Ask Lonely Planet: Riches of reef in easy reach

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Fish, turtles and rays teem on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo / Tourism Australia
Fish, turtles and rays teem on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo / Tourism Australia

My husband, 15-year-old son and I are travelling to Queensland in June. We will be visiting Hervey Bay as part of our trip and staying a few days at Lady Elliot Island. I'd appreciate some advice on what clothes/gear to take for the expected weather/temperature conditions and activities, as there is a 10kg weight limit for travelling to the island. - Caro Lai

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater write:

Some non-divers wonder if it's really worth going to the Great Barrier Reef "just to snorkel". The answer is a resounding yes. There are some fantastic sites for snorkellers, with much of the rich, colourful coral lying just underneath the surface.

Lady Elliot Island deservedly features as one of the 20 Top Experiences in Lonely Planet's Queensland & the Great Barrier Reef guidebook. This eco-friendly resort island is one of the loveliest and most peaceful places to experience the reef.

The snorkelling straight off Lady Elliot's white sands is guaranteed to leave you awestruck. The living reef surrounding the tiny coral cay is teeming with tropical fish, turtles and the island's resident manta rays. You won't be there in time to see baby turtles scampering across the sand (hatching time is January to April), but you may be lucky enough to spot migrating humpback whales.

Getting to the island is equally memorable, with a scenic flight over the turquoise reef-spattered waters. Only Seair's light aircraft ply the route to the island from Bundaberg and Hervey, hence the 10kg limit. However, as rates at the resort usually include breakfast, dinner and snorkelling gear, most of your luggage allowance can be taken up with clothes, toiletries, and other travel essentials such as sunblock, camera and a torch.

The island generally enjoys a mild winter, with daytime temperatures in June between 17 and 22C. Warm clothing and wet-weather gear, however, will ensure you enjoy your stay. Ocean temperatures hover around 20C, which is pleasant for snorkelling in a wet suit. You can hire one from the resort dive shop for around AU$20 ($25) per day.

My daughter and son-in-law have just got a job at an eco-project working with elephants at a village a couple of hours out of Mae Hong Son, in northern Thailand. When is the best time to visit, and what activities in the region do you particularly recommend? - Anne Willmann

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater write:

The best time to visit most of Thailand is between November and February, as it rains the least and isn't too hot. In the northern provinces, the hot season (March to May) and early rainy season (June to July) are not bad, as temperatures are moderate at higher elevations.

Once you've finished learning the tricks of the mahout (elephant caretaker) trade, there are trunk-loads of activities to choose from. Northern Thailand is a mecca for hill-tribe trekking; the most popular centres are Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. There are benefits, though, to arranging a trip outside these popular tourist destinations as prices tend to be lower, companies smaller and friendlier, and the treks more likely to venture into remote areas. Ask fellow travellers for recommendations, or get your daughter and son-in-law to ask around.

Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum is also a good place to pick the brains of those who have been there before you.

You could also consider taking a course. Chiang Mai is a good option for this, with offerings such as Thai cookery, Buddhist meditation and traditional massage. Architectural enlightenment can also be enjoyed at Chiang Mai's distinctive temples, famous for their intricate woodcarvings, colourful murals and steeply pitched roofs.

If you get tuckered out on temples you could get into the rural groove of Pai, where the hippie trail is alive and well.

This cool, moist corner of a mountain-fortressed valley has a solid music, art and New Age scene that has settled in along with the town's more permanent population of Shan, Thai and Muslim Chinese. The town itself can be explored in a matter of minutes, but the real adventure lies along the paths in the hills beyond.

One of the easiest mountain escapes, the 100km Mae Sa-Samoeng route makes a good day trip with private transport or a country getaway with an overnight in Samoeng.

- NZ Herald

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