How to Choose the Right Queensland Islands for Your Holidays

Queensland is home to over 1900 islands and the eighth wonder of the world, the Great Barrier Reef. There is an island for every type of holiday you can imagine – exclusive romantic hideaways, rugged outdoor adventures, eco-friendly escapes and family-friendly island resorts. What more could you want?

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Queensland Islands 101: deciding which island to visit

While Queensland (QLD) is home to approx 1950 islands, less than twenty are frequently visited by travellers for overnight or longer stays.

They are divided into four major regions:

  • Northern Barrier Reef – Lizard, Green, Fitzroy, Hinchinbrook, and Magnetic Island
  • The Whitsunday Islands – 74 islands including Hamilton, Hayman, and Long
  • Southern Barrier Reef – Great Keppel and Heron Island
  • Sand Islands in Southern Queensland – K’gari (Fraser Island) and North Stradbroke Island

You can also group them by to the experience they offer:

  • Luxury and Romance – Lizard, Hayman, and Qualia on Hamilton Island
  • Outdoor Adventure – Hinchinbrook, Great Keppel and K’gari (Fraser Island)
  • Nature and Eco-Friendly– Green, Long and Heron Island
  • Family Fun – Fitzroy, Magnetic, Hamilton, and North Stradbroke Island

Consider the Australian School holidays when making your reservations. Unless you are travelling with kids, avoid these times!

We’ve highlighted islands that provide unique experiences for visitors on a variety of budgets.

Northern Great Barrier Reef Islands

See our recommendations for Queensland islands in the Northern Great Barrier Reef, between Cape York to Hinchinbrook. We’ve also included the family-favourite holiday destination of Magnetic Island, which is 14km from Townsville.

For other luxurious options in the Northern Great Barrier Reef, consider Bedarra Island or Orpheus Island. Transfers to Bedarra Island can be booked from Cairns or Mission Beach. There’s a 30-minute helicopter from Townsville to Orpheus Island.

Lizard Island

QLD’s northernmost reef island resort

Lizard Island is home to 24 beaches, 400 different kinds of coral and over 1500 types of fish. Located 250km northeast of Cairns, this is one of six islands in the Lizard Island National Park. What makes it distinctive as a holiday destination is the seclusion of the all-inclusive, five-star hotel.

The Dingaal Aboriginal people, Traditional Owners of Lizard Island (Jiigurru), have lived in this area for tens of thousands of years.

Lizard Island Resort is the northernmost reef island resort in Queensland, with no children under 10 years old and no mobile coverage. However, complimentary wi-fi is available in dedicated areas. This is an excellent option for a decadent romantic retreat.

Pathway to beach at Lizard Island 800
Lizard Island Credit: Tourism North Queensland

Travellers with their own boat or charter can still visit the island to enjoy the national park including walking tracks and beaches. There’s a camping and day-use area at Watsons Bay.

Experience: Luxury and romance
Best for: Couples (no children under 10 years old allowed on the island)

Nearest mainland town: Cooktown
How to get there: Resort guests will enjoy a scenic flight from Cairns (60 minutes flying over the reef!) booked through Lizard Island Resort. If you just want to visit the island without staying at the hotel, charter vessels can be arranged from Cairns, Port Douglas or Cooktown.
Where to learn more: Lizard Island National Park and Lizard Island Resort.

Green Island

The only coral cay with a rainforest

With easy access from Cairns, Green Island is one of the most visited islands in the Northern Great Barrier Reef. Formed approximately 6000 years ago, it’s the only cay in the Great Barrier Reef with a rainforest. The surrounding marine park, esplanade, national park and boardwalk are considered public recreation areas and part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Aerial of Green Island Queensland 750
Aerial view of Green Island

For those wanting to stay overnight or longer, Green Island Resort offers packages, including transfers, accommodation, beach hire equipment and glass boat tours. It is an eco-certified, four-star hotel that uses solar power and has eliminated all plastic consumables.

Wunyami (Green Island and surrounding reef) is within the sea country of the Guru-Gulu Gungandji Aboriginal people.

Experience: Nature and eco-friendly
Best for: Day-trippers from Cairns or small groups wanting to snorkel and relax on the beach

Nearest mainland town: Cairns
How to get there: Choose from multiple tour operators or 45-minute ferry transfers from Cairns (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday)
Where to learn more: Green Island National Park and Green Island Resort

Fitzroy Island

Visit the #1 beach in Australia (2018)

Another popular island close to Cairns is Fitzroy Island. What sets it apart from neighbouring Green Island are the activities such as the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre (daily talks from 1 pm) and four National Park walks ranging from 45 minutes to 3 hours return.

