Lizard Island is certainly not the easiest of islands in Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef to reach but if you lean towards adventure and you are searching for raw and largely untouched nature, then Lizard Island is your paradise in waiting. The colours, sights and sounds of Lizard Island are an unforgettable experience and we cannot imagine anyone leaving here disappointed.
Lizard Island is precious as one of the few places on the planet which remains largely unchanged since its sighting by Captain James Cook and Joseph Banks in 1770. Aptly named “Lizard Island” after the pair remarked that the only land animals they could see from the boat were lizards. This early observation is of course incorrect, as Lizard Island is the home to an overabundance of land and sea animals, who live in protected bliss. The traditional guardians of the land are the Dingiil Aboriginal people who call the island Jiigurru.
Located off the coast of Queensland, Lizard Island is a nature paradise. A National Park, the island is part of the Lizard Island Group with neighbouring Palfrey, South and Bird Islands. The nearest port is Cooktown and the island has long provided safe anchorage for vessels venturing out this far. An island largely made up of dry granite, Lizard Island is approximately 10 square kilometres in size and is frequented by the adventurous and the rich, with its private airstrip and lavish resort.
Arriving on Lizard Island is no easy feat unless you have the luxury of a private plane. Sitting on the Great Barrier Reef approximately 240kms north of Cairns and 92kms north east of Cooktown, the journey is long and hazardous. The journey out must be taken with extreme caution and preferably with someone who knows these waters. Unchartered bommies pepper the reef. Many of them do not appear on published charts and we were slightly relieved to be onboard with a well experienced game fishing crew who knew these waters like their mother’s kitchen cupboard.
Our crew took us out from Cooktown and wide off the reef. Trolling for giant black marlin as we approached a small passage at the head of Ribbon Reef 10, called Cormorant Pass. The passage is around 60 metres wide. Arriving in on the tide should ensure a smooth passage. If you enter the passage on an outgoing and onshore wind, the waves can stand up a little so you might need to whip out the seasickness meds. Otherwise, it is a relatively safe passage. If you are lucky, giant trevally can break the surface here.
Spoiled for choice, take your pick of one of 24 pristine white sand beaches. Day facilities are limited. It is possible to camp on the island, however, it is a National Park with strict regulations. Book ahead if you know you want to get off the boat for a few days to avoid disappointment. For more information, take a look at camping at Watsons Bay, Lizard Island National Park.
Watsons Bay is a charming and safe anchorage with a camping area. The fringing reef protects the 10m deep Blue Lagoon and the snorkelling off Watsons Bay is superb. The sea life, coral and colours are mind blowing and boggling. Follow the granite cliff face of the bay and marvel this other world. For the divers out there, the nearby Cod Hole is a must see.
If camping is not your style and you have money to indulge, nestled on the island’s north western side is a small 40-villa luxury resort. Completely secluded, this swanky abode offers the ultimate luxury holiday in paradise and offers all the water sports fun you would imagine.
Moorings and Anchorage
The designated reef anchorage areas of the Island are Watsons Bay and Blue Lagoon. Both delightful, take care when anchoring and make sure to drop your anchor on sand to ensure no damage to the beautiful surrounding corals.
Reef protection markers largely guide you as to where you can and cannot drop anchor. Markers are placed between the southern end of Watsons Bay and Osprey Island and it is vital that these signs be respected to protect the reef. You cannot anchor inshore of the markers although you can drop anchor if it is on adjacent beach areas.
Within Watson Bay there are public moorings, listed on one of the GBRMPA sites. Catering to monohulls up to 10m long and multihulls up to 9m. It is generally easy enough to find a spot to stay between the moorings and reef anchorage area. Mermaid Bay has two public moorings that can cater for monohulls up to 20m and two for multihulls up to 18m. Conditions of use, such as max vessel length, time limits and max wind are displayed on the mooring buoy. See the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority GBRMPA for more information.
For further information about boating and anchoring, including anchoring and mooring restrictions, see GBRMPA. Motorised watersports, waterskiing and the use of personal watercraft (such as jet skis), are not permitted around Lizard Island.
Out of the water and onto land. As much as there is to explore and discover under the waterline, is matched on land. Lizard Island is a nature paradise. The chorus of the cicadas and blathering of the birds fill the ears as you venture onto any of the hundreds of walking trails of the Island. Look out for the sunbird with its yellow belly.
Watsons Bay is largely where the action takes place. There is a day-use facility adjacent to the camping area with picnic tables and toilets. There is a second, smaller area with facilities about 300m south along the beach.
A request of the National Park authority, that not everyone would have heard about before, is the request to be conscious of transferring the seeds of weeds. They ask that you check your clothes and shoes frequently and either use the seed bins provided or dispose of the seeds carefully.
Hike to the peak of Cook’s Look as James Cook did and let the spectacular view snatch your breathe away. At a round trip of 2 kilometres that begins in Watsons Bay, it sounds short and sweet, but I can assure you that it is a difficult climb suited to experienced walkers.