The sun setting over the beautiful Fitzroy Island

Looking to cut loose from the shackles of Australia’s Greyhound bus network? We pick our top five alternative East Coast islands to explore.

From Cairns to Canberra, then maybe onto Melbourne, many backpackers discover Australia’s legendary East Coast using a hop-on, hop-off bus ticket from the Greyhound bus company.

The problem is, you’re nailed to its network route. Sure, Sydney is on there and the wonderful Whitsundays are too, but isn’t it about time you got a little more adventurous?

Below, our Australia expert, Marie Barbieri, picks her top five East Coast islands to explore, tearing up the usual idle itinerary.

1) Heron Island
Resting within the Capricorn Group of islands on the Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island is also a bird rookery. Meet its iconic namesake, plus cheeky buff-banded rails, and come January, up to 100,000 wedge-tailed shearwaters and black noddies who breed here. Heron Island ( also offers stays on nearby Wilson Island, a luxury tent resort for a maximum of 12 guests. Often seen in Wilson’s crystal clear waters are cowtail and shovelnose rays.

Heron Island offers a slew of animal-spotting opportunitiesHeron Island offers a slew of animal-spotting opportunities

2) Frankland Islands
South of Cairns, enter the lesser-known but strikingly pretty Frankland Islands ( Frankland Island Cruises drive you to the boat via the Musgrave River, which is crocodile territory. Snorkel to your heart’s content around Normanby Island’s vibrant bommies (an area where sea waves break over shallow waters of the reef) for close-up encounters with sea turtles. Marine biologists can lead you to rock pools where you can (gently) shake hands with brittle sea stars. Visitors can also take a semi-submarine ride or, for a deeper thrill, dive off the island.

The strikingly pretty Frankland Islands are just south of CairnsThe strikingly pretty Frankland Islands are just south of Cairns
Frankland Islands Facebook

3) Fitzroy Island
Sea turtle fans should take the quick 45-minute fast-cat ride from Cairns to Fitzroy Island ( Its resort houses the volunteer-run Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. See injured, rescued and rehabilitating turtles in their tanks, before they are released from Fitzroy’s beaches. The island is 97% National Park, and the resort tastefully sits behind granite boulder-dressed beaches. After rainforest bushwalks (do complete the breezy hike to the island’s summit), kayaking and snorkelling, sip cocktails at Foxy’s Bar behind stands of sunset-soaked palms.

The sun sets over the beautiful Fitzroy IslandThe sun sets over the beautiful Fitzroy Island

4) Low Isles
This pristine and pintsized Coral Sea escape (comprising Low Island and Woody Island) was named in 1779 by Captain Cook. It’s now the favoured island getaway from Port Douglas. Just an hour’s catamaran ride has visitors dropped off by launch to wade onto Low Island’s postcard-worthy shores. See the Scottish-built lighthouse (shipped in sections), and visit the tiny maritime museum to learn about the island’s history and impacts of climate change. Passionate marine biologists from Quicksilver Cruises ( lead informative walks and guided snorkel trips, and you also get to devour an awesome smorgasbord lunch.

A yacht floats past the pristine and pintsized Low IslesA yacht floats past the pristine and pintsized Low Isles

5) Fraser Island
The world’s largest, all-sand island has wild dingoes lurking on one side of the beach and humpback whales breach on the other. Fraser Island ( is the backpacker’s dream, where visitors can camp on 121km (75 miles) of beach, which doubles up as a 4-wheel drive highway and an aircraft runway. Hike in its ancient rainforests and swim in its perched lakes and pristine creeks. Kick back at Kingfisher Bay Resort ( to enjoy stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and ranger-guided eco walks.

Humpback whales breach off Fraser IslandHumpback whales breach off Fraser Island
Creative Commons / Richard Fisher



Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.