at the free-entry Museum of Geraldton for an encompassing history of the Batavia and other shipwrecks along the coast.