It never has been easier to experience the best of the Great Barrier Reef marine life in a day at Lady Elliot Island.
It was a peculiar sight, and I don’t know who was more curious.
I was having a moment snorkelling the usually translucent blue waters off Lady Elliot Island in the Southern Great Barrier Reef. It didn’t matter that just over an hour ago I had arrived in marine life paradise onboard a small charter flight amid a tropical downpour. The rain had eased off slightly, yet I was ever determined to make the most of my time out along the world’s largest coral reef. I went in for a swim; rain or no rain, I was going to get wet and wild anyway. Thankfully, it still appeared as clear as day to spot something that I have longed as a snorkeler and avid diver to see – an octopus.
Octopuses had long held my fascination for their high intellect, chameleon habits, and body bending ways. They are also shy creatures. And with all my years of diving around the world, I had yet to spot one myself – until now.
Within metres from stepping offshore the coral cay, I was in a snorkelling utopia—my kind of idea of pure holiday bliss. The southern tip of the World Heritage-listed reef is home to over 1200 marine species and fortunately, a well-preserved coral reef. Not that long before, I had spotted a giant manta ray and an unsuspecting tiger shark (both a few metres away) amongst an abundance of marine life and vibrant coral reefs, a living kaleidoscope of bright hues. I was in my underwater explorer’s element, and every encounter was an added bonus to what was already an incredible snorkel session.
I was caught by surprise. The grey-black speckled octopus was slowly emerging from its short-term shelter, wedged between a couple of large rocks that lay along the ocean floor. As I flapped my fins to closer inspect the unique creature rising from the rocks, it swiftly morphed itself into a defensive reddish tinge and hurriedly retreated into its makeshift homestay. Ah so close to seeing an octopus in its entirety!
Related reads: Moonlit Mantas – Swimming With Manta Rays At Night in Hawaii
A shy thing, I swam away to give the octopus some breathing space so I could observe it emerging from afar and hopefully, watch its eight spaghetti-like limbs frolicking and spot another rapid colour change. As I waited, I continued to count the giant sleeping sea turtles that surrounded me on this remarkable oceanic safari. I was like a kid in a candy shop with all the vivid coral reefs and ‘big ticket’ marine life spotted passing through; it was unreal.
Soon, I would spot the octopus slowly rising from the rock fissures again. Come to light! I was so excited to almost see the octopus in its entirety until its moment for freedom was forgivingly interrupted by a passing sea turtle. It would be one of the many 26 sea turtles spotted on this single snorkel expedition. Yes, I was dismayed about the octopus retreating but enthused about the spectacular scene I just witnessed – the fluke of a sea turtle casting its shadow over an octopus.
I think at that moment in time; I imagined my snorkel bubbles arranging themselves in a ‘wow’ formation to mimic my reaction over what I just saw. That was well and truly my pinnacle David Attenborough-type moment, observing two sea creatures co-existing and one being reactive to another’s presence.
My snorkel session lasted roughly an hour until the tide went out, but it wasn’t the only bit of marine life I would experience on my day trip to Lady Elliot Island.
The island itself operates as a family-run eco-resort and offers a plethora of land and water-based activities. I would soon explore the outer reef on board its glass boat tour. The island is famous for attracting a large manta ray population, and it wasn’t before long we saw the vacuum cleaners of the sea hovering below the boat. Again, it was time to hop in the waters and snorkel our way around the boat. Wearing a thick wetsuit made the snorkel that extra bit pleasurable in cooler waters. I felt like seal-like in my black wetsuit, as I followed one of the three tiger sharks in my vicinity, intrigued to where it was headed.
On land, there are experiences to learn about the sustainability practices of the multiple ecotourism award-winning eco-resort, including its Eye on the Reef program; its ongoing reef monitoring to record marine life sightings and health status of the reef. Guests to the island can also learn more about the unique flora, fauna and birdlife the island attracts.
My unfortunate departure was all so sudden. It was as if it was unfairly timed with the sun’s welcomed return from the clouds, brightly shining as I bid farewell to this aquatic dreamland. There was, of course, one last mind-blowing sighting. As the small plane took off, I soon took stock of the extraordinary encounters I had below sea level. I was high in the sky, but the appreciation of the island in its entirety was in full view. Its famous clear blue waters now glistening, showcasing the stellar reef circling the island. My curiosity, satisfied, and so much more.
Head to Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort by taking a scenic flight from Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Brisbane or Gold Coast. (Flights are 30 – 80 min one way depending on point of departure).
Take a fully-inclusive day tour to the island and treat yourself to one of its many land-based or water-based experiences.
One day not enough? You can extend your time on the reef with a stay in its eco-retreat with various sustainable accommodation options available. It is recommended to stay a minimum of two nights.
Please note: Due to the non-essential travel restrictions announced by the Australian Government in relation to COVID-19 (Coronavirus), Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort will be temporarily unable to welcome guests between 23 March – 30 April 2020. See more here.
See more: Queensland travel
Feature image: Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort
Julia was a guest of Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort all thoughts and opinions are of her own.