Australia is a big place and one of the great beauties of travelling here is discovering new and different destinations.
Take Lady Elliot Island at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. Have you heard of it? No? We hadn’t either, until my husband and I started researching our Christmas/New Year family trip to Queensland’s Hervey Bay. The island turned out to be one of the biggest highlights of our holiday. Here are some tips for top things to do in Hervey Bay and the Fraser Coast — including Lady Elliot Island, and of course — magnificent Fraser Island.
As we were travelling with our young son and my parents, we decided to set a relaxed pace to begin with. Our first few days in Queensland were spent on the Sunshine Coast, an hour or so north of Brisbane. We visited the SEA LIFE Aquarium, Australia Zoo, Eumundi Markets, and enjoyed lots of swimming and water activities. My son made new friends and a pen pal along the way. We could easily have stayed longer, and we still have plenty more to see on our next visit.
Next, we jumped into our hire car and headed up the coast to Hervey Bay. It’s roughly a three-hour drive. With three generations travelling together, we decided to break up the trip with lunch at Tin Can Bay. There are stories of wild dolphins being regular visitors here. One story tells how a fisherman and other locals nurtured an injured dolphin. The dolphin decided to stay, and even brought friends into the bay. We didn’t see them, but we had great fish and chips at the Snack Shack. The best surprise was discovering the masses of soldier crabs on the beach. They looked like marbles with legs, scurrying en masse, and disappearing and reappearing as if by magic! It was hilarious to watch.
In no time at all we arrived in beautiful Hervey Bay. World renowned for whale watching from late July through to November, this is a destination that’s absolutely made for families at any time of the year. Things to do in Hervey Bay include a free water park, playgrounds, markets, cafes, bars, and cycling, walking tracks along the grassy, shady esplanade and showers, benches and eating areas. Bikes are available for hire. The pier is nearly 900m long and often has a resident pelican perched on one of the lights. It’s fun to watch the schools of fish swimming in the calm water below.
We chose to stay at the Arlia Sands Apartments, which are very central and only a minute’s walk to Shelley Beach. It gets very hot and humid in Hervey Bay during summer, and we really appreciated the comfortable rooms and air-conditioning. Our accommodation also had a refreshing pool and a couple of BBQ areas. We met other families by the pool — many of whom were repeat visitors — some from their own pieces of coastal paradise like Coffs Harbour.
We had decided before leaving home that we would indulge in a scenic flight and day tour to Lady Elliot Island. The flight time from Hervey Bay is 40 minutes. If flying in small planes makes you nervous, you can drive further north to Bundaberg for a shorter flight. A day trip is great, but I did have a bit of ‘sleep-over envy’ of those staying on the island. The options for overnight visits range from eco cabins to two bedroom suites. There are also lots of additional activities available to overnight guests, including possibly seeing nesting or hatching turtles, a kids’ ranger program, and witnessing amazing sunsets and sunrises.
You can walk around the whole island in about 45 minutes and there is only one operator for tours and accommodation — the Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort. The staff are cheerful, friendly, passionate and know their stuff. Lady Elliot Island is made completely of coral, cemented together with bird poo! The guano (bird poo) was once mined but the island is now a protected green zone.
We snorkelled off the beach and from a boat. For those not keen on entering the deeper water, the boats are glass bottomed, so you are still able to view the reef. The staff were supportive and encouraging to those who were less confident. We saw loads of fish, as well as turtles and manta rays. The island has been named one of the top five places in the world to dive with manta rays, according to PADI.
Once back on the island, we joined a guided walk with a marine biologist through shallow water from the beach across parts of the reef to spot sea stars, sea cucumbers, fish and octopuses.
Remember to be conscientious with sun protection. Consider using a rashie as sunscreen can be damaging to the coral and ineffective during and after periods in the water. Stinger suits, while not very glamorous (and not needed here for stinger protection), do provide great sun protection. Reef shoes are required at all times (from the moment you step off the plane you are standing on coral) and are available to borrow. We took our own, which is recommended during peak season.
Our tour included a tasty buffet lunch, and shower and locker facilities are available. All in all, it was an absolutely amazing day.
Our next big adventure was to explore Fraser Island — one of the top things to do in Hervey Bay. Travelling with older parents and a young child, I took the advice of locals who persuaded me to upgrade from an overnight tour on Fraser Island to a premium one day tour, followed by a second day on the island via boat. Fraser Island is 123 kilometres long and only accessible by 4WD. The roads are rough, and longer tours can see you spending more time in a vehicle than out of it. Our tour with Fraser Explorer Tours took us to all the significant sites, including pristine Lake McKenzie. The whole island is World Heritage-listed. It’s the world’s largest sand island and the only place where rainforest grows on sand. The white silica sand is very fine and cool to walk on.
Despite the warnings prior to the tour about interacting with the island’s famous dingoes, we didn’t see any. It didn’t matter. We were completely enthralled by what we did see, and by our driver’s fascinating and entertaining stories.
The Remote Fraser Island One Day Tour via catamaran with Tasman Venture Tours the following day was another big holiday highlight for us. We visited parts of the island only accessible by boat (where we could then go ashore on amphibious zodiacs). The day had the perfect balance between food, relaxation, and activities. We snorkelled (stinger suits were required and provided), canoed along the coastline and up mangrove creeks, swam in freshwater creeks, climbed a sand dune, and enjoyed a high-speed tow behind the zodiac on an inflatable seat. Even my parents had a go!
Hervey Bay turned out to be the perfect Queensland family getaway destination. We’re back at home, ignoring the unpacking and washing, and already planning our next Aussie journey of discovery together!
Karen Darling is a freelance writer based in Adelaide.
Do you have any tips for top things to do in Hervey Bay and the Fraser Coast? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
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