The hidden stories behind these stunning Great Barrier Reef islands

28 Feb, 2024

They say, ‘no man is an island’ and no island is alone either, at least in the case of the Palm Island group, which Orpheus Island Lodge calls home.

You’ll play eye spy with the group of 16 Great Barrier Reef islands as you enjoy your helicopter transfer to Orpheus Island – some which have a vivid and chequered history.

Bookended by other Great Barrier Reef islands like Hinchinbrook and Magnetic, there are plenty of stories waiting to be explored.

Pelorus Island

You may have never heard of it, but Pelorus Island – just 15 minutes from Orpheus Island by boat – will soon play host to one of the most exclusive holiday homes in the Great Barrier Reef islands. Opening from October 2023, Pelorus Private Island will feature four luxurious suites on an unspoilt sandy spit, from where you can snorkel straight from the beach, cruise the Palm Island group on an amphibious yacht, and fish for the most sought-after reef species in the world.

Great Palm Island

The largest in the group, Great Palm Island has made the news for not-so-positive reasons in the past. The 1999 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records controversially named it as the most violent place on earth, outside a combat zone. But out of punitive beginnings, strong community and cultural ties have been bound. Known by the name Bwgcolman, meaning ‘one people from many groups’, traditional owners from up to 57 language groups were forcibly moved to the island from 1918. Today, with one pub, a small township and spectacular fringing reef, Lonely Planet has named it as one of the world’s most unique destinations to visit in their book, Offbeat (2022).

Fantome Island

These days, Eumilli Island (Fantome Island) is uninhabited but join a historical tour from Orpheus Island and you’ll be privy to the heritage-listed ruins that remain, offering a glimpse of its less-than-paradisiacal past. In the 1920s-1930s it was home to a lock hospital (for those with venereal disease) and leprosarium, known as the lazaret.

Hinchinbrook Island

You’d need months to begin to penetrate what lies beneath the Jurassic exterior of Munamudanamy (Hinchinbrook Island). North of the Palm Island group, between Cardwell and Lucinda, this is the home of the Thorsborne Trail – a bucket list, self-sufficient hike that traverses 32 ungraded kilometres. You can enjoy a taste tester by joining a half-day charter from Orpheus Island under the masterful guidance of horticulturalist and longtime local, Jen Truasheim, and score the money shot from beautiful Zoe Falls.

Magnetic Island

One of the better known Great Barrier Reef islands, Yunbenun (Magnetic Island) is home to over 2100 residents and even has its own postcode. Blessed with great tracts of national park, boulder-strewn beaches, and the largest colony of free-roaming koalas in Northern Queensland, ‘Maggie’ is becoming increasingly popular as a pre- or post-stay after Orpheus Island. Book a direct helicopter transfer to the island to save time travelling back to Townsville then over on the ferry.

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