Palm Bay Resort

11 Queensland islands perfect for a weekend escape

Jetting off to a white-sand isle for a weekend (or equivalent) might seem like a pipe dream. But with direct flights and quick and easy ferry transfers, these Queensland islands will set you on island time no matter how long you have.

Next time you’re craving some island vibes and mainland disconnection, hop on over to one of these 11 islands for a weekend escape.

Hamilton Island

If you’re looking for ease, Hamilton Island is the most direct option for an easy island jaunt. Flights touch down from Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne every day at Great Barrier Reef Airport, also known as Hamilton Island Airport.

Far from being just a strip of sand with dreamy blue seas, there’s so much to see and do on and around ‘Hammo’. Like a mini tropical metropolis, cars are replaced by golf buggies and resort wear is de rigeur here. There are pools to lounge around, watersports to keep you busy, an 18-hole golf course (on its own island!), restaurants, bars and shops to flex your plastic.

Thrown in the mix are the back-to-nature experiences one would expect from an island in the heart of the Whitsundays. Like the new split level pontoon in the Heart Reef Lagoon, available exclusively to guests of Hamilton Island. The world-first includes a return scenic heli flight (the pontoon has its own helipad!), a glass-bottom boat experience and Heart Reef tour, snorkelling equipment and light catering for a maximum of six people. While the day trip will set you back $999 per person it falls firmly into the ‘buy experiences, not things’ life philosophy.

Accommodation ranges from the budget- and family-friendly up to adults-only and uber-exclusive. Palm Bungalows and  Reef View Hotel – where friendly cockatoos will show up on your balcony to say hi – fall into the former category. And you can check into Hamilton Island Beach Club or qualia for some seriously luxe island life touches.

Here’s how to spend 48 hours on Hamilton Island.

How to get there:

Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar fly direct to Hamilton Island from Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne with the average flight time between 1-3 hours.

Lady Elliot Island

Serious snorkellers and avid divers will need no introduction to Lady Elliot Island. Since the coral cay is so pristine and well protected, getting there via air is the only way.

Sitting 80 kilometres north-east of Bundaberg on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, this natural oasis is teeming with incredible marine encounters. Since the island is part of a protected ‘Green Zone’, Lady Elliot Eco Resort operates under a staunch sustainability pledge. It means there are no in-room TVs, WiFi, radios, or telephones, and rooms are fan cooled. In fact, the eco resort will soon be 100 percent sustainable thanks to its renewable power generation and emissions reductions.

Lady Elliot (aka Home of the Manta Ray) is renowned for its turtle encounters, manta rays, birdlife and low-key weddings. Choose from a mixture of accommodation styles ranging from units and eco cabins to two new glamping tents, all with the natural environment front and centre. Breakfast and dinner, snorkelling and a range of tours are included so you can get busy exploring as soon as you arrive.

If you can’t spend the whole weekend on this Queensland island, day trips are also available, including return flights, lunch, glass-bottom boat tour and snorkelling.

How to get there:

From interstate or overseas: Fly to the Gold Coast or Brisbane (you’ll need to transfer to Redcliffe, 30 mins drive).

Daily flights to Lady Elliot Island operate from Brisbane (Redcliffe), Gold Coast, Hervey Bay and Bundaberg. Return flights start at $349 per adult ex Bundaberg and $220 per child.

Orpheus Island

With resort guest numbers capped at 28 and a secluded position on one of the Great Barrier Reef’s best-kept-secrets, Orpheus Island is on the more luxe end of Queensland’s weekend islands spectrum.

But what price can you really put on being able to dive amongst 1,100 of the 1,500 species of marine life found on the reef? Or indulging in an indigenous-inspired treatment at the Gwandalan Day Spa? Why not zip off to a private beach for a picnic or head off on a fishing trip? Or you could channel your inner eco-warrior on a marine debris clean up or educational eco-tour of the island’s pristine environments.

Using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a framework, Orpheus Island Lodge is committed to keeping the island unspoiled. Since September 2019, Orpheus Island Lodge has been 100 percent powered by renewable energy. It’s the result of reduced diesel consumption plus a raft other strategies such as no plastic straws, reusable water bottles and a focus on local sourcing.

To top it off, the all-inclusive resort means most activities are all part of your accommodation charges. That’s snorkelling, fishing, island cruise, unlimited use of water equipment and WiFi in communal areas plus meals and drinks too. Easy as.

How to get there:

There are daily direct flights to Townsville from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne (Sydney visitors should catch the Virgin Australia flight to make the heli transfer; Melbourne visitors need to stay overnight in Townsville on Friday night).

Helicopter transfers to Orpheus Island depart daily at 2pm and return at 2:30pm (travel time 30 mins) at a cost of $295 per person each way (increasing to $345 per person from April 2020).

There’s also an extra luxe private jet option for departures from Australian capital cities. Price on application.

