I scored a week on an island for under $50

As for the timing, it was a night in November, when the blood-red moon showed her crimson light, thwarted momentarily by a partial eclipse; the weather was perfect and the reef corals were preparing for their yearly reproductive sex-fest, the spawning.

The trip started in Bundaberg, where I boarded the luxury Reef Empress, bound for the island, two hours away, for a night at Lady Musgrave HQ, a new reef-sleep pontoon. The 35m catamaran had a superyacht feel and the three-level pontoon, which opened in August, was just as classy.

The lower deck had a fully stocked bar and kitchen area, hot showers and toilets, seating and tables, and a dive shop with all the equipment needed to explore underwater. It was also the launching pad out into the ocean and kaleidoscope of reef below the surface.

The underwater deck, a level below the lower deck, had 20 bunks surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass. It felt like a fishbowl with the marine life looking in.

The upper deck housed eight queen-size glamping beds. They had plenty of storage space, canvas sides that you could keep down for privacy or roll up for the ultimate view, with phone charging ports and fairy lights strung across the roof for night lights.

Glamping on Lady Musgrave HQ. Picture: Kate Webster
Glamping on Lady Musgrave HQ. Picture: Kate Webster

With diving on offer, I was quick to head out with the dive crew to the nearby Fairfax Islands. Their remote location ensures a pristine dive experience, and as I made my first descent, I was impressed by the health of the reef and the array of marine life. The first dive was a rather fast drift dive as a strong current pulled me along shelves of plate coral, over massive brain corals and alongside calm loggerhead turtles also riding the current.

After returning to the pontoon, I dived straight back into the big blue for a snorkel. The reef in the shallower waters was just as spectacular and healthy. Hours passed as I floated over the patchwork of color; sparkles of rainbow fish like confetti dusted across the ocean.

The pontoon welcomes day trips and overnight visitors, and the vibe changed dramatically after waving goodbye to day-trippers. The sound of chatter and squeals of delight from kids “finding Nemo” dropped to a calm, serene silence. Along with nine other guests and a handful of staff, we were now alone.

The Lady Musgrave HQ pontoon. Picture: Kate Webster
The Lady Musgrave HQ pontoon. Picture: Kate Webster

After watching the sunset over dinner and a local Gin Gin Mule cocktail, I sat in anticipation for the blood-red moon eclipse to start. The moon was already high in the sky and despite glowing a deep red, still lit up the waters with a glassy finish. The moon partially eclipsed and continued its journey across the sky. It was time for me to journey also, to my bed. That evening, I fell asleep to lapping waves under a sky lit up by a million stars and the company of that magnificent full moon.

The next morning, after a quick snorkel, I hauled all my gear – two 30kg bags, a dive bag, and 40 liters of water – onto Lady Musgrave Experience’s glass-bottom boat to head to the island for a much different kind of reef holiday experience. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service offers camping permits on Lady Musgrave for less than $7 a night – so a week in paradise for under $50 sounded like an offer I couldn’t refuse.

The catch: there was no running water, no facilities, no electricity and no phone reception – just two composting toilets and an emergency radio in case things went bad. Everything you take onto the island must be carried off again, rubbish included.

Lady Musgrave Island. Picture: Kate Webster
Lady Musgrave Island. Picture: Kate Webster

Pulling up on the shore, I was ready to embrace my inner survivor. I hauled my gear along a winding and bumpy inland track to the camping area. It was sweltering hot and although a sign said the walk was 450m, it felt like 4500m.

Far from the luxuries of the pontoon, my camp was soon set up. There were a few other campers on the island and it didn’t take long to get acquainted and establish what would become my island tribe.

Desperate to cool off, I dived into the ocean with my snorkel gear. You’d have to be really unlucky to visit Lady Musgrave Island and not see a turtle. The island and surrounding reef are full of them, especially during nesting season – it’s an important feeding, resting and nesting site. Within moments, I was surrounded by seven turtles munching away on the algae coating the coral. It was like swimming in turtle soup.

Turtles are a major attraction at Lady Musgrave Island
Turtles are a major attraction at Lady Musgrave Island. Picture: Kate Webster

The true magic happens at night. From October to March, female turtles pull themselves up the beach to dig their nest and lay eggs. It’s fascinating and challenging to witness the start of life for such an endangered species and then mentally will the exhausted females back down the beach to be reunited with the ocean.

It soon became my nightly routine to find a front-row seat to this extraordinary show of nature. The mornings brought a true indication of just how many turtles came up the previous night, with a minefield of dug nests and turtle tracks up and down the beach.

Island life was simply amazing, and I began to wonder if I even wanted to leave. On the morning of my departure, I jumped in for one final snorkel. As I waded out, I noticed something different. The crystal-clear waters were murky with a pink tinge. It had happened. The coral had spawned during the night and now I was swimming in, well, what can only be described as a coral love mess.

After spending a week out on the island and in its surrounding waters, I can certainly say that the Wallaginji people got it right. Lady Musgrave Island is among the most beautiful reefs I have ever encountered.

Lady Musgrave Island at sunset
Lady Musgrave Island at sunset. Picture: Kate Webster

Escape route

Getting there

Bundaberg is a 45-minute flight or four-hour drive north of Brisbane.

Glamping

Lady Musgrave HQ glamping beds are priced from $1800 per couple for a two-night, three-day stay ($1350 for singles). Includes transfers, meals, snorkeling, and a glass-bottom boat tour. Additional costs apply for diving. Day tours cost from $228 a person.

ladymusgraveexperience.com.au

Camping

For camping permits and island information, visit parks.des.qld.gov.au.

5 must-haves for the island

  • Snorkel, mask and fins. You are going to want to explore every inch of the reef, and it turns out it is your daily bath time anyway.
  • Extra camera batteries. There is no electricity so, unless you have a solar charger, you will need spare batteries.
  • Head torch with red light. Nesting turtles are sensitive to light – it’s best to have a red-light head torch for moving around at night, so you don’t disturb them.
  • Hydralyte. Pop tablets in your water bottle every day for better hydration.
  • Mozzie repellent. The mosquitoes are brutal at night.

The writer travelled as a guest of Visit Bundaberg and the Lady Musgrave Experience. This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com

About the author

Ozzie

Hi! I’m Ozzie!

Before joining Australia Exploring, I was a writer at Tripadvisor.

I'm looking for the best posts for you about travel adventures in Australia and around the world. This website has the purpose to inspire you to travel… travel more and better. I hope it can help you explore the world a little bit better.

I graduated from the University of Sydney. I live in California with my wife and two children.

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