Drop the kids off at granny's and pamper yourself on a tropical island paradise. From rustic and remote huts to stunning beachfront villas, all of the retreats listed below have the Great Barrier Reef in their backyards. The Great Barrier Reef comprises of more than 2,900 reefs and 900 islands (some inhabited and some not), smothering an area of about 344,400 square km on the east coast of Queensland, Australia.
Starting from the top of Australia and coasting south:
1. Haggerstone Island
A solitary speck in the Coral Sea that's home to the largest green turtle rookery in the world, Haggerstone Island is a haven for adventurers who thrive on remote exclusivity. The journey to the island is half the fun: by small plane from Cairns winging over the reef's opalescence below for approximately 660kms; landing at Hicks Island before you hit Papua New Guinea. From here, Haggerstone Island is a 20-minute boat ride either over super rough waters or skimming pond-like stillness. Your final destination is in Temple Bay northeast of the Iron Range National Park and the Lockhart River on the Cape York Peninsula. Haggerstone Island is a rustic and bohemian affair that lets you play your own version of Robinson Crusoe.
Your stay is tailored to your wants as the island only accommodates up to 12 people. You can even book the whole island, making it your own private playground where you can dance around bonfires on the sand at night. The eclectic accommodation is in hand-built huts either hanging in the trees or set into the pristine beachfront. Your imagination soars at the sight of the unique main building where sumptuous meals are created from the bounty of the local waters, the tendered market garden, or transported by a local barge. Here, you can do as little or as much as you want. Stargaze from the thatched jetty late at night, snorkel pristine water, or fish the sea that shimmers with reef fish species. There's a high catch and release ratio when fishing. Explore estuaries where local crocs hang out and gorge on a bounty of mangrove jack just caught and cooked up on the boat with a glass of chilled wine.
2. Lizard Island
Named by Captain Cook in 1770 because of the yellow-spotted monitor lizards lurching around on their bowed legs, Lizard Island is a national park moments from the outer barrier reef. On a clear day, you can stand like a sentinel 359 meters above sea level at Cook's Look and cast your gaze over the waters to the mainland's far north Queensland village of Cooktown. There are 24 secluded beaches where your footprints will be the only ones and world-famous dive spots such as the Cod Hole for those who wish to get up close and personal with a man-sized potato cod.
The labyrinth of the fringing reef weaves its magic through clear blue waters surrounding Lizard Island Lodge. The island's rugged beauty is in stark contrast to the luxury offered at the boutique resort that only a privileged few get to experience. Opened in 1970 as a remote fishing lodge, today the stunning resort lures cashed-up national and international visitors for its pristine habitat and indulgent amenities: think of a spa that will have you melting in ecstasy, a restaurant combining Asian, Australian, and European cuisine willing to provide picnic baskets for sandy enclave dining, and the possibility of hooking up an elusive fighting black marlin.
3. Bedarra Island
Another island retreat known for its exclusivity and high price tag, Bedarra Island Resort is for the barefoot beach lover who likes to indulge in untouched island wilderness where luxury is understated and elegant. Amidst lush tropical rainforest, each villa has its own private pool for those must-do skinny-dipping moments under a starlit sky. The island is located a short 20-minute water taxi ride off Mission Beach or an eye-popping helicopter ride from Cairns. Bedarra Island accommodates only 22 guests at any one time in individually designed villas. Some grace the slopes of gentle hills while others hide in the tropical canopy of the rainforest.
All villas have majestic views over the Coral Sea and are steps from lapping waters on the golden sand. Outdoor bathrooms, private sundecks, and comfy daybeds for pure relaxation provide sublime spaces of escapism. An open-air terrace where you can sip a perfect cocktail and watch the sunset compliments the dining experience under the stars, either at the restaurant or in romantic mode on your own villa's deck. Bedarra Island is where you can disconnect from the chaotic world and reconnect with a partner or your inner soul. The only sounds are the rhythmic whispers of the breeze in the palms and the soft lull of the seawater.
4. Orpheus Island
Arrive by seaplane and step into your tropical island dream space. Luxurious accommodation allows 28 people to experience the Great Barrier Reef in such close proximity. A hidden gem sitting off the coast of Ingham, Orpheus Island has 11km of pristine coastline where the azure waters of the reef dapple playfully on its shores. Much of the island is a Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. A resident colony of sea eagles soar in clear morning skies. Hammocks sway between palm trees and giant manta rays gracefully glide through the endless blue of the Coral Sea. It's home to the most extensive clam nursery in Australia. Small reef sharks dart about in the shallows, and humpback whales make fleeting migratory visits.
Orpheus Island is a blissful utopia of beachside chic. You can take a dinghy to a secluded cove and snorkel the beauty of the reef or go further afield on a deep-sea fishing boat to hook up your dream catch. The Gwandalan Day Spa will have you melting like jelly under expert fingers. Totally eco-friendly, the veggie garden is out the back of the main lodge's building, where you will find the chooks busy laying eggs for your morning omelet. Daily pastimes include gorging on lobster, fish, and prawns sourced from trawlers plying the waters outside the marine park barrier after relaxing by a fire pit on the beach watching the sun sink into the sea.