For more than 20 years Lizard Island had the top end of the market to itself.
It was the benchmark against which all Australian resorts were judged. Well-heeled internationals insisted it be included on their itinerary, home-grown celebrities used it as a bolt hole and the rest of us aspired to join them.
But things change. It’s a bit more crowded at the top since Kangaroo Island’s Southern Ocean Lodge, Saffire on the Freycinet Peninsula and Wolgan Valley in the Blue Mountains opened their doors.
Lizard hasn’t been getting the mentions she used to. Well, that’s about to change because Lizard has. She’s had a serious spruce up.
Wisely, her newish owner, Delaware North, has not tried to reinvent the wheel. Despite the big reputation, Lizard is not at all intimidating or, heavens forbid, glitzy.
When you get down to tin tacks, Lizard’s trump card, besides being the northern-most island on the Great Barrier Reef, is that she is the quintessential Australian beach house, albeit one that can house 80 guests and comes with warm and welcoming staff who seem to know what you need before you articulate it.
And like any beach house anywhere in Australia, within minutes of arriving you feel like you belong… and that you might never want to leave.
The resort is not big, although the island is – 1013 hectares. The facilities, including spa, pool, gym, library and the 40 guest bungalows, are nestled in among the vegetation along Anchor Bay, one of the island’s 24 picture-perfect beaches.
The main pavilion, which is where you do your eating, drinking and socialising, has got the wow factor in spades. It’s one big open room and veranda. There’s lots of wood, comfortable sofas and banquettes (upholstered in crisp striped cottons courtesy of the recent refurbishment), a well-stocked bar and tables and wicker chairs define Ospreys Restaurant (above).
It’s gorgeous but the view is better. How could it not be?
Hopefully, you’ve seen the colour of the waters of the Great Barrier Reef for yourself, so you know it’s impossible to describe adequately. At Lizard add a white sand beach, glimpses of rocky islands and a small flotilla of super-smart yachts, marlin boats, dive boats and dinghys into the picture. Divine.
There’s no pressure do anything at Lizard and that, I reckon, is the secret of its enduring appeal. You can loll around all day staring at that view if that’s what you want.
The expansive day beds on the verandahs of the guest bungalows are perfect for just that, let me assure you. That said, most guests are on Lizard to see the reef.
The Beach Club down one end of Anchor Bay is where you pick up your snorkle or dive gear, borrow a dinghy or organise a fishing trip – this is marlin territory – and it’s the starting point for organised snorkelling or diving trips to either the inner or outer reef.
Cod Hole, one of the highly rated dive sites is about an hour away.
But my suggestion for those who can’t bear the thought of leaving the island, would be to grab a dinghy and putt round to Watson’s Bay, the next cove along from Anchor Bay, where there is some sensational coral.
If you want to do the Robinson Crusoe thing, the staff will pack a picnic for you and if skippering the dinghy is too much of a stress, they’ll do the hard work, such as it is, and pick you up from your room and then drop you back there at the end of your excursion.
The rooms are the stuff of perfect bliss. Vast bed, sofas, verandah (with that irresistible day bed) spacious bathroom, great sound system, no TV – there’s one in the guest lounge where you can access free WiFi as well. But, best of all, most are right on the beach.
I’m talking 20 seconds from bed to beach. Those that aren’t quite that close make up for it with expansive views.
Meals and most drinks, including an impressive selection of premium wines, are included in the tariff. Chef Mark Jensen and his team do an extraordinary job of plating up quality tucker in such a remote location – Lizard is 240km and an hour by plane from Cairns.
The menu for lunch and dinner changes daily. Seafood features strongly and if you’re a fisherman Jensen will prepare your catch of the day. You can rock up pretty much at any time you’re hungry and be fed and you don’t have get frocked up even for dinner if you don’t want to. Just like at any beach house.
If I was going to build a beach house on a remote island fringed by coral and impossibly beautiful blue water, I would reproduce Lizard right down to blue ceramic bowls of water outside the rooms for washing sand off your feet.
And then I would pinch the staff to come and look after me and my friends. Is there any higher recommendation from a beach-loving Australian?
Fast Facts: A two-night stay on Lizard Island starts from $3400 a room and includes all meals, a selection of premium alcoholic beverages and a range of activities including motorised dinghies, snorkelling and gourmet picnic hampers.
For more information go to www.lizardisland.com.au