Love at first sight.
The plane circled the island and gave us a bird’s-eye view of her azure waters and white sandy shores. The kids were speechless (that never happens) and our excitement rose. I knew then, that we were in for a special family holiday on this remarkable little island, and I wasn’t disappointed. Lady Elliot Island was everything I had hoped for and much, much more…
I was sitting in the cockpit of the plane looking out the side window at the ocean, scanning the seas for dolphins while listening to the excited chatter from my children behind me, when my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was a notification from the Lady Elliot Island App telling me to “Look up, Lady Elliot Island is in sight”. Sure enough, when I looked towards the horizon, I could see her getting closer and closer. I could barely control my excitement as the plane circled and the entire island came into sight. I looked back to see the kids’ faces—they were filled with amazement, peering out the window at the paradise that awaits.
There was a feeling of haste to get off that plane—we didn’t want to miss a minute exploring this Island.
Meeting the locals and finding our home away from home.
We were greeted on the grass tarmac by Blaise, a marine biologist on the Island who radiated happiness and clearly shared our excitement to be on this quaint slice of paradise. We eagerly followed her around for our island orientation. At the end of the tour both my kids were smitten with her, so much so that Mikayla (9) started wearing her crocs with the back strap up, just the way Blaise did. After enjoying a refreshing welcome drink, we headed to reception to complete our check-in process and discover our accommodations for our 4-night stay.
We stayed in Eco Cabin 8—a spacious safari tent-style cabin that impressed the whole family. Ours ‘tent’ was comprised of a double bed, single bed and a set of bunks, perfect for a family of 5. It had large window openings which let the beautiful sea breeze in as well as two fans for warmer nights. Plus, the safari style accommodations amped up the feeling of ‘adventure’ on our holiday while remaining comfortable and secure. It also made us feel like we were part of the Island itself, which I loved. The cabin was immaculately clean, and the beds were very comfortable. Two amenity blocks (also kept very clean) were located just a stone’s throw away from our accommodation.
The mad dash to the lagoon.
We couldn’t change into our swimmers fast enough and made the short 20 meter walk/dash towards the lagoon which was the perfect tide for snorkelling. Mikayla won the race to get into the water, not surprising as I’m sure she was a dolphin in a former life! She was about 10 meters ahead of me by the time I entered the refreshing clear water, she stood up and turned her face towards me, I could tell by the look on her face that she was where she always dreamed of being, surrounded by the place she loves most, the ocean and everything in it. As a parent there is no greater joy than watching your children immersed in what they love.
My husband (Matt) quickly suggested we split up before we lose sight of Mikayla who was already busy following a school of fish into the lagoon. He and my 5 year old son Mason aren’t as confident in the water as Mikayla and myself, they preferred to stay a little closer to shore and that right there is one of the reasons this island is so incredible. It truly is suited to anyone’s swimming or snorkelling ability and this lagoon is the perfect place for inexperienced snorkelers or children to learn to love the ocean.
Matt drifted along the closer coral reefs with Mason who doesn’t quite share his sister’s adventurous/fearless personality, it suited him to stay close and slowly build up his confidence. I’m amazed at how quickly he progressed over the 5 days and he eventually went out into the deep with me without any trepidation. Trust me, they didn’t miss any action by staying close to shore, the marine life come all the way into the shore, in fact we spotted several bamboo sharks, star fish and green sea turtles right in close to the beach.
About those sea turtles. What’s not to love about them? These beautiful marine creatures are clearly very used to people sharing their lagoon. I think they’re actually really inquisitive and enjoyed our company. Over the 5 days we swam with so may turtles and on many occasions they would come up very close to you requesting a shell scratch. Mikayla became quite close friends with one on a snorkelling expedition and it wasn’t until I was looking at our GoPro footage that I realised we had been swimming with it for over 15 minutes, it never left her side despite us swimming almost the whole stretch of the lagoon. These memories and experiences are simply priceless and based on that one experience I would return to this Island in a heartbeat…but little did I know, that was just the beginning of our marine encounters.
Time flies when you’re having FUN.
Before we knew it, it was time to get out of the water and head to the Island’s education centre. We planned to attend a turtle talk with Blaise before dinner. We were hoping to witness some turtles laying their eggs whilst we were staying and although we had just returned from Mon Repos we wanted to ensure we were fully educated on how to view the turtles without negatively impacting their nesting. Again, Blaise had us all hanging off her every word and gave us all the knowledge we needed to safely view any nesting turtles (if we were lucky enough to see them).
