From pristine beaches and sand highways to places to travel back in time that are surprisingly close to the city, whatever piece of paradise you’re looking for, you’ll find it on an Aussie island. We spoke with the experts to take you even deeper.
Bruny Island, Tasmania: the gourmet getaway
Just 20 minutes by SeaLink ferry from the Tasmanian mainland, Bruny Island is its own universe, where untouched wilderness coexists with an artisan food scene. “Bruny is a concentrated version of Tasmania,” says Nick Haddow, owner of the acclaimed Bruny Island Cheese Company. “It has all the iconic beer, wine and cheese but all in the one, much smaller place.” Work through a tasting paddle of award-winning cheeses including their signature 1792, a washed rind aged on a slip of Huon pine, and pair it with a glass of Farm Ale at their bush-chic cellar door. Don’t miss the seafood at Get Shucked, where you can eat fat, briny Pacific oysters, overlooking the bay from where they are freshly harvested.
Rottnest Island, WA: a wildlife haven
The friendly quokkas of Rottnest Island have become an internet sensation but to meet the unassuming dwellers of this protected nature reserve, you’ve got to know where to look. Book Rottnest Island Glamping Escape where you’ll sleep under the stars in a luxury eco tent, and their guides will show you where to find the furry creatures. “Casual observers often miss the pair of sea eagles that nest on a rocky outcrop and many visitors don’t know about the fur seal colony at the end of the island,” says Leycester Cory from SeaLink WA, operator of the 30-minute ferry from Fremantle and tours around the island. “Guides can also show you the best snorkelling spots and secluded bays, which you can return to in the tour’s downtime.”
The Tiwi Islands, NT: artfully remote
Casting off from Bathurst Bay to the Tiwi Islands, SeaLink’s Tiwi By Design tour is a journey of artistic discovery. A vision of red cliffs, turquoise water and palm-dappled white sand, this little-visited collection of islands in the Arafura Sea offers a window into thriving tradition. On Bathurst Island, go behind the scenes with artists at the Tiwi Design Art Centre to do a screen-printing workshop. For SeaLink NT’s Angela Piper, the beauty of this trip is in spending time with Tiwi people. “The two-and-a half-hour ferry trip with the locals is as much fun as being on the island,” she says.
Kangaroo Island, SA: rugged beauty and an artisan community
A world away from South Australia’s mainland, Kangaroo Island deserves its global reputation as an arcadia where native flora, like bottlebrush and wattle, and artisan producers happily coexist in a completely unique microclimate. Taste Ligurian honey, which is unique to the island, and eat local Angasi oysters, its mineralised flavours lingering longer on your palate than other varieties.
Whitsunday Island, QLD: a beachcomber’s paradise
Between its startlingly white sand, pale turquoise ocean and lush rainforest, it’s easy to see why Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island is regularly voted the world’s best. Accessed only by boat or seaplane, this blissfully remote seven-kilometre stretch of powder-soft sand is where you’ll stop on SeaLink’s Big Island Tour. “It’s a lazy afternoon on the beach with games and swimming or you can wander off and explore on your own,”says Gary Kilby, manager of operations for SeaLink Whitsundays. A hike to the top of Tongue Point is rewarded with a birds-eye view of Hill Inlet’s famously swirling sands – a kaleidoscope of teal and turquoise water mingling with white sand – but kicking back on the luxury catamaran during its broad loop through some of the 74-island Whitesundays chain is equally beguiling.
North Stradbroke Island, QLD: explore an ancient history of Aboriginal riches
It was named North Stradbroke Island by the Europeans – and is commonly known as “Straddie” to locals – but to its traditional owners, it remains Minjerribah. Just 25 minutes by SeaLink ferry ride from Cleveland, this compact weekend destination is home to deserted beaches, sleepy townships and abundant wildlife including koalas, goannas and turtles. A tour with Matt Burns, Quandamooka guide and SeaLink’s Indigenous Culture Program Manager, will also reveal the riches of its history. On the Goompi Trail overlooking Moreton Bay, Burns offers a window into traditional hunting methods and bush tucker, while also sharing secrets of the landscape that it takes an expert eye to see. “There’s a very rich Indigenous history here, with shell middens across the island that date back 65,000 years. It’s such a peaceful place to explore, a world away from the busyness of Brisbane. It feels like paradise,” says Burns.
Fraser Island, QLD: a family escape
Want to give the kids an experience to remember? Try four-wheel-driving along 75 Mile Beach – the “highway” – on the world’s largest sand island. Thrills are a constant in this World Heritage-listed wilderness, located some 40 minutes by ferry from Hervey Bay. “We have such incredible diversity because the island is so long and thin – it’s only 15 kilometres wide on average,” says Cassie Duncan, Kingfisher Bay Resort Ranger. “It constantly changes. It really is nature’s classroom.”
Whether on a day tour or a five-night adventure, you’ll take in a sweep of the island’s greatest hits. Wander through a rainforest growing directly out of the sand, swim in the fresh rainwater of sand-bottomed Lake McKenzie or tube down the burbling waters of Eli Creek. Duncan’s favourite? The Sea Explorer Cruise along the island’s wild west coast, spotting dugongs and green sea turtles. “You can do a day trip, but you really need at least three days or even longer for a nice balance between adventure and relaxation,” she says.
Magnetic Island, QLD: life-changingly laidback
One of the first things that grabs visitors to Magnetic Island – well, apart from the dramatic boulder-strewn beaches and a rugged hilly interior overlooking sparkling sapphire sea – is its thoroughly chilled-out vibe. A 20-minute Sealink ferry from Townsville, the laidback island is home to around 2000 proud locals and countless native animals, including inquisitive rock wallabies and sleepy koalas. Steph Hinks of Aquascene Magnetic Island has been showing off her beloved “Maggie” for the past 17 years, with her favourite spot a magical snorkelling spot at Arthur Bay: “There’s a beautiful fringing reef 30 metres off the beach and a resident turtle called Shelley who pops by to say hello,” says Hinks. With 23 beaches, there’s a good chance you’ll have a stretch of sand all to yourself but above all, the magic of Maggie is letting things unfold at island pace. “It’s not like other Queensland islands that are more manicured. It’s a life changing place that teaches you to slow down and appreciate the little things.”
Sydney, NSW: the harbour’s floating island
The superyacht The Jackson glides around the harbour like an island of luxurious pleasures. When you hire the just-launched superyacht for a private on-water event, you can tailor-make your perfect trip, stopping at stunning spots around the harbour such as the remote Shark Island. Choose brunch, lunch, sunset or dinner and your pickup spot: the boat collects you from King Street Wharf and Circular Quay. Or, summon The Jackson Flyer tender to whisk you from Rose Bay or Manly. “It’s premium sightseeing – with some amazing modern menus,” says general manager, Nick Lester.
Image Credits: Image credit: Adam Gibson (Bruny Island Cheese Company); Tourism Western Australia (Rottnest Island); Elise Cook/Tourism NT (Tiwi Islands); Helen Orr/Tourism NT (Tiwi Islands); Tiwi Islands (Isaac Forman); As We Wander (Kangaroo Island); Tourism and Events Queensland (Whitsunday Island); Fraser Island (Tourism and Events Queensland); Melissa Findley (Magnetic Island)