It’s the cream of Queensland’s tropical isles and Lizard Island will blow your mind with its step-off-the-sand coral reefs and 24 glimmering, white-sand beaches.
A secluded bay-hop away, huge coral bombies crowd the Blue Lagoon. Hidden between four extraordinary granite islands, the lagoon comes alive with a kaleidoscopic cavalcade of lime and tangerine reef fish gnawing on the coral.
What’s more, Lizard’s diversity of marine life is astounding. There’s harmless reef sharks, moray eels, octopus and sea turtles, and a day’s diving at the Cod Hole on the famous Ribbon Reefs is just a quick boat ride away.
On land, you can hike to faraway Coconut Beach and climb Cooks Lookout’s 359 metre-high granite knoll for mind-blowing, 360-degree views and a peek at an Indigenous ritual site just below the summit (2 hours return).
In any other destination Lizard Island might be just another rich persons playground. Instead, an incongruous mix of castaways share this national park-protected sanctuary.
There’s five-star resort guests, grotty yachties and fly-in campers who pay in pocket change for their rustic slice of heaven. And in true Aussie-style, the resort’s Marlin Bar gathers everyone together at sunset for al fresco cocktails and chilly beers on a frangipani-fringed lawn on the edge of the sea.
There’s three ways to experience Lizard on any budget:
1. Five-Star Spurge
Honeymooners dominate the scene at Resort Beach, splurging on opulent stays at five-star Lizard Island Resort. The ultimate seaside villa costs a mere $5999 per night and every whim is indulged.From cocktails to glass bottom reef cruises, boat rental and Moreton Bay bug lunches, resort guests are treated well with all-inclusive getaways.
The resort was all-but leveled by Cyclone Ita back in April 2014, but a $45 million dollar makeover later, luxury has been restored and rooms are more lavish than ever.
2. Play Robinson Crusoe
Jump one cove north to Watson’s Bay (Mrs Watson’s Bay to be precise) and discover Australia’s most spectacularly located fly-in campground. Custom-made for self-sufficient adventurers, the beautifully primitive beachfront campsites cost just $6.55 a night.
The scene here is much more inclusive and come sunset, campers, seakayakers and yachties gather on the sand to celebrate the day with sundowners.
Lizard’s national park camps are perfectly positioned for snorkelling stints on Watsons Bay’s famous Clam Garden. Kick off along the excellent reef wall on the northern edge of the bay to eyeball harmless reef sharks and moray eels.
All campsites come with picnic tables, free gas barbecues and a toilet, and drinkable water a short walk away. You’ll need to BYO food, camping gear and maybe a folding sea kayak so that you can circumnavigate the island.
What else to do? Take a hike to the blissfull Blue Lagoon and abseil down the rope that drops you onto remote Coconut Beach.
3. Sail to Paradise
Calling all yachties: raise the sails in Cooktown and by day’s end you’ll be dropping anchor and plunging overboard, soaking up a glorious watery sunset with a cold ale and feet dug into the sand.
The best part – this king of island stays won’t cost you a cent (a fact that has many resort guests curling their toes).
Be warned though: sailors who arrive in their luxury catamarans and humble monohulls, on world cruises and coastal cruises to The Tip, routinely find themselves waylaid by Lizard’s considerable charm. Here, ‘one-more-day’ turns into weeks before trade winds turn and travellers weigh anchor.
The enormous appeal of the island aside, Lizard’s dry season anchorage in Watsons Bay is excellent. It’s well protected and comfortable in the strongest southeasterly trade winds, and the white powdery sand makes for solid, sleep-easy holding.
Get on board
Whatever your budget, getting to Lizard Island is easier than you might think. There are twice-daily flights during the north’s dry season (May to October) when marine stingers disappear and the snorkelling is sublime.
When you go, find your way to the historic ruins of Mary Watson’s Cottage. This early island inhabitant heroically escaped an Indigenous attack back in 1881 by setting to sea in a beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) boiling down tank with her four-month-old baby Ferrier and Chinese servant Ah Sam.
After nine long days at sea, all three died of thirst on Watson’s Island in the Howick Group, but Mary’s heroic story of survival endures.
Lizard Island is located 240km north of Cairns. East Air flies twice daily $710 return, lizardisland.com.au
Book national park campsites online parks.des.qld.gov.au and visit from May to September.