Fraser Island Retreat, review: Camelot, down under

Read our writer's views on this property below

Kate Nancarrow finds her own fantasy island where life is rather presidential — Australian-style, of course.

We board the Marie Lyn ferry in Lakes Entrance as a bunch of 30 city friends aged from 10 to 69 and, after a half-hour cruise through the Gippsland Lakes shepherded by pelicans and swans, we alight as the weekend custodians of a private island.

It's a fast, if temporary, transformation from city slickers saddled with routines, mortgages and bills to an antipodean version of the Kennedy family's life at Hyannis Port.

For four days and three nights we have the run of Fraser Island Retreat, a 30-hectare island that was once the holiday home of the Syme family, who founded The Age.

We make ourselves at home in an 11-bedroom homestead complete with games room, swimming pool, two tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course. There's an island to stroll and lakeside sandy beaches to explore; we quickly realise how "the other half lives" is delightful and we take to it easily.

Fraser Island was sold two years ago to a Melbourne couple, and its centrepiece, the Edwardian timber homestead, has been given a facelift that continues the Cape Cod feel: there's lots of chalk white and timber, with a few rooms painted that perfect muted red favoured by interior designers.

The living and dining rooms have roaring log fires and there's a huge kitchen filled with everything you could think of. We try to find something they don't have but give up when we find a drawer full of creme caramel pots.

Teenage boys are happily banished to the bunk house beyond the swimming pool while the rest of us work out configurations of the 11 bedrooms. Some open directly on to the wide verandahs, which seems very Famous Five; two are huge with en suites and sleep five. There's good-quality linen and some cute lighthouse bedside lamps.

With the homestead sleeping 38 and the bunkhouse another 12, our group of 30 spreads out easily.

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Island life, even the Gippsland version, runs at a slow pace and our days are spent mooching through breakfast, and then perhaps an island stroll to look at the kangaroos. Occasionally there's a cry of "Tennis, anyone?". The children commandeer the well-equipped games room and career around the island on the bikes provided.

Adults move between a bit of golf, then a rest by the pool, mojito in hand. Sunsets across the lakes are spectacular, whether viewed from the verandah or the sandy shoreline. By the second day, we're relaxed to the point of not wanting to leave and, really, the greatest stress on Fraser Island is trying to find a weekend that suits everyone for a return visit.

And then we ate Fraser Island Retreat is often used for weddings, so the commercial-scale kitchen is impressive. There are two enormous gas stoves, another grill top (like in an old-style hamburger joint), four fridges, a huge ice machine and everything from champagne glasses to ramekins. Outside, the barbecue area includes a pizza oven, in which we make damper. The poolside gazebo is perfect for shady lunches. We didn't get around to fishing but saw many schools of fish near the top of the water, who looked like they were desperate to be caught.

The deal maker Having our own island was intoxicating: the kids ran wild with games of hidey and tag - even the teenagers. Adults who'd never played golf putted along unselfconsciously, knowing there were no groups following on.

Stepping out A local water taxi will take you anywhere you want to go on the Lakes.

VISITORS' BOOK

Fraser Island Retreat

Address Gippsland Lakes, via Lakes Entrance, Victoria.

Phone 5156 3256; see fraserislandretreat.com.au.

Price $2000 a night for exclusive use of the island, including the homestead, which sleeps 38, and a 12-bed bunkhouse. There are often deals giving three nights for the price of two, which we took advantage of.

The verdict Like a resort but just for you and your friends. All the cooking together and dancing by the pool feels like The Big Chill — you either love it or hate it. We loved it.

Getting there Lakes Entrance is about 3½ to four hours' drive east of Melbourne via the Princes Freeway. Fraser Island Retreat is 30 minutes by private ferry from North Arm jetty. The island also has an airstrip.

Ideal for Groups of friends, team-building, Christmas in July, weddings, family gatherings.

Wheelchair access No.

While you're there Take a water taxi to Ninety Mile Beach.