LIZARD ISLAND, Australia — It wasn’t the lizards that scared me. It was the shark.
It was a tiny, harmless reef shark, but to see a shark on the other side of your snorkeling mask while in Australia, home of some mighty shark-infested waters, can be jarring. Fortunately it was my only jarring moment on Lizard Island.
Lizard Island is a 2,500-acre national park that just happens to be home to a luxury resort on the Great Barrier Reef. The resort is the only development on the island (along with a marine research station), and the only way to reach it was by a small plane from the airport in Cairns. My trip here was ridiculously opulent, and I loved every minute of it.
This was a personal splurge. I was on a three-week getaway in Australia, and in between cities I was looking to relax. Lizard Island was the vacation from my vacation. As opposed to running around Melbourne or fighting crowds at the Sydney Opera House, my most difficult moments on Lizard Island were trying to decide which of the 24 private beaches I wanted to visit or what kind of wine to have with dinner.
I debated whether or not to write about Lizard Island. I was on vacation (technically my belated honeymoon), and also, I wanted to keep this place as private as possible. But because it’s only accessible by plane (just like the 1970s TV show “Fantasy Island”!) and the resort is the only place to stay, it’s unlikely — actually impossible — for its calm beaches to become overrun.
My room was minimal, modern, and beautiful. Despite being in a national park, there was nothing rustic about the experience. I was in a boutique hotel in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. As a rule I’m not a fan of all-inclusive resorts, but Lizard Island felt more like my own well-staffed private island. This was the first resort I’ve visited where you could arrange a boat to pick you up and deliver you and a picnic lunch to your own beach, complete with snorkeling gear. Or, you could take the boat out by yourself.
The dinner menu changed night to night based on available ingredients and executive chef Mark Jensen’s whims. I was partial to an evening of tapas that included a plate of grilled octopus, salsa verde, pickled vegetables, and charizo oil, and another of pumpkin arancini and smoked taleggio.
Although Wi-Fi service was limited to a few locations (to help guests unplug), the resort is all new. In April 2014 the secluded resort was hit by Cyclone Ita. It had undergone renovations but was directly hit again in March 2015 by Cyclone Nathan just days before it was scheduled to reopen. It finally opened after $33 million in repairs at the end of 2015.
There’s a spa, tennis courts, and all the amenities you’d expect at a resort of this caliber, but the real stars are the hiking trails, beaches, turquoise waters, and the reef. Scuba is an option, but I stuck to snorkeling. I felt as if I were in a tropical aquarium as I swam along with colorful schools of fish, giant turtles, and yes, those tiny, timid sharks.
LIZARD ISLAND RESORT Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Lizard Island National Park, Australia. The 40 suites are open year-round with rates ranging from $1,400-$4,423 per night, all inclusive (with the exception of cocktails). www.lizard