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The Lizard Island Experience    

   

On The Great Barrier Reef Where ‘Wilderness is Luxury’

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Isolated, miles   from   nowhere   off   the   coast   of   Far   North   Queensland,   Lizard   Island   Lodge   sits   right   on   the   Great   Barrier   Reef   in   a   wilderness   very   little   changed   from   when   Captain   Cook   landed  in  1770  looking  for  a  passage  out  of  the  maze  of  coral  reefs   that  had  trapped  him  in  these  tropical  waters  for  months.      

Great  Barrier  Reef  World  Heritage  Area     A  few  days  on  Lizard  Island,  now  a  terrestrial  and  marine  National  Park  under  World   Heritage  protection,  is  redefining  my  understanding  of  what  is  luxury.  It’s  not  only  the   place  I’m  fortunate  enough  to  be  staying  in.  It’s  how  I’ve  been  lucky  enough  to  be  lead,   to   literally   dive   into   unbelievable   outdoors   opportunities   that   staying   in   a   marine   National  Park  offers,  even  to  a  man  approaching  70,  as  I  am.     Lizard  Island  Lodge     The  uber-­‐comfortable  Lizard  Island  Lodge  villas  are  simply  uncomplicated  examples   of  ‘Queenslander’  beach  cottages  set  under  coconut  palms.  They’re  only  metres  from   white   sand   beaches   with   easy   access   to   a   sprawling   homestead-­‐type   veranda   of   the   main  lodge  for  al  fresco  dining  or  a  cocktail  at  sunset.  This  is  not  Architectural  Digest   with  manicured  paths  and  clipped  boxus  hedges.       Flying   northeast   from   Cairns,   over   coral   reefs   for   almost   an   hour,   the   turquoise   colours   below   simply   dazzle.   After   landing   on   the   island’s   airstrip,   we   make   our   approach   the   Lodge   on   a   sealed   road   through   typical   Australian   tropical   bush;   a   bit   dry   in   fact.   There’s   neither   tree-­‐lined   drive   nor   imposing   porte-­‐cochère on   arrival.   There   is   a   warm   welcome   from   very   natural   and   friendly   staff   over   sandwiches   and   mocktails  in  the  gazebo;  and  the  island  landscape  is  pretty  much  just  as  Captain  Cook   last  saw  it.     The  Beach  Club     Early  on  in  my  stay,  I  go  to  the  Beach  Club  for  equipment  to  go  snorkelling  over  the   coral  reefs  in  front  of  my  villa.  I’m  fortunate  enough  to  meet  a  very  helpful,  sun-­‐tanned   young   Ross,   who,   while   explaining   why   a   wet   suit   aids   buoyancy   when   snorkelling,   and   fitting   me   out   with   flippers,   mask   and   snorkel   as   well,   he’s   talking   of   “The   Perfect   Day”,  tomorrow.       “Come   on   the   full   day   trip   on   our   dive-­‐boat   to   the   Cod   Hole,   one   of   the   best   known   dive  sites  in  the  world.   It’s  on  the  northern   end  of  the  Great  Barrier  Reef.    The  fish  are   amazing.  You’ll  never  have  another  day  like  it,”  he’s  telling  me.       “Me?  Diving  into  a  Cod  Hole  at  the  outer  wall  of  the  Great  Barrier  Reef?  That’s  for  the   experts,  not  I.  But  why  not?  I’ve  flown  a  long  way  to  this  spot;  and  after  all,  I’m  right   here  living  on  one  of  the  Seven  Natural  Wonders  of  the  World.”     The  ‘Big  Day’  dawns  gloriously!  It  is  a  still  morning  as  we  head  due  east  towards  the   outer  reef  and  the  Coral  Sea  without  any  wind.  The  sea  of  so  many  blues  and  greens  is   even   calmer.   The   regulars   call   it   a   ‘glass-­‐out’,   a   rare   occurrence   where   the   sea   and   sky   become  one.  How  perfect  is  this?      

