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Traveling Australia’s Tiny Islands

Tiny Lord Howe Island calls to travelers from the middle of the Tasman Sea.

Tourism Australia

Pint-size paradises are just a flight, ferry, or car ride away.

This story is part of our guide to traveling in Australia, created with support from Australia.

On a quest for Australia’s top beaches, follow the boarders to Bondi, Bells, and Surfers Paradise. Then extend your radius outward to experience some of the country’s most extraordinary stretches of sand, just a short hop from the mainland. More than 8,000 islands dot the coastline, providing a setting for every type of beach lover. 

Honeymooners head straight to Lizard Island near the tip of the Great Barrier Reef. Rugged types go for K’gari’s swimming holes and Lord Howe Island’s remote snorkeling. And wildlife enthusiasts flock to Phillip Island for little penguins. At these Australian isles, there’s a beach for everyone.

Searching for reptiles is easy on Lizard Island, a small escape by the Great Barrier Reef.

Tourism Australia

The Sophisticate 

On the northernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef – a 45-minute flight from Cairns – Lizard Island is both national park and private-island resort, where 40 guest rooms provide the only accommodations on four square miles of pink-gray granite hills encircled by white sand.

Known as Jiigurru (stingray) to the island’s traditional Dingaal custodians, Lizard Island’s English name stems from its yellow-spotted inhabitants. But just as common are the green sea turtles that swim near Watsons Bay, where snorkelers also spot giant blue-lipped clams, feather stars, and tropical fish flitting about coral gardens. The resort supplies guests with dinghies and packed picnic baskets for daylong explorations.

K’gari Island's all-sand beach lines its crystal-clear waters.

Tourism Australia

The Adventurer

A short ferry ride from Queensland’s Hervey Bay, K’gari (pronounced “gurri”) calls to fans of off-road vehicles and shipwrecks. Ancient artifacts of the Indigenous Butchulla people, who share a long history with the island’s dingoes, still fill K’gari’s rain forests and lakes.

No trip to the world’s longest sand island is complete until you’ve driven its length – along the aptly named 75 Mile Beach – in a four-wheel drive or swum the bluest waters of Boorangoora (Lake McKenzie), which are infused with nearby tea trees’ natural oil. On Intrepid Travel’s eight-day tour up the Queensland coast, travelers spend a day on K’gari doing both, as well as photographing the Maheno shipwreck and dipping into swimming spots along Eli Creek.

The Naturalist 

The world’s southernmost coral reef, 500 fish species, and the planet’s tallest volcanic islet at nearly 2,000 feet: For a mere 5.6-square-mile speck in the Pacific Ocean, Lord Howe Island packs in monumental scenery. A two-hour flight from Sydney, it stands tall for volcanic geography and rare flora and fauna – so much so, it’s been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. 

Spend three days exploring the isle with on-site tour connection Abercrombie & Kent Australia, spotting endemic wood hens, attempting to summit Mount Gower, and snorkeling off one of 11 coves and beaches. Fewer than 400 permanent residents and no more than 400 visitors populate Lord Howe at a time, which means there’s ample beachfront – and plenty of beachside barbecues – to go around.

The Birder

Say “Phillip Island” to any Aussie, and they’ll likely reply with two words: “penguin parade.” A 90-minute drive from Melbourne, the island protects the world’s largest colony of little penguins. Each day at sunset, the seabirds waddle up the beach to their burrows while visitors watch the spectacle from grandstands or a glass-walled underground passage.

But there’s more wildlife to discover here, including koalas in their natural habitat, migrating whales, and a colony of 25,000 fur seals. Cruisers on Seabourn’s 15-night exploration spend a full day on Phillip Island, with time between wildlife sightings for tastings at Purple Hen winery or Ocean Reach brewery before setting off to see some of Victoria’s storied surf breaks.

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