A freelance writer who can't resist good food and exploring new places. Visit my blog at www.travelchook.com
Published March 2nd 2013
Exclusive Lizard Island for under $6 a night
The thought of twenty four pure white sand beaches with turquoise waters lying smack on the Great Barrier Reef kept me awake at night - Lizard Island National Park beckoned. I'd dreamed about it for years and now I knew I just had to find a way to get there.
Photo by Belinda Brooks
The problem was that Lizard Island is exclusive. With only one small isolated swanky resort costing upwards of fourteen hundred dollars a night (this is not a misprint) on the island, I finally had to face the fact that I was not a rock star and had to choose a cheaper place. However, I was already fixated on Lizard Island and practically frothing at the mouth every time I thought of it. With a bit of investigating, I found an option to suit not only my budget (struggling student at the time) but my cousin Belinda's budget (struggling artist at the time) as well.
At a little over five dollars a night per person, we booked five nights at the Lizard Island National Park campground. The campground is small, a permit is required and numbers are limited, but we were informed there was a pump to get water from and an environmentally friendly toilet (no digging holes - whew). However, there was a catch of course. There was no kiosk, no shower, no grocery stores, nowhere to buy food or drinks.
Photo by Belinda Brooks
Somehow, we had to find a way to fit our tent, cooking facilities, sleeping gear, snorkelling gear, food, all other camping and personal items into a plane with a maximum weight of 32 kilos per person. Flights to Lizard Island are run by Hinterland Aviation, but flight bookings must be made through Lizard Island Resort itself. We had to advise the dimensions of our camping gear to ensure there would be sufficient room on the plane.
We flew from Brisbane to Cairns. From Cairns we boarded a five seater plane to Lizard Island. I was lucky enough to be seated next to the pilot. The one hour scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef is truly spectacular. At around $590 per person (return) , it isn't cheap, but we had smiles on our faces the whole time. The water was a glorious transparent light blue, clear enough that we could see the fascinating reef formations underneath.
Once we landed, the Pilot threw out all our gear, smiled, and said "it's a bit of a hike with gear to the campgrounds, about forty minutes, head down that way," he pointed. "Good luck".
After hauling all our gear along the track (it took a few trips back and forth) to the campground at Watsons Bay, we were exhausted but excited. There was actually a gas barbeque at the campground (which had run out of gas) and a picnic table.
Watsons Bay view from Camping Ground - Photo by Belinda Brooks
Lizard Island lies approximately 250 kilometres from Cairns which makes it one of the most difficult islands to get to, but adds to its exclusivity and untouched beauty. Commercial charter vessels travel to Lizard Island from Cairns, Port Douglas and Cooktown. Being so far off the coast, there are not supposed to be any crocodiles or stingers at Lizard Island. But we were advised to take the precaution of wearing stockings while swimming just to be sure. Walking along the beach we spotted sea turtles literally just a few metres off the sand. The place is teeming with marine wildlife.
Much to my delight, the sand on Lizard Island is every bit as white and silky as it looked in pictures, the water every bit as turquoise as promised. With so much to explore, five nights was barely enough. We were the only ones camping there and the island is so secluded and private that we didn't see another soul on all the beaches we visited at all (except Watsons Bay where there were a few yachts). The beaches are exceptional and my biggest regret is not taking a camera (seriously, I don't know what I was thinking). Luckily Belinda had her phone to take a few pictures.
Sitting right on the Great Barrier Reef with special places like the natural Giant Clam Garden, the famous Cod Hole, and the Blue Lagoon, it is no wonder Lizard Island in renowned world- wide for its diving and snorkelling.
Just snorkelling straight off the beach in Watsons Bay alone fulfilled every snorkelling fantasy I've ever had. Although, coming face to face with a Titan Triggerfish staring at me aggressively with its massive sharp teeth on show had not been part of that dream. I was almost hypnotised by it to begin with. I stared at it and it stared at me back, standing its ground. Its body language overcame all language barriers and sent me racing back to the beach in alarm. That is one face I will never forget. On the flight back to Cairns I asked the Pilot about the Titan Triggerfish He informed me that it can get very nasty, particularly during reproductive season and had bitten several people he knew of. But I wouldn't have missed it for anything.
Besides the twenty four pristine secluded beaches, Lizard Island has some great walking tracks. The steep hike to the summit of Cooks Look provides panoramic views around the island. However, hungry hikers need food, and by day three we had to seriously ration our food. Luckily we discovered the Marlin Bar at the luxury Resort was open to campers one of the nights during our stay for pizza and drinks. We made the trip, hot footing it down there in record speed. Off duty staff were there in droves. We discovered that at one time Russell Crowe had been a regular guest and had enjoyed his honeymoon there. Those that had met him said he was actually a really down to earth nice guy that enjoyed a good yarn and a laugh with the staff.
If you are happy to fork out around seven thousand dollars for five nights, I would recommend staying at the luxury Lizard Island Resort which is regarded as one of the world's best beach hotels. However, if like most people, the piggy bank baulks at the thought of it, but you still want to experience one of the most amazing islands in the world, try the camping like we did for around five dollars a night.
Overall, if you are ever going to have just one camping trip in your life and want spectacular snorkelling, powder white sand beaches, jewel like seas and total isolation, then Lizard Island National Park is it.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR CAMPERS: Just make sure you bring enough food, and tablets to make the water safe to drink, or something to boil the water with. Take a map of where specific highlights are. Be prepared to do a lot of walking to get around to different parts of the island - it is well worth it.