Diving Lady Elliot Island is the land-based equivalent to diving the Great Barrier Reef aboard a live-aboard. It is a coral cay and the southern most island within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It is just 10 km from the continental shelf and the East Australian Current. Being close to continental shelf there are frequent, and all year round sightings, of manta ray and other pelagics. Situated in a Green Zone (no take of anything), the waters around the island contain a myriad of reefs and bommies which support a large and growing, diverse fish population and a number of resident turtles of all types.
The diving on Lady Elliot Island is easy: walk to the dive shop from your accommodation, transfer to the boat in the dive truck, and a boat trip of no more than 10 minutes to any given site. What’s more, the resort is Advanced ECO Certified, which means you can enjoy your scuba dive holiday without worrying about your carbon footprint.
As well as the diving and snorkelling you can enjoy bird-watching, turtle nesting and hatching, and the amenities of the ECO Resort.
Lady Elliot Island is the southern most island of the Capricorn Bunker group, which also includes Lady Musgrove, Heron and Wilson Islands. The next island heading south-east is Fraser Island, which is practically mainland. Lady Elliot is about 80 kms off the coast adjacent to (ie, east of) Bundaberg. There are two daily flights from Hervey Bay and Bundaberg, and one from Redcliff (near Brisbane) and Coolangatta.
The flights to LEI are operated by Seair Pacific and there are a number of flights each day. One early flight from Coolangatta and one early flight from Redcliffe (30 minutes outside of Brisbane) and two flights from Hervey Bay and Bundaberg – early and just after noon. Day trippers can get the early flights but over-nights need to get the mid day flights. Let us know where you are coming from and we can work out the best options for you.
Final note: the trip out there – 40 minutes from Hervey and Bundaberg and 80 minutes from Redcliff and Coolangatta are not called scenic flights for nothing. Make sure you have your camera handy as you’ll get great shots of the island as you circle before you land. And if, you’re lucky and maybe celebrating a significant event, like I was, you get to sit up front and play co-pilot.
Reef Ranger Program
There is a Reef Ranger Program for kids aged 5 – 12 with two hour sessions morning and afternoon for just $5 per session. Turn your kids into little eco-warriors as they engage in beach-combing, rockpool searches and scavenger hunts around the island learning about environmental impacts as they go.
Bird nesting season is October through to April, and there will be hatchlings running around from mid-November.
Turtle nesting is November through to February, with hatchlings emerging from February through to April.
Hump back whale migration is June to October.
Peak Manta season is May, June and July, but note that during the winter the sea water temperature can get as low as 18°C, though it is above 20°C, and up to 28°C in February.
Where to Eat
Breakfast, lunch and dinner is served in the Beachfront Dining Room. During the day, you can grab a snack and a drink at the Beachfront Café, and in the late afternoon and evening the Lagoon Bar serves cocktails, wines and Australian and imported beers. The meals are hearty and wholesome and you won’t be disappointed. (Though if you have any special dietary requirements – shout out in advance).
The observant will have noted that the Beachfront faces east to the lagoon. If you want a romantic sunset ‘dinner’ or pre- or post-dinner nibbles, this can be arranged as a “Sunset Platter” (including beverage) which you can carry over to the cabanas on the western side. As well as a great sunset, you’ll be treated to a bird-show as the native birds fish for their dinner.
How to Get Around
Walk – but remember to take flip flops, crocs or sandals as it’s a coral cay meaning – you’ll be walking on bits of broken coral. You can get a little map from reception. (You only need a little map because it’s only a little place)
Being an ECO Resort, most of the activities are centre around observing nature. There is a large Reef Education Centre with numerous displays about the different zones of the reef and the other nature aspects of the island. It’s a good place to start to get an orientation of what you can see there, as well as browse books and DVDs, and collect information sheets on items of interest. Reef walking in the lagoon is organised from here – reef shoes and seascopes are supplied.
Outside the Reef Education Centre is the daily activities board to help you plan your non-dive activities. You can also play pool and table tennis on this deck during the day, and watch the resort movie here after dinner.