Fitzroy Island Welcome Bay Great Barrier Reef (1)
Welcome Bay Fitzroy Island

Additionally, you’ll have the opportunity to swim and snorkel off Nudey Beach, which was voted Australia’s #1 beach in 2018. Don’t let the name fool you -it’s not a nudist beach! Stay the night at Fitzroy Island Resort and enjoy sunset drinks at Roxy’s Bar & Cafe on the beach.

Experience: Family fun
Best for: Families and small groups who enjoy the outdoors. Fitzroy Island Resort has daily kid-friendly activities and guided walks.

Nearest mainland town: Cairns
How to get there: Choose from multiple tour operators or daily 45-minute ferry transfers from Cairns.
Where to learn more: Fitzroy Island National Park and Fitzroy Island

Hinchinbrook Island

Australia’s largest national park island

Hinchinbrook Island is famous for the 32km Thorsborne Trail, considered one of the best multi-day hikes in the world. On the way, you’ll encounter white beaches, stunning waterfalls and completely untamed wilderness.

Mangroves in Hinchinbrook Island North Queensland
Meandering rivers and mangroves in front of Hinchinbrook Island

There’s no accommodation on the island after the Hinchinbrook Island resort burnt down in 2015. This means if you decide to hike the Thorsborne Trail, you’ll be camping along the way. Make sure to book well in advance, as there is a limit of 40 campers at a time.

Experience: Outdoor adventure
Best for: Bushwalkers. The Thorsborne Trail is usually completed over four days, however, there are some day trips operating from Lucinda.

Nearest mainland town: Cardwell
How to get there: Fly into Cairns or Townsville then drive. Boat transfers operate from both Cardwell (182km from Cairns) and Lucinda (140km from Townsville).
Where to learn more: The Hinchinbrook Way and Thorsborne Trail.

Magnetic Island

Northern Australia’s largest colony of koalas

Magnetic Island is a continental island composed mostly of granite, formed around 7500 years ago. In 1770, it was named Magnetic Island based on the belief that it was magnetic affecting a ship’s compass. Nowadays this island welcome new residents, vacationers and daytrippers from Townsville.

beach with blue water of Magnetic Island in Australia
Magnetic Island

We recommend staying at least three days to explore this beloved holiday destination. You’ll have the opportunity to see koalas and rock wallabies in the wild, snorkel some of the best spots in Queensland and hike to concealed beaches. Take your own vehicle, hire a topless car or get around on the Sunbus. Be sure to explore the Magnetic Island National Park.

The Aboriginal Traditional Owners of Magnetic Island (Yunbenun), the Wulgurukaba people, have lived on the island and on the nearby mainland for thousands of years.

Experience: Family fun
Best for: Beach lovers and bushwalkers

Nearest mainland town: Townsville
How to get there: 20-minute ferry ride for passengers or 40-minute ferry ride for cars from Townsville on Sealink
Where to stay: Magnetic Harbour Apartments

The Whitsunday Islands

See our recommendations for The Whitsunday Islands in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. There are 74 islands in total, however, only four currently have accommodation available. These are Daydream Island, Hamilton Island, Hayman Island and Long Island.

The Ngaro Aboriginal people are the Traditional Owners of The Whitsundays and the neighbouring coast.

Whitsunday Islands Queensland
Whitsunday Islands

It’s possible to camp on most islands in the Whitsunday Islands National Park, including South Molle Island, Hook Island, Lindeman Island and Whitsunday Island. You can reach the islands by boat on your own vessel, a charter or through Scamper who also hire camping equipment.

Hayman Island

Whitsundays’ exclusive private island with a 5-star hotel

Hayman Island is the northernmost island in The Whitsundays and has a reputation as the tropical escape for millionaires and celebrities. Unlike the other islands, the only boats allowed to dock are official Hayman Island ferries which run daily.

Hayman Island Queensland
Hayman Island Credit: Tourism Events Queensland

The InterContinental Hayman Island Resort has 168 accommodation options, from beachfront villas to executive suites. On land, you can choose from four restaurants, nature walks, a day spa, secluded beaches and a pool with a swim-up bar. Explore the Great Barrier Reef on a charter boat, jet ski tour or helicopter joy ride.

