At the northernmost tip of the Great Barrier reef, 17 miles off the Queensland coast, Lizard Island couldn’t be more remote. With 24 ivory-white beaches to bask on, you’re guaranteed privacy, and, with, some of the most spectacular diving, fishing and snorkelling on the doorstep, the hotel’s as much a magnet for adventurous ocean goers as it is for romance-struck couples in search of real desert-island relaxation.
11am, but flexible subject to availability. Check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £1080.89 (AU$2,049), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of AU$7.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates includes three meals a day, non-alcoholic drinks, a selection of wine, beer, basic spirits and Champagne, in-room minibar, picnic hampers, and the use of motorised dinghies, stand-up paddle boards and clearview kayaks.
For a full-on pamper, Lizard Island’s Essentia Day Spa specialises in body polishes, couple’s treatments and invigorating massages. There's no mobile phone coverage or reliable internet on the island so switch off and chill out.
At the hotel
Spa, gym, tennis court, library with books and games, TV lounge with free internet. In rooms: Bose sound system and free minibar.
Our favourite rooms
Book into one of the Beachfront Suites (numbers 23 to 26) for a room with an expansive balcony offering glimpses through the trees to the tranquil turquoise waters of Anchor Bay and Sunset Beach, and a path straight from balcony to beach. The Gardenview Suites, (rooms 17 and 18) are most suitable for families. In summer, stay in one of the Oceanview Villas – numbers 5 to 8 look out onto Sunset Beach, where the sun sinks spectacularly below the horizon in the summer months. Honeymooners and celebrities usually opt for the Pavilion – secluded, luxurious and boasting sweeping beach views, a wraparound sun-deck and a private plunge pool.
Surrounded by palms and with the sea as a backdrop, the hotel’s freshwater pool is lined with wooden decking and cosy cushioned loungers.
The hotel provides almost everything you’re likely to need, including snorkelling gear, wetsuits, beach towels and insect repellent. Do bring an underwater camera, however, to make the most of the unforgettable undersea panorama.
Two-night minimum stay, and an Environmental Management Charge of AU$6.50 a person, each day (capped at AU$19.50) will be charged. A surcharge applies for credit-card payments (1.5% for Visa and MasterCard, 3% for Amex).
Tables 9 and 10 are the top spots for admiring the view by day, but once the sun goes down there’s no view to speak, so any table will do. Although the resort doesn’t do reservations, staff may make an exception if you've a proposal in mind.
Gucci sandals (the boardwalks eat heels), flowy sarongs, big sunglasses and even bigger hats.
Osprey’s – named in honour of the birds nesting on the tiny island that are visible from the restaurant – serves Modern Australian dishes with a seafood bias and a barbecue every Friday. It’s set in an open semi-circular building, with lacquered hardwood flooring, comfy wicker chairs, chunky granite tables and gasp-inducing views.
Guests sip champagne and swap stories at the restaurant's L-shaped marble bar. Cocktail nights are held every Thursday in the gazebo.
Osprey’s cooks its last dishes at around 9.30pm, and the bar closes at midnight.
Not available as the resort is so spread out, but request a free picnic hamper if you fancy a beach outing.
Lizard Island is Australia's northernmost island resort. 240km north of Cairns and 27km off the coast of Queensland, the resort is set amidst 1,000 hectares of land and marine National Park, covering 24 sugar-white sandy beaches and one topaz hued lagoon.
Cairns Airport (www.cairnsairport.com) services international and domestic carriers, with regular flights from major Australian cities, as well as direct flights from Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Auckland. From Cairns you will have to take a one-hour transfer flight to Lizard Island; the hotel runs flights seven days a week at 11am and 2pm from Cairns to Lizard, and 12.25pm and 3.25pm from Lizard to Cairns. Prices are $780 per person return and from 1 April 2024, prices are $900 per person return.
Queensland Rail (www.qr.com.au; 13 16 17) offers two Tilt trains and three Sunlander departures from Brisbane to Cairns weekly. You will then need to fly from Cairns to Lizard Island.
This unspoilt tropical island paradise is thankfully a non-auto atoll.
Private transfer charter flights to Lizard Island (from Cairns, Sydney and other major airports) are available on request. Talk to the staff at Lizard Island if your entertaining this option. If you choose this option, the local government tax will not exceed AU$19.50 a guest.
Worth getting out of bed for
You’re at the northernmost tip of the Great Barrier Reef, so there are a plethora of water-based diversions on offer. You can also book half- or full-day dive trips on the resort’s boat around dozens of top scuba sites, including the famed Cod Hole, where you can hand-feed colossal potato cod. Back on land, while away an afternoon on the tennis court or arrange a private beach picnic.
Salt Water Restaurant is the only dining option on the island – there's nothing by way of civilisation except the resort and the research station. Not that that's a bad thing, given that all meals are included and the five-course tasting menu will fulfil all fine-dining requirements.