The other prime activities of bird watching, island tour, turtle nesting and other water-based activities are covered below.
The island is alive with birds. This short video explains why – as well as pointing out the habits and habitat of the three most populous birds on the Island.
It is the kind of place where you can get very close to the birds and observe their behaviour in detail – as well as getting some great photograph – such as this tropic bird with chick.
Take yourself on a walking tour of the island including as visit to the lighthouse, the power station and Reef Education Centre.
The lighthouse was the first lighthouse in Australia constructed of timber a clad with cast iron. The parts were fabricated in England, and shipped to Lady Elliot where it was assembled into the 17m structure that we see today.
The power station currently has 128 panels charging 72 batteries providing a renewable energy capacity of 28kW. An impressive looking installation, not only does it not generate carbon pollution, it creates no noise pollution either. The resort requires additional power provided by a diesel generator – though plans are in place to bring the total number of panels to 190 the near future. Ultimately, the long term goal is keep the diesel generator only as a backup.
Finally, drop into the Reef Education centre which is great for families and particularly kids. There are a number of fact sheets available on the Lady Elliot website on everything from the history of the island to the flora and fauna. They even have apps so you can take the info with you in your pocket.
Turtle nesting takes place between November and March, usually after dark when there is sufficient water for the turtles to get ashore. Nest are dug in the sand in front of the resort and at either end of the runway. The females lay clutches of eggs at approximately two weekly intervals.
On LEI the hatchlings appear 8 to 9 weeks later (between January and May), again usually after dark, though they can appear in late afternoons on cooler or overcast days. When the hatchlings emerge from the sand they find there way to the water by heading downhill and towards the lowest and brightest light on the horizon, which in the natural environment is the ocean. If you are fortunate to witness either of these natural events, please ensure you are aware of the protocols to be observed.
As well as the glass bottom boat tour, there is a salt-water swimming pool, and obviously ‘beach’. However, no one would want to just sit on the beach, when they know what marvellous marine environment exists just metres away below the surface. The snorkelling at Lady Elliot is second to none, and though during a short weekend stay I only managed to get three dives in – I notched up four 1 hour snorkels in different parts.
From the beach you can snorkel in water just knee deep – with turtles – then out to the second reef and see all the fish life just metres below. Alternately, enjoy a snorkel trip from the boat, where one of the experienced skippers can drop you in an area where you can see a manta cleaning station about 11m below.
If you are snorkelling from the shore, there are buoys marking most of the dive spots, and buoys marking the northerly point. You can also easily orientate yourself via the two cabanas at each end of the beach. There is usually hardly any current, and if there is – use it to you advantage. The guys at the dive shop can explain your best entry and exit points at any time of day. Here is a little video of snorkel-only footage of Lady Elliot Island.
Lady Elliot is a coral cay a mere 10 km from the Australian continental shelf. As such, it offers both excellent snorkelling and to diving to 30m. During both these activities you will encounter resident turtles, and if you’re in the right place at the right time, a manta ray. Over 100 individual mantas have been identified at LEI by the dive team staff and LEI is a supporting member of Project Manta.
The dive sites are are clustered into two areas: east and west. The eastern side is a ledge with a depth range of 10-25m and three dive sites starting with the Blowhole, an L-shaped cave with an opening at 14m that comes out of the side of the ledge at 22m. The Tubes and Hiros Cave dive sites are further along the wall to the south.
The western sites are around scattered bommies on a sandy bottom (which makes for good viz even if you are knelt in the sand watching the show) and long coral reefs. These are too numerous to mention, and range in depth, and fauna and any dive might include a number of sites. Most sites are marked with anchor buoys, so those with high air consumption can ascent early if required. Quite often the dive is planned to end on the Second Reef so that you have something to see right until you surface. The dive route selected for each dive will depend on conditions, and dive guests – the guides try to give longer term guests as much variety as possible, but remember the dive sites will be selected according to conditions. This side is also best suited to snorkelling.