2 Best Sights in Mackay–Capricorn Islands, Queensland

Lady Elliot Island

Fodor's choice

One of just six island resorts actually on the reef, Lady Elliot Island is a high-level Marine National Park Zone. Wildlife here easily outnumbers the guests (a maximum of 150 overnight guests and 100 day visitors are permitted at any one time)—and that reality is underscored by the ammoniacal odor of hundreds of nesting seabirds and, in season, the sounds and sights of them courting, mating, and nesting.

Divers enjoy the easy access to the reef and the variety of diving sites around Lady Elliot. Fringed on all sides by coral reefs and blessed with a stunning white-sand, coral-strewn shore and bright azure waters, this oval isle seems to have been made for diving. There's a busy dive shop and a reef education center with marine-theme exhibits (plus an educational video library—great for rainy days). Inclement weather and choppy waves can lead to canceled dives and washed-out underwater visibility. When the waters are calm, you'll see turtles, morays, sharks, rays, and millions of tropical fish. Many divers visit Lady Elliot specifically to encounter the resident population of manta rays that feed off the coral.

From October to April, Lady Elliot becomes a busy breeding ground for crested and bridled terns, silver gulls, lesser frigate birds, and the rare red-tailed tropic bird. Between November and March, green and loggerhead turtles emerge from the water to lay their eggs; hatching takes place after January. During the hatching season, staff biologists host guided turtle-watching night hikes. From about July through October, pods of humpback whales are visible from the beachfront restaurant.

Lady Elliot is one of the few islands in the area where camping—albeit modified—is part of the resort, and a back-to-basics, eco-friendly philosophy dominates the accommodations.

Great Keppel Island

Although Great Keppel is large, at 8 km (5 miles) by 11 km (7 miles), it lies 40 km (25 miles) from the Great Barrier Reef, which makes for a long trip from the mainland. There's lots to do, with walking trails, 17 stunning safe swimming beaches, excellent coral gardens in many sheltered coves, plenty of friendly local wildlife, and dozens of beach and water-sports activities available. An abundance of bushwalking tracks allows visitors to explore the island's interior and access secluded beaches. The island has a marina and an airstrip, and a number of places to stay, including Great Keppel Island Holiday Village.

Great Keppel Island, QLD, Australia