Pigs can fly. And when they jet to Lizard Island they can swim, snorkel, sail and scuba dive, too. They can even charter private dinghies to secluded beaches and frolic on the sand. For this little piggy, Lizard Island promised one long trough (for two) – a rare opportunity to swine and dine and snuffle out truffles in paradise. ‘Take my trotter,’ I told my love. ‘We’ll live high on the hog 24/7 until they drag us squealing wee-wee-wee all the way home.’
Mrs Smith and I fly to Lizard Island from Cairns at the northern tip of Queensland. It’s a 240-kilometre, hour-long flight and our four-seat plane is soon dwarfed by the duelling big blues of ocean and sky. Below is the only patch of the planet where two World Heritage-listed locations – the Great Barrier Reef and ancient Daintree Rainforest – kiss. It’s here Lizard Island looms into view. From a distance, its thousand-hectare sprawl is as Captain Cook discovered it in 1770, but closer inspection reveals the jewels that make it so exotic and exclusive a getaway.
Lizard Island resort sounds like a love shack built by God and Godzilla, yet a short bus trip from the airstrip reminds us of its Marine National Park status. There are no manicured gardens or sprinkler-strewn golf courses here. Instead wild scrub and rocky mountain ranges dominate an interior hemmed from a turquoise sea by powdery white sand and a nexus of 40 private villas, rooms and suites overlooking Sunset Beach and Anchor Bay. Our TV-free timber Anchor Bay Room is nestled amid a forest of trees with a day-bed and balcony bang on Watsons Beach. One quirk: it’s a share suite. Tiny cute geckos dot the walls and, in the days to come, we strike a deal: they keep the insects down; we let them share our digs and drink our wine.
The resort’s nucleus is the Lodge, home to a grand bar and restaurant whose decadent contents are totally free for the duration of our stay. And what marvellous liberties it affords us. Crude reminders of the real world – wallets, cash, credit cards, watches and mobiles – are stowed. Hell, there aren’t even keys to the suites or price lists for the minibar. On Lizard, you come, go and do exactly as you please. And what pleases us immediately after arrival is toasting our new home from the Osprey’s Restaurant by swilling several mojitos, pigging out on cuttlefish salad and rabbit ragu, and soaking up a panoramic view of the wide blue yonder that, like the food and booze, is absolutely priceless.
Alas, while gluttony is encouraged on Lizard, our plans to render inactivity an art form are diverted by the Beach Club. Here we’re kitted out with snorkelling gear and given our own motorised dinghy and a picnic basket laden with delicious treasures of the sea and soil. Soon we’re puttering across the Blue Lagoon to deserted Mermaid Beach. Donning masks and flippers, we gorge on the glories of the Great Barrier Reef: swarms of neon-bright fish grazing hectares of spectacular coral gardens and underwater canyons filled to the gills with enchantments like starfish, stingrays, squid, sea cucumbers and giant clams older than us and lit from within by flickers of electricity and mystery. It ignites our own passions and we clamber back to land and roll blissfully in the sand. Afterglow accompaniment? Fat prawns, fresh fruit and chilled champagne. Happy daze.
In the days that follow we’re tempted to explore Lizard Island’s other delights – the various walks, dives, fishing trips and yachting available to guests, the tour of the research station on the island’s south side and the ruins of a stone cottage of an ill-fated early settler – but the truth is we simply can’t be bothered, and here that’s respected. Instead, we while away mornings in a haze of lobster omelettes, breakfast beers and reef snorkelling. Afternoons are spent beachside with books, cocktails and covert dips between rocks and hard places. When tropical night falls, we wander to Osprey’s and mercilessly assail the bar while running riot through chef Mark Jensen’s ever-changing menu of gastronomic triumphs. Finally, with cheese platter and posh bottle of plonk in tow, we weave back to base and wink out on the day-bed, our soundtrack the trill of the birds and bugs in the trees and the lapping ocean beyond, and our cinema the reef of stars above.
Our final morn dawns with my finding a gecko in a glass of grenache. He’s dyed pink and pissed as, er, a newt. It’s a sign: the party is over. As he staggers into the bush, front desk rings to grant our request for a late check-out. (‘How late?’ they ask. ‘Christmas?’ Mrs Smith replies.) We can’t complain. Aside from an elbow-heavy masseuse and a siesta chainsawed by a ride-on mower, they’ve met our every whim and wish. Now, sipping one last cocktail, we try to tattoo on our mind’s eye the magic of a sacred place the Dingaal Aborigines know as Jiigurru. To them, this land mass is a stingray with Lizard Island as the body and adjoining rocky outcrops as the tail. Here, at the bar, it’s easy to believe it. To them and to us, Lizard Island will always be Dreamtime.