Hayman Island Queensland
Hayman Island Credit: Tourism Events Queensland

Experience: Luxury and romance
Best for: Couples (children are welcome)

Nearest mainland town: Airlie Beach
How to get there: Fly to Hamilton Island and enjoy a 60-minute transfer. If you are travelling from the mainland, you can fly to Proserpine then travel to Airlie Beach by shuttle, taxi or hire car. The boat departs from Port of Airlie.
Where to stay: Intercontinental Hayman Island Resort

Long Island

Whitsunday Island with camping, 4-star and 5-star hotels

The closest Whitsunday Island to the mainland, Long Island isn’t as well known as Hayman, Hamilton or Daydream Island. Which means fewer crowds and more tranquillity. Long Island is part of the Molle Islands National Park and has four rainforest walks ranging from 30 minutes to 3.5 hours.

Elysian Retreat Long Island
Elysian Retreat Long Island Credit: Tourism Events Queensland

There are three accommodation choices on Long Island which are spread out from north to south:

Experience: Nature and eco-friendly
Best for: Couples and small groups

Nearest mainland town: Airlie Beach
How to get there: Helicopter transfers operate to both Palm Bay Resort and Elysian Retreat. There’s also a daily water taxi from Shute Harbour (12km from Airlie Beach) to Palm Bay Resort. For daytrippers to Palm Bay Resort, you can take the water taxi with Island transfers.

Hamilton Island

The only Whitsundays Island with a commercial airport

Of all the Queensland Islands, Hamilton Island has the largest range of accommodation types available. This includes:

The island also has an enormous range of activities, including kayaking, snorkelling, swim-up bar, bush walks, golfing, go-kart racing, ATV tours and a variety of restaurants and bars. Kids will be kept entertained at the Clownfish Club (from 6 weeks to 14 years old).

Australian Isalnd Hamilton Island Queensland
Hamilton Island Marina

From Hamilton Island, you can book trips to other islands such as Daydream Island and Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. Many holidaymakers combine their stay on Hamilton Island with a few days at Daydream Island, just a 35-minute ferry ride away.

Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays Archipelago, Queensland, Australia
Whitehaven Beach Whitsundays

Experience: Luxury and romance at qualia. Family fun around the rest of the island.
Best for: Couples and families that want a variety of activities

Nearest mainland town: Airlie Beach
How to get there: Fly directly to Hamilton Island Airport from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane
Where to learn more: Hamilton Island

Southern Great Barrier Reef Islands

Unlike the islands in the Northern Great Barrier Reef or The Whitsundays, the waters around the Southern Great Barrier Reef are safe to swim year-round without stinger suits. So you can wade into crystal clear water and snorkel amongst brilliant coral without worry.

Starting in Central Queensland on the Capricorn Coast to Bundaberg, the most visited islands are:

  • Great Keppel and Pumpkin Island from Yeppoon
  • Heron and Wilson Island from Gladstone
  • Lady Musgrave Island from Agnes Water, 1770 and Bundaberg
  • Lady Elliot Island from Bundaberg.

Below is more information on our recommended Queensland islands in the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

Great Keppel Island (GKI)

Seventeen beaches, and six walking trails

There are 18 Keppel Bay Islands with Great Keppel Island (GKI) being the largest at 1454ha. With no motorized transportation, the best way to explore is on foot with six walking trails across the island. For water-based activities, there is kayaking, scuba diving and snorkelling right off the beach.

Great Keppel Island Queensland
Great Keppel Island Credit: Tourism Events Queenland

Woppaburra were the first Aboriginal Traditional Owners of the Keppel Islands. Before European settlement, Great Keppel Island was home to approximately 60-80 Woppaburra and Ganumi people of the Darumbal nation.

We recommend walking from the Visitors Precinct on Fishermen’s Beach to Long Beach, an incredibly stunning stretch of white sand. Then circling around to Monkey Beach for snorkelling right off the beach. Keep an eye out for a sacred aboriginal site between Long Beach and Monkey Beach.

There are a handful of boutique accommodation options from cabins to glamping. GKI Hideaway, GKI Holiday Village and Keppel Lodge are on the west side of the island close to the Visitors Precinct. For even more privacy, there’s Svendsen Beach Retreat to the north.

Experience: Outdoor adventure
Best for: Beach lovers and bushwalkers

Nearest mainland town: Yeppoon, Capricorn Coast
How to get there: Choose from multiple tour operators or 30-minute ferry transfers from Rosslyn Bay Harbour (9km from Yeppoon).
Where to learn more: Visit Capricorn

Heron Island

Turtle hatching and superb diving

One of the beautiful southern reef islands, Heron Island, is a National Park that is located in a Marine National Park. It’s a resort that is actually on the reef itself. This makes Heron a fantastic island for diving enthusiasts to choose from. Along with the amazing marine life and coral, between November and March, each year Green and Loggerhead turtle’s head to Heron Island to nest.

