The Short Version
If you are going to be closer to Brisbane/Gold Coast/Sydney and can’t make it up to Cairns to see the reef, a quick flight out to Lady Elliot Island could be just the perfect solution for you.
The Long Version
Seeing the Great Barrier Reef has been an actual bucket list item for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching so much Animal Planet that I cannot actually believe I don’t work directly with animals for my profession. So, when I found cheap tickets to Australia (thanks Next Vacay you da best) I had to figure out how to get to the GBR.
When booking our itinerary, Sydney was a must, and we had to go to the Australia Zoo which is right by Brisbane. So we knew those were going to be two stops and we didn’t have time for a third, which would have been Cairns where all the island access is.
After a bunch of research (I’m not exaggerating, I did so much goddamn research) I discovered Lady Elliot Island; a small, remote island that is at the very southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s been featured in countless documentaries so I knew it would be a solid choice to see the marine life I craved. I also discovered this deal that allowed me to do a two-day experience out of Gold Coast and it ended up being my absolute favorite part of my trip to Australia.
We left Gold Coast at about 6:30am on our flight, and arrived to the Lady Elliot Eco Resort about 90 minutes later. The resort itself reminded me of a camp; we stayed in a little eco hut with bunk beds and I think total there were 100 people on the island. It felt like adult summer camp on a private island it was amazing. So we unpacked and started our day which obviously was going to be getting in that goddamn water and seeing that goddamn reef! I bought a GoPro for this SPECIFICALLY and was absolutely going to take so many pictures and videos of this amazing environment.
There were so many options for snorkeling or scuba diving! We snorkeled for probably four or five hours starting starting on a glass bottom boat tour where we saw A MANTA RAY, sting rays, eagle rays, turtles, and so much fish.
After some lunch back in the dining center, we went back out to one area and snorkeled on our own for another two or three hours. Here, I saw sharks(!), turtles, a puffer fish, and AN OCTOPUS CHANGE COLORS. If you can’t tell, I was super psyched to see it happen right in front of my eyes, even if I didn’t catch it on camera.
Once we were done snorkeling for day one, we got ready, had dinner, and then went to watch the sunset on one of the beaches. It was an awesome experience.
Day two we woke up and went out on another boat tour which took us out to deeper water in the hopes of seeing even more animals, and boy did we. We saw another manta ray, sting rays, eagle rays, turtles, and sharks. It was incredible.
After we got back, we got lunch, then started packing to head back.
So, was it worth it? Absolutely. From just the views of the island from the plane we knew it was going to be incredible. So, TLDR; if you’re looking for a Great Barrier Reef experience, Lady Elliot Island is an INCREDIBLE way to check that off your bucket list. It was an absolute highlight of my life and I’m THRILLED to have been lucky enough to explore it.