The Great Barrier Reef ’s southernmost outpost, Lady Elliot Island, is a 2km-square patch of casuarina and pandanus trees stabilizing a bed of coral rubble, sand and – in common with all the southern cays – plenty of overpoweringly pungent guano, courtesy of the generations of birds to have roosted here. The elegant lighthouse on Lady Elliot’s west side was built in 1866 after an extraordinary number of wrecks on the reef; on average, one vessel a year still manages to come to grief here. Wailing shearwaters and the occasional suicide of lighthouse staff didn’t endear Lady Elliot to early visitors, but a low-key resort and excellent reef have now turned the island into a popular escape. Shearwaters aside, there’s a good deal of birdlife on the island; residents include thousands of black noddies and bridled terns, along with much larger frigate birds and a few rare red-tailed tropicbirds – a white, gull-like bird with a red beak and wire-like tail – which nest under bushes on the foreshore. Both loggerhead and green turtles nest on the beaches too, and in a good summer there are scores laying their eggs here each night. The main reason to come to Lady Elliot, however, is to go snorkelling or scuba diving: the best spots for diving are out from the lighthouse, but check on daily currents with the dive staff at the resort. You’ve a good chance of encountering harmless leopard sharks, sea snakes, barracuda, turtles and manta rays wherever you go. Shore dives cost $35 per person, while boat dives are $50 ($70 for night dives), plus gear rental. The Blowhole is a very popular dive site, with a descent into a cavern. Expect to see lion fish, manta shrimp and the unique “gnomefish”. The 1998 wreck of the twin-masted yacht Severence is just a few minutes offshore; it’s famous for large schools of pellagics.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Australia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

A Rough Guide to: visiting Australia's Great Barrier Reef

A Rough Guide to: visiting Australia's Great Barrier Reef

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders – it’s the largest structure ever built by living things and is even visib…

25 Oct 2017 • Penny Walker insert_drive_file Article
The best aerial views in the world

The best aerial views in the world

Got a head for heights? If you're craving a new perspective on your travels, the best thing to do is get up high. From mountain-top panoramas to cityscapes, her…

17 Oct 2017 • Olivia Rawes camera_alt Gallery
Undiscovered Australia: 7 places to get off the tourist trail

Undiscovered Australia: 7 places to get off the tourist trail

Australia is a vast country, though most visitors stay on the same tried and tested track, ticking off well-touristed pitstops along the way. But, of course, …

07 Aug 2017 • Helen Ochyra insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook