Lov­ing the Champagne life

There’s a lot of com­pe­ti­tion for how to spend your time on Aus­tralia’s Lizard Is­land, writes Jane Reddy.

Sunday Star-Times - - ESCAPE | AUSTRALIA -

In the mid-af­ter­noon heat, a crys­talline re­sort pool and wooden deck of ca­banas and ro­man­tic shell loungers sit empty; there’s not a sin­gle bikini-clad sun worshipper to be seen. Oc­ca­sion­ally, a guest emerges from the pool­side spa, blink­ing and dazed. It’s as if the apoca­lypse has come to Far North Queens­land.

You see, as ap­peal­ing as a day in one of the re­sort’s ham­mocks might be – gin mar­tini in hand, bright yel­low sun­birds flit­ting by – there’s stiff com­pe­ti­tion for de­light­ful ways to spend your time on Lizard Is­land.

The gran­ite be­he­moth rises at the outer edge of the reef, about 33 kilo­me­tres from Cairns. As such, it’s a prime spot for ex­plor­ing an un­der­wa­ter world that’s a hot topic, as the global-warm­ing de­bate con­tin­ues and more of us want to bet­ter un­der­stand the Great Bar­rier Reef.

Seen from the sky, aboard a com­pact 208B Car­a­van Cessna, the out­lines of the reef seem to re­sem­ble vi­tal or­gans – lungs and hearts are ev­ery­where. Once on the is­land, it’s just a few steps from your room down a sandy path to swim above the nat­u­ral won­der.

With only 40 rooms and vil­las fur­nished in neu­tral tones and nat­u­ral fi­bres, and the com­mu­nal ar­eas of the Drift­wood bar and Salt Wa­ter restau­rant, Lizard Is­land is a re­mote, un­hur­ried and un­crowded place of lux­ury.

This morn­ing, most of the guests, aside from the hon­ey­moon­ers clink­ing their glasses in the open-air restau­rant, are out on the wa­ter. A cou­ple pad­dles in clear­bot­tomed kayaks and, fur­ther out, a char­ter fish­ing boat is search­ing for mar­lin and mahi-mahi. Divers have made their way to the glob­ally renowned Cod Hole where the gi­ant po­tato cod don’t mind the com­pany of hu­mans.

As we head to­wards the evoca­tivesound­ing Mer­maid Cove then to Wat­son’s Wall to snorkel, nat­u­ral­ist Ben Car­roll ex­plains the com­plex life of co­ral to the novices on board the boat.

With a dou­ble ma­jor in marine and con­ser­va­tion bi­ol­ogy from James Cook Univer­sity, and a life­time on the oceans from Van­u­atu to the Mal­dives, Car­roll has re­turned to the is­land where he first did field­work. He guides us around the un­der­wa­ter world, a wa­ter gar­den where soft corals sway gen­tly next to gi­ant clams and sponges. ‘‘We talk about co­ral in terms of shape rather than species,’’ Car­roll says, be­fore we haul our­selves back on to the boat.

Could there be any­thing bet­ter than see­ing one of the world’s great­est nat­u­ral won­ders? For lovers of the sea and Champagne, a waiter hand­ing you a glass of Dom Perignon 2009 might just do it.

In keeping with its exclusive rep­u­ta­tion, Lizard has part­nered with the Champagne pro­ducer to of­fer a pack­age in which guests can in­dulge in the best of both worlds.

Nurs­ing our glasses as we put­ter over to the very pri­vate Sun­set Beach for a pic­nic of lob­ster rolls, I won­der what the French Bene­dic­tine monk whose moniker graces the la­bel would make of the scene.

I also won­der what the monk would think of this gran­ite soil, land­scape and cli­mate a world away from 18th-cen­tury Hautvillers in the Champagne re­gion of north-eastern France where Perignon lived and died. Beyond the re­sort, there is a sharp edge to this re­mote place, which makes a stay all the more in­ter­est­ing.

Nurs­ing our glasses as we put­ter over to the very pri­vate Sun­set Beach for a pic­nic of lob­ster rolls.

The is­land is dry and its dom­i­nant grass­lands fold up their leaves to pro­tect them­selves dur­ing the heat of the day.

Guests are gen­tly re­minded that a walk to the high­est point of Cooks Look is best done in the cool of early morn­ing.

The un­du­lat­ing land is also home to eu­ca­lypt and aca­cia wood­lands, man­groves and pan­danus swamp; an un­der­ground spring is the is­land’s vi­tal wa­ter source. Sa­cred to the In­dige­nous Din­gaal peo­ple, it was once a place for male ini­ti­a­tion and im­por­tant meet­ings.

Bat­tered by Cy­clone Ita in 2014, by Nathan in 2015 and then re­built, the re­sort’s supreme com­fort sits well be­side the ex­tra­or­di­nary nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

Later that evening, I walk bare­foot on the beach to a ta­ble set with fine linen and glass­ware, where a din­ner pre­pared by ex­ec­u­tive chef, Ryan Locke in­cludes lo­cal lob­ster served with Dom Perignon P2 Star­ing up at the star­lit sky I reckon this re­ally is a place wor­thy of break­ing out the Champagne.

Jane Reddy stayed as a guest of Lizard Is­land.

Stand-up pad­dle­board­ing is just one of many ways to pass the time on Lizard Is­land.

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