Planet View: S14°40.101’ E145°26.750’
Street View: S14°40.101’ E145°26.750’
Temperature: 21-29°C (70-84°F)
Water Temperature: 26°C (79°F)
The northernmost of the Great Barrier Reef Islands, Lizard Island was a stopping for point for Captain James Cook on his voyage in 1770 and named for the prolific population of monitor lizards that inhabited (and still inhabit) the island. Today the island is a National Park and houses the luxurious Lizard Island Barrier Reef Resort, an all-inclusive slice of paradise nestled in the foredunes at the northern end of the island. Boasting some of the best Black Marlin fishing in the world, access to some of the most lauded of the Great Barrier Reef’s SCUBA diving locations, exquisite all-inclusive accommodation and beautiful beaches dotted around the island, we absolutely couldn’t have dreamed for a better spot to wind up our journey around Australia.
An hour by plane or 15 hours by boat from Cairns, we spent five nights on the island with my mum, her partner Steve and his son Oliver, who made the trip from central California. We all met in Cairns the afternoon before catching a small Hinterland Aviation Cessna north to Lizard Island, a beautiful flight over the Great Barrier Reef and some of the islands between Cairns and Cooktown. The brilliant turquoise colour of the ocean in this area of the country is quite spectacular. As we descended and banked around Lizard Island all of us were in awe at the beautiful fringing coral reefs visible through the crystal clear water.
Our pampering didn’t take long to kick in after landing: met by one of the resort concierges we were escorted to a waiting coach as soon as we disembarked and all given cool, scented flannels to wipe our hands and faces in the humidity. The resort itself is set at the northern end of the island, a collection of private suites – most with ocean view of either Anchor Bay or Sunset Beach – connected to the main dining area by a series of pathways through the tropical flora. The facilities included a tennis court, a beautiful pool, in-house gym, day spa and a beach activities hut where small catamarans and dive gear were at our disposal. After a welcoming iced tea and introduction to some of the staff we were all escorted to our accommodation, Lisa and I had a beautiful suite overlooking Sunset Beach while our partners in crime had adjacent villas overlooking Anchor Bay. Lisa wasn’t quite sure what to do first: spend some time in the double-headed shower, attack our well stocked mini-bar, lounge on our deck with our private view of Sunset Beach or just relax on the down pillow of our king bed!
There’s a lot that goes into running the resort operation on Lizard Island. At any time there’s between 50 and 80 staff living on the island to tend to the guests. It’s somewhere we’d both happily return one day, the resort staff were all fantastic and a lot of effort goes into making sure that every guest is catered for. We couldn’t have asked for better accommodation whilst on the island, the view of Sunset Beach and all the beautiful sunsets were just something else. It was a very special spot, Rainbow Bee-Eaters would come in every afternoon and feed on insects just next to our balcony and the plethora of large lizards on the island were quite a sight.
We didn’t quite know where to start when we came across the bar pictured below on our first night at dinner. With a healthy selection of signature cocktails and plentiful choices of almost any spirit we could think of, we all enjoyed sampling some of Josh’s (the bartender) concoctions before and after dinner each night. One libation of particular note was the digestive Chartreuse that Josh had Lisa try one night after her meal, a 110 proof French liqueur that immediately opened the sinuses with its unique aroma. The food throughout our stay was an absolute highlight. The breakfast menu stayed constant with a selection of six or so dishes – my staple was usually a Moreton Bay Bug omelet or Eggs Benedict – served alongside fresh fruit and freshly squeezed juice. For lunch and dinner the menu was constantly changing, four or five dishes to choose from at each sitting, we often couldn’t decide and just had to sample the entire menu! Just amazing food, I’m pretty sure Oliver has a photo of every meal and menu we were delivered. I took quite a few food photos (all of which are viewable in the album to the above left) and included some of the standouts below. I can honestly say that we’ve never eaten such an extensive array of delectable, well-presented food in our lives. The wine list was also quite a standout: an impressive array of wines from across the world, beers from every state in Australia as well as a few international brews, and a very accomplished bartender who could create just about any cocktail one could imagine. I took photos of the wine list included in the album to the above left, I’m pretty sure Lisa sampled almost every by-the-glass wine on offer!
We made the most of the water sports on offer during our five night stay. Lisa and Jenni ventured out on the resort’s glass-bottomed kayaks during our first afternoon on the island, both commenting that it was a great way to see the reef from above. The shallowness of the reef in some sections of Anchor Bay in front of the resort dictated that the catamarans pictured here could only be taken out when the tide was above a certain level. Dodge tides for most of our stay – and high winds when the tide was high enough – unfortunately kept us from training for the America’s Cup team. We were, however, lucky enough to score a high tide with acceptable wind conditions on our last morning on Lizard, Oliver and I grabbing an early breakfast before heading out for a hell of a fun sail in Anchor Bay. We both realized quickly why the resort doesn’t allow the catamarans out in high winds: without a keel the boats easily find their way up on one hull. I had quite a giggle when I tacked in Watson’s Bay to see Oliver’s catamaran flipped on its side! Luckily he was able to right it quickly, such fun scooting across the water with the beautiful reef below. There’s a quick video of us sailing as part of the Lizard Island Movies blog if you have a fast internet connection…
If you don’t enjoy being in the water then Lizard Island is probably not the place for you. Surrounded by the striking coral of the Great Barrier Reef and roughly an hour by boat to outer reef dive locations, Lizard is a snorkeling and SCUBA diving paradise. During our first full day on the island the five of us ventured out on M.V. Serranidae to the outer reef. After the rough trip between Lizard and the edge of the Great Barrier Reef we were all ready to hop in the water, the brilliant turquoise colour of the water was unbelievable. I’m pretty sure I heard Oliver say that he didn’t know the ocean could be such a striking blue. Our first dive site was the world famous Cod Hole, named for its resident Potato Cod. All of us were quite excited to jump in the water to explore the world below after running across a couple of Minke Whales on the boat ride to the outer reef. Steve, Oliver and I donned our SCUBA gear while the girls snorkeled on the surface. The giant Potato Cod were like big puppy dogs, the largest of them rubbing up against us as we explored the reef and quite happy for us to scratch him under the chin as he swam around us. An amazing experience, I’d never interacted with such friendly fish in the wild before.
