Lady Elliott Island.
Lady Elliott Island. Contributed

Paradise at your doorstep

ALL TOO often we are so preoccupied with the destination, that we forget the journey.

On the trip to Lady Elliot, the 40-minute, 8am scenic flight from Hervey Bay is every bit as fascinating as the final destination – the graduating colours of the Great Sandy Strait, peppered with golden sand bars; the white caps of the open ocean; the closeness of our pilot and the anticipation that you just might see a gigantic sea creature going about its business in the ocean below.

Then, finally, this speck on the horizon that grows bigger and bigger (but not that big) – a coral cay, at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, complete with red and white striped light house. The arrival at the Lady Elliot airstrip – which also doubles as the island's cricket pitch – is an intimate affair. Friendly staff members meet and greet and take me on a short island orientation, before leaving me to my own devices. It's off to the dive shop for me. I'm squeezing myself into a wetsuit that feels like it is five sizes too small, grabbing my snorkel, flippers and mask and heading out to explore the lagoon and coral gardens.

I've got a cheap underwater camera and a hankering to snare a photo of a turtle that's worthy of National Geographic. This evening will be filled with chatter, night walks and presentations in the Education Centre and, wait for it, no TV. I couldn't be happier!

As the new day dawns on Lady Elliot, I opt to take an early morning walk around the island before heading in for a hearty breakfast and planning my day's activities. I've forgotten some old shoes, but pick a pair of bright blue crocs off the “oops other people also forgot their shoes and have left some behind” racks and head out with a staffer on a Reef Walking Tour.

Who would've thought there was so much life in just a small amount of water? I'm fascinated by the sea cucumbers, the coral, the little fish darting and the possibility of eye-balling a big turtle. I've checked my watch and it's time to join the glass bottom boat tour and head out snorkelling in the aptly named, Coral Garden. The wind has whipped up slightly, but I'm buoyed by the fact that I might just see my first Manta in close quarters, so pretend not to notice.

And I'm not disappointed – this is my first snorkelling experience on the reef and I am instantly captivated by the colours; the little reef shark that comes in for a sniff; the lumbering turtles who transform gracefully in the water; and the fish – is that you, Nemo?

All too soon the sun sets; dinner is eaten; the sun rises and it's time to begin the next leg of my island adventure as I catch the 2pm flight back to Hervey Bay.

From the airport I'm picked up and whisked to to River Heads to catch the 3.30pm ferry. The 45-minute journey to World Heritage-listed Fraser Island is equally fascinating.

It takes an international tourist with a video camera to remind me – this is a pretty special place.

From beginning to building to being, Kingfisher Bay Resort had to measure up as a place fit to grace this extraordinary environmental treasure – and as we slide in to the jetty – guests would be hard pressed to know there are two hotel wings, self-contained villas and holiday houses here – they're so hidden well in the dunes.

After check in, we make our way along wide, wooden veranda to our hotel room, which is set upon stilts and allows Fraser's little critters to continue about their business uninterrupted. I've booked myself in for a free dingo presentation and a guided night walk (the activities change daily) leaving me time to explore during the ‘golden' hour in late afternoon.

The khaki uniform and akubra hat is a dead giveaway that I've found my tour guide at the Village Store the next morning – he's also the fellow holding a big tub of Anzac cookies that make my stomach rumble, even after the big buffet breakfast I've just scoffed in the Maheno restaurant.

Today's tour takes in Lake McKenzie. The colours are magnificent and the white clouds drifting overhead make perfect pictures. I'm immersing myself in Fraser – literally and figuratively – the sun, the sand, the ambience and the sheer beauty of this place and I'm loving it.

We journey on from the sublime to the ridiculous – into the historical heart of the island – Central Station and Wanggoolba Creek. We make our way to the Coloured Sands of the Pinnacles, then down the beach to the Maheno shipwreck for the postcard shots, to the cool fresh waters of Eli Creek and then on the homeward journey.

This journey of rediscovery has whipped by quickly and we ponder the highlights over brekkie the next morning. Kingfisher's check out is at 10am, but we've opted to stow our bags and spend a little more time on Fraser – I'm keen to check out McKenzie's Jetty and the Z-Force walk before heading back to the rat race.

From Reef to Rainforest it's been a pretty unforgettable trip. And now I've dipped my toe, I won't leave it so long to return.

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