The Island Day Trip That Sparked My Love For Life Under The Sea

By Kiri Johnston | 11th April 2024

When I first got the offer for a day trip out to Lady Elliot Island, I was all in. I mean, who wouldn’t want to miss a day of work to fly over to paradise and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef instead? So, off I went, leaving the chaos of everyday life behind for an adventure out at sea, blissfully unaware this trip would awaken my love for life under the sea.

As a typical Cancerian, aka water sign, I’m drawn to the water like a magnet. Whether it’s a day trip with the girls or a boat day out at sea, I’m instantly in my element. There’s just something about the ocean — a mix of mystery and tranquility— that soothes the soul. It’s like an instant hangover cure that can fix just about anything.

The night before my flight, I crashed on the Gold Coast, prepping for a 6.45am flight time departing from the Seair Pacific hangar in Bilinga. Despite a chaotic morning rush down the Gold Coast Highway and a fuel hiccup along the way, I just made it in time. I rushed into the hangar and was greeted by the friendly team and Island Custodian, Peter, who briefed us before heading out to the plane.

We hopped onto a Cessna Caravan with room for just 14 passengers. Unexpectedly, I was sat upfront, co-piloting with the affable Pilot, Dave, somehow securing the best seat in the house (plane). Although feeling frantic from the rush and the early wake up call, I was feeling pumped for the day ahead. As we soared into the sky, taking in unreal views of Coolangatta’s beaches and Surfers Paradise skyline, Dave was an excellent tour guide. As we flew up the coast, he pointed out Brisbane CBD and the bayside area. We had a quick stop in Redcliffe to pick up more passengers and then we were back on our way to our destination. I’m a solid flyer, so sitting up front taking in the immaculate views was definitely a highlight.

About an hour or so later, we approached the southernmost island of the Great Barrier Reef, circling for a view before landing. Arriving at Lady Elliot Island, I was stoked to explore the Great Barrier Reef again since not having visited since I was a kid. I’d been snorkelling all over the place, from Bali, Fiji to Greece and beyond, but I was super keen to see what the reef had to offer especially considering the ease of it being only an hour from home.

We landed on this tiny island surrounded by reefs. It was like heaven on Earth. The team gave us the run down of the island and what the day was going to entail, giving us the low down onto our snorkelling adventure.

But first, a tour of the island revealed its commitment to sustainability and conservation. Peter and the team are all about eco-friendliness, a value I personally love. Lady Elliot Island, a hidden gem, had earned its spot on the World Heritage List since 2004. Plus, the surrounding area was marked a Marine National Park ‘Green Zone.’

Day tripping to the island is a breeze. But if you want to stay, the eco-friendly accommodation is perfect to enjoy a laidback holiday. Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort has over 40 rooms, including eco-cabins, garden units, reef units, beachfront units, and glamping tents. Each is designed to minimise environmental impact while ensuring a comfortable stay. Amenities include private bathrooms (except for eco-cabins), with no TVs or Wifi in rooms to preserve the island’s natural charm. The best part of all — the entire island is powered from the sun with solar panels.

Next, we explored the island’s historic lighthouse. The Lady Elliot Island team celebrated it’s 150th birthday last November by unveiling a new Heritage Museum and Precinct. Outside the lighthouse was where we boarded a glass-bottom boat for our sea adventure. Guided by the staff, we learned about the reef’s ecosystem and spotted an array of marine life, from tropical fish to the crowd favourite, turtles.

Finally, the moment arrived to dive in. Geared up with snorkels and flippers, I buddied up with Stacey, a seasoned snorkeler. As I swam around, I naturally felt an urge to snap photos, but instead immersed myself in the underwater world. We saw fluorescent fish, lively coral, sea turtles, and even a reef shark. Each moment felt like pure magic.

But don’t take my word for it. In 2020, Lonely Planet ranked Lady Elliot Island as the second-best snorkelling spot globally. While I didn’t spot any manta rays, sightings of over 1000 occur annually. The team from Project Manta conducts expeditions, photographing and observing ray behaviour. They also collect water and plankton samples for research. Guests can even name or identify rays by photographing their bellies. Lady Elliot Island plays a crucial role in manta ray aggregation, particularly during winter.

After 45 minutes of snorkelling, we headed back to the island and I’d worked up an appetite to say the least. Changing into dry clothes, we met at the restaurant, dining al fresco with ocean views of the reef we’d just been snorkelling in. I basically devoured my veggie burger, fries and cocktail within minutes. It was the perfect way to refuel. After lunch, we then visited the nursery, where the team planted tropical plants to keep the island lush and protected — a fitting finale.

As the staff joked about probably nodding off during the flight, I passed out basically as soon as we took off. Waking up back at the hangar on the Gold Coast, I woke up almost feeling like it was all just a dream.

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Lady Elliot Island

How to get there:

Scenic flights depart daily from Gold Coast and Brisbane.

What to pack:

Swimsuit, hat, sunscreen, camera. Snorkelling equipment and towels are supplied.

Where to stay:

Lady Elliot Island welcomes day visitors. Lady Elliot Eco Resort offers a range of accommodation options.


Want to experience a day trip to Lady Elliot Island yourself? We’re giving away an incredible Great Barrier Reef Experience valued at over $2,000. Head here to enter, good luck!

Header image: Lady Elliot Island

By Kiri Johnston A matcha enthusiast with a relentless online shopping addiction, often spotted poolside with her beloved dogs.




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