47 Southern Great Barrier Reef photos that will blow your mind

Four hours’ drive north of Brisbane, lying just off the coast of Bundaberg, is where one of the world’s most famous natural wonders starts – the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

This pocket of reef greatness from Bundaberg through to Gladstone, Rockhampton and right up the Capricorn Coast stretching out past the islands of Lady Elliot, Heron and Great Keppel will blow your mind and leave you in no doubt why manta rays, sea turtles and seabirds call this area home.

Trumping our 17 surreal scenes of the Great Barrier Reef image gallery, here are 47 sensational Southern Great Barrier Reef photos to spark wanderlust.

Welcome to the Southern Great Barrier Reef

Flying into the first island nestled on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, Lady Elliot Island. Access to Lady Elliot Island is by a sensational scenic flight from the coast at Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Redcliffe or the Gold Coast.

Lady Elliot Island Reef Life

Above and below the Great Barrier Reef - @jasoncharleshill

Snorkelling and diving at Lady Elliot Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef - @jasoncharleshill

Coral formation on the reef around Lady Elliot island - @jasoncharleshill

Swimming with the turtles on the Great Barrier Reef - @jasoncharleshill

The reef surrounding Lady Elliot Island receives a particularly high level of protection and as such the biodiversity seen in these waters are quite breathtaking. It’s one of the best places on the entire reef to swim with the mantra rays and getting a turtle selfie here is almost guaranteed!

Lady Elliot Island vibes

Sunset over the Great Barrier Reef - @jasoncharleshill

Lady Elliot Island Lighthouse - @jasoncharleshill

43 Southern Great Barrier Reef Photos that will blow your mind featuring @jasoncharleshill

In the moment together - @jasoncharleshill

Catching the moon rays - Lady Elliot Island - @jasoncharleshill

All Lady Elliot Island Photos by @jasoncharleshill

Lady Musgrave Island

43 Southern Great Barrier Reef Photos that will blow your mind featuring @jaxonark

The view from Lady Musgrave Island isn’t too bad. The island is only accessible via vessel from Bundaberg or 1770 (or your own transport) and you will need a permit to camp on the island.

But waking up to this view every day? Worth it! In the distance, you can see the little Fairfax Islands that we will be exploring below.

Lady Musgrave pontoon | Southern Great Barrier Reef photos

Lady Musgrave | Southern Great Barrier Reef photos

Pontoon photos by @_markfitz

If you head over with Lady Musgrave Cruises from Seventeen Seventy you’ll have the chance to snap as many fish selfies as your memory card can handle, spending the day on their custom-built floating pontoon.

You can also take a guided tour of the island and spy on the world below (without getting your hair wet) at the underwater observatory.

Hitching a ride to Fairfax Islands

Hitching a ride around Lady Musgrave Island - Southern Great Barrier Reef - @jaxonark

Coconuts on the seculded Fairfax Island on the Great Barrier Reef - @jaxonark

Many people only see the Fairfax Islands in the distance from Lady Musgrave Island. Here is a glimpse of these secluded islands.

Stand up paddle boarding around Fairfax

Stand up paddle boarding on the Great Barrier Reef - @jaxonark

Stand up paddle boarding on the Great Barrier Reef - @jaxonark

SUP on the Great Barrier Reef - @jaxonark

View from the kayak

Kayaking on the Southern Great Barrier Reef - @jaxonark

All photos of Lady Musgrave Island and Fairfax Island by @jaxonark

Moving up the coast to Agnes Water, Gladstone

43 Southern Great Barrier Reef Photos that will blow your mind featuring @insta_graham23

Colours along to Turtle Way Walking Trail, Tannum Sands

Heron Island, Southern Great Barrier Reef

Heron Island, Southern Great Barrier Reef - @insta_graham23

From Gladstone, Heron Island is a 25-minute scenic seaplane flight away. There is also a ferry that leaves Gladstone Marina at 11am several days a week and arrives around 1pm.

Over on Heron Island, the Black Noddy is your morning wake up call

Seabirds on Heron Island - @insta_graham23

And the seagull is your faithful Surf Life Saver

Heron Island, Southern Great Barrier Reef photos - @insta_graham23

Queensland does the blue and white gradient thing pretty well!

Heron Island's white sandy beaches - @insta_graham23

Tag fish, you’re it!

Tag fish, you're it - @insta_graham23

Heron Island reef life


Photo by @insta_graham23

There are 20 dive sites, coral gardens and pinnacles around Heron Island that are waiting to be explored plus around 60 per cent of the 1,500 species of fish on the whole reef to meet! And you can snorkel right of the beach!

The stars of the Southern Great Barrier Reef

Star fish on Heron Island - @insta_graham23

Stars on the reef - @insta_graham23

All Heron Island and Gladstone photos by @insta_graham23

On the way to Great Keppel Island


From Rockhampton you can jump on a charter flight to get an aerial view of Great Keppel Island and the Southern Great Barrier Reef on a 20-minute scenic flight. There are also daily ferries to the island that leave from Rosslyn Bay, Yeppoon.

The approach to Great Keppel Island


So many beaches!


The borders of the 240-hectare Great Keppel Island is surrounded by 17 pristine white sandy beaches.

Sunrise swim session



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Finished-the-swim-MarkClintonPhoto-7708 - Copy

This sunrise swim session features Geoff from Great Keppel Island Holiday Village who has been running the place since he was 20 years old! It looks like a place you would never want to leave!

Stand-up paddle board session

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Great Keppel Island reef life

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The surrounding fringing reefs in the Keppel group of islands have an unusually high coral cover in their coral communities, up to 60 – 70 per cent.

Sneak away to Pumpkin Island

Pumpkin Island

Pumpkin Island

All Pumpkin Island photos by @_markfitz

For a full Swiss Family Robinson experience head over to Pumpkin Island where you can rent the whole island for up to 34 of your nearest and dearest. With a limitation on guest numbers, you’ll be able to find your paradise on this six-hectare island.

Back to the Capricorn Coast


All Great Keppel Island & Capricorn photos by @markclinton

And the sun sets on this Southern Great Barrier Reef adventure.

Southern Great Barrier Reef Photos - @jaxonark

Photo by @jaxonark

Have you been to the Southern Great Barrier Reef? Share your experiences in the comments below.

*This post was originally published in 2014 and updated in April 2018.