Lizard Island, Queensland: Australia's very own fantasy island

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest island getaway of all? Long the island of choice for celebrities and A-listers, Lizard Island, the most far-flung resort on the Great Barrier Reef and fresh from a $45 million post-cyclone makeover, looks again set to take the crown for comeliest in the land.

Its natural beauty, with a sweep of fringing reefs circling a turquoise lagoon, already put it ahead of the pack. Add 40 decadent new villas boasting superlative beach views, attentive service, and the best of mod Oz cuisine, and surely you have Australia's best barefoot luxury resort. 

We experience the best of Lizard's reincarnation over a four-day stay.

Within hours of stepping off the plane and being presented with a cold scented towel, I phone my husband to tell him we're coming back for a longer stay; having found the island resort worth staying home for.

I can hear him gulp as he asks the price. "It's worth it," I say watching our seven-year-old float on the turquoise sea.

Kate Hudson famously referred to Lizard Island as 'the most romantic place on earth'.

She splashes in excitement, yelling, "This is even better than the pool". Now there's an understatement.

Later we wade through Lizard's languid waters, which lap the powder-soft white sand of Casuarina Beach. A private picnic has been set up in the shade so we can play castaway on one of the most exquisite beaches on earth.

We're joined by fellow guests from Britain, who gape at our idyllic surrounds in disbelief.

"This is pretty special, even for Australians, surely?" they say to me: more as a statement than a question. 

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One of Lizard's boats dropped us off at the secluded beach, which also goes by the name of "Turtle Highway", for a snorkel followed by lunch of sushi, seafood and fresh fruit. Sure enough, within minutes off donning mask and fins, I see my first green sea turtle feeding on sea grass, completely unfazed by my presence.

I watch as she tugs the grass on the sandy ocean floor. Minutes later I spot a second smaller turtle cruising the shallows, in search of lunch, while further along the beach at least another 10 are spotted.

"Yes, this is pretty special, even for Australians," I say as I rejoin the English family back on the white sand, having never got that close to turtles before. 

The rebirth of Lizard Island, which first opened in 1975, has unfortunately been fraught with setback after heartbreaking setback. It was weeks away from unveiling its multimillion-dollar rebuild after Cyclone Ita when in a cruel twist of fate it was battered yet again by Cyclone Nathan.

The second cyclone delayed the reopening until June this year, and when we arrive finishing touches are being made to the new and expanded spa, the redeveloped Marlin Bar and reconstruction of the Pavilion with its spectacular 270-degree panorama of Anchor Bay, Osprey Island and Sunset Beach.

It's where Kate Hudson stayed, the actress famously referring to Lizard Island as "the most romantic place on earth". I get what she means now – not only is it conducive to romance, but the island itself seduces you in the most subtle and charming way.

One of the upsides of the cyclone, American general manager Joe Bann explains, is every room now has a view of either Anchor Bay or Sunset Beach. It also allowed Delaware North, owners of Australians resorts including Heron Island, El Questro​ Wilderness Park and Kings Canyon Resort, to rebuild and relaunch the iconic Lizard Island as a completely new product. So far, guest feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and everyone I speak to raves about Lizard's reincarnation.

The newly refurbished and redesigned villas and suites by Hecker Guthrie are almost as impressive as the natural beauty of the island itself. The feel is contemporary beach chic rather than opulent luxury.

Our Anchor Bay Suite is spacious at 87 square metres, decked out in neutral, beachy tones with enormous glass sliding doors opening out to a private deck with beanbag and double day bed – the perfect spot to take in panoramic vistas of the beach with a glass of chilled sauvignon blanc in hand.

In front of the suite, lush green lawn dotted with palm trees rolls down to the powdery sand of Anchor Bay. The rooms, designed in collaboration with OVP Architects, feature B&O sound systems, plush beach towels, Parisian La Biosthetique amenities and artwork by Melbourne artist Sally Ross. Seriously, I could live here.

Set atop a ridge, meanwhile, are the new Sunset Villas, some of which come with plunge pools overlooking the Coral Sea, while the newly finished Villa has two bedrooms, butler's kitchen, luxurious deep bath, spacious deck and private infinity plunge pool overlooking two beaches.

The Sunset Villas are best suited to amorous couples; the Villa for families or friends travelling together. But to be honest, there's no bad room to be found on Lizard Island. 

If mention of the C word (children) scares you, never fear. Lizard remains primarily an adult's-only island, with children (six and over) allowed only during school holidays and kids 10 years and older at other times.

But whatever time you happen to be here, it's easy to find a secluded spot all to yourself, given Lizard boasts 24 private beaches. Lizard will even pack you off with a picnic hamper and your own motorised dingy for private exploration above and below the Coral Sea. 

During our time, we take a ride on the glass-bottomed boat to see the giant clam garden, snorkel, collect shells along the beach and spend an inordinate amount of time in the water.

Days start with a glorious pre-breakfast swim, are followed by incredible a la carte meals in Saltwater Restaurant, and end with sunset drinks at the Driftwood Bar, where guests gather to share the day's adventures. 

The food by executive chef Mark Jensen, who previously worked on Lizard as both executive and sous chef, is impressive.

The menu revolves around uncomplicated dishes sourced as locally as possible. Most of the produce comes from Far North Queensland, and fresh ingredients arrive daily on the charter flight from Cairns.

A couple of favourite dishes include the fish cakes, and the melt-in-the-mouth Asian beef cheek. Dishes are paired with wines hand selected for Lizard by Australian sommelier​ and wine critic Jeremy Oliver. 

As we lap up the last of the golden rays spilling across Anchor Bay, extracting every possible moment out of our short but sweet stay, we pass a Korean guest stopping to admire another glorious Lizard sunset.

A couple from the US recline on sun lounges with a glass of wine.

"It doesn't get better than this," they say, raising their glasses as we walk by. Seriously, it really doesn't.

The writer stayed as a guest of Lizard Island.

Five of the best things to do on Lizard Island

Take a self-guided hike to Cook's Look, which Captain Cook climbed in 1770 in search of safe passage. On the climb to the 360-metre pinnacle, take in impressive views of Watson's Bay, the outer reef and across the entire island. At the top, sign your name in the log book. 

Explore the clear waters and rich marine life of Anchor and Watson's Bay with one of Lizard's incredible new glass-bottomed kayaks. It's like snorkelling but without getting wet.

Book in for a naturopathic consultation at the new Essentia Spa ($150) for a complete health assessment. A personalised Australian bush flower essence or naturopathic formula will be concocted to take home with you.

A sunset cheese and wine cruise ($95 per person) is a terrific way to enjoy Lizard's magnificent sunsets, and take in dramatic views of the island bathed in golden light. 

Go for a dive at the Cod Hole, a reef-encircled sand patch renowned for its huge, but friendly, potato cod. It's considered one of the world's top 10 dive sites. 

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

www.lizardisland.com.au 

GETTING THERE

Tiger Air operates direct flights to Cairns from Sydney and Melbourne. See tigerair.com.au. Jetstar, Virgin and Qantas also operate direct flights to Cairns from Sydney and Melbourne. From Cairns, East Air operates up to two 60-minute flights a day to Lizard Island, booked through Lizard Island. Private transfers are organised by Lizard Island between Cairns International Airport and East Air. 

STAYING THERE

Garden View Rooms (which actually now have a neat beach view, post-cyclone) start from $1699 per night twin share. Room rates include gourmet meals, unlimited non-alcoholic beverages, selected fine Australian wines, beer, spirits and sparkling wine, in-room mini bar, picnic hampers, use of non-motorised water sports and motorised dinghies. 

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