240km north of Cairns, Lizard Island is the largest in a cluster of six islands that form the Lizard Island National Park. The island has a summit of 358m known as Cooks Look. It’s quite a heart-thumping ascent to the top but well worth it for panoramic views of the string of outer reef. You’ll be following in Lt James Cook’s footsteps from 1770, when he was looking for a clear passage through the reef to open sea. Look to the northeast and you may be able to make out the route he named Cooks Passage between Day and Carter Reefs.
If you’re desperate to communicate with the outside world take your mobile phone with you: there’s some chance you’ll get Telstra coverage at the summit.
Lay of the land
Lizard Island is mostly covered in grasslands with the odd eucalypt woodlands, mangrove and paperbark swamps. Subject to southeasterly trade winds that blow mostly year round, Watsons Bay on the west side, with its sweep of white sand, is mostly protected from strong winds.
Named after the frightfully large, but harmless, Gould sand monitors that cruise the beach, Lizard holds strong cultural significance for traditional owners the Dingaal people. Sacred ceremonial sites and middens dot the island. The white fella has also left his mark, with the ruins of Watson’s cottage still visible at Watsons Bay. There’s quite a chilling story, resulting in deaths and a desperate sea voyage in a tub, attached to events here when white fella and black fella clashed.
Dive or Fish
The big attraction of Lizard though, is the surrounding reef concealed by sparkling waters coloured an almost iridescent turquoise by the sandy seabed. Being so close to the outer reef, diving and snorkelling are world renowned, with the Ribbon Reefs and Cod Hole premier dive sites.
Snorkellers at the Giant Clam Garden just off the beach in Watsons Bay will find
ancient specimens, some an astonishing 2m in length. Hovering on the
surface, it’s not unusual to see turtles foraging amongst the coral. The
sheltered reef-strewn waters of the enticingly named Blue Lagoon are
accessible via an easy 40 min walk past the end of the airstrip.
Somewhat more tactile are the game fishermen who descend on Lizard looking to hook the elusive Black Marlin. Tournaments are highly contested by fisho’s who fly in from all over the world, often sending their plush fully-crewed vessels ahead of them.
Campers are permitted (permit required from DERM) to pitch their tents in the coastal shrubbery behind the beach at the base of Cooks Look. The campsite looks out over dreamy Watsons Bay, a popular boat anchorage. Facilities include compost toilet, picnic tables and gas BBQ. The beach and the nearby Marlin Bar are popular gathering spots for campers and yachties at dusk.
Most visitors to Lizard though will stay either onboard the vessels anchored in Watsons Bay or at swanky Lizard Island Resort at the other end of the beach. An uber luxe retreat for a pampered few, room rates start at $1160 per night.
Well-travelled readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine nominated Lizard Island Resort in their Top Ten Oceania Resorts in 2010. Just one of a number of accolades the resort consistently picks up. With just 40 elegantly appointed guest suites, all with Bose sound systems, iPod connectivity, amongst other essentials, the resort is the exclusive domain of a select few. Suited to well-heeled couples and friends seeking sophisticated elegance, Pavilion guests will find chilled champagne upon arrival. Seriously sophisticated, children under 12 should be left at home with the Nanny.
Weary guests chill out at Azure Spa where ancient indigenous medicines combine with massage therapies to soothe stressed minds and bodies.
Lizard Island is located in both a (Yellow) Conservation Park Zone and a (Green) Marine National Park Zone. Check with GBRMPA for full details.
Sea – Charter a boat from Cairns
Air – Light aircraft from Cairns.
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