A private island retreat satiates the soul
AS OUR TINY PLANE BOUNCES in and out of the clouds a mere 1,000 feet above the turquoise waters that span Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, I am overcome with fear. I should be excited: The few travelers who get to visit Lizard Island – a luxurious eco-resort famous (in well-heeled circles) for its A-list celebrity clientele – probably don’t find themselves questioning their vacation selection. The men in the plane remain calm as our pilot reaches into his briefcase and pulls out … a map! Immediately, a Spanish woman and I lock eyes in horror. As I feverishly attempt to unclench my teeth, a question slips into my head: Is a luxury tropical vacation worth risking not only your savings – but also your life?
After landing safely on the resort’s private airstrip, experiencing the white rattan lobby and taking in the breathtaking view from the main lodge, my fears began to subside. The notion that this island – and its sole resort – were going to live up to their extremely high expectations took a turn for the better.
Located an hour’s flight north of Cairns, Lizard Island is a 2,470-acre national park perched aside Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. With no day-trippers allowed, the guests staying in Lizard Island’s 40 elegant wooden villas are assured the island’s 24 white sand beaches are all theirs. Here, you won’t experience the glitz and glam of other large international resorts. And while the service is elegant, albeit understated, it’s the secluded beaches bedazzled with breezy palm trees, unlimited access to Australia’s sparkling blue ocean, and the endless swath of rainbow-colored reef that make a trip to Lizard Island a high luxury experience.
“People just feel that sense of privacy,” says general manager Anneka Brown. “We don’t have cell phone reception and only limited Internet access. People say they can relax faster here than anywhere else.”
The island certainly had that impact on Hollywood beauty Kate Hudson. She called Lizard Island the “most romantic place in the world” after a stint here filming Fool’s Gold with Matthew McConaughey. Hudson recently told the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail: “It’s a fantastic place with amazing food and beaches, just ridiculously luxurious. If you’re into romantic beach holidays with beautiful sand and clear, crystal-blue water, this is it – the ultimate.”
Although the staff keep tight-lipped about their guests, its rumored that Charlize Theron, Teri Hatcher, Tiger Woods and Phil Jackson have all bedded down here.
While international celebrities continue to flock to Lizard Island, the real stars of the show are underwater, feeding on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Considered the largest marine park in the world (and an official World Heritage Site), your best bet for exploring the reef is to book a SCUBA dive or snorkeling trip on the resort’s private boat, the MV Serranidae.
Conditions dependent, the captain will navigate you to the famed “Cod Hole,” where you can swim with giant potato cod so tame you can actually pet them. Colorful coral fields, giant clams, thousands of fish, turtles, rays, sharks, sea snakes, and even dugongs (a relative of the manatee) are all reef residents. In Australia’s winter (June to August), guests have found themselves swimming with both humpback and minke whales.
Lizard Island’s Beach Club manager, Brutus Newbold, also recommends an excursion on the resort’s 51-foot, six-passenger luxury sport fishing vessel, the MV Fascination. Utilized for cruising, diving, and fishing trips, this vessel is a hot commodity during marlin season (September through December), when the famous black marlin arrive at the outer reef. Trolling with light tackle can produce anything from au (marlin) to ahi (tuna), ono (wahoo) or ulua (giant trevally) – each of which can be prepared for you by the island’s talented chefs.
The highlight for many guests is exploring the island’s beaches on one of 10 motorized dinghies available at the Beach Club. Ask for a gourmet picnic basket and set off on your own to enjoy a magnificent white-sand beach in total solitude. Gliding across the tranquil water, champagne in hand, we landed on our own private cove for a day of leisurely swims, snorkeling and a blissful picnic lunch.
For a day out of the water, there are walking trails of all lengths and difficulty surrounding the island. Opt for Watson’s Walk, a one-hour trip from the resort that takes you to the shores of Watson’s Beach and the remains of a stone cottage where the first European inhabitants of the island once settled. For a little more history (and exercise), lace up your shoes and trek up to Cook’s Look, the highest peak on the island. Here, Capt. James Cook hiked to spot a safe passage to guide his boat out of the treacherous Great Barrier Reef. Cook wrote about this trek in his journal, where he formally named Lizard Island after observing its only inhabitants.
Document your own arrival with an entry in the visitor’s book located in a protective wooden box at the main lookout point as you enjoy the remarkable 360-degree views of the island.
If relaxation out of the sun is more your style, head to Azure Spa, managed exclusively by the Elemis Spa company. Delve into a range of treatments – from massages to exfoliating body scrubs, facials and its signature “Ocean Wraps.”
Lizard Island is an all-inclusive resort experience, with all meals and alcohol included in your daily room rate. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the main lodge overlooking the ocean, where an open table will always be waiting for you.
The food is stellar, featuring a variety of local seafood, high-quality meats (Wagyu beef, duck), with the occasional Australian delicacy tossed in (kangaroo, anyone?). A signature drink is created every evening; there’s also a perpetually open bar.
While most guests don’t spend very much time in their rooms, there is no shortage of jaw-dropping views from most villas. Our Sunset Point villa is perched high on a bluff with panoramic bay vistas peeking through the trees. The Anchor Bay Suites are a little larger, nestled right behind the beach at Anchor Bay. All suites and villas have patios with daybeds and hammocks, as well as fully loaded mini-bars that are restocked daily with fresh-baked cookies. The jewel of the property is The Pavilion, a penthouse suite that features an infinity pool and sweeping views of the ocean.
You know an experience is worthy when the hardest part of it is leaving. After four days immersed in the unspoiled Australian tropics, I found myself more relaxed and in touch with the environment than I ever imagined. I reached such a state of serenity, it wasn’t until after the hourlong plane ride back to Cairns that I remembered my harrowing introduction to the dream that is Lizard Island.