EAT your heart out, Sir David Attenborough.
You don't have to be a renowned naturalist criss-crossing the globe to come face-to-face with endangered species, unique habitats, fascinating creatures and extraordinary flora.
Anyone can answer the call of the wild and become amateur marine biologists and natural historians on an eco-tourism holiday within easy reach of South-East and Central Qld and Northern NSW.
The Reef and Rainforest Package with Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort and Kingfisher Bay Resort on Fraser Island delivers a quintessential Qld holiday, showcasing two very different island experiences.
My husband and I took up this back-to-nature challenge recently and were amazed at what we could discover right on our absolute beachfront doorstep.
We snorkelled with manta rays, hugged 600-year-old satinay trees, spied normally elusive dugongs at play and dodged sea cucumbers on a reef walk. We had close encounters with ospreys, green turtles and massive table coral one day, monitor lizards, dingoes and dolphins another.
We were engrossed by the colours and beauty of the changing landscape from the air and moved by the perfection of the tiniest ecosystem underfoot.
While the getaway comprises five days and four nights, time takes a holiday once you alight the Seair Cessna Caravan after your scenic flight lands on the grassed airstrip that cuts the teardrop-shaped Lady Elliot Island in two.
The 40-minute walk around the island easily turns into an hour-long start-stop stroll as you snap away at the myriad seabirds, film a green turtle coming up for air near Fish Pool, or spot a single burnt orange-coloured shell amid the bleached coral rubble.
The year-round clear waters offer long-range visibility, even from the shore. And manta rays rule the lagoon. With free use of snorkelling gear, visitors can simply step off the beach to an underwater world rich in coral gardens and bommies, fish species and marine mammals.
Kingfisher Bay, by contrast, makes the most of all the unique aspects of Fraser Island – the world's largest sand island with a strong Aboriginal heritage.
Step off the 50-minute ferry ride that leaves from River Heads and discover your sanctuary – where the lush, deep green of rainforest giants and cool tropical splendour is embraced by the calm emerald green water and treacherous sandbars of the Great Sandy Straits on one side, and pounded by the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean on the other.
Get acquainted with the all-natural Fraser experience on the full-day Beauty Spots 4WD coach tour in the Reef and Rainforest Package. Stops are made at the majestic Stonetool Sand Blow, the fresh cool waters of Eli Creek, the coloured sands of The Pinnacles, the Maheno shipwreck, Eurong Beach, Central Station and Wanggoolba Creek, and the spectacular Lake McKenzie, plus visitors experience the thrill of zooming along Seventy-Five Mile Beach's famous beach highway.
Back at Kingfisher Bay, take the winding uphill walk to the lookout for a bird's eye view of the comings and goings of yachts and fishing charters off the Kingfisher Bay jetty, and then reward yourself at the end of the journey with a dip in the pool at The Sand Bar.
Watching the sun slowly set from the western beach and nearby licensed Jetty Hut is a must, as is the simple pleasure of sitting by the resort's lagoon-style pool or your unit patio and listening to the symphony of birdsong at dawn and dusk.
Free educational activities abound at both resorts, such as reef walking at low tide, in-season turtle or bird watching and historical tours on Lady Elliot, and ranger-guided bird watching or night spotlighting walks at Kingfisher Bay.
And optional extras are endless. On Fraser Island, try the Air Fraser scenic flights with the pilot's expert commentary that take off and land on the beach (www.airfraserisland.com.au) or maybe the Bushtucker Talk and Taste before savouring more of the distinctive flavours of the bush at the award-winning Seabelle Restaurant.
Brent Milne, from Shayla Cruises, will help you explore the Great Sandy Strait and nearby landmarks such as Big and Little Woody islands and spot marine wildlife including humpback whales (in whale-watching season) from the comfort of his catamaran on a half-day tour (www.shaylacruises.com.au).
Lady Elliot Island – located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Green Zone – attracts scuba divers from all over the world, and the PADI dive shop offers morning, afternoon and even night dives, subject to conditions, at its various spectacular sites including the Severence shipwreck.
While lunch is not included in the holiday package, nothing beats munching on a Lady Elliot Island prawn salad with chilli lime dressing with a glass of sauvignon blanc on the deck of the Beachfront Café ... except maybe lounging by the resort pool amid the wallum scrub with a frozen margarita and a good book after lunch in Kingfisher Bay's Maheno Restaurant.
Sir David Attenborough wishes he could have it so good.
The writer was a guest of Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort and Kingfisher Bay Resort
REEF AND RAINFOREST PACKAGE
For more information, go to the Lady Elliot Island website.
Also included with your accommodation are full buffet breakfasts and dinners on Lady Elliot, plus country-style hot buffet breakfasts at Kingfisher Bay
For Kingfisher Bay Resort, phone 1800 072 555 or 4120 3333, email reservations@ kingfisherbay.com or visit www.kingfisherbay.com
Arrange valet parking at River Heads through Shane Logan at www.riverheads propertysales.com.au or on 0409 796 249