First there was Ita, then there was Nathan. Two cyclones and nearly $50 million later, the all-new resort on Lizard Island has opened. Helen Anderson surveys the scene above and below water.
Ita was in no hurry to leave when she visited Lizard Island. Before checking in about 6.30pm on 11 April last year, she'd been forecast as a ferocious category-five tropical cyclone, and with winds up to 158 kilometres per hour she hung around for 12 hours. The worst possible guest.
The island had been evacuated a couple of days earlier, and staff returned in Ita's wake to find the luxury resort destroyed, trees uprooted and the lush greenery stripped. An 18-metre catamaran blew into the camping ground. The two remaining walls of Watson's Cottage, standing since the 1880s, collapsed.
At the height of the clean-up and feverish rebuilding project that followed, 250 construction workers lived in tents on the island. Just shy of a year later, and a week before the resort was due to reopen, Nathan arrived. Residents of far north Queensland braced; resort staff on Lizard Island were evacuated again. But the cyclone passed the island, approached the mainland with less fuss than expected and headed back to sea.
Staff had returned to Lizard Island and were cleaning up when Nathan changed direction and, on 20 March, returned as a category four cyclone, circling the island with winds up to 180 kilometres per hour, destroying whatever vegetation remained or had regrown after Ita. Built to withstand category five cyclones, the new resort buildings withstood the gale (the older and most exposed hilltop pavilion blew down), but paintwork and floors were sandblasted and debris was everywhere. And so the clean-up and restoration began again.
Two cyclones, 15 months and nearly $50 million later, the all-new Lizard Island has opened. The resort's 40 weatherboard villas arranged in pairs are as dazzlingly white as the sand they sit above, some facing the gentle curve of Anchor Bay, others perched above boulder-strewn Sunset Beach. The ocean views are particularly lovely in the late afternoon as a sunburn-red sun lingers above the horizon, then drops like a stone. This is the time of day to retire to daybeds or beanbags on villa verandas - or the plunge pools in six of the Sunset Point Villas and the two-bedroom Villa - or wander to the dress-circle central pavilion for sundowners.