Conserving the Great Barrier Reef around Lizard Island
In the remote, northerly section of the Great Barrier Reef lies Lizard Island, or Dyiigurra, as it is known to the local Aboriginal people. While we recommend a number of fantastic isles in this vast area of Australia, this one's beauty and wilderness are second to none.
Lost among the labyrinth of reefs, Captain James Cook passed the island on 12th August 1770. He commented, “The only land Animals we saw here were Lizards, and these seem'd to be pretty Plenty, which occasioned my naming the island Lizard Island.” Today, it feels as secluded from the rest of the world as it would have done then, as I discovered when I visited earlier this year. You also cannot walk for a minute without seeing the back of a mammoth lizard clearing your path!
I had my first glimpse of the splendour and diversity of the Barrier Reef on my flight to Lizard Island, which is located 150 miles north of Cairns and can only be accessed by small plane. To see one of the planet’s most remarkable natural gifts from above felt like such a privilege. I shared the flight with an Australian family travelling with a troupe of excited teenagers and a couple from the UK. The scale of the reef, stretching a colossal 1,840 miles, stunned us all. Viewing it from a distance, you can fully understand how this is the only living thing on earth visible from space.
Lizard Island is located directly on the Great Barrier Reef and is, therefore, in a prime position to host some of the best coral reef researchers at its renowned base for tropical marine exploration. The Lizard Island Research Centre, a coral reef research facility, is owned and operated by the Australian Museum. I spent a morning here, learning about the fascinating marine conservation work taking place, which is something I would certainly suggest to all our clients, as it puts this special place into context.
The hotel plays second fiddle, as such, to the conservation efforts underway here, occupying just a small area, with just 40 villas and rooms. I would describe the decor of Lizard as contemporary Australian seaside. I stayed in an Oceanview Plunge Pool villa, which like all of the rooms, are spacious and furnished elegantly and simply. The ‘pool’ was very much a ‘plunge’ and I’d expect it would only be used on a very hot day. I preferred to swim in the sea or the large communal pool for a few morning lengths before breakfast! My favourite rooms were the Beachfront Suites, which have direct access to the beach, allowing guests to swim and snorkel on a whim at any time of the day or night.
The scuba-diving is run by an excellent team that is on hand 24/7. The world's most extensive coral reef system is one of the richest areas in terms of faunal diversity, containing 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc. It truly does not disappoint, and taking boat trips out to the inner and outer reefs from Lizard offers snorkelling and diving for all levels of experience.
Even the crystal-clear waters off the beach are unparalleled for swimming and snorkelling. I saw incredible giant clams, which my guide explained were more than 120 years old, as well as sea turtles, octopuses and a whole host of beautiful fish straight off the shore. In addition, you can head off on a private boat to find a secluded cove on which to spend the day swimming and relaxing. The lodge’s chefs will provide you with a delicious picnic hamper to take with you.
Out of the water, there are tennis courts, a gym and a spa, as well as many superb hiking trails, including a half-day hike to Cook's Look, aptly named after Captain Cook who once climbed the island's summit to find a way through the maze of reefs.
For me, the food was another big highlight and some of the best I’ve experienced in Australia, especially their delicious BBQ, with the widest array of fish and shellfish I’ve ever seen. There is a bar and lounge – one of the few places where Wi-Fi is readily available – and the Osprey Restaurant, which has a menu that changes daily to showcase the incredible local produce and fresh seafood, depending on the catch of the day.
Lizard Island is somewhere to go now, while the Great Barrier Reef still delivers the most spectacular underwater experience imaginable. Beneath the cobalt sea, with its teeming sea life, another world of brilliant, vivid coral awaits – one that is transforming drastically due to climate change.
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