Paradise on a budget: Australia's cheapest islands

Take a look at Australia's most budget-friendly islands in the gallery above.

MAGNETIC ISLAND

A tropical island for the locals, it's Maggie to its many friends. There's a permanent holiday vibe in the towns of Arcadia and Picnic Bay, the streets are abuzz with open-top, hot pink Mokes, and the compulsory lunch is a bucket of prawns and cold wine at Sandi's café in Horseshoe Bay. While there are 26 kilometres of bushwalking trails, water sports abound: paddleboarders, kayakers, snorkellers and swimmers will find their watery nirvana. The pick of the bunch at Base Backpackers Magnetic Island are its sweet little A-frame ocean view cabins that look straight out to sea, from $135.38/double see stayatbase.com For a more family-oriented vibe, the refurbished 1930s cabins at the Koala Village cost from $130 a night/double, see bungalowbay.com.au Two ferries run all day between the island and Townsville, 20 minutes away, and cost $30 return/adults, see sealinkqld.com.au and magneticislandferries.com.au

See also: This bargain island paradise is Australia's best day out

FRENCH ISLAND, VICTORIA

An hour south of Melbourne, French Island is Phillip Island's less famous sibling, though it's almost twice the size. Known for being the place where the Minogue sisters would play as children, the only way onto the island is via a foot ferry from Hastings on the Mornington Peninsula, or via car ferry from Phillip Island. Mountain bikes are a good way to reach the winery or hiking trailheads – road cyclists should note that there's not a slick of bitumen on the island. Phil and Yuki's French Island Eco Inn aims to tread lightly on the island. Stays cost from $180/double in a cabin, with water views and continental breakfast included. The foot ferry costs $13 each way. See tortoisehead.net

MARIA ISLAND, TASMANIA

One of Australia's most isolated convict sites, Maria Island is a 30-minute ferry ride from Triabunna, a 90-minute drive from Hobart on Tasmania's east coast. The Penitentiary at Darlington, built by convicts in 1825, has nine rooms that sleep six in bunks, and a tenth, larger room. While each bunkhouse has its own wood heater, there's no electricity in the rooms: bring your own bedding, lighting and cooking equipment to use in the Mess Hall camp kitchen. Hikers should keep an eye out for sweet little pademelons onshore, and whales and dolphins offshore. Costs $44 for two adults in a six-bed room, $10 for each extra adult. Families cost $50/ 2 adults + 4 children. Return ferry transfers cost $45/adults, encountermaria.com.au

LADY MUSGRAVE ISLAND, QUEENSLAND

Pitch your tent atop this coral cay off the coast of the Town of 1770, halfway between Gladstone and Bundaberg. The 14-hectare Lady Musgrave is the second-last of the Great Barrier Reef islands, and is set in its own lagoon for sheltered snorkelling amongst the coral gardens. The island is a renowned green and loggerhead turtle hatchery, so keep eyes peeled for turtles, as well as reef sharks and manta rays. A maximum of 40 people can stay on the island, which has the most basic camping facilities: you'll need to bring in your own food and water. Camping is permitted between Easter and Australia Day each year, and while camp permits cost just $6.65, the big-ticket item is the boat transfer cost, around $450 return from Bundaberg or the Town of 1770. See parks.des.qld.gov.au

COCKATOO ISLAND, NSW

In Sydney's early European history, prison wardens thought that waking up to harbour views was a punishment. The UNESCO World Heritage listed Cockatoo Island has done time as a convict prison, dockyard and a reformatory school for naughty girls. Now, the largest island in Sydney Harbour has cafes, picnic spots, a thumping art scene and runs convict escape tours and a haunted history tour. To stay, bring your own tent and camp in an unpowered waterfront site from $36, or book one of the island's pre-erected tents from $71.20. The Fire Station studios cost from $250, all with harbour views. Take a water taxi, kayak or catch the F3 or F8 ferry from Circular Quay. See cockatooisland.gov.au

KANGAROO ISLAND, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

This island, now on the mend after this year's horrific bushfires, offers a dose of Australian wildlife without the fences. Australia's third largest island has echidnas and kangaroos, sea lion and penguin colonies, and dolphins in the clear waters of the St Vincent Gulf. For those allergic to caravan parks, Wandering Souls lets you customise your bell tent as well as its location. Choose from four styles of interior design – from Hamptons coastal to Aussie luxe – and your tent will be styled with feather duvets and pillows, throws and a tea station. Then choose your site, on the coast or in a meadow, with sea views or a bushland setting: the locations include Stokes Bay, the Bay of Shoals winery and the perfect curve of Vivonne Bay. Cost from $180 a night, weekdays. Return ferry transfers cost $98/adults, see sealink.com.au Flights available with rex.com.au and qantas.com

ROTTNEST ISLAND, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Did you hear the one about how a photobombing marsupial put an island on the itinerary of every jet-setting celebrity? From Chris Hemsworth to tennis stars to desperate housewives, puff-cheeked quokkas have posed with them all, although Perth residents didn't need a quokka to tell them about Rottnest's charms. Discover the island's indigenous history and its dark period as a prison which closed in 1903. Hire a bike for the 22-kilometre lap around the island, and pull up for dips in the Indian Ocean as the urge takes you. Stepping past the glossy hotels and luxury glamping stays, the modest Caroline Thomson cabins sleep up to six and cost from $121 a night while the 1920s North Heritage bungalows start at $137, see rottnestisland.com Sailing to Rottnest is cheapest from Fremantle, return fare costs from $51/adult see sealinkrottnest.com.au and rottnestexpress.com.au

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