Three nights on an idyllic coral cay situated at the Southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef brought unforgettable encounters with turtles, reef sharks, schools of coloured fish and the island’s main attraction; manta rays. Here’s a guide to the best spots on Lady Elliot Island; both above and below the surface.
If it’s turtles you’re after, there’s no place better than the shallow waters of Lady Elliot Island’s lagoon. It took us just two minutes to find our first green sea turtle and I can honestly say that it is almost impossible to go for a snorkel here without seeing at least one. The lagoon is classified as beginner-level snorkelling so it’s the perfect spot for the whole family to enjoy, just make sure you time your dip within two hours of high tide.
A short walk across the airstrip from Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort will take you to the Western side of the island where there are two entry points to the island’s best snorkelling trails; the lighthouse and coral gardens. Snorkelling at Coral Gardens you can expect to see an abundance of colourful fish and interesting coral formations, turtles, squid, sharks and more. For the ultimate Finding Nemo experience, Coral Gardens is the place to go.
It’s fitting that the most advanced snorkel trail on the island, starting from the beach in front of the Lighthouse, leads straight to the island’s main attraction; the manta ray cleaning station. All year round Manta Rays visit this little coral bommie, giving guests the opportunity to see the largest rays on Earth up close and personal. If you can manage the free dive down to the bottom, about 8-15m depending on tides, you may just find yourself face-to-face and surrounded by several giant manta rays; a life changing experience.
Just North of Coral Gardens lies a shallow reef area known as ‘Shark Pool’. You can probably guess why; white and black tip reef sharks regularly cruise the shallow water just off the beach feeding on fish. Although your safety cannot be guaranteed, just as it can’t be guaranteed driving to work, I would highly recommend jumping in for a look. There were four sharks of about 2m in length cruising around when we visited, as close as touching distance at times, and I can honestly say it was an experience I will never forget.
A secret little spot that our snorkel tour guide pointed out, Coral Archways are located about half way between Coral Gardens and Lighthouse Bommie on the intermediate snorkelling trail. We found two archways, protected by schools of colourful fish, that sit just beneath the surface waiting for you to swim through and explore.
The wonders of Lady Elliot Island are not just under the water. With no light pollution at all, the night sky is as clear as you’ll find anywhere on the planet, and well worth enjoying at least once during your visit, even if just for 5 minutes. Head away from the lights of the resort and across the airstrip to the lighthouses, old and new, for a spectacular view of the stars that just can’t be beaten.
Just around the point from the cafe on the lagoon lies the most pristine patch of island sand I have ever explored. Sheltered from the wind and rarely visited by island guests, the Northern beach’s white sand and turquoise water will leave you thinking you’ve washed up on a deserted island in the Caribbean. I always hope to find a secret little patch of paradise on the islands I visit; on Lord Howe Island it was Lover’s Bay, on Lady Elliot Island this is it. As a bonus, if you wake up before dawn, you may just witness a spectacular sunrise straight out across the ocean. During turtle nesting season, this is also the beach where the mothers lay their eggs in the sand and the little hatchlings take their first dip in the big-ol-blue.