Lizard Island Resort Review: Luxury Stay on the Great Barrier Reef

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Exterior of the Lizard Island resort in Australia

Despite there being 900 islands stretching over 1,400 miles of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, less than a dozen islands have hotels or resorts. None of them truly compare to a stay at Lizard Island Resort – an immersive experience amidst the beauty of the reef with a high price that makes this a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all but the richest few.

The resort is the sole vacation property on Lizard Island, part of Lizard Island National Park, the only continental island group close to the outer barrier reef. At the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef and a few hundred miles south of Papua New Guinea, the reefs are currently in stellar condition and rarely visited.

An amazing view of the View of Watson’s Beach from Lizard Island Resort
View of Watson’s Beach. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Lizard Island Resort is an ideal choice for those seeking a retreat far from the crowds of the mainland. Snorkelers and scuba divers have quick access to reefs right around the island and can journey out by boat for full-day trips to the outer reef, considered the most spectacular coral reef of the Great Barrier Reef. At the top of the island’s dramatic peak at more than 1000 feet, visitors can see the contrast of the rugged, unpopulated interior against the blue waters around the island that offer unspoiled reefs teeming with fish darting among vividly colored coral gardens. The all-inclusive resort offers elegant accommodations, gourmet dining and a wide range of activities for guests to explore the marine life and the natural beauty of the island and its secluded beaches.

However, choosing a stay in Lizard Island is a significant financial decision. The room rate for one night is easily more than the standard economy roundtrip airfare from any U.S. city to Australia. The cost to fly round-trip to Lizard Island from Cairns – the only means of scheduled transportation –  is almost $1000 per person. Added all together, choosing a visit to Lizard Island is for a very special occasion or for someone who has just won the lottery.

For my wife and I returning to Australia 30 years after our honeymoon, the decision to stay at Lizard Island Resort was primarily based on the resort’s location halfway between the mainland and the Outer Reef, with the hope of reaching the famous diving spot, the Cod Hole, to see gentle potato cod the size of humans. The only other option to visit Outer Reef dive sites and the Cod Hole is via a liveaboard boat which typically requires a full week – more time than we wanted to allocate in order to see other Australian cities and attractions.

Read More: The Reef House Review: Luxury Resort at Palm Cove Near the Great Barrier Reef

Turquoise water of Anchorage Beach in front of the Lizard Island Resort.
Turquoise water of Anchorage Beach in front of the resort. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Organizing a Trip to Lizard Island

After booking flights from the US, Lizard Island logistics took precedence over choosing activities and hotels in Sydney and Melbourne.

To get to Lizard Island, East Air offers service on 6-passenger or 9-passenger prop planes or jets with two daily departures from Cairns at 11 am and 2 pm and return flights at 12:25 pm and 3:25 pm. While it is possible to get to the island in a single day from Sydney, we planned to spend a full day and night in Cairns on the mainland, the hub of most tourist activities in the northeast province of Queensland, and to take a day-long boat trip from Cairns to the reef. Being in Cairns enabled us to book the 11 am flight to the island, allowing plenty of time to spend the afternoon snorkeling from the beach to the nearby Clam Gardens to see giant colorful clams that can weigh up to 440 pounds. To reach Sydney in one day on the return journey, we planned to leave on the first flight out, connecting in Cairns and traveling to Sydney on one of the last flights out to avoid a night at an airport hotel.

Complicating our planning was the resort’s requirement that all scuba divers wait 24 hours from their last dive before flying on the East Air plane which is not pressurized. Further, the resort only offers full-day tours to the Cod Hole every other day. That meant we had to plan the full-day dive trip near the beginning of our stay, rather than the end. After considerable emails back and forth to check on availability, we finalized our visit and started to plan the rest of our trip with stays at seven other hotels.

Is it a Lizard Island Resort without the sights of monitor lizards.
A monitor lizard. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Where Lizard Island Gets Its Name

Lizard Island and nearby islands are rich in cultural meaning for the Dingaal Aboriginal people and contain sacred sites including initiation, ceremonial and story sites. The Aboriginals used the island mainly for ceremonial purposes, not permanent settlements, so when English Lieutenant James Cook arrived in 1770 and climbed the peak to survey the waters, he thought the island was uninhabited. Cook gave the island its current name in recognition of the yellow-spotted monitor lizard which can often be seen around the island today. More than 40 species of birds inhabit the island group, including osprey, terns and seagulls.

Enjoy a garden view from the neatly furnished guest room at the Lizard Island Resort.
Garden view guest room at Lizard island Resort. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Simple, Comfortable Rooms with Porches

With only 40 rooms spanning Anchor Bay and Sunset Beach, the resort never feels crowded. From least to most expensive, the room options are garden view, ocean view, beachfront suites with daybeds, ocean view with heated plunge pool, the Pavilion (two guests max) and Oceanview Villas (up to four guests).

The rooms are plush, but not overly luxurious, with a bed, desk and chair and a wide balcony or patio, all with a partial or full view of the ocean. There are hair dryers, a fully stocked mini-bar with soft drinks, water and beer, a refilled snack basket, water bottles to use for boat trips and a pillow menu with eight different types of pillows to ensure a good night’s sleep. Individually controlled air-conditioners and ceiling fans keep the rooms at a pleasant temperature. Outside it’s hot and humid all year round. Fortunately, there are plenty of electrical outlets to plug in phones and the resort offers converters for US electronics. Wifi is available for free. It’s critical because there is no cell reception on the island.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Don’t be bashful. Ask the staff to change your minibar to fill it with drinks you prefer.

