There are more than 8,000 islands that are a part of Australia, including eight that are larger than 1,000 square kilometers in size. Western Australia includes more islands than any other state, however, Queensland’s are the most visited. Some of Australia’s islands lie far off the mainland coast, and are heavily influenced by Asian culture. Here are a few of the most popular islands in Australia:
New South Wales:
Lord Howe Island: This island is a World-Heritage listed site. No more that 393 visitors are allowed on the island at any one time, due to limits in accommodation. There are no backpacker accommodations on the island. Public transport is unnecessary for tourists, although biking around the island is a popular activity. Flights to the island are available from Sydney, Brisbane and Coffs Harbour.
Fraser Island: Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world, and stretches more than 120 kilometers. It is a World Heritage-listed sight for the presence of colored sands. The sands have actually been stained by decaying vegetation, and some areas are an estimated 8 million years old. The Great Sandy National Park protects most of the island and its wildlife, although you can camp there. Fraser Island is one of the most popularly visited islands in Australia. Flights are available to the island, although ferry service is more common. Four-wheel-drive is the only way to get around Fraser Island.
Magnetic Island: This island is located off Queensland’s northern coast, and has a population of 2,500 people. Magnetic Island is a popular beach resort island with all the typical beach activities: kayaking, snorkeling, and jet skiing. There is backpacker accommodation on Magnetic Island. You can fly to Magnetic Island for decent prices on airlines such as Virgin Blue, although it is easier and cheaper to take a short ferry Cat ride from Townsville.
Moreton Island: This island is a popular destination due to its proximity to Brisbane (only 35 km away). The island is 98% National Park, however, so there is not a lot of accommodation facilities, and those that are available are usually reserved well in advance for school groups, family functions, etc. However, camping is an option on the island, and day trips to swim in the freshwater lakes or hike the highest peak are also popular. A two-hour ferry ride will get you there.
Stradbroke Island: The North and South Stradbroke Islands are also popular destinations with Brisbaners who wish to escape to an island for the day. The islands are only 30 kilometers south of Brisbane. There are a few resort and bungalow accommodation options, along with a campground. Stradbroke Island was actually only one island until 1892, when a storm severed it into two, creating the Jumpinpin Channel. Ferries are the best way to get the island.
Whitsunday Islands: The Whitsundays are actually a collection of 74 islands, with a population of more than 15,000 people. It is most famous of its advantageous position along the Great Barrier Reef. The Whitsundays are a popular tourist destination with both foreigners and Australians, who go there to swim, dive and soak up the sun. Yachting around the islands is a popular, albeit expensive, activity. Both Qantas and Virgin Blue fly to Proserpine, and Whitsunday Transit coach buses take you to your mainland accommodation (not all of the Whitsunday Islands are actually “islands” off the coast).
Kangaroo Island: Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest, and has a human population of 4000 (there are more than 1.5 million sheep, 1 million wallabies and 15,000 koalas). More than 50 ships have been wrecked around the coast, allowing for excellent wreck dives. Sailing, fishing and surfing are other popular activities. Accommodation fills up during the holiday season. An interesting note- when koalas were introduced to the island, their population exploded, often at the consequence of other animals. Scientists have been struggling to bring the animal populations into balance. Ferry trips and short flights from Adelaide are the most popular ways to get to the island.
King Island: Located to the North of Tasmania, King Island was the site of Australia’s worst maritime disaster in 1845, when 400 people died. The Bass Strait is notoriously difficult to navigate, although captains often took the risk of going through it in order shorten the time it takes to reach Sydney. Shipwreck exploration and lighthouse tours are big draws to this island. Renowned cheese and dairy products are produced here. Hiking and other physical activities are common ways to spend your time on the island. Ferries and flights to the island are available.
Philip Island: More than half a million people flock to this island each year to observe Philip Island’s Nature Park and the Penguin Parade. The Penguin Parade occurs nightly, as the world’s smallest penguins return to shore from a day of fishing. Eager spectators get to watch and point as the tuxedoed creatures waddle their way past. Hiking and other environment-focused activities are the big draw to this island. You can drive to the island, and there are more than 2000 beds available.
Christmas Island: This island is actually closer to Indonesia than Australia. Approximately 1,500 people reside there. Most are Chinese or of Chinese descent and although English is the official language, Malay and Chinese are common. There is no sales tax on Christmas Island, due to its remote location. A National Park protects more than half of the island. Christmas Island offers resort-style accommodation is accessed via plane, usually from Jakarta, Singapore or Perth.
Cocos Islands: The Cocos Islands only became part of Australia in 1955. There are 27 islands, which all lie in the SE Asian region, southwest of Indonesia. The islands were discovered in 1609, but no humans lived on them until the 1800s, and the current population is less than 700. Coconuts are the sole cash crop for the island, although it is slowly developing a tourist industry. Only two of the islands are inhabited. The West Island is comprised of mostly Australians and Home Island is mostly Malay. The Cocos Islands are expensive and difficult to get to; there are only two flights a week from Perth, and costs start around 1000 Dollars U.S.
Rottnest Island: Rottnest Island is a popular getaway from Perth. Located only 32 kilometers from the coast, weekend bookings fill up fast, and accommodation during the summer and Leavers can be especially difficult to find. Rottnest is famous for their population of quokkas, marsupials that explorers incorrectly identified as rats, thus giving the island its name. Quokkas are endangered and protected animals; they roam around freely around the island at night. Camping is available on Rottnest (also referred to as Rotto). The most popular way to get to the island is via a half-hour ferry ride, or private boat. Private flights are also available, are generally outside of the backpacker budget.
Norfolk Island: This island is a territory under Australia’s control and its economy relies mostly on tourism, although it has recently developed a self-sustaining produce industry. Originally a penal colony, the island was re-established by Pitcairn Islanders who descend from mutineers and Tahitians. The island has beautiful beaches, no taxes and no crime. Flights originate from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or New Zealand. Accommodation options are limited to resorts and expensive hotels.