Bedarra Island

bedarra island retreat | Queensland islands for a weekend

Photo by @viewretreats

Bedarra is a magical little secret hiding in the Family Group of islands off Mission Beach in Tropical North Queensland.

In true secluded island form, there’s only a handful of accommodation options here. Lovers of barefoot opulence should make their way to Bedarra Island Resort and the even more private East Bedarra Island Retreat.

At the southern end of the island, sits Bedarra Island Resort. Comprised of a cluster of ten waterfront villas, an open terrace restaurant and bar/lounge, the resort is designed to prime you for maximum relaxation. By day you can relax in your villa – more beach house than room – with private plunge pool. There are also stand-up paddleboards and motorised dinghies to escape for a private beach picnic on an uninhabited island. Take a rainforest walk, play tennis or take advantage of the snorkelling and scuba diving trips available to guests.

Over on the northern tip of this quiet Queensland island, you’ll find enough romance to fill a lifetime, let alone a weekend. East Bedarra Island Retreat was purpose built for honeymooners. This luxury, adults-only retreat juts out over a private cove, minus other guests or day-trippers. Self-contained and spacious, the retreat is child-free but there’s an option to hire as a one or two bedroom apartment. If you’d prefer to let someone else cook, meals can be prepared by the concierge.

Float or kayak through the tidal rock pools by day, exploring the palm-fringed shore. Then retire to your private pool for champagne under the stars.

Both properties are sustainably powered with solar, water and recycling programs plus various initiatives to further lessen their impact on the natural environment.

How to get there:

It’s possible to reach Bedarra Island from both Cairns and Mission Beach, two hours south by car or limousine. Options include helicopter (from Cairns) or boat launch. Contact your accommodation to arrange.

*Note: Bedarra is closed from late January to late March each year.

Fraser Island

Everyone needs to see Fraser Island at least once in their lives – even if just for the weekend.

Boasting a UNESCO World Heritage listing, the world’s largest sand island shadows Hervey Bay on the Fraser Coast. And even if you’re not the camping and hiking type, you can still dip a toe in. Offering a fully-guided, resort experience Kingfisher Bay Resort is also particularly great if you’re pressed for time.

For a more DIY adventure, hunker down in the nine comfortable cabins at Fraser Island Retreat. It’s a great base for exploration, just 200 metres from the eastern surf beach and close to the mod-cons of the Happy Valley township.

Fraser’s famed beaches, crystal-clear lakes and the island’s forests are waiting.

How to get there:

Fly from Brisbane or Sydney direct to Hervey Bay Airport (or drive approx four hours north of Brisbane) then drive to River Heads (20 mins south of Hervey Bay). If you intend on driving on the island, you’ll need to arrange 4WD hire.

The Kingfisher Bay Ferry has regular departures and returns daily.

Lizard Island

Say hello to the most northern resort in Tropical North Queensland, Lizard Island.

With direct access to epic snorkelling and diving sites, it’s the perfect teaser to the magnificence of the Great Barrier Reef.

If that floats your boat, how does powdery-white sand and complete seclusion from the real world sound? Well, Lizard Island should be more than a blip on your Queensland weekend islands radar then.

Enjoy inclusions such as picnic hampers, snorkelling equipment, SUPs and motorised dinghies for some island life fun. Or for an additional charge, choose from activities such as Lizard Island Research Station tours, dive trips, game fishing and sunset wine and cheese cruises.

Since you’re only visiting for the weekend, treat yourself by booking ahead for a spa treatment in the Essentia Day Spa. And book upon arrival for a private degustation experience just metres from the water’s edge.

With a strict no plastic straws and water bottles policy (among other strategies), Lizard Island is serious about its role as a custodian of the local environment.

How to get there:

Fly into Cairns, allowing 2.5 hours before your seaplane departure for international arrivals and 1.5 hours for domestic.

The seaplane charter departs Cairns at 11am and 2pm, and returns from the island at 12:25pm and 3:25pm (approx one hour travel time). Return flights cost $710 per person (increasing to $770 return per person from April 2020).

Hayman Island by Intercontinental

Granted, Hayman Island by InterContinental is one of those “one day” destinations us mere mortals might only lust over for the rest of our lives. But, it’s also one of the Whitsundays’ most accessible luxury island escapes for short getaways.

This is tropical decadence realised. It’s demonstrated in everything: from the opulence of the refurbished suites, rooms and private residences to the stunning natural landscapes and the shmancy day spa. Your hardest decision will be what to do first.

Sure you could lounge around the impressive pool, slathered in the supplied reef safe sunscreen (part of the resort’s sustainable approach). But why relax when there’s reef to explore from the unique vantage point of an underwater scooter? Or a seaplane flight over Heart Reef? . Two days or three, you make the call on how you spend your time.