After our first dive we were dished up a brilliant lunch of roast chicken, king prawns and all manner of accompaniments. I’ve never eaten so well on a dive boat before in my life! Oliver jumped in the water with his underwater camera and snapped a video of the largest Potato Cod (see Lizard Island Movies) before we ventured north along the reef to nearby Dynamite Reef, named for its electric coral. Unlike Cod Hole, which is a slot in-between two reefs, Dynamite is a wall dive on the edge of a deep channel. While we did see some good-sized sharks in the water with us at Dynamite, we unfortunately didn’t come across any of the Black Marlin or Minke Whales during our dive that the dive masters sometimes see at the site. An awesome day, with underwater visibility in excess of 25 meters (82 feet) and some of the most amazing aquatic life on the planet it’d be hard not to have a memorable experience!
On our return to Lizard Island one of the dive masters pulled out a large Scaly Mackerel from a compartment at the back of the boat, sloshing it in the water while we all got ready to disembark. Before long there was a small school of huge Tawny Nurse Sharks poking their heads out of the water for a feed, obviously quite used to humans as the dive master was able to give them all a pat on the nose. But the sharks weren’t the main event: after a few minutes a gigantic Queensland Groper reared its head and swallowed the three foot long mackerel whole. The groper was awesome, he had to have been six feet long and weigh in excess of 200 kilograms (440 pounds). Lisa, Oliver and I jumped in the water with the sharks and groper on another day, having quite an adrenaline-filled experience as some of the Black Tip and White Tip Reef Sharks got themselves a little frenzied at feeding time. There’s a video of us in the water with the sharks on Lizard Island Movies (third movie from the bottom), it’s quite long and has a lot of blue water but there’s plenty of sharks flying across the screen.
We didn’t leave too many of Lizard’s snorkeling spots unexplored. Sunset Beach and Anchor Bay were adjacent to the resort, an easy walk to coral at our doorstep. Watson’s Bay housed the Clam Gardens and Watson’s Wall, both fun snorkeling sites with a plethora of colorful fish and even a turtle or two grazing along the sand next to the Clam Gardens. We hiked to the southern side of the island one morning to explore the huge expanse of Blue Lagoon, a sweeping area between Lizard and nearby Palfrey and South Islands. It was quite windy away from the protective hills shielding the resort, Lisa didn’t last too long in the water at Blue Lagoon but Oliver and I swam a couple of kilometers out to the wall demarking the edge of the coral with the open ocean. We made a beeline for the beach when Oliver spotted a Tiger Shark off in the deep blue, no thank you! The kids’ (Lisa, Oliver and me) favourite dive spot was at Mermaid Bay at the northeastern tip of the island. A location we could only access via boat, we dove at Mermaid twice and loved it both times. An unprotected wall drops off into the open ocean on the eastern side of Mermaid Bay, a few bommys on the edge of the wall were home to an unbelievable number of colourful reef fish. We were lucky to see some bigger pelagic fish cruise by when diving at Mermaid both times, some of the biggest Trevally I’ve ever seen and flighty mackerel whipped by in the distance a few times. On our second dive at Mermaid we all saw a giant Loggerhead Turtle cruising the ocean floor in the deeps. I dove down to have a closer look, Oliver and Lisa both commented that the turtle’s head was at least as big as mine.
Lizard Island is only small – a few kilometers across – but there’s a great hiking trail making its way up to the top of the only peak on the island. The walking trail to Cook’s Look was a roughly 1100 foot (335 metre) climb, the first half of the trail a steep clamber over sticky granite boulders. It was a little cloudy on the day we climbed the peak, had it been clear we would have had unparalleled views of the island, Blue Lagoon and adjacent Palfrey and South Islands. Regardless of the clouds it was a fun climb, all of us completely drenched in sweat in the near-100% humidity by the time we’d reached the top. A couple of days later Oliver found three thick books in his backpack, no wonder his bag was so heavy on the way up to the island’s peak!
What an awesome way to cap off our journey along the Queensland coast! A truly amazing location, Lizard is a part of our trip that we’ll remember fondly for the rest of our lives. Thank you so much to Jenni and Steve for having the idea to bring us all together on Lizard for a week, we both had a blast. And thanks to Oliver for all the underwater photos and Lizard Island Movies, we both enjoyed meeting you and will no doubt see you Stateside in a few months!
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