The lighthouse was built in 1873 and is a landmark feature that marks the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo Carolyn Archer / NewsMail
The lighthouse was built in 1873 and is a landmark feature that marks the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Photo Carolyn Archer / NewsMail Carolyn Archer

This lady reefs in nature's wonders

THE AZURE waters of the Great Barrier Reef glisten like diamonds from 10,000 feet in the air.

It's an enticing sight for visitors on a flight from Bundaberg to Lady Elliot Island, on the reef's southern tip. The flight's 30 minutes feel like five as an eagle-eyed pilot instructs passengers to keep their eyes peeled for migrating humpback whales.

Touching down on the coral cay at 9am, the excitement is palpable as the possibility of what awaits stretches ahead.

We are given a welcome drink at the Eco Lodge and an orientation of the island before our guide for the day runs us through an itinerary.

After being fitted with wetsuits and snorkelling gear, we head to the lagoon on the eastern side of the island.

We've been told the lagoon is one of the most spectacular parts of the reef, brimming with tropical fish, colourful coral and sea life.

Because it is sheltered, we were are able to snorkel to the far reaches of the lagoon and it wasn't long before someone spotted a green turtle, then another as underwater cameras worked hard capturing the beauty below the surface.

We were given about an hour to explore the lagoon before being rounded up for a ride on a glass-bottomed boat.

The boat leaves from the western side of the island and our guides gave us a run-through of what to expect.

Lady Elliot Island is also known as the "home of the manta ray”, and September is a good time to spot them. No less than five minutes into the tour we spotted our first ray and the experienced guides were able to glide the boat over the top so we could peer at it from above.

The majestic creatures like to travel in packs, with the male mantas following the females until they get sick of it and drop off. The last-standing male gets the girl - or something like that.

On this particular day, the rays were appearing in large numbers so we took off our reef-walking shoes, popped on our flippers and jumped into the water, where we waited for them to swim past.

If you don't already know, manta rays can grow to have a wingspan of 7-8m. Having one glide past you is an experience you are unlikely to forget.

Black noddy birds visit the island in the thousands in summer to nest and breed. Photo Carolyn Archer / NewsMail
Black noddy birds visit the island in the thousands in summer to nest and breed. Photo Carolyn Archer / NewsMail Carolyn Archer

Then there's the other sea life - fish, turtles and, yes, even whales. It was enough to work up an appetite.

A buffet lunch at the Beachfront Dining Room helped us to refuel before a buggy tour.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the island is its environmental footprint. Eco Lodge staff have worked tirelessly to make the island self-sufficient, including implementing measures such as a hybrid solar power station and composting facility.

Everything grown on Lady Elliot is native to the island and volunteers as well as staff have dramatically altered the landscape with the planting of hundreds of trees.

The staff are as passionate about the sea life as they are about the land and if the same trajectory continues, this pristine part of the reef will remain so for years to come.

Getting there: Flights to Lady Elliot Island leave Bundaberg Airport at 8.40am and depart at 4pm.

Cost: Adults, $365; children $210.

Inclusions: Return scenic flight to Lady Elliot Island; welcome drink; orientation tour; glass- bottomed boat guided tour; snorkel equipment hire; hot and cold buffet lunch; afternoon guided activity/tour; use of day guest facilities

What to take: Swimmers, hat, sunscreen, underwater camera.

Overnight: There are various accommodation options available at the Eco Resort, ranging in price from $157 to $386. Packages are also available.



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