Australia's ten most fun islands

Phillip Island, VIC

Everyone knows the nightly penguin parade is a crowded circus, but that doesn't stop it being magical to watch as the little birds waddle home from the sea. But Phillip Island has more strings to the bow, including wineries, a brewery and the Koala Conservation Centre. If you prefer to take to the water, there are also jetboat tours and the opportunity to go snorkelling with a sea scooter. See visitphillipisland.com

Hamilton Island, QLD

Each of the Whitsunday Islands has its own charms, but Hamilton Island is by far the most developed, and puts on the biggest range of things to do. This ranges from the petrolhead – jetskis and quad bike tours – to the more serene options, such as kayaking and wildlife walks. But the main reason Hamilton Island is popular in the first place is proximity to the reef – snorkelling with the turtles and catamaran sailing cruises around the islands are always likely to be the highlights. See hamiltonisland.com

Maria Island, Tasmania

With cars banned, Maria Island is a paradise for walkers and cyclists. And there are a fair few natural highlights to aim for – including the multi-coloured painted cliffs. Cruises around the island take in seals playing on the rocks, and there's plenty of convict history to take in around the old Probation Station. But let's face it, the real reason to come here are the wombats. Tricky to spot virtually anywhere else in Australia, on Maria Island they're found snuffling around all over the place. See encountermaria.com.au

Rottnest Island, WA

What Maria Island does with wombats, Rottnest Island does with quokkas. But it's not just about getting that magic quokka selfie. In the past year or so, a whole host of new activities have been introduced on the island. You can still hire a bike and cycle round to a near-deserted Indian Ocean beach, but you can also try out scenic flights, nature cruises, glass-bottomed sea kayaks and crayfish-catching boat trips. See rottnestisland.com

Magnetic Island, QLD

Technically a suburb of Townsville, Magnetic Island does impressively well on the wildlife front, with rock wallabies hopping around and plenty of koalas up the gum trees. There are also WWII forts on the higher ground. But watersports are the main entertainment here, with sea kayaking tours, diving courses and sailing cruises all on the menu. See townsvillenorthqueensland.com.au

Cockatoo Island, NSW

With a prime position in Sydney Harbour, Cockatoo Island's convict era heritage makes it a world heritage site. Walking tours focus on crooked characters and ghosts. But the island has also been turned into a periodic concert venue, while it's also one of the country's most unusual campgrounds – should you wish, you can spend a night in a tent in the middle of the harbour. See cockatooisland.gov.au

Fraser Island, QLD

The world's largest sand island is best known for its dingos and four-wheel-drive down the beach experiences. But it has many more strings to its bow than that. The gorgeously pure inland lakes are dreamy to swim in, the interior rainforest has fabulous walking trails and the Kingfisher Bay Resort offers a whole host of activities, including bushtucker cooking and outings to a secret military training base. See kingfisherbay.com

Moreton Island, QLD

A short ferry hop from Brisbane, Moreton Island is unashamedly all action. The most famous gimmick is the nightly feeding of wild dolphins from the beach outside the Tangalooma Resort, but Moreton's also a great bet for sandboarding down massive dunes, snorkelling between a series of shipwrecks and quad biking along bumpy inland tracks. See tangalooma.com

Kangaroo Island, SA

As the name might suggest, wildlife is Kangaroo Island's calling card. You'll get roos bounding across national parkland, sea lions sunning themselves on beaches and koalas napping up trees. There's plenty of adventure to go round, too – including caving, horse-riding and sandboarding – while there are plenty of opportunities to taste local produce at wineries, distilleries and honeymakers. See tourkangarooisland.com.au

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Lord Howe Island, NSW

Tailored very much to the luxury end of the scale, Lord Howe Island has more to it than good looks and relaxation. Bird watchers can check out incredibly rare species, while the meeting of cold and warm ocean currents makes for spectacular snorkelling and diving. The more energetic can attempt to clamber up Mount Gower, and kids will love hand-feeding enormous kingfish in the shallows. See lordhoweisland.info

See also: The world's 10 most terrifying roads

See also: Ten massively popular resort towns Aussies loathe

Disclosure: David Whitley has been a guest of Tourism Australia and Australia's state tourism boards.

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