13 islands you can easily get to for a weekend escape

Jetting off to a white-sand isle for a weekend might seem like a fanciful pipe dream, but with direct flights and quick and easy ferry transfers, these Queensland islands will give you that overseas feeling, minus the jet lag.

Next time you’re craving some Robinson Crusoe vibes and mainland disconnection, hop on over to one of these 13 islands for a weekend escape.


Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island | 13 islands that are easy to get to for a weekend escape

With flights touching down from Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne every day at Great Barrier Reef Airport, Hamilton Island is the most direct option for an easy island jaunt.

Far from being just a strip of sand with dreamy blue seas, ‘Hammo’ is a mini metropolis where cars are replaced by golf buggies and resort wear is de rigeur. There are pools to lounge around, watersports to keep you busy, an 18-hole golf course (on its own island!), restaurants, bars and shops to flex your plastic.

Accommodation ranges from the budget-friendly Palm Bungalows, to the Reef View Hotel – where friendly cockatoos will show up on your balcony to say hi – up to the adults-only Beach Club and uber-exclusive qualia.

Here’s how to spend 48 hours on Hamilton Island.

How to get there:

Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar fly direct to Hamilton Island from Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne with the average flight time between 1-3 hours.

Lady Elliot Island

Lady Elliot Island | 13 islands you can easily get to for a weekend escape

Photo by Luke Shadforth for @garypeppergirl

Serious snorkellers and avid divers will need no introduction to Lady Elliot Island. Since the coral cay is so pristine and well protected, getting there via air is the only way.

Sitting 80 kilometres north-east of Bundaberg on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, this natural oasis is teeming with incredible marine encounters (being in a protected ‘Green Zone’) and operating under a staunch eco-friendly ethos means there are no TVs, radios, or telephones, and rooms are fan cooled.

Lady Elliot is renowned for its turtle encounters, manta rays, birdlife and low-key weddings (with just 41 rooms, why not book out the entire island?).

If you can’t spend the whole weekend, day trips are also available, including return flights, lunch, glass-bottom boat tour and snorkelling.

How to get there:

From interstate or overseas: Fly to the Gold Coast or Brisbane (you’ll need to transfer to Redcliffe, 30 mins drive).

Daily flights to Lady Elliot Island operate from Brisbane (Redcliffe), Gold Coast, Hervey Bay and Bundaberg. Return flights start at $295 per adult ex Bundaberg and $165 per child.


Orpheus Island

Orpheus Island | 13 islands you can easily get to for a weekend escape

With resort guest numbers capped at 28 and a secluded position on one of the Great Barrier Reef’s best-kept-secret islands, Orpheus Island is on the more luxe end of the weekend getaway spectrum.

But what price can you really put on being able to dive amongst 1,100 of the 1,500 species of marine life found on the reef, indulge in an indigenous-inspired treatment at the Gwandalan Day Spa, zip off to a private beach for a picnic, head off on a fishing trip, or just laze around the infinity pool until sunset cocktails are called?

The all-inclusive resort means most activities (snorkelling, fishing, island cruise), unlimited use of motorised dinghies, paddle boards, kayaks, catamaran and WiFi in communal areas is all part of your accommodation charge. Easy as.

How to get there:

There are daily direct flights to Townsville from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne (Sydney visitors should catch the Virgin Australia flight to make heli transfer, Melbourne visitors need to stay overnight in TSV on Friday night).

Helicopter transfers to Orpheus Island depart daily at 2pm and return at 2:30pm (travel time 30 mins) at a cost of $275 per person each way.

Heli transfers are also available from Cairns for $670 per person, one way.

Bedarra Island

Bedarra is a magical little secret hiding in the Family Group of islands off Mission Beach in Tropical North Queensland, with just nine adults-only villas meaning you’ll only ever see a smattering of other guests during your time there.

By day you can relax in your villa (which is more beach house than room), with private plunge pool to boot. There are also stand-up paddleboards, motorised dinghies to escape for a private beach picnic on an uninhabited island, rainforest walks, tennis, and snorkelling and scuba diving trips on offer if you feel the urge to explore.

But when there are hammocks slung between palm trees and an open bar, from which the lovely Jodie will mix you a bespoke cocktail, and incredible food and wine all inclusive, you will most definitely be excused for not doing much at all.

How to get there:

Fly into Cairns, arriving by 11:30am at the latest (otherwise, you’ll need to add on a night in Cairns or Mission Beach).

You can get there via a scenic 50-minute heli journey from Cairns to Bedarra at 12pm (and return from the island at 10:30am), which costs $1950 per couple for the return fare.

