Camp Island, Whitsundays: Your own private island for $225 a night (a person)

The sun's not even up yet and it's already warm on Magnetic Island. In Queensland, where the locals famously get up with the chooks, the island's taxi drivers won't be lured from bed till the night-loving possums and backpackers have tucked themselves up for the day.

I'm feeling the heat: my chopper departs before first light and there's no way to get to the helipad. The dilemma is solved when the manager of my accommodation – the Bungalow Bay Koala Village – flips me his own car keys with the instructions, "Just stick them under the car mat when you're done." That's so Maggie.

Scraping in by the seat of my pants (who knew Maggie has two helipads?), the thrum of the helicopter echoes in the pre-dawn gloom as pilot Naomi pulls up the chopper's tail and we're off to Camp Island, the second most northerly of the Whitsunday Islands.

Privately owned by three Brisbane families, Camp is offshore from Guthalungra, halfway between Airlie Beach and Townsville. And when you take it, you (and up to seven friends or family) take the whole island. On Camp Island, you don't have to share. It may be $1800 a night, but between eight people, that's just $225 per person.

The resort runs on two speeds: you could boat out to the island and self-cater, or ramp it up and lash out on helicopter transfers and a private chef.

With Magnetic Island and Townsville behind us, the Queensland coastline stretches out beneath my feet – a string of tiny fishing villages surrounded by mangroves and barramundi-filled creeks – one road in, one road out.

Finally, Camp Island reveals itself, a little comma-shaped isle within Abbot Bay. The resort occupies one fifth of the island, the rest is an offshoot of the Cape Upstart National Park on the mainland.

Camp is just three kilometres offshore, but it feels as though we've been tipped onto the edge of the horizon. There's no sign of human life on the coastline, no fishing boats on the king tide. The world is reduced to 17.5 hectares with just myself, owners Catherine and Rob, the island's live-in managers Lizzie and Pete, and their lean, yellow-eyed kelpie, Bobbie.

Despite the island's name, this is a tent-free zone. Accommodation is in four stylish little bungalows, and number three is mine. All polished timbers and white linen, the glass doors open to a wide veranda and the bay in all its shades of blue. For the next couple of nights, I leave the doors open and a slow fan running overhead, listening to the gentle shush of the tides.

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In my normal, Melbourne life, I never see as many sunrises as I do in Queensland: mornings here find me fossicking around the massive kitchen for a cup of tea before sun-up, and sunsets are best watched from the main pavilion's wide verandas, where turquoise hammocks dance in the sea breeze.

It's wildlife central: in August, whales gambol out the front of the lodge, showy dolphins and grazing turtles are regulars in these waters and, closer to home, what appears to be a bump in a rug in the lounge turns out to be a massive, fat skink, which Pete extracts, tail first.

One morning, we motor out to Coconut Bay in Little Upstart, the island's small barge, where we kayak and swim, and I swear I'll get a grip on my stand-up paddle. Hunkered down, balancing against a fast, incoming tide, 15 kilograms of wet red dog leaps on my board, snapping at the waves. Bobbie, you're not helping, mate.

Another morning, Little Upstart chugs stoically into the waterways of Elliot River, and Rob, the island's majority shareholder, can't help himself. Even while we're chatting, he's casting, flipping a healthy-sized mackerel into a bucket while a not-so giant trevally is thrown back. The queenfish refuse to be lured by our lines, but we toss a few crab pots into the fecund mangroves, which ring with croaks, whistles, groans and creaks of a thousand unseen creatures.

The waters are bountiful: Bowen prawns land on the table, and a coral trout is steamed with sesame oil and garlic. We crumb Rob's mackerel and flash fry it, while Lizzie, a chef by trade, makes a thick cheesecake with local mangoes to fuel us fisherfolk.

"I lose track of the days," she says, and it's become my new motto. We snorkel through the coral gardens off the western shore, float lazily in the pool while cloudwatching, chip oysters off the rocks and walk to the highest point of the island, where the small resident mob of wallabies skips along the island's ridge.

It's only as the sun sets, the Milky Way rises and we're sitting around a fire on the coral-crusted beach with G&Ts in hand that I see lights on a distant headland. The only other sign of life is the Adani-operated Abbot Point coal terminal.

Turning my back on the coal monstrosity, my heart overflows for all the wildlife we've seen the past few days – the wallabies, the queenfish, the dolphins, the mud crabs, the sea eagles and green turtles. And yes, I even feel the love for the fat skink.

THE DETAILS

STAY

Self-catering stays on Camp Island cost from $1800 a night, sleeps eight (whole island, self-catering, boat transfers from Guthalungra) or with a private chef, from $3600 a night. See campisland.com.au

On Magnetic Island, Bungalow Bay Koala Village's ensuite bungalows cost from $155 a night. See bungalowbay.com.au

FLY

Helicopter transfers from Townsville cost from $2295 one-way, three people maximum. See townsvillehelicopters.com.au

The writer travelled as a guest of Townsville Enterprise, Townsville Helicopters and Camp Island.

See also: Undiscovered Australia: Our most remote holiday destinations

See also: Off limits for 45 years, you can finally visit this iconic spot

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