Our pick of Australia’s Best Islands: Lady Elliot Island

Lady Elliott Island lies on the outer edge, at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. The continental shelf is a mere 10km to the east and the island therefore attracts large numbers of marine mega-fauna.

It’s a tiny coral atoll, decimated 100 years ago by early entrepreneurs who stripped the island bare while mining the guana produced by the 1000s of nesting seabirds. A regeneration program has been in place for several decades now and the island’s endemic plants are thriving. This has brought the seabirds back in their 1000s. In fact, the latest estimates claim a population of 500,000 (it can be noisy – ear plugs are supplied).

The island is surrounded by beautiful coral gardens. Here you can grab a snorkel, step off the beach and be swimming with turtles within minutes of arriving.

You don’t need to be a diver to appreciate the reef here – you don’t really even need to be able to swim – it’s within paddling distance at some points. While the lagoon provides safe swimming for kids, most beaches surrounding the island are safe for even non-swimmers.

The resident turtles are so tame they’ll let the kids tickles their shells and fight for attention.

Swimming with these gentle, graceful creatures is a life-changing experience. I could spend hours following them around, tickling their shells and completely filling the memory card on my camera.

But wait, there’s more: further out on the reef we encounter manta rays, leopard sharks, wobbegongs, bull rays, and wrasse of all sizes and colours. The palette of colours is amazing, both the coral and the thousands of fish swimming around me.

The lagoon, sometimes too shallow for swimming, is home to a huge array of brightly coloured corals, giant clams and resident wrasse and clown fish.

When completely dived out we treat ourselves to some bubbles and nibbles and watch the sun set over the reef. It’s certainly a romantic spot.