Lady Elliot is located at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. The island is the length of its grass runway, and contains a single eco resort. To get there, you can fly to Bundaberg, Hervey Bay/Fraser Coast, Brisbane, or the Gold Coast, and then transfer to a very small plane. For us, the connection via Bundaberg was the most direct. The plane was so small that a passenger sat in the copilot seat, there was no overhead bin, and the pilot loaded the bags and did the safety demonstration. It wasn’t as small as some of the flights we’ve had in Africa or Alaska, but it was small enough that they limit passenger baggage to 15 kg. Our dive gear alone weighs 15 kg, and this includes no clothing or camera gear. We ended up buying an additional 10 kg each, but were still slightly overweight. And by slightly, I mean 16 kg. If hassled, I was ready to wear my BC and call the camera a comfort animal, but it turned out not to be an issue.
The grass runway divides the island in half from North to South. The East side of the island contains the resort, and a massive lagoon that can be explored for a few hours a day around high tide. We stayed in a reef unit, which looked to be the same as the garden units, but closer to the lagoon. We were in Reef #2, which was very close to the restaurant. Meals were buffet style, and the quality of the food far exceeded our expectations. The dive schedule wasn’t great for meals, but we learned that you can set aside a plate at breakfast and they will heat it up when you return (usually around 9:30am), and there is a cafe menu in the afternoon if you miss the buffet. The West side of the resort has areas for snorkelling and diving, and is the place to be for sunset. Or if you are looking for the one spot on the island that gets the Telstra phone/3g signal (hint: it is on the east side of the lighthouse).
The resort offered two dives per day, scheduled at 7am and 1pm when we were there. After setting up gear at the dive shop, you load your gear onto the truck and are driven over to the West side of the island. At high tide, the boats can back right up to the beach. At low tide, you have to walk out over the reef to a spot deep enough for the boat. This was a bit cumbersome (especially with the cameras) but doable. There are three boats, each held about 15 people. When there were 15 people on board, they split the groups to avoid crowded entries and exits. The majority of dives were done on the West side, within about five minutes of shore where the sea is generally calm. There was a good swell one day, but nothing unmanageable. We did one dive on the East side at the Blow Hole – apparently it is rare to get over there and everyone was psyched to experience the swim through. The water was warm (25/26c) – we wore our 3mm suits and were comfortable. The reefs were teeming with life, and we saw turtles on every dive. It wasn’t manta season but we saw one (of course, when we were out of air and ascending the mooring line with our cameras all packed away.