Guide to Lizard Island

Discover why the Great Barrier Reef’s Lizard Island is one of Sir David Attenborough’s favourite places in the world.

Photography: Elise Hassey

Elise Hassey

Perched atop a large rock, at the highest point of a track known as Chinaman’s Ridge, we’re waiting for the sun to rise. A blanket of floss sits overhead, casting an ethereal glow over Lizard Island. Below us, the resort is still and serene; our fellow guests yet to wake. For the island’s permanent residents, the day has begun. All around us, lizards rustle in the undergrowth and birds sing and squawk in perfect discord. We watch as a swarm of fish glide up and down Anchor Bay beach, following their metronome as they swim back and forth, back and forth. The movement is hypnotic and we relax into an almost-meditative state. But there’s trouble brewing.

To our right, three blacktip reef sharks slowly saunter around the headland, combing the reef below for breakfast. They spy the cloud of school fish and stealthily make their way to shore, before shifting into turbo gear to cause maximum chaos and commotion. The serenity is shattered as fish fly out of the water, desperate to escape the feeding frenzy. The sharks exit stage right only to return minutes later with the extended family, eager to join the breakfast buffet. A total of eight sharks, including several infants, circle below us, their every move visible through the brilliant, clear water. It’s like watching a scene from a David Attenborough documentary in real time. As if on cue, a turtle pops its head up to say hello in a moment of pure comic relief.

Lizard Island is said to be one of Attenborough’s favourite places in the world – a claim we have struggled to fact-check. But it’s certainly true he has visited the island, first in 1957, before the original resort was built. And most recently in 2015, when he made the documentary series Great Barrier Reef. His visit led to one of the island’s 24 private beaches being named after him. And now Attenborough Beach is home to one of the most exclusive holiday properties in Australia, where guests have exclusive access to a luxury launch throughout their stay, as well as a private chef and host, to cater to your every whim.

The House is still under construction when we arrive, following a nearly three-year build. It’s close enough to completion to take in its sweeping views and admire the signature green quartz benchtops that adorn the kitchen and master ensuite. Perched on a remote point to the northwest of the island, the three-bedroom house is a marvel of modern engineering, made entirely from concrete cast on site. Throughout, custom carpentry using New Guinea rosewood brings warmth and a sense of nautical luxury to the property. On the roof, the terrace mirrors the sundeck of a super yacht, complete with a hot tub surrounded by bar seating, while a clifftop infinity pool offers equally staggering views.

Once complete, The House – and its neighbour, The Cottage – will be available for hire for those seeking absolute privacy and luxury. At $16,000 per night for two guests (minimum three-night stay, plus $4000 per night for each additional couple) it may just be Australia’s most exclusive – and expensive – getaway.

Of course, there’s still plenty to enjoy back down at the main resort, which has been welcoming holidaymakers since 1975 and was most recently renovated in 2015, after it was smashed by cyclone Nathan. Last year, rich-listers Andrew and Nicola Forrest purchased the island through their private investment company Tattarang but the resort management remains unchanged. Today, the resort comprises 40 private villas, including beachfront suites and ocean view villas with private plunge pools. Guests can choose to spend their days exploring the island any number of ways, including driving themselves in one of the resort’s motorised dinghies, which are complimentary to all guests. Speak nicely to the team at the Beach Club and they’ll set you up with everything you need for a day’s adventure, including snorkel gear, beach umbrella and an esky filled with a selection of chilled drinks and tasty treats.

Between Anchor Bay and Watson’s Beach, you’ll find the Clam Gardens, which are particularly good for snorkelling, or you can head further afield to Turtle Beach (a misnomer as this is not the place to spot turtles) and Mermaid Cove (another misnomer). Or for another Attenborough-worthy experience, join a guide and head out in a glass-bottomed kayak to spend an afternoon silently gliding over the surrounding reefs, spying on blue spotted stingrays and angelfish along the way. As you float just inches above the technicolour marine life, you’ll again find yourself feeling as if you’ve stepped into one of the naturalist’s award-winning films.

After a day spent exploring, you’ll be ready for some sustenance and executive chef Winston Fong and his team have things well covered with his daily menus at Salt Water, which pair every meal with panoramic views of Anchor Bar. Locally caught seafood features extensively and may come in the form of flame tail snapper sashimi with sour plums and Sichuan pepper; or perhaps a squid-ink spaghetti with blue swimmer crab and chilli. All accompanied by wines from the island’s extensive cellar collection, with the option to upgrade to something extra special if you choose.

Or you can really push the boat out and book the dégustation beachside dining experience, which features seven polished courses of local delicacies, including Fraser Isle crab, Mooloolaba scallops, painted crayfish and coral trout, paired with the likes of Bay of Fires Pinot Gris and Louis Jadot Chablis.

It’s during this experience, we have our final Attenborough moment, as a small friendly skink is drawn to the nearby candlelight and its halo of flying insects. Little does he know, he is not the only one in search of dinner, as a heron elegantly stalks into view. Before any of us have time to register what’s happening, the heron has struck, capturing the skink and munching him merrily in full view of our table. It is the natural world, up close and in action. Sir David would approve.

If you’re ready to book…

Lizard Island is a one-hour flight from Cairns, with private transfers departing from East Air Terminal, which is a 10-minute drive from Cairns Airport. Rates for Lizard Island start from $1969 per night for a garden view room. The rate is inclusive of all meals, minibar and a selection of quality wine, beer and spirits, as well as snorkelling gear, sea kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and motorised dinghies. Click here to start your adventure.

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