The education centre is full of so much educational material. We often spent time in there after dinner with the kids, reading the information and learning all about the island and the marine life that calls it home. They also have a mini library and adjoining recreation room, complete with a VCR—yes a real VCR with tapes! Needless to say, it was hilarious showing our kids how it worked.
There is also a great area for kids and families to play games with board games, ping pong, pool table and foosball set. You’ll also find a swimming pool, playground and volleyball court on the Island.
LEI also runs a Junior Reef Rangers (Kids Club) program over the school holidays, a great way for the kids to make new friends and learn more about the reef whilst their parents get some down time.
Waking up in a David Attenborough Documentary
Our first morning on LEI started early. Mikayla is always awake early—to quote Anna from Frozen “The sky’s awake, so I’m awake!”. We didn’t wake the boys, but I grabbed one of our hand-held UHF radios (a last-minute addition to our luggage before we left home) and headed off for a beach walk.
We literally just stepped off the track and discovered a huge female Green Sea Turtle laying her eggs just off the path, directly in front of the Reef Units. It honestly felt like we woke up in the middle of a David Attenborough Documentary!
I woke Matt and Mason up using the radio. “Turtle alert, turtle alert!”.
We had watched Loggerhead turtles nesting at Mon Repos just two nights earlier, but observing her in the warm morning glow of sunrise was a whole new experience. It took over half an hour for her to finish covering her clutch. It sounded like someone was smashing plates as she threw coral chunks through the air using her large flippers. Another couple soon joined us from their unit and together we quietly chatted and watched her return to the ocean for a well-deserved rest. A staff member arrived on her morning turtle patrol just in time to check her tag number as she entered the water.
Check out this video we filmed –
Later that morning the staff delivered a numbered white picket for our children to mark her turtle nest. It’s the way the staff go out of their way to do little things like this that made our holiday so memorable.
I really enjoyed meeting other guests around the island—we all shared a mutual love for this Island and all the animals that call it home. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the couple who joined us at sunrise had been to LEI 6 times in the past. Most guests I spoke to were returning visitors, which speaks volumes about this unique island.
Glass bottom boat tour
I wasn’t sure how we were going to top the morning’s excitement, but we were keen to explore as much of the reef as possible. We were booked onto the morning glass bottom boat tour and Mikayla and I also booked a guided snorkelling tour for the afternoon. It was going to be a BIG day, but we were eager to make the most of our time here.
The glass bottom boat tour was our first experience on the western side of the island, this side has multiple diving spots, bommies and deep drop offs. Our tour was guided by Blaise (much to Mikayla and Mason’s delight) and she did a wonderful job of teaching us about the reef whilst pointing out interesting things as we glided over them. The skipper expertly hovered the boat over numerous coral cleaning stations, which were a hive of activity with the morning rush hour of turtles getting their shells cleaned. We were surprised to learn that some of the cleaning fish will get kicked off their stations if they don’t do a good job. It makes total sense when you think about it, but it really made me realise just how much marine life depends on the Great Barrier Reef.
Part of the tour included a snorkelling session which Mason enjoyed this tour the most as he was a lot more confident in the water with the boat close by. We all spotted turtles, thousands of fish, and even an octopus!
The Coral Gardens
After enjoying a leisurely lunch at the cafe, it was time to meet Blaise again for our afternoon snorkel tour. We boarded the same glass bottom boat and made our way to a spot called ‘The Coral Gardens’. Our excitement was growing as we approached the deep crystal-clear waters and we wondered what would be there waiting for us. We quickly learnt was that you just never know what you might see and no two tours are the same!
We spotted two reef sharks, turtles and more fish and coral than I could count on ‘The Coral Gardens’. The tide soon changed, and Blaise made the call to move to another location. This turned out to be the best decision of the day!
I spy with my little eye…a MANTA RAY!
As we were motoring along the deep drop off I noticed something out further had caught Blaise’s attention. I scanned the water and started to see some black fins coming in and out of the water, my first thought was sharks! Blaise quickly pointed the dark shadows out to our skipper and explained that we were witnessing Manta Rays feeding along the surface. It was game time, we all got into position along the side of the boat, ready to jump in the water to observe these amazing creatures.
