Home to hundreds of islands, Queensland has some spectacular getaways of the powdery sand and palm-fringed variety. Magical bushwalks, magnificent wildlife, deserted beaches and cinematic aquatic beauty (colourful coral reefs, whale and dolphin watching) are a few draws of these pristine islands. And while the Whitsundays and Fraser Island tend to garner all the attention, there are plenty of outstanding destinations largely overlooked along the 7,000km-long Queensland coastline. Here are our top five favourite islands of the moment:
1. Hinchinbrook Island
Australia's largest island national park is a ruggedly beautiful 399 square kilometres of lush tropical vegetation, long beaches, tangled mangroves and towering peaks, including the striking Mt Bowen (1,120m) near the island's heart. A Mecca for bushwalkers, Hinchinbrook has some fantastic walks, the most magnificent of which is the Thorsborne Trail, a 32km coastal trail, best done over three days, allowing stops for swims and dips in waterfalls along the way. Book in advance with QPWS to reserve a spot to hike the Thorsborne (only 40 allowed at a time; no permit required for shorter day hikes). The island can be visited on a daytrip from Cardwell on the mainland, or you can camp or overnight at the treehouse-like Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge & Resort.
2. Great Keppel Island
Just above the Tropic of Capricorn, the tiny 14sq-km Great Keppel Island is a captivating introduction to the tropics, with sugary sand beaches, azure waters, colourful coral and scenic bush walks. The car-free island, with no grocery stores and only one restaurant, is definitely a get-away-from-it-all type of place. There are a few simple lodging options (the high-end Great Keppel Island Resort remains closed for renovations), including basic wooden cabins offered by Great Keppel Island Holiday Village. Diving trips and all-day cruises can be arranged on the island.
3. Magnetic Island
A short ferry ride from bustling (and underrated) Townsville, Magnetic Island is home to four easy-going beach towns, each with its own personality. Unlike many other islands along the Queensland coast, folks actually live and work here, and there is a vibrant eating and drinking scene on the island, particularly in picturesque Horseshoe Bay. You will find fine bushwalking tracks here, and you can hike up to the old WWII forts designed to protect the coast from naval attack. There are plenty of ways to get out on the water - sea kayaking, parasailing, reef tours or snorkelling off Nelly Bay. The best way to get around is by bicycle.
4. Moreton Island
Just off the Southern coast near Brisbane, Moreton Island is a slice of subtropical beauty with dazzling white-sand beaches backed by rolling bush. With more than 90% of the island protected as national park, Moreton remains largely undeveloped. Some local residents rent out holiday flats and houses, otherwise, you can camp at one of nine campgrounds (four of which are on the beach) or stay in the first-rate Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort, named for the wild dolphins easily spotted near the beach (and hand-fed by volunteers each afternoon). There is good snorkelling and diving, particularly amid the coral and rich marine life surrounding the Tangalooma Wrecks.
5. North Stradbroke Island
Another beauty in Moreton Bay, North Stradbroke Island provides a stellar island getaway. Here, you can go whale watching from the scenic gorge walk on the northeast tip of the island, look for koalas and wallabies in the bush, swim in freshwater lakes, dive or snorkel among rich marine life around Flat Rock and other boating destinations and take magnificent strolls across deserted beaches along the coast.
The article 'Five magnificent islands off the Queensland coast' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.