Grab some meals from the Salt Water Restaurant at Lizard island Resort.
Salt Water Restaurant at Lizard island Resort. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

All-Inclusive Dining plus the Marlin Bar

The Salt Water Restaurant is part of the resort’s main building and where a full breakfast (with table service), lunch and dinner are served. A bar adjoins the space. At each meal, guests choose from two appetizers, four or five entrees and desserts. Wine and cocktails are included in the all-inclusive price. My wife and I sampled many local favorites such as barramundi and snapper, plus curried dishes. We occasionally strayed from the set menu and asked for mixed-up courses. The chef was always obliging.

There is an opportunity to have a private meal in a small pavilion at the beachfront. However, be aware that the biting midges can be fearsome, especially late in the afternoon and at sunset.

With notice, the resort’s culinary team will pack a picnic hamper for day-long excursions. For most of the year, the Marlin Bar is open Tuesdays and Fridays, where guests mingle with staff, some of the four permanent workers at the island’s research center or “boaties” – boaters who have stopped at Anchor Bay. During the height of marlin season in October and November, the Marlin Bar is open every day.

Room service is available from 7 am to 9:30 pm and is part of the all-inclusive rate.

Go scuba diving off Lizard Island.
Scuba diving off Lizard Island. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Ocean Activities

Most people have come to swim, dive or snorkel in the warm waters at the reefs that surround the island. At Anchor Bay in front of the hotel, guests can walk right into the water. On our first snorkel from the beach, we immediately saw two large turtles and swam up to several small coral reefs. Via water, walking or a short dinghy ride is Watson’s Bay and the Clam Garden where dozens of large giant clams can be seen in a large area cordoned from boats. Everyone who stays on the island makes a point of at least trying to snorkel this section.

The Beach Club is where guests go to plan their water sports activities. Included in the cost of the stay is the use of snorkeling gear such as masks, fins, booties and skin suits which are highly recommended because stinging and potentially deadly jellyfish thrive off the Australian coast.

Lizard Island Resort Amenities

  • Small dinghies to travel around the island for an afternoon on a private beach
  • Paddleboards
  • Clear-bottom paddle kayaks
  • Drop off and pick off to nearby sandy beaches such as the Clam Garden to see giant clams

Guests can arrange for these services:

  • Shared half-day or reef tours for snorkelers and scuba divers on different boats
  • Private snorkeling tours, fishing, diving and sunset cruises
  • Sea darts (sea bobs) – a motorized water/diving scooter
  • Scuba lessons for new divers

Make reservations months in advance for scuba diving/snorkeling trips and private charters because the resort strictly limits group sizes.

The staff tries hard to accommodate special requests especially when dealing with small groups with varying skill levels and high expectations. Unfortunately for us, our long-planned trip to the Cod Hole never materialized. Despite an unfavorable weather forecast, the captain gave it a go, but 15 minutes into the hour-long trek he had to turn back because of fierce winds and rough seas. Nevertheless, the diving and snorkeling at these reefs reminded us of the reef we remembered seeing 30 years ago, but that has diminished due to storms and climate change in many places closer to the mainland.

SheBuysTravel Tip: A short distance from the Clam Garden is the more interesting Watson’s Wall reef. While the beach staff recommends an escorted guide for hire to the Wall, experienced snorkelers will have no trouble exploring this site. For free, staff will provide drop off and pick up to the beach near Watson’s Wall. Just ask!

Take a nature walk at the Lizard Island Resort .
A bat in a tree at sunset on an island nature walk. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Hiking Around the Island

Naturalists offer free walking tours of Pandanus Track and Chinaman’s Ridge to Watson’s Bay where we spotted bats hanging in the trees, monitor lizards and stinging ants that seem to be the scourge of much of Queensland as evidenced by the billboards on the mainland warning of their danger.

At the front desk, there’s a map of other hikes – the arduous climb up to the peak at Cook’s Look (so named for the English sailor), a level walk to the blue lagoon with beautiful white sand at the southern end of the island and a trek along the road to the non-profit research station. Book a private tour through the front desk.

Swim in the Lizard Island Resort's heated pool.
Heated pool. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Dip in the Heated Pool or Enjoy the Spa

Set off the beach and away from the main building, the heated swimming pool is in a secluded spot that is seldom frequented by guests. Next to the pool is a gift shop and the Essentia Day Spa which offers massages, body scrubs and facials.

Work out in the gym during your stay in the Lizard Island Resort.
Gym. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Work Out 24/7 at the Fitness Center or Hit a Tennis Ball

The 24-hour gym is in a stand-alone, air-conditioned building with free weights, yoga mats, a weight machine with three stations and cardio equipment with two treadmills, two bikes and two Stairmasters. It’s adequate for keeping fit, especially for someone like me who has traveled to the island to swim and hike.  Next door is the rarely used tennis court.

Use the East Airplane to get to the Lizard Island Resort.
An airfield with an East Airplane just landed. Photo credit: R.C. Staab

Basic Information

Check-in time is noon. Check-out is as late as 1 pm. Laundry service is available for free. Printers are available. Resort staff will meet you and drop you off at the airport.

The Lizard Island Resort is part of the Luxury Lodges of Australia marketing group.

The resort’s address is

PMB 40,
Cairns, Queensland 4870 Australia.  
1-716-276-0104 (from outside Australia) and 1-844-833-7862 (toll free from within the United States)

R.C. Staab is a New York-based author, playwright, musical theater writer and lyricist. His latest book, New York City Scavenger: The Ultimate Search for New York City’s Hidden Treasures, was published in Spring 2023. His first book 100 Things to Do at the Jersey Shore Before You Die was published in 2020 and is now in its second printing. In 2021, he walked the entire 139-mile coastline of the Jersey Shore from Sandy Hook to Cape May the book, generating more than 200,000 views on social media. He frequently contributes to New Jersey Monthly magazine and online travel publications. He is long-time member of the Society of American Travel Writers having traveled to 49 of the 