The pristine waters of the Lady Musgrave lagoon hold a pretty special place in my heart. This is the place where I fell in love with underwater photography on the Great Barrier Reef, it’s where I swam with my very first turtle (and got my favourite turtle selfie!) and where I teamed up with Gladstone Tourism (GAPDL) to host the world’s biggest underwater Insta-meet in 2015.
Every time I’m here, I’m always amazed at how vibrant and healthy the reef is and how much marine life I see. Having just clocked up my 6th trip, I’ve put together my day-tripper’s guide to Lady Musgrave Island with my tips and top spots around the lagoon so you too can share in the incredible experiences on offer here.
Where is Lady Musgrave Island:
The closest access point on the mainland to Lady Musgrave is the town of 1770 in the Gladstone Region. It’s part of the Southern Great Barrier Reef and about a 90min boat ride from 1770 to the lagoon. My most recent trip was with 1770 Reef aboard their newly purchased Orca catamaran and their day trips depart from the marina at 9am. By 10:30am we were comfortably inside the Lady Musgrave lagoon and lapping up the stunning views.
What to bring for the day:
There’s a couple of different activities during the day including an island walk and snorkelling, so make sure you bring sunscreen, a water bottle (refills are available on board the boat), a hat, swimmers, towel and thongs or shoes that you don’t mind getting wet on the island walk. I’d definitely recommend bringing a camera too, ideally one that is water proof so you can get some shots underwater as well as on the island.
Snorkels, masks, fins and wetsuits are all available on board the Orca so you don’t need to worry about packing those. I find that I generally only need to wear a wetsuit during the winter months anyway as the rest of the year the water temp is around the mid 20’s and absolutely ideal for snorkelling.
Itinerary for the day:
When you check in at the marina at the start of the day, everyone is given a group number. Each group has around 20 people and these small group numbers are fantastic. It means that you get plenty of space and time to enjoy each of the activities on offer. There’s 3 main activities for the day, you can go snorkelling in the lagoon, there’s a guided walking tour around the island, and also a glass bottom boat tour of the lagoon. I was in Group 1 and our first activity was the guided walking tour of the island.
Activities – Guided Walking Tour of Lady Musgrave Island:
Group 1 is the first to visit the island and it’s just a short boat ride from the Orca to Lady Musgrave. From afar it looks like a typical sandy beach but when you arrive you’ll quickly notice it’s also made up of broken down coral and ocean sediment so sandals or thongs are a big help as the coral can be a bit tough to walk on in bare feet.
The walking tour takes around 40mins and you’ll learn all about how Lady Musgrave was formed, the dense Pisonia forest that covers most of the island, the marine life and the thousands of birds that call it home each year.
If you’re visiting between November and April, keep an eye out for turtle tracks and if you’re lucky you might even spot some baby turtles that have hatched and are scurrying down the beach.
Glass bottom boat tour:
Once the guided island tour ends it’s then time to board the boat and head back to Orca. This isn’t just any ordinary boat though, it’s a glass bottom boat and a great way to see the reef and marine life without even getting wet. The skipper knows the lagoon like the back of his hand and all the best spots to see turtles, fish, and colourful coral. The glass bottom boat tour takes about 20-30mins and it’s the perfect lead up to the main event, snorkelling in the lagoon!
The highlight of the day is without a doubt the snorkelling. When we first arrived in the lagoon that morning, the skipper ran through the different snorkelling sites that are just a short swim from the Orca. The great thing about this tour is the amount of time that you have for snorkelling so there’s no need to rush. You can just take your time and cruise around the bommies and the drop-offs and experience it all at your own leisure.
If you’re looking for turtles, there’s a bommie just to the left of the boat where they tend to hang out. It’s a popular turtle cleaning station which means the turtles come here and lay down on the coral and the fish then clean the algae off their shells. The turtles can hold their breath for quite a while and it’s not unusual for them to hang out at a cleaning station for half an hour or more. They’re generally pretty chilled out as well so you can duck dive down to see them up close and get a photo or video of them being cleaned by the fish.
The cleaning stations are quite easy to spot as well, they’re the areas on the bommies that have been worn down and hollowed out over many years by the turtles laying there. There’s no set time that the turtles visit the cleaning stations each day, they just come and go as they please so I’d recommend visiting the bommie a few times during your snorkel to give yourself the best chance of seeing them.
The drop-offs are the best spots to see lots of fish and stunning corals. At low tide some of the coral even pop up above the waterline. It’s a very easy snorkel along the drop-offs and there’s lots of photo opportunities. If the conditions are especially calm, in some underwater photos it can look like the surface of the water is a mirror as it reflects the fish and coral below!
I find that the best way to get photos and videos with lots of fish is to find a spot where they’re hanging out and then float around there for a couple of minutes without splashing or making much movement. The fish tend to relax pretty quickly and before you know it, they’ll be swimming right up close to you as they go about their day. This then allows you to get some amazing shots and as long as you don’t make too many sudden movements you’ll get lots of photo opportunities.
It’s not unusual to see turtles cruising around here as well so keep an eye out for them as they swim past on their way to the cleaning stations.
At around 2:45pm, it’s time to head back to the boat and dry off before the trip back to 1770. It’s the perfect time to kick back and relax and take a look at all the photos you’ve taken during the day before getting home at around 5pm.