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The Cod  Hole     Conditions  at  the  Cod  Hole  are  tranquil,  more  than  I  can  say  about  me,  who  am  about   to  put  his  trust  in  God  and  jump  into  the  sea!  Climbing  into  our  wetsuits  for  the  first  of   our  snorkelling  adventures  of  the  day,  we  see  waves  from  the  Pacific  Ocean  breaking   on  the  reef.  Potato  cod  and  Grey  Reef  sharks  swim  around  the  dive-­‐boat  to  greet  us,   knowing   there’s   going   to   be   prawn   shells   after   lunch,   but   I’m   sufficiently   trusting   to   believe  Captain  Matt  when  he  says  they’re  not  maneaters.     I   give   my   rented   camera   to   Scott   asking   that   he   capture   underwater   images   of   me   and   some   of   the   fish,   for   the   record!   I   simply   can’t   concentrate   on   both   survival,   and   photography.     Jumping   off   the   back   of   the   boat,   I   bite   tightly   on   the   mouthpiece   of   my   snorkel   and   put   my   head   under   the   surface   of   the   water,   and   come   face   to   face   with   a   giant   potato   cod.   Floating   there,   mesmerised   (I’m   talking   about   me,   not   the   potato   cod),   and   amazed  that  my  wetsuit  is  indeed  keeping  me  afloat.  I  watch  a  row  of  circular-­‐shaped,   chocolate-­‐coloured  fish  with  two  vertical  yellow  bands,  feeding  on  the  plankton  of  our   mooring  rope  stretching  away  into  the  distance.  They  may  have  been  angelfish.  Scotty   comes  looking  for  me  to  join  the  others.  “Use  your  flippers;  not  your  hands”,  he  yells   out  to  me  as  I  strike  out  across  the  deep.     Finding  ‘Nemo’  and  Schools  of  Oriental  Sweetlip     We  are  so  fortunate  to  see  hundreds  of  diagonally  striped  Oriental  Sweetlip  appearing   enmasse  from  darkened  crevices  in  large  schools,  and  swimming  through  clear  sunlit   water,   and   around   towering   walls   of   coral   beneath   us.     It’s   only   a   few   weeks   a   year   that  these  schools  of  black  and  white  fish  with  bright  yellow  fins,  and  yellow  tails  with   black   spots   can   be   seen   like   this.   They   create   a   virtual   technicolour   wall   before   our   eyes  at  so  many  turns!       Finding   ‘Nemo’   the   clown   fish   was   not   as   easy   as   locating   the   magnificent   sea   anemones  on  the  ocean  floor.  Sure  enough,  Nemo  floats  out  of  his  protective  anemone   home,  winks  at  me,  and  smiles  for  the  camera.  Iridescent  blue  sea  stars  attached  to  the   coral   wall   add   even   more   spectacular   impact   to   this   magical,   fast-­‐moving,   underwater   vista.         Discovering  the  ‘New  Luxury’     This   is   the   ‘new   luxury’   for   me!   It   is   not   simply   a   pleasurable   self-­‐indulgent   activity   as   the  dictionary  suggests.   The  ‘new  luxury’  is  having  my  very  being  exposed  to  a  rare,   totally  unexpected,  extraordinary,  and  self-­‐absorbing  experience.  “What’s  moved  you   lately?”     Feeling  elated,  I  surface  and  climb  back  on  board  to  dry-­‐off,  before  settling  down  on   deck   to   a   picnic   lunch   of   fresh   prawns,   smoked   salmon,   and   cold   chicken.   The   crewmembers  are  so  excited  at  weather  conditions  being  so  perfect,  that  Captain  Matt   decides   to   head   north   in   the   direction   of   New   Guinea   for   a   second   dive   at   a   rarely   accessible  spot,  ‘No-­‐Name  Reef’.            

