Australia itself is the largest island in the world. There’s so much to do in this mammoth country, that you might not realise Australia also has 8,222 islands off its shores. Yes you read that correctly: eight-thousand-two-hundred-and-twenty-two. I was rather clueless when I booked my very first backpacking trip to Australia and had never heard of any of the islands on this list. As it turns out, trips to these islands were some of my best experiences.
Writing about all 8,222 islands, I’ve decided, would take up most of my lifetime and probably take you almost as long to read. There are many beautiful islands in Australia, each with their own unique wildlife, flora and fauna, climates and landscapes. So I’m going to share with you five of my favourites.
Where is it? Kangaroo island lies off the coast of South Australia. It is a 45 minute ferry ride from Cape Jervis.
What can you do there? Despite the name, Kangaroo Island isn’t just about kangaroos, although you will see them hopping about in the bush. You can get incredibly close to wild sea lions as they bask on the beach at Seal Bay, and spot koala bears munching on eucalyptus trees in Hanson Bay. For something a little bit different, wacky Wallaby Bob will welcome you into his home and take you on a night fishing experience at Baudin Beach. Kangaroo Island has miles of beautiful beaches, and perhaps the most stunning of them all is Vivonne Bay, once voted as Australia’s Best Beach. Thrill-seeking backpackers can spend a day sandboarding down the sand dunes at Little Sahara and race around on quad bikes at sunset for a unique chance to spot kangaroos and other wildlife. Get your camera out for the perfect photo opportunity at the Remarkable Rocks, which truly are ‘remarkable’. These unusual rocks have been shaped by erosion from the wind and sea spray and the bright orange lichen contrasting against the bright blue sky makes for some incredible photos.
Getting there: If you’re visiting Adelaide and you don’t have a vehicle you might want to consider a tour to the island departing from the city. If you prefer to see things independently, you can go over by yourself from Cape Jervis on the Sealink passenger/car ferry which drops you off in Penneshaw.
Where is it? Affectionately called “Rotto” by the people of Perth, Rottnest Island sits off the coast of Perth in Western Australia.
What can you do there? Rottnest Island used to be called “Rottenest” with an ‘e’, but as you can imagine that sounded a bit rotten. It got its name from the Dutch for ‘rat’s nest’ because explorers thought that the ‘quokkas’ which inhabit the island looked like giant rats. They’re not rats, they are in fact marsupials which resemble pint-sized kangaroos and you’ll find them all over the island. The island is a popular place for Perthians to take a weekend break and enjoy the water sports the island has to offer.There are no cars permitted on the island, so most people like to explore it by bicycle or use the island bus service. Hire a bike to ride the cycle paths or take a scenic joy flight for an aerial view of the reefs, beaches and salt lakes. Spend an afternoon on one of Rotto’s 63 gorgeous beaches and dive or snorkel over the island’s coral reefs to explore the marine life and shipwrecks.
Getting there: Ferry services run from Hillary’s Boat Harbour in the north of Perth, Barrack Street Jetty in Perth’s City centre and Freemantle in the south. You can also fly from Jandakot Airport to Rottnest Island with Rottnest Air Taxi. If you’re lucky and you know someone in Perth with their own boat, then you can go on your own private boat too.
Where is it? Fraser is in Queensland, between Rainbow Beach and Hervey Bay, just north of the Sunshine Coast.
What can you do there? Fraser Island is a favourite for backpackers travelling up and down the East Coast of Australia because it’s so much fun! Most of the fun is in the driving since you can drive on the island’s beaches. Seventy-five-mile Beach is an actual highway and has a speed limit of 80km/hr, whilst the inland roads have a limit of 35km/hr. Driving conditions vary with the tide and the weather and normal road rules apply. Fraser Island has some beautiful freshwater lakes: laze on the powder white sands next to Lake McKenzie and roll down the sand dunes next to the vivid green waters of Lake Wabby. Take a dip in the Champagne Pools as the water from the ocean crashes against the rocks. A trip to Fraser Island is a great camping experience where you can cook your own meals, set up tents and camp out under the stars.
Getting there: You have a number of options for travelling to Fraser Island but either way, Fraser Island is strictly for 4x4s because of the sandy conditions. If you don’t like the idea of driving, you can take a bus tour from Rainbow Beach or Hervey Bay. You can also book a self-drive experience where you will be arranged into groups at your hostel in Rainbow Beach or Hervey Bay. You’ll go shopping for food with the other backpackers in your group and be shown how to use your 4x4. You’ll then pack up your vehicle and make your way to the ferry point to start your Fraser Island experience! If you’re travelling with friends and would like to do it yourselves, then you can hire or use your own 4x4 and take the ferry over from Hervey Bay to the island. Remember that you have to have a special access permit to drive on Fraser; if you’re on an organized experience this will be done for you, but otherwise you need to obtain one.
Where is it? Magnetic Island is an island off the coast of Queensland and can be reached by ferry from Townsville in Queensland.
What can you do there? This tropical island is a 20 minute ferry ride away across Cleveland Bay and is home to over two thousand permanent residents. You’ve probably heard of the legendary full-moon parties in Thailand, but the BASE hostel on Magnetic Island also hosts its own full moon party on the beach at Nelly Bay! Rent a Topless Car or a Classic Moke and whizz around the island to explore some of the beaches and lush tropical scenery. Make sure you do the Forts Walk from Bungalow Bay Koala Village to spot koalas in the wild. You can also climb concrete structures from the Second World War for panoramic views of the island. Laze on the beach at Horseshoe Bay, and sit on the jetty at Picnic Bay as the sun sets over the ocean.
Getting there: Take the passenger ferry or car/passenger ferry from Townsville over to Magnetic Island.
Where is it? Phillip Island lies off the coast of the state of Victoria, south east of Melbourne.
What can you do there? Visitors are attracted to Phillip Island to see the Penguin Parade, when little penguins come ashore at sunset in big groups. These little penguins have become a reconisable symbol of the island and appear regularly on Phillip Island postcards. If you love the Ozzie wildlife then take a cruise to Seal Rocks, where you can observe the largest colony of fur seals in Australia, or see koala bears in their natural habitat at the koala conservation centre. Get your adrenaline pumping by go-karting on a 760m scale replica of the Phillip Island Motorcyle Grand Prix Circuit or take a Hot Lap lightning ride around the real track with an experienced racing driver. Learn how to catch rainbow trout at Rhyll Trout and Bush Tucker Farm and take-in the endless views from The Nobbies headland. Get lost in a world of optical illusions and puzzles at A Maze ‘N’ Things or watch chocolate being made at Phillip Island Chocolate Factory.
Getting there: You can take the two hour drive from Melbourne to Phillip Island or get on the V/Line bus which runs between Southern Cross Station in Melbourne and Cowes on Phillip Island. There is also a passenger ferry which travels from Stony Point on the Mornington Peninsula to Cowes.
About the Author
Victoria Brewood is the face behind Pommie Travels, a site offering tips and inspiration for people wanting to take the plunge and travel the world. Originally from Manchester, Victoria packed her journalism degree in her suitcase and left the UK to explore the world and work remotely. She has backpacked extensively around Australia from the ocean to the outback and everywhere in between. Victoria also filmed her road trip around South Australia for World Nomads' Van-tastic Adventures. You can find Pommie Travels on Facebook and Twitter.