Australia’s island retreat for lizards and wealthy sailors

Fourth and last in a series from Queensland, Australia

Beach at Lizard Island Resort, Australia
Beach at Lizard Island Resort, Australia

Lizard Island, a beachy piece of the 1,200-mile Great Barrier Reef, is named for its primary inhabitants. They are joined, especially in Australia’s winter, by sailors, fishermen, campers, and other world travelers drawn by the reef’s bounty.

Most of Lizard Island is a national park. Swimmers and sunbathers head to secluded beaches, divers to the inner and outer reefs. The island’s Cod Hole is a dive site known for a dazzling array of tropical fish and the massive Potato Cod.

Two types of island accommodations are worlds apart.

Overnighters — those without a boat for sleeping — must carry all their gear to the camping area, which is 3/4s of a mile from the small plane airstrip. No supplies are available to the public. Click for park info.

Where the wealthy gather for a while

Or, if you have some serious folding money in your bank account, you may book a cottage at the famed Lizard Island Resort, which will pick you up at the airstrip, and transport the minimal amount of clothing that you will need, contained in the overnight bag that the plane will allow.

Cottages at Lizard Island Resort, Australia
Cottages at Lizard Island Resort, Australia

For $1,300 a night or so, you can live like the rich, with fine meals, a well-schooled service staff, plenty of sporting activities, and watercraft to take you to one of the island’s private beaches or to sites along the Great Barrier Reef to snorkel and dive.

Lizard Island Resort is one of those places that you read about for years in high end magazines, finally booking a cottage for a day or three, and upon arrival realize that you would rather stay for a few weeks. “No worries” is a phrase you hear often from the Australian staff. It means more than “You’re welcome” following a simple “thank you.” The response seems to carry a “Hey, that’s what I’m here for, so don’t even think about being grateful for it,” or something like that.

A guest’s primary task at Lizard Island Resort is to hang around the beach or pool between meals, being as active as you like (fish, snorkel, tennis, vegetate), occasionally checking a lonely resort computer for family emails, then resting on the daybed of your cottage porch until it’s time to make another decision.

Snorkeling where Captain Cook escaped in 1770

My partner Fran Golden and I joined a snorkeling trip toward the outer reef on the resort’s two-deck motor launch, built for divers. Oxygen tanks lined the main deck. We motored about 30 minutes east and anchored near North Direction Island, from which Captain James Cook‘s crew sighted an opening in the Great Barrier Reef in 1770. North Direction and nearby South Direction offer hills high enough to observe the crashing surf of the Reef’s outer ring. The surf is what astronauts can see from space. A break in the surf was the clue for Captain Cook’s men to sail the Endeavour through the coral on its way back toward England.

Snorkeling at North Direction Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Snorkeling at North Direction Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Our captain, Ben Cook (no relation to James, he said), maneuvered us close to schools of fish and giant clams, as big as a bear, sitting in the shallows, waiting for lunch to float by (no worries for swimmers: giant clams consume microscopic food in the passing currents).

Back at Lizard Island, we continued our snorkeling binge. Where the sand ends, nature’s aquarium begins. The beach dips on such a precipitous angle that within about 10 feet, you’ll find the dazzling show. The first guy I saw was deep blue or purple, a fish no bigger than my hand, wiggling in about 15 feet of water near the bottom, as clear as could be.

I happened upon a giant clam, clothed in greens and blues and a swath of purple. I floated above my clam for at least 10 minutes before swimming away reluctantly, knowing that it was an experience I probably never would repeat.

Should I stay or should I go now?

Relaxing at Lizard Island Resort, Australia
Relaxing at Lizard Island Resort, Australia

Our two days at Lizard Island Resort flew by. We met sailors whose yachts were moored off shore as they waited days for the winds to change, reducing their need to tack when  they sailed back south toward Sydney.

The first night, Fran and I had been invited to a going away party by a man and his wife who were set to leave in the morning on a substantial yacht, Born to Battle, with fishing rods stacked across the aft end in two rows. Their battle would be black marlin, like the stuffed fish, as big as a cow, that is displayed on a wall in a small Lizard Island bar.

Two days later, the fisherpersons of Born to Battle still were hanging around the docks, as we flew away from the resort.

Lizard Island is a hard place to leave.

Photos by David G. Molyneaux,

David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at His cruise trends column appears monthly  in U.S. newspapers and on other Internet sites, including AllThingsCruise  He is editor of

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