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Afloat, on  the  Edge  of  the  Great  Abyss     There’s  no  mooring  this  time  though.  Matt  is  disembarking  us  right  on  the  top  of  the   reef  wall  –  and  the  great  abyss  beyond.  There’s  a  drop  of  more  than  2,000  metres  to   the  ocean  floor  on  the  other  side!    He  informs  us  that  the  current  will  carry  us  along   the  wall,  and  he  will  be  waiting  further  down  the  wall  to  pick  us  up  an  hour  later.  A   lookout  crew  will  always  be  near  us  in  the  zodiac.     “Go-­‐go-­‐go”,   Scotty   screams   to   us   while   Matt   is   expertly   idling   the   engines   before   surging  away  from  the  reef  full-­‐throttle.       How  do  you  belly  flop  when  only  half  a  metre  from  the  water  and  with  long  flippers  to   break  your  dive?  Well,  I  do,  and  the  crash  pushes  my  snorkel  up,  filling  it  with  water,   and   momentarily   blinding   me.   It   takes   some   seconds   to   gather   my   wits,   empty   the   water,  blow  out  the  snorkel  before  grabbing  the  mouthpiece  with  my  teeth,  turn  over   and  float  facedown  –  becoming  absolutely  mesmerized  with  the  peaceful  underwater   wonderland  beneath  my  gaze.  It  is  otherworldly.     I  feel  the  water  from  the  ocean  to  be  colder  as  the  current  moves  me  down  along  the   wall   without   swimming.   Schools   of   fish   dart   in   and   out   of   shadowy   crevices,   and   brilliant   coral   formations   move   with   the   current.   Scott   is   always   on   the   lookout   swimming  over  or  shouting  out  ‘you  a’  right?’  So,  a  little  fearful  of  colliding  with  the   coral  reef,  I  opt  for  the  security  of  hooking  one  arm  onto  a  red  flotation  ring  and  let   Scott  pull  me  along  on  a  rope  for  the  last  part  of  the  adventure.  I  am  nearly  70  after  all,   and  I  reckon  I’ve  been  very  brave  to  keep  up  this  far!     Meanwhile,   back   at   the   lodge,   downloading   my   photos   lets   me   re-­‐live   these   life-­‐ changing   experiences.   But   it   leaves   me   looking   for   the   next   ‘high’.   Isn’t   that   so   often   the   case   in   this   hedonistic   world?   I   ask   myself,   “Why   not   take   a   boat   to   a   deserted   beach   for   a   picnic?   I   might   get   to   capture   those   amazing   turquoise,   aquamarine   and   navy  colours  of  the  waters  surrounding  the  island  that  I  seem  to  be  missing.”  Jan  and   Juanita   are   all   for   it,   and   knowing   it   will   be   a   ‘Michael   Photo   Opportunity’,   they   dutifully  traipse  off  to  the  boutique  and  buy  new  picture  hats.       Beach  Picnics     Gus  from  the  Beach  Club  zips  us  around  the  other  side  of  the  island  to  the  privacy  of   Hibiscus  Beach.  He  throws  the  anchor  into  the  sand.  We  clamber  ashore  in  cool  shin-­‐ deep  water,  and  I  choose  a  shady  spot  up  the  beach  under  the  casuarinas  to  drop  the   eskys  and  set  up  the  beach  umbrellas  (well,  Gus  does  all  that  carrying  for  us!).  More  of   the  smoked  salmon,  chicken  and  prawns  and  a  Greek  Salad  are  so  easily  washed  down   with  the  chilled  Pinot  Gris.       The   day   is   so   good,   we   plan   to   return   and   spend   more   time   swimming   and   snorkeling   the  next  day.  Little  did  I  sense  though  that  I’d  receive  a  call  after  dinner  asking  me  to   come   to   the   girls’   room?   Half   the   clothes   from   the   boutique,   on   loan,   are   laid   out   on   their  beds  as  they  fuss,  trying  to  choose  which  new  top  or  swimsuit  they’ll  buy  to  be   fashionably  dressed  for  yet  one  more  of  the  now  famous  “Michael  Photo  Shoots”.  Just   as  Queensland  Tourism  advertises,  "Beautiful  One  day,  Perfect  the  Next",  we  wake  to  a   perfect  day.  And  enjoy  another  perfect  picnic  with  a  beach  just  for  us.  And  photos  to   prove  it.      

