Dreaming of an island in the sun? These Australian islands will add fuel to your fantasies with their uncanny beauty, pristine natural assets and luxe, laidback vibes.
Of course, Australia is an island nation, but with thousands of reefs, atolls and archipelagos hiding enticingly in our stunning waters, it’s also a nation of islands. If you’re fantasising about absconding to a white-sand beach, the great news is that some of the best are actually in our own backyard.
Not only are they as swoon-worthy as any in the Pacific, they all come with their own style of uncommon beauty and native flora and fauna, with not a cultural show or kava ceremony in sight. Here are our top five favourite Australian islands.
Hamilton Island is pretty much what every island wants to be when it grows up. Anchored serenely in the Great Barrier Reef, encircled by waters that glint like a just-polished gemstone, and with a seemingly endless supply of sunshine, this resort island is a short dash to the famously beautiful Whitehaven Beach and neighbouring Whitsunday Islands.
Aside from that hyperbole-inducing water and gorgeous natural walking tracks and coves to explore, there’s also a golf club, yacht club, marina and a pleasingly full calendar of events, ensuring there’s something to entertain any mainland escapee.
The pinnacle of sophistication on the island is luxury qualia resort, but there’s still plenty of high-end and affordable accommodation elsewhere. And no matter where you stay, a golf buggy to get around will always make you feel like a VIP.
When to go: Hamilton Island is a year-round destination, but be sure to book well ahead of peak holiday times or you might miss out.
Leave from: The closest escape route is a two-hour flight from Brisbane, but you can also fly direct from Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns.
Island highlights: A Whitehaven Funseeker by seaplane is worth the splurge.
Lord Howe Island
The remnants of a shield volcano that long ago gave way to an island paradise sheltered under the dramatic and oft-brooding twin peaks of Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird, Lord Howe Island makes quite the first impression. A costly impression, it seems: a one-way direct flight will set you back upwards of $400.
Once you’ve oriented yourself on the small isle, get acquainted with the underwater locals, which you can do by snorkelling, diving, swimming or paddling in the marine park at your flippered feet. Those sentinel-like mountains also provide visitors with plenty of bushwalking tracks and grottos for more adventurous dips. There’s something about Lord Howe that feels somewhat Jurassic and leaves you with the sense that you are far, far away from your regular life.
When to go: Winter is mild, but balmy summer is the best time to enjoy these crystal waters. Be warned, however, the island only accepts 400 visitors at any time, so lock it in early.
Leave from: Just a two-hour QantasLink flight from Sydney, Lord Howe feels much further away than it really is. But, keep in mind that weather can greatly impact flights in and out of the island, so check before you go.
Island highlights: If you’ve got the stomach for heights and the stamina for a trek, the mist forest atop Mt Gower is otherworldly.
Not all islands need to be tropical to possess a beauty that you’ll pine for long after you leave. Tasmania may shudder with cold much of the year, but this island is renowned for her natural assets and impossibly pristine coastlines.
Bruny Island is an island off an island, and an easily accessible one at that. Home to South Bruny National Park, the island is a magnet for Kathmandu-wearing walkers, eagle-eyed twitchers and nature-spotting daytrippers. Circumnavigate Bruny’s wild and craggy coastline on an eco-cruise or indulge in the island’s other drawcard, food. Home to briny Get Shucked oysters, Bruny Island Cheese Co, and Bruny Island House of Whisky, this picturesque rock seemingly cast adrift south of Hobart may not offer cocktails and catamarans but it does cater to indulgences of a different kind.
When to go: Winter is bitingly cold in Tasmania, but if you can brave it, there’s something enigmatic in this almost-unfriendly wild weather.
Leave from: You can drive to and around Bruny Island via the SeaLink ferry. It’s just a 40-minute drive. There’s also accommodation on the island if you decide to partake in too much whisky.
Island highlights: A narrow isthmus called ‘The Neck’ joins North and South Bruny; view this natural corridor from the lookout steps.
It’s amazing that this little adventureland exists so close to a major city, but ‘Rotto’ is here and it’s full of charm and character. You could come for the day, but why would you when there is almost too much to explore (by two wheels only) on this pretty little isle.
Kids are well-catered for, so hire them a few bikes and send them out until sundown Lord of the Flies-style. But what’s fun for them is likely fun for you, so you could also get out onto the water together in a kayak, SUP, chartered boat or a pair of flippers and log some quality family time. If your idea of an island escape is a cocktail in a coconut and a foot massage, you may be left wanting on this activity-driven island. All is forgiven, though, with a quokka selfie, which is entirely permissible – just don’t feed or harass the adorable little guys.
When to go: If you’re flying child- and fancy-free, steer clear of the holidays.
Leave from: A short 90-minute ferry ride from Perth’s Barrack Street Jetty.
Island highlights: Quokkas, of course. But also try your hand at an underwater scooter. Really.
They call it the ‘Island of Smiles’, and this Northern Territory duet of Bathurst and Melville Islands are sure to leave you beaming. Point your compass 80 kilometres north of Darwin and you’ll land in the football-loving, art-creating Tiwi. Acquaint yourself with the locals and their land on a tour led by an Indigenous guide who will help to ground you in the history and lore of the Australian islands.
You may well recognise some of the yarns told on the tour in the artwork the Tiwi is famous for. Indeed, art-lovers will be in rapture as they visit the many galleries and design centres, and even join elder Tiwi women for tea and a basket-weaving lesson. Keep in mind, a permit is needed to visit the islands.
When to go: If you love art and football, be sure to coincide your trip with the annual Tiwi Islands Grand Final and Art Sale in March. It’s the only day of the year that you don’t require a permit to visit.
Leave from: Pick up a SeaLink Ferry from Darwin, which will take two and a half hours, or go via light aircraft in just 20 minutes.
Island highlights: The Tiwi Islands offer a rare glimpse into the traditional lifestyle of an island people who are both warm and welcoming.