Sea-life marvels on Lady Elliot Island
JUST a 25-minute flight from
Bundaberg and the ocean transforms beneath me. Ice-blue water meets
blistering white shores and the southernmost island in the Great
Barrier Reef looks swollen with pride.
It is an interesting approach as the pilot lines up the grass airstrip that runs from one side of the island to the other.
Flocks of birds flutter for cover as we touch down on Lady Elliot Island, a nature lover's delight.
Snorkelers and divers travel here from around the world to glide among
the coral outcrops and millions of fish at dive sites such as Maori
Wrasse Bombie and Hiro's Cave.
The resort icon, the manta ray, is never far away and I try to make
acquaintance with just two of them as they swoop over the reef edge.
I put on my mask to cavort with these huge creatures, only to lock
eyes with a couple of equally big, black-tip reef sharks, who aren't
letting me play.
The mantas give me the flick and sail off in perfect unison.
This year, a manta ray mass descended on the island with more than 100 gathering off the coral shores.
"We know that Lady Elliot Island is a magnet for manta rays all year
round, but we have not experienced numbers like this for many years,"
said resort managing director Peter Gash.
Dr Paul Marshall was also excited to see the manta rays while conducting a coral survey.
"We looked up to see about a dozen manta rays hovering overhead. They blocked out the sun. It was incredible," he said.
But now it's time for the manta rays to move over and let the next phenomenon begin.
Turtle nesting season
November marks the beginning of turtle nesting season, advises Queensland Parks and Wildlife's John Meech.
Working for the Mon Repos Research Centre in Bundaberg, John comes
to Lady Elliot Island on his days off to tag turtles and entertain
guests with a long list of turtle stories.
My turtle walk begins with John about 10pm. Instantly, we find tracks and stop to watch a turtle nest.
Digging a nest and egg chamber can be quite a long process but once those eggs start to drop, the wait is well worthwhile.
I tear myself away at 1.30am, but the show continues into the wee hours of the morning. By daybreak, 16 turtles have nested.
A different kind of flight path
Also between the months of October to April, 83 species of sea and wading birds visit the island on their migratory journey.
This can bring a 50,000-strong crowd, mating, laying and rearing
their young. A distinct aroma from bird droppings goes hand-in-hand
with rookeries but is far outweighed by the opportunity to feel part of
All around me, life unravels. Crested terns, affectionately named
"the punk rockers of the reef" for their spiky hairstyles and elaborate
mating dance, strut their stuff.
Fluffy baby chicks emerge from eggs, black noddys feed their babies,
frigate birds act as gangsters and the endangered red-tailed tropic
bird flies in to nest.
You must to come to Lady Elliot Island for the right reasons.
Blue lagoons key to coral world
If you are looking for powder-white sand, swaying palm trees, the
smell of frangipani and a private cocktail waitress in the water,
This is a coral cay where the beaches are stark white because they
are made from crushed coral and sometimes hurt your feet (don't forget
to bring your reef-walking shoes).
This island is about co-existing with wildlife, above and below the water.
A low-key island getaway, this is not an international standard resort, nor does it want to be.
Rooms are basic but offer private facilities, glossy wooden floors and clean, colourful bed coverings.
Outside on the wooden verandas there are the tell-tale signs of the
bird inhabitants, but this is easily overlooked when just 10m from my
unlocked door a transparent blue lagoon lounges over clusters of coral
teeming with colourful fish.
Guests chat and mix with each other at information evenings and on
nature walks. They yell excitedly at each other in the water when
turtles, rays and schools of fish swim by.
I ask Chris, a Brisbane architect, what brings him to Lady Elliot
Island? "I come here with my family and hire a tent cabin. There is no
television and for a week my sons don't go near a PlayStation or
computer. It's fantastic. They are too busy snorkeling every day to
even miss it," he says.
I had to agree. I have only been on the island two days and I must admit that I really don't want to leave.