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Lizard Island, QLD

Most beautiful island on the Great Barrier Reef.

Lizard Island is widely recognised as the best island resort on the Great Barrier Reef. Certainly it is one of the most expensive and most surveys rate it as one of the Top 10 resorts in the world. It has a number of very obvious advantages. It is one of only four islands on the Great Barrier Reef where you can swim from the beach and immediately be in the coral reef. It is very exclusive and consequently it is possible to get away from the crowds. The beaches are so pristine, so white and so perfect that it fulfills the standard idea of "an island paradise". As a general principle the food is sensational, the accommodation is five star, and the range of activities - from simply lounging around doing nothing to going on a deep sea diving or fishing expedition - is designed to ensure that everyone has an unforgettable holiday.

Few resorts can boast a more idyllic setting than Lizard Island. A well kept lawn edged by palm trees which rustle gently in the tropical breezes gives way to a few metres of undergrowth before the visitor walks onto a coral-white sand beach where the gentlest of slopes drops into impossibly clear and green-blue waters. At various points, no more than 10 metres from the shoreline, corals of unimaginable beauty, turtles and small fish, all coloured in bright blues and oranges, await the snorkeller.

It is unique. Nowhere else on the Great Barrier Reef can a holidaymaker, staying on an island of granite (a remnant of a coastal mountain range still protruding out of the ocean) enjoy the reef so directly and so completely.

Go to Hayman or Bedarra Island and you are confronted with a 90-minute journey before you get to the reef. Go to Lizard and you are confronted with a 100 metre walk. That is the difference and that is what makes Lizard Island so special.

Location

Lizard Island is located 93 km north-east of Cooktown and 27 km from the Queensland coast. It is only accessible by air or sea.

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Origin of Name

The Dingaal Aboriginal people knew the island as Dyiigurra. When Captain James Cook anchored off the coast and landed on the island he noted: "The only land animals we saw here were lizards [almost certainly Gould's sand monitors] and these seem'd to be plenty which occasioned my nameing the island Lizard Island."

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Things to See and Do

Things you need to know about the island
The six islands that make up the Lizard Island group are made up of pink-grey granite which is around 300 million years old. They are part of a larger mountain range which was once connected to the mainland. They became islands as recently as 9,000 years ago when the sea level rose

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Dingaal Aborigines, who had lived in the area for tens of thousands of years, were regular visitors to the Lizard group of islands, which they called Jiigurra. They believed the six islands had been created in the Dreamtime. They saw the group of islands as a stingray with Lizard Island being the body and the other islands forming the tail.

Lizard Island was made a National Park in 1937. Today it covers 1,013 ha with 24 sandy beaches. The highest peak is Cook's Look which is 359 metres above sea level. There is an excellent downloadable map http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/parks/lizard-island/pdf/lizard_island_map.pdf available on the National Parks website.

The activities on the island include swimming, snorkelling, bush walking, crabbing, limited spearfishing, line fishing, outer reef dives, inner reef dives and deep sea fishing. Walking on the island is particularly good with easy access to Cook's Look and a delightful walk along the airstrip to the Blue Lagoon.

Clam Gardens
Part of the great appeal of the island is that the reef is literally only a few metres off the beach below the resort. One of the highlights is the Clam Gardens which can be accessed either by a lazy swim (they are about 100 metres away) or by being taken to them by boat. The giant clam corals (Tridacna gigas) are known to be the largest living bivalve mollusk.

Cooks Look and Watson's Walk
The most popular walk on the island is via the ruins of Watson's Cottage, along Watson's Bay and up the steep, but manageable, track to the top of Cooks Look. It is 359 m above sea level and offers superb panoramic views over  the island and across to the mainland.

Blue Lagoon
A favourite, relaxing activity is to take a picnic lunch and go around to the Blue Lagoon (you can walk - it is 455 m return - or go by boat) and simply lie on the pristine white sands and gaze across the perfectly blue waters. Given that in the summer months the water can get into the high 20°Cs, it is always desirable to go for a swim.

Lizard Island Research Station
One of the islands only "attractions" is the Australian Museum's Research Station which, if you walk, is at the far end of the airstrip. The aim of the research station is to extend the understanding of the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists who work there take visitors around the facility. It is common for resort visitors to be taken to the station by boat.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Cod Hole
The resort has its own dive vessels, the MV Serranidae and MV Monitor, which make regular trips out to the reefs which fringe the island. The Great Barrier Reef's Outer Reef is only 12 nautical miles from the island and it includes the famous Cod Hole where, literally and without exaggeration, the friendly Potato Cod are as big as a VW beetle. There is more detail at the downloadable http://www.lizardisland.com.au/files/DPR0025_-_Lizard_-_Dive_Information_FA.pdf.

Deep Sea Fishing
It takes 50 minutes to get to the Outer Reef fishing grounds and, if you are lucky and skilled, you can reasonably expect to catch sailfish, trevally, mackerel, tuna, black marlin and mahi-mahi.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans Lizard Island was a sacred place known as Dyiigurra to the Dingaal Aboriginal people. The Dingaal used the island for the initiation of young males and stayed on it while fishing and gathering shellfish, turtles, dugongs and fish.

* In 1770 Captain Cook became the first European to explore the island. He anchored in one of the island's bays and climbed to the top of the hill now known as Cook's Look. There he surveyed a suitable passage away from the island. He wrote of the island "It is mostly high land very rocky and barren except on the NW side where there are some sandy bays and low land, which last is cover'd with thin long grass trees etc the same as upon the Main(land)."

* In 1839 the HMS Beagle stopped at the island.

* In 1843 the HMS Fly, heading for Papua New Guinea, anchored at the island.

* In 1848, on Cook's recommendation, the HMS Rattlesnake stayed for a time at the island.

* By the 1860s beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) fishermen were camping on the island and catching the popular delicacy which was then shipped to Asia.

* In 1880 Captain Robert Watson, a beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) fisherman, arrived on the island with his wife, two Chinese servants and his baby daughter. He built a cottage along from the present site of the resort. The ruins are still visible.

* In September 1880 during one of Captain Watson's absences from the island, Guugu Yimmidir Aborigines from the mainland attacked the cottage and killed one of the Chinese servants, Ah Leung. Mrs. Watson, accompanied by her child and the other Chinese servant (Ah Sam), escaped by leaping into a water tank (it can be seen in the Townsville Museum - it is a large rectangular tub) which was used for boiling beche-de-mer. The "vessel" floated away from the island but they could not steer it to the coast. All three died of thirst. When their bodies were eventually found they were buried in Cooktown cemetery.

* In 1937 the island was declared a national park.

* In 1974 the waters around the island were declared a Marine Park

* Today the main structures on the island are the airstrip, a 40-room resort, and a research station.

* In April, 2014 the island was hit by Cyclone Ita. Staff and guests were evacuated. Many of the trees were shredded, one building at the resort was destroyed and windows were blown out.

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Visitor Information

Everything you need to know about the island is available at the resort's excellent website - http://www.lizardisland.com.au.

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Useful Websites

The resort website is http://www.lizardisland.com.au.

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