Alternatively, land earlier and hire a car or limo transfer to drive two hours south to Mission Beach in time to catch the launch at 12:30pm. The boat departs Bedarra at 10:30am, arriving at Mission Beach at 11am. If you can stretch your weekend to three days we reckon you’ll really be able to relax and slip into island time.

*Note: Bedarra is closed from late January to late March each year.

Lizard Island

Lizard Island | 13 islands you can easily get to for a weekend escape

The most northern resort in Tropical North Queensland, Lizard Island provides direct access to some of the Great Barrier Reef’s most epic snorkelling and diving sites as well as powdery-white sand and complete seclusion from the real world.

All the usual #islandlife activities are included, such as picnic hampers, snorkelling equipment, SUPs, and motorised dinghies, while research station tours, dive trips, game fishing and sunset wine and cheese cruises can also be arranged for an additional charge.

Since you’re only visiting for the weekend, book ahead for a spa treatment in the Essentia Day Spa and book upon arrival for a private degustation dining experience just metres from the water’s edge.

How to get there:

Fly into Cairns, allowing 1.5 hours before your seaplane departure.

The seaplane charter departs Cairns at 11am and 2pm, and returns from the island at 12:30pm and 3:30pm (approx one hour travel time). Return flights cost $670 per person.

One&Only Hayman Island

One&Only Hayman Island | 13 islands that are easy to get to for a weekend escape

Granted, One&Only Hayman Island is one of those “one day” destinations us mere mortals might only lust over for the rest of our lives, but given the chance and the means, it’s also one of the Whitsundays most accessible luxury island escapes.

Once you arrive, make all those daydreams a reality by plunging yourself into the Hayman Pool – at seven times the size of an Olympic swimming pool, you’ll have your lap swimming cut out for you. Some of the most decadent of Hayman’s experience include the Ocean Dreaming massage, sitting right in the piercing aqua Coral Sea, and a seaplane flight over Heart Reef, so if you’re travelling with that special someone you’ve come to the right place.

It’s not just loved-up honeymooners who will get the most of our a weekend escape to One&Only Hayman Island, with families well catered for too.

How to get there:

Fly to Hamilton Island on a direct flight from Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne. From there, it’s a quick seaplane (approx 15 mins) or heli (max 30kg soft bag luggage each) flight, booked upon request.

Heli transfers cost $660 for two people, one way. The seaplane can accommodate up to six people (no luggage) or two people with carry-on and suitcases at a cost of $1,100 per flight.

However, most guests will join the 60-minute luxury launch transfer, which meets all flights and costs $195 for adults and $97.50 for children each way.

Transfers are also available from Port of Airlie on the mainland if you’re flying into Proserpine or driving.


Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy Island | 13 islands you can easily get to for a weekend escape

The good news for those who find themselves visiting Cairns? There are several islands within easy reach for a weekend escape.

Fitzroy Island flies under the radar compared to many other Great Barrier Reef islands, but once you visit, you wonder how on earth you’d never heard of it sooner.

Explore the fringing reef on one of their glass-bottom boat tours, snorkel straight off the beach, join an accredited PADI dive trip, or trek to spectacular vantage points on the island like Secret Garden and Nudey Beach. There is also a turtle rehabilitation centre, which offers guided tours.

Accommodation comes in the form of a 4.5-star resort and camping ground.

How to get there:

Fly into Cairns and transfer to Cairns Marlin Marina via taxi (15 mins).

Fast Cat departs at 8am, 11am and 1:30pm (travel time 45 mins); and returns at 9:30am, 12:15pm and 5pm. Cost for resort guests is $78 return ($38 for children).

Day tours from Cairns are also available.

Green Island

Green Island | 13 islands you can easily get to for a weekend escape

Most people know Green Island for the zippy day tour from Cairns, replete with helmet dives, glass-bottom boat tours, and snorkelling straight off the coral cay for a super accessible introduction to the Great Barrier Reef.

But if you like the idea of waving all those day-trippers goodbye and staying for the weekend, book in for a night at Green Island Resort.

Then you’ll be free to join in nightly fish feeding, lay out on the coral-strewn beach to gaze up at the stars, or join a moonlight stroll with one of the rangers in the hope you’ll spot turtles nesting or hatching (during the season).

How to get there:

Fly into Cairns and transfer to Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal via taxi (15 mins).

The Great Adventures fast catamaran transfer departs at 8:30am, 10:30am and 1pm (travel time 45 mins) and returns at 9:45am, 12pm, 2:30pm and 4:30pm. Transfers are included in room rates but bookings are essential.

*Note: The Resort will be closed from 24 January 2017 to 7 Feburary 2017 for renovations.

Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island | 13 islands you can easily get to for a weekend escape

After a weekend on Maggie (as the locals call it) you may find yourself wanting to defect from the real world and stay forever.