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Time to  Kickback     For   once,   news   of   rolling   strikes   by   overpaid   aircraft   engineers   and   the   possible   cancellation  of  our  Qantas  flight  back  to  Sydney  doesn’t  faze  me  in  the  slightest.  I  can   so  easily   kickback  here  on  Lizard  for  another  day  (another  week!)  We  seem  to  have   been  very  busy,  but  I  have  enjoyed  lazy  periods  lying  out  on  my  verandah  drifting  off   listening   to   the   breeze   gently   rustling   fronds   of   the   palms.   Enjoying   the   water   activities   was   also   as   simple   as   rolling   off   my   day   bed   and   wandering   down   to   the   Beach  Club.  The  willing  band  of  smiling  young  qualified  people  down  there  couldn’t  do   enough   for   us.   I’d   hate   to   think   it   was   only   because   we   were   old   enough   to   be   their   parents!     I’m  not  really  a  ‘drinks  at  five’  person,  but  Ollie  behind  the  Cocktail  Bar  shakes  a  mean   lemon  daiquiri.    On  other  evenings  we’ve  been  tempted  to  share  conversation  and    a   glass   of   bubbly   with   international   guests   before   dinner.   This   is   even   more   special   when  general  manager,  Robyn  takes  time  and  invites  us  to  the  pavilion  perched  at  the   high   tip   of   the   promontory   to   watch   the   sun   dip   into   the   sea.   A   champagne   bottle   dripping  with  the  condensation  from  the  ice  bucket  sits  there  waiting  for  me  to  pop   the  cork  and  serve  the  ladies.       I  haven’t  realized  just  how  many  chefs  there  are  in  the  kitchen  to  cater  for  guests  in   just   40   rooms   until   the   night   of   the   BBQ.   There   they   all   are,   looking   so   scrubbed-­‐up   in   their  whites  and  blue  butcher’s  aprons.  Barbecued  scallops  and  Moreton  Bay  Bugs  so   much  sweeter  than  lobster  tails,  all  in  their  shells,  are  so  good  with  a  touch  of  the  char   grill  taste.  And  fresh  tropical  fruits  beat  the  chocolate  mud  cake  for  my  palate.       While   we   enjoy   the   BBQ,   anglers   taking   part   in   the   25th   Lizard   Island   Black   Marlin   Classic  are  celebrating  the  end  of  their  big  tournament  week  at  the  old  Marlin  Bar  in   an   original   building   further   down   the   beach.   Juanita   has   been   angling   to   get   on   one   of   the   boats   for   days,   and   I’m   left   wondering   if   she   succeeded,   judging   by   the   fun   and   laughter  I  hear  wafting  across  the  waters  of  Anchor  Bay  late  into  the  night.       ‘Wilderness  is  Luxury’     It’s   a   wilderness   experience   staying   on   Lizard   Island.   But   it’s   a   luxury   wilderness   combining   uninterrupted   natural   beauty   with   fine   dining   and   refined   comforts.   There’s  no  stress.  Everything’s  included  (even  that  second  bottle  of  Rosé  that  Juanita   had  the  kitchen  put  in  the  Esky  for  the  second  picnic!)       My  initiation  into  the  ‘great  wilderness  beneath  the  sea’  at  the  outer  walls  of  the  Great   Barrier  Reef  without  lifting  a  finger  is  a  luxury,  a  rare  one!       And,  not  many  of  my  friends  would  believe  me,  but  finding  myself  in  a  technological   wilderness,  cut  off  from  a  world  of  television  and  mobile  phones,  (and  only  slow  Wi-­‐Fi   Internet  access  in  the  lounge),  also  proved  to  be  a  luxury.  There’s  no  key  to  my  villa.  I   feel  naked  leaving  my  room  without  a  wallet  or  mobile  phone  in  my  pocket.       My  time  on  Lizard  Island  over  these  past  five  days  emphasises  the  importance  of  my   search  for  ‘the  experience  of  elsewhere’  in  my  travels.  It  also  provides  me  with  a  new   understanding   of   the   ‘importance   of   luxury’   that   isn’t   necessarily   just   confined   to   where  I  lay  my  head.       Michael,  Juanita  and  Jan  –  October  2011    

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Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef  

Isolated, miles from nowhere off the coast of Far North Queensland, Lizard Island Lodge sits right on the Great Barrier Reef in a wilderness...

Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef  

Isolated, miles from nowhere off the coast of Far North Queensland, Lizard Island Lodge sits right on the Great Barrier Reef in a wilderness...

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