How to get there:

Fly to Hamilton Island on a direct flight from Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne. From there, it’s a quick seaplane (approx 15 mins) or heli (max 30kg soft bag luggage each) flight, booked upon request.

Heli transfers cost $700 for two people, one way and $1,400 per flight for four people. The seaplane can accommodate up to five people at a cost of $1,200 per flight.

However, most guests will join the 60-minute luxury launch transfer and scenic tour, which meets all flights and costs $210 for adults and $110 for children each way.

Fitzroy Island

The good news for those who find themselves visiting Cairns? There are several Queensland islands within easy reach for a weekend escape.

Fitzroy Island flies under the radar compared to many other Great Barrier Reef islands, but once you visit, you wonder how on earth you’d never heard of it sooner.

Explore the fringing reef on a glass-bottom boat tour; snorkel straight off the calm, protected beach; and join an accredited PADI dive trip. Or trek to spectacular vantage points on the island like Secret Garden and Nudey Beach. There’s also a turtle rehabilitation centre, which offers guided tours.

Accommodation comes in the form of a 99 room resort and camping ground.

How to get there:

Fly into Cairns and transfer to Cairns Marlin Marina via taxi (15 mins).

The Fitzroy Island Flyer departs at 8am, 11am and 1:30pm (travel time 45 mins); and returns at 9:30am, 12:15pm and 5pm. Cost for resort guests is $82 return ($41 for children).

Day tours from Cairns are also available.

Green Island

green island resort

Photo by @reefcruises

Most people know Green Island for zippy day tours from Cairns. Replete with helmet dives, glass-bottom boat tours and snorkelling straight off the coral cay it’s like a super accessible starter pack for newly minted Great Barrier Reef obsessives.

Like the idea of waving all those day-trippers goodbye? Book in for a night or two at the EcoCertified Green Island Resort instead.

Then you’ll be free to join in nightly fish feeding and lay out on the coral-strewn beach to gaze up at the stars. Or, take a turtley awesome moonlight stroll with one of the rangers in the hope you’ll spot turtles nesting or hatching (during the season).

How to get there:

Fly into Cairns and transfer to Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal via taxi (15 mins).

The Great Adventures fast catamaran transfer departs at 8:30am, 10:30am and 1pm (travel time 45 mins) and returns at between 9:15am – 9:45am, 12pm, 2:30pm and 4:30pm. Transfers are included in room rates but bookings are essential.

Heli transfers are available from Cairns and Cairns Airport at an additional cost.

Moreton Island

moreton island | Queensland islands for a weekend

Photo by @inthecove

This Queensland island’s weekend-worthy attributes are even news to some locals. And yet, Moreton Island is one of the most epic island escapes you can take within a couple of hours of Brisbane.

Here you can hand-feed wild dolphins, sandboard down desert-like dunes, camp without seeing another soul or go glamping if that’s more your style. There’s even an impressive trail of sunken shipwrecks to snorkel or dive right off the beach.

Tangalooma Island Resort is where most visitors end up thanks to its accessibility, facilities and huge range of accommodation options.

The world’s third largest sand island and a national park to boot, Moreton Island (outside of Tangalooma) is accessible only by 4WD. Permits apply for both vehicles and camping.

How to get there:

Fly to Brisbane then drive to Port of Brisbane (18 mins from airport without traffic; 30 mins from CBD without traffic).

The MICAT Moreton Island Ferry departs Brisbane anywhere up to five times per day, depending on demand, reducing down to as little as once per day in quiet periods. The trip takes approximately 90 mins travel time.

The Tangalooma passenger ferry leaves from Holt Street Wharf in Pinkenba (Brisbane) four times per day, arriving at the Tangalooma Jetty. The passenger ferry takes about 75 mins.

Just heading over for the day? You’ll need to book a casual day pass to Tangalooma Island Resort (no charge) as numbers are capped.

North Stradbroke Island

There aren’t many islands that please surfers as well as divers, hikers, and bona fide beach bums. But North Stradbroke Island delivers on all fronts. It doles out a one-two punch combo to finish with freshwater creeks and great food options, too.

Start your day with beachside yoga or look out to spot dolphins as you walk the jaw-dropping Gorge Walk. Then sit on the headland and unroll a fresh parcel of fish and chips to really cap off those island vibes.

Here’s a 48-hour itinerary we prepared earlier.

How to get there:

Fly to Brisbane, then drive to Cleveland (40 mins from airport without traffic; up to 50 mins from the CBD without traffic).

Stradbroke Ferries’ car ferry runs every hour from 6am-5pm Monday to Sunday with slight variations on Friday and Sunday evenings (e.g. up until 7:30pm on Friday nights). Travel time is approx 45-50 mins and cost ranges between $60-$102 per standard vehicle one way, while adult walk-on passengers pay $16 per person return.

Alternatively, a water taxi runs seven days per week with bus connection once you reach the island. Water taxi travel time approx 25 mins.