We can’t blame you, because Maggie’s alluring blue bays, laissez-faire attitude, and kilometres of pristine national park bushland are some sort of wonderful.

From spotting dozing koalas in the treetops on the Forts Walk, to cruising in a topless pink Barbie car, don’t leave without experiencing these 6 things to do.

How to get there:

There are daily direct flights to Townsville from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Once you land, transfer to the Sealink ferry terminal via taxi (13 mins).

The Sealink ferry takes around 20 minutes to reach Magnetic Island and departs hourly up to 11:30pm on Friday evenings. A return adult ticket costs $32.

Daydream Island

Daydream Island | 13 islands you can easily get to for a weekend escape

One of the more budget-friendly Great Barrier Reef islands, Daydream Island offers up all the Whitsundays signatures (crystalline water, vivid coral, palm trees upon palm trees) you want with none of the extras you don’t need for a quick weekend fix.

The resort is like island Netflix, with more activities than you can possibly schedule into two days.

Kids will love the Living Reef touch pool and Stingray Splash feeding time, while you might be more content snorkelling the fringing reef or kicking back at the Gold Class open-air cinema.

How to get there:

Catch a direct flight to Great Barrier Reef airport on Hamilton Island from Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne, then catch the 30-min catamaran transfer to the resort.

(Or fly to Proserpine, catch a 30-min bus to the Cruise Whitsundays terminal, and jump on a 30-min catamaran transfer there.)

Fraser Island

Lake McKenzie Fraser Island | 13 islands you can easily get to for a weekend escape

Even if you can only squeeze a weekend into your busy schedule, everyone needs to experience the UNESCO World Heritage-listed wonder that is Fraser Island at least once in their lives.

The world’s largest sand island shadows Hervey Bay on the Fraser Coast, and if you’re not the camping and hiking type, you can still dip a toe in with a fully-guided, resort experience via Kingfisher Bay Resort (particularly great if you’re pressed for time).

Find out why it’s so freakin’ amazing here. And, ladies, if you feel like taking control of the wheel, you might be keen to join one of the Girls Got Grit 4WDing training weekends.

How to get there:

Fly from Brisbane or Sydney direct to Hervey Bay airport (or drive approx four hours north of Brisbane) then drive to River Heads (20 mins south of Hervey Bay). If you intend on driving on the island, you’ll need to arrange 4WD hire.

The Kingfisher Barge departs at 6:45am, 9am, 12:30pm, 3:30pm and 6:45pm, and returns at 7:50am, 10:30am, 2pm, 5pm and 8:30pm.

Moreton Island

Moreton Island | 13 islands you can easily get to for a weekend escape

The caretaker of Queensland’s oldest lighthouse knows it; Moreton Island is one of the most epic island escapes you can take within a couple of hours of Brisbane.

Here you can hand-feed wild dolphins, sandboard down desert-like dunes, camp without seeing another soul (or go glamping if that’s more your style), and snorkel or dive amongst the impressive trail of sunken shipwrecks.

How to get there:

Fly to Brisbane then drive to Port of Brisbane (18 mins from airport without traffic; 30 mins from CBD without traffic).

The MICAT Moreton Island Ferry departs Brisbane at 8:30am and 1pm on Fridays or 8:30am Saturday to kick start your weekend escape. It returns at 12:30pm and 4:30pm on Sundays (75-90 mins travel time).

Just heading over for the day? You’ll need to book a casual day pass to Tangalooma Island Resort (no charge) as numbers are capped.

North Stradbroke Island

North Stradbroke Island | 13 islands you can easily get to for a weekend escape

There aren’t many islands that please surfers as well as divers, hikers, and bona fide beach bums, but North Stradbroke Island delivers on all fronts, and then hits you with freshwater creeks and great food options, too.

Start your day with beachside yoga, look out to spot dolphins as you walk the jaw-dropping Gorge Walk, then sit on the headland and unroll a fresh parcel of fish and chips to really cap off those island vibes.

Here’s a 48-hour itinerary we prepared earlier.

How to get there:

Fly to Brisbane, then drive to Cleveland (32 mins from airport without traffic; 40 mins from the CBD without traffic).

Stradbroke Ferries’ car ferry runs every hour from 8am-5pm on Saturdays (or up until 7pm on Friday nights). Travel time approx 45 mins and cost ranges between $55-$95 per vehicle one way, while walk-on passengers pay $10 per person return.

Alternatively, a water taxi runs hourly (last Friday ferry 7:25pm) with bus connection once you reach the island for $20 per person return. Travel time approx 25 mins.

Which island would you choose for a weekend rendezvous?

Some of the businesses listed above have been impacted by recent weather events in Queensland. Please make contact with the operator or visit their website for information regarding bookings and travel plans.