While much fuss is made about the Great Barrier Reef's northern splendour, Southern Reef Island is the place of ‘castaway’ dreams: tiny coral atolls fringed with sugary white sand and turquoise-blue seas, and hardly anyone within flipper-flapping reach. From beautiful Lady Elliot Island, 80km northeast of Bundaberg, secluded and uninhabited coral reefs and atolls dot the ocean for about 140km up to Tryon Island. Lady Musgrave is essentially a blue lagoon in the middle of the ocean, while Heron Island is a discerning natural escape for adventurous families and world-class scuba diving.
Several cays in this part of the reef are excellent for snorkelling, diving and just getting back to nature – though reaching them is generally more expensive than reaching islands nearer the coast. Some of the islands are important breeding grounds for turtles and seabirds, and visitors should be aware of precautions to ensure the wildlife’s protection.