As soon as we entered the water we were greeted by a large Manta Ray gliding towards us, I could hear Mikayla talking underwater (yep, she even talks underwater) she was SO excited to swim with these majestic creatures. Again, it felt like I was living inside a documentary! Although we’ve watched many documentaries with Mantas nothing beats being in the water with them, nothing.
Just as quickly as they appeared they soon disappeared into the deep blue ocean leaving us on a massive high. We started our journey back to shore but not without one last incredible sighting…DOLPHINS! A pod of dolphins appeared right beside our boat and I’ve never seen anyone jump into the water as fast as Blaise did. The dolphins didn’t stick around but it was such a special treat to see them enjoying the coral reef as much as we were.
Mikayla and I swam out to the same spot the next morning and couldn’t believe our luck when we found another Manta Ray down deep near the cleaning station. We were the only two people in the water and it was such a special encounter for us to share. It’s so great that Mikayla is such a confident swimmer, she’s officially now my snorkel buddy for life.
Each night after dinner we would walk down the runway and along the beach to the lighthouse. We kept our torches down low in case turtles were making their way up the beach. We saw three Green Sea Turtles nesting at night during our stay. We even witnessed one glide along the shallow water in front of us. We stayed as still as possible and sure enough she dragged herself up the beach right beside us. We watched her painstakingly dig her nest on the coral dunes and then caught a glimpse of her eggs before she started to bury them. This holiday was filled with turtle nesting experiences!
We also spotted hundreds of Strawberry Hermit crabs up in the roots of the trees that line the shore. These hermit crabs can grow to 30cm! Mason loves hermit crabs so he was in his element.
We had one wet day whilst on the island so we were pleased we’d packed our wet weather jackets to continue our adventures. The Island seemed to be singing in the rain with the sound of thousands of green tree frogs! I’ve never seen so many frogs in my life!
Birds, Birds, everywhere.
LEI is a birdwatcher’s paradise! We visited during the breeding season which meant there were tiny baby bird chicks EVERYWHERE! The kids quickly named all the chicks that were around our ‘tent’ which was lovely…right up to the point when a seagull swooped in and stole ‘Barney’ the Noddy chick. It was somewhat upsetting for the kids, but a great way to talk more about predators and prey.
Dining in paradise.
We were all so impressed with the dining options on Lady Elliot. Every guest has buffet breakfast and dinner included, the meals were well varied to suit all taste buds and dietary requirements. Mikayla has been fortunate enough to have dined at many a buffet in the past and has become quite the buffet snob—it takes a lot to impress her these days and thankfully the buffets on Lady Elliot Island exceeded her tough standards (lol). Breakfast also had a made-to-order omelette station which Mason and I loved! Huge shout out to Barry (LEI’s assistant manager), who not only made us all feel very welcome but also flipped our omelettes every morning.
We chose to order lunch from the Beachfront Cafe each day but there is also an option to enjoy the lunch buffet at an additional cost.
I found the drink prices to be very reasonable at the bar, like all the staff on the Island the bar staff were very friendly. We enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere in the bar area, too.
I always find myself thinking about the logistics behind catering on an Island, it must take a lot of planning and great organisation skills. I know how often we run out of milk at home and I’ve only got 4 people to look after!
I couldn’t finish this blog without mentioning the amazing work Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is doing for conservation. Their mission statement says it all.
“Our mission Is to be custodians of this pristine environment. To enable it to exist and be preserved as nature intended, while giving visitors the opportunity to experience it in an economically and ecologically viable way, without interfering with or having any adverse impact upon the long term sustainability of the island’s unique ecosystem”.
You can read more about their mission here.
Until we meet again…
I contemplated running off to hide on the island in the hopes that we could stay forever. After 4 nights we weren’t ready to leave. The only thing that kept me from crying was thinking this is not goodbye. I know I’ll be back to Lady Elliot Island again, we’ve already started a new savings account dedicated to our return and we’ll choose to stay for a week on our return.
See you soon Lady Elliot!
You can find everything you need to book your stay here on the Lady Elliot Island website.
We stayed in the last week of November, 2017. You have the best chance of seeing nesting Turtles after dark from Nov to Jan and Turtle hatchlings at night from Jan to March.
Our adventure was hosted by Tourism and Events Queensland. We’re truly grateful to get the opportunity to showcase such a beautiful part of the world. All of our experiences our non-bias and genuine.
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