Heron Island is located in the Sea Country of which the Gooreng Gooreng, Gurang, Bailai and Taribelang Bunda peoples are the Traditional Owners.

You also have access to kayaks so that you can take a peaceful ride through mangroves or go fishing on the beach. Other activities include birdwatching, hiking and checking out the amazing night sky.

Heron Island Queensland
Heron Island Queensland

Heron Island is known for its secluded beaches and pure beauty, hosting only 80 guests at once. The island has been named as one of the world’s top honeymoon destinations because it provides you with an intimate experience in nature where you can relax and enjoy your newly wedded bliss.

Experience: Nature and eco-friendly
Best for: Diving and snorkelling. There are 30 dive sites within 15 minutes of the beach

Nearest mainland town: Gladstone
How to get there: Two-hour boat or 30-minute helicopter from Gladstone
Find out more: Heron Island

Sand Islands in Southern Queensland

There are a surprising number of islands close to Brisbane in Southern Queensland, including the large sand islands of:

  • K’gari (Fraser Island) – 225km from Brisbane
  • Bribie Island – 66km from Brisbane
  • Moreton Island – 58km from Brisbane
  • North Stradbroke Island -57km from Brisbane.

Below is more information on our recommended Southern Queensland islands.

K’gari (Fraser Island)

The largest sand island in the world

K’gari (Fraser Island) is the largest sand island in the world at over 1600sq meters with a tropical rain forest growing right out of the sand. This is the only place in the world that this occurs. To fully immerse themselves in the natural environment, most holiday-makers visit with 4WD and camping equipment.

The world-heritage listed Fraser Island has formally adopted the traditional Butchulla name, K’gari. A word meaning paradise in Butchulla language.

4 wheel driving on a beach in Fraser island
Fraser Island is 4 wheel drive paradise

If that’s not your style or you don’t have a vehicle that can take on the sandy beaches, there’s the option to stay at one of the hotels or holiday homes. Otherwise, there are several day tours that run from Hervey Bay. Explorer Tours offers a great full day out that begins at 7.30 am! You’ll visit Wanggoolba Creek boardwalk, Lake McKenzie for a swim, Seventy-Five Mile Beach, Eli Creek, Maheno Shipwreck, and the coloured sands of The Pinnacles before heading home.

If you are not camping check out Kingfisher Bay Resort or Fraser Island Retreat

Experience: Outdoor adventure
Best for: Island camping, wildlife walks and four-wheel driving on sand beaches

Nearest mainland town: Hervey Bay
How to get there: The Kingfisher Bay Ferry has multiple daily services from River Heads (27km south of Hervey Bay) that take you directly to Kingfisher Bay Resort in the middle of the island on the west coast. Alternatively, the Manta Ray Barge departs from Inskip (14km north of Rainbow Beach) which will deposit you on the southern end of the island.
Where to learn more: Visit Fraser Coast

North Stradbroke Island

1.5 hours from Brisbane

The second-largest island in the world is North Stradbroke Island, known to locals as “Straddie”. Originally, there was just one Stradbroke Island, but it split into North and South Stradbroke Island in 1896. It’s a sub-tropical island with mild winter temperatures, making it the perfect year-round escape. The varied landscape has over 100 freshwater lakes and wetlands, as well as five main beaches.

The Traditional Owners of North Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah) are collectively known as the Quandamooka People. They have lived on the lands and surrounding seas for at least 21,000 years.

North Gorge Walk Stradbroke Island Queensland
Gorge Walk wooden pathway with ocean view on North Stradbroke Island

You’re also spoiled with choices on where to stay with an abundance of holiday homes, hotels, a YHA, and camping sites. We like Anchorange on Straddie.

To get around on the island, you can take your own car or hire one there. Alternatively, there’s a bus and cab service.

Experience: Family fun
Best for: Couples, families and small groups

Nearest mainland town: Cleveland
How to get there: Drive 30km from Brisbane’s CBD to Cleveland then catch a ferry from Toondah Harbour
Where to learn more: North Stradbroke Island

Have to pick just one Queensland Island for your holiday?

Use our experience labels as a guide to determine the type of holiday you’re after. Then narrow it down by location or budget.

Here are our top picks for Queensland islands:

  • Luxury and Romance – Lizard Island for an opulent escape in Far North Queensland
  • Outdoor Adventure – K’gari (Fraser Island) to explore a unique world heritage site
  • Nature and Eco-Friendly– Heron Island to dive with the turtles in the Great Barrier Reef
  • Family Fun – Hamilton Island for an island full of activity.

Got a question? Head over to our Australia Travel Tips Facebook Group and ask a local.

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