Why you need Lizard Island on your holiday radar
“This beach is too crowded,” my husband says as we approach Mermaid Cove in our dinghy Liz 2. I snicker – there is only one couple lazing on the shore – but I also agree: we can find a less-crowded beach here on Lizard Island.
Accessible only by private charter from Cairns – which doubles as a scenic flight over a tie-dye of brilliant blue sea – this small paradise is located at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef. It was declared a national park in 1937 and a marine park in 1974.
Today, it’s home to the ultra-luxe Lizard Island Resort, part of Luxury Lodges of Australia and one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.
And yes, we do find a ‘less-crowded’ beach. On Lizard Island, this isn’t difficult – with 24 private beaches and no more than 82 guests at any time, you’re almost guaranteed to enjoy your own stretch of sand.
We drop anchor just around the corner at Watsons Bay; the only sound is that of the turquoise waters lapping at the side of our dinghy.
I dive off the edge of the boat. The water is magic; but nothing was to prepare me for the magic we were about to experience under its surface. Watsons Bay is home to the breathtaking Clam Gardens, where giant clams – some up to two metres in length – live among the coral.
We glide above admiring their majestic colours of neon blue and deep purple. We also spot bright blue starfish, sluggish sea cucumbers, various schools of fish darting in and out of the seabed, as well as resident groper Simon, who weighs a whopping 200 kilos.
Emerging from the water, I am giddy with excitement at what we’ve seen. How often can you experience the Great Barrier Reef in complete solitude? And some of the most spectacular reef I’ve seen to boot.
While the island has not escaped the wrath of mother nature (both Cyclone Ita and Cyclone Nathan devastated the island in 2014 and 2015 respectively), coral bleaching, or the crown of thorns starfish, it’s a relief to see there are positive signs of resilience and regeneration around the island.
Lizard’s outer reefs are also home to some incredible dive sites including the world-famous Cod Hole, where you’ll likely spot friendly potato cod, grey reef sharks and tropical reef fish.
Contributing to the reef’s management is a world-class research station owned by Australian Museum, where scientific studies are conducted in a bid to learn about and help to conserve this natural wonder and other reefs around the world. Tours of the research centre are available twice a week for resort guests, or if you want to do your bit, there’s also the opportunity for highly qualified divers to become a research volunteer.
For non-divers, there’s outdoor maintenance volunteer work available (enquire at the Australian Museum).
Indeed, Lizard Island Resort packs a punch when it comes to unique experiences.
Guests can paddleboard or take a glass-bottom sea kayak around pristine Anchor Bay and its coral reef; join a guided walk with the resident naturalist – you may spot the island’s namesake, the monitor lizard; take on the steep four-kilometre hike to Cook’s Look – a summit that Captain Cook had climbed as a means to map his way through the maze of coral; or hire a dinghy and head out to explore the island’s beaches with a gourmet picnic.
Private fishing charters, snorkelling and diving tours, and night dives can be arranged at an additional cost. And, although there is no dedicated kids’ activities or a kids’ club, children 10 years and older are welcome.
Despite all of the outdoor activity, it would be easy to return from a holiday at Lizard Island with an extra notch in your belt, with all food and beverages (excluding premium spirits) included in your stay.
We dine at the relaxed but elegant Salt Water restaurant for most of our meals, however, there’s also Marlin Bar which is a more casual option with pizza, burgers and tapas.
Even the mini bar is stocked daily with complimentary soft drinks, juices, beer, wine and snacks, so we never want for anything. But if you do want something extra special, you can book a personalised seven-course degustation to indulge in beachside as the sun sinks behind the horizon (charges apply).
The epitome of understated luxury, the guest suites are light, bright and airy with natural timber floors, white panelled walls, plush lounges and soft furnishings in neutral tones.
All the small details are covered, such as Bang & Olufsen Bluetooth speakers, premium bath products, beach towels and beach bags, umbrellas, and an evening turn-down service.
We could while away hours in our beautiful villa, admiring the view, taking dips in our private plunge pool, and sipping on cocktails that are delivered to us with flawless, but relaxed service.
On our final afternoon at Lizard Island, we do end up sharing a beach with someone… I am lazing about on the sugar-white sand of Casuarina Beach when suddenly my husband who has gone for a walk starts urgently gesturing for me to join him further down the beach.
I notice he’s not alone as he stands waist deep in the water; there is a dark figure swimming nearby him. I pick up my pace until I can finally hear what he’s calling out – “Turtle! Turtle!”. It’s one of the most magical animal encounters I’ve ever had, swimming in the aquamarine sea with a green sea turtle, with no other soul around to disturb us.
Lizard Island is truly special. Yes, it does cost a pretty penny to come here – but this remote speck in the Coral Sea delivers on relaxation, luxury and natural beauty in spades. Speaking of spades, you may want one on your final day to dig yourself a hidey-hole; it’s one of those places that is very hard to leave.
PS. Ticked the Cod Hole off your dive bucket list experience? There’s only 10 more to go on this list.