Pack up your tent, swag and supplies and set-up camp on some of the most beautiful islands in the Great Barrier Reef. While many holiday makes seek five star luxury, at Queensland Weekender, we’re into five zillion star luxury and these places are some of our favourites.
Lady Musgrave Island
We love this island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef. Lady Musgrave is the southern-most island in the Capricorn Cays National Park. A maximum of 40 people are allowed to camp here (the island is only 14 hectares) at anyone which means it’s always peaceful and uncrowded. While the land size may be small, Lady Musgrave is surrounded by 1192 hectares of reef, with around one third of that being an idyllic reef lagoon. Remember to pack your snorkel, goggles and fins – the snorkeling here is out of this world. You can camp here from start of the Easter holidays until the Australia Day. Camping is also available on nearby Mast Head Island and North West Island.
There are 74 islands in the Whitsundays and of those there are 11 defined camping spots on gorgeous coves, beaches and bays. Whitsunday Island (the home of the world famous Whitehaven Beach has six camping spots to choose from).
On the Cid Harbour side of the Whitsunday Island there’s Dugong Beach with a good sandy beach backing on to rainforest and seven camping sites for a maximum of 36 people. Nearby Nari’s Beach is lovely spot for a maximum of six people set under the canopy of the rainforest, tucked against a steep hill and with great views of Cid Island. Joe’s Beach caters for up to 12 campers with the secluded camp site serving up views of Cid and Molle Islands as well as good snorkeling at low tide. Further around Whitsunday Island, you’ll find Chance bay which has elevated camping overlooking a sandy beach, with views to Pentecost Island, the Lindeman Group and Cape Conway for up to 12 people.
One of the most famous places to camp on Whitsunday Island is at the iconic Whitehaven Beach; a beach of dazzling white silica. The campsites are nestled in lowland vine forest and eucalyptus woodland overlooking the beach and there are seven sites catering for up to 36 people. One of the most under-rated places to camp on Whitsunday Island is Cairn Beach. This beautiful spot has a sandy beach, great snorkelling at low tide and backs on to the rainforest. There’s a trail along the Cairn track which is part of the Nagger Sea Trail to a volcanic rock formation and magnificent views. Cairn Beach has four camp sites for up to 12 people.
Butterfly Bay at Hook IslandHook Island has some of the most spectacular fringing reefs in the Whitsundays for diving and snorkelling. It also has four impressive camping spots. Maureen’s Cove the northern end of Hook Island provides uninterrupted views over a coral rubble beach over the Coral Sea for up to 24 people. Nearby Steens Beach offers camping for up to 12 people in a lovely rainforest setting behind a sandy beach overlooking Hayman Island. Curlew Beach in Macona Inlet has camping for up to 12 people near a sandy beach backed with rainforest and a small seasonal creek. Crayfish Beach near Mackeral Bay is a spectacular camping spot with extensive fringing reef for amazing snorkeling. The camping area, which caters for up to 12 people, is sheltered by a large rocky headland to the east and mountains to the north and west.
Henning Island is close to the convenience of Hamilton Island with the Northern Spit of Henning providing a lovely sandy beach backing up to a closed forest canopy. The grassy camping area overlooks both Whitsunday and Hamilton Islands and caters for up to 18 people at a time.
Just a short ferry ride off the coast of Cairns, you’ll love Fitzroy Island for its great walking trails showcasing a diverse rugged landscape of granite outcrops, rainforest, mangroves and scenic coral beaches. The campsite is just 20 metres from the beach and has marked 6 x 6 metres sites which are not allocated so it’s first-in-best-dressed for the best sites. Campers, not wishing to cook, can take advantage of the food and beverage facilities at nearby Fitzroy Island Resort.
Frankland Group National Park
Getting to the Frankland Group National Park is a bit of a challenge – but worth the effort. You’ll find the five uninhabited coral-fringed islands around 45km southeast of Cairns. You can camp on two of the islands – Russell Island and High Island – both home to white sandy beaches, nesting seabirds, mangroves and walking tracks. Access to the islands is by private boat although Frankland Island Cruises is the only commercial operator conducting day tours in the group and can take you to Russell Island. Like most of the camping sites we’ve mentioned, you’ll need to be completely self-sufficient – but definitely pack the snorkel, goggles and fins for this Robinson Crusoe experience. It’s most likely you’ll have the entire island to yourself!
If you can stand to forgo the luxury accommodation at Lizard Island; you can opt for the five-zillion star option at Watsons Bay (not pictured), on the north-west side of Lizard Island. There are only five camping spots at Watsons Bay and you’ll need to be completely self-sufficient as the resort is strictly off-limited. There’s no shops, showers or restaurants although the Marlin Bar opens a couple of nights most weeks, mainly for resort staff. The south end of Watson’s Bay is home to many giant clams and is ideal for snorkeling. Access is via plane or private boat.
Snub your nose at the rich and famous who indulge in the luxury and opulence of Orpheus Island Lodge and instead set up a canvas retreat in one of the three campsites on the island. Orpheus Island is located 110 kilometres north of Townsville with camping available at Yanks Jetty and Pioneer Bay as well as South Beach if you’re after remote island wilderness camping. You will need a private boat to access the island. Orpheus Island is a snorkeller’s delight with shallow blue water hosting an abundance of colourful marine life and the island is also home to a James Cook University research station for the Great Barrier Reef.
Keppel Bay Islands
There’s 13 islands in the Keppel Bay Islands National Park off the coast of Yepoon (near Rockhampton). – and you can camp at seven of them. The beaches, with soft white sand, secluded bays, plunging cliffs makes it a Great Barrier Reef paradise that will be hard to leave.
Humpy Island camping area is one of the most popular in the Keppel Islands because of the shade afforded by the Casuarina trees. There’s scenic views over Keppel bar and easy access to fringing reefs for diving and snorkelling.
Pelican Island is a rarely visited rugged island where camping is on the western-facing shingle beach. It’s a good fishing spot and if you don’t catch a treasure from the sea, you might find one along the beach as the tides makes this little spot a cove for beachcombers.
This is just a few options of camping on the Great Barrier Reef. We know we’ve left heaps of places off this list – so feel free to tell us about your favourite spot to camp on the reef in the comments below.
Visit the Queensland National Parks website to discover more and make online bookings. Camping is $5.95 per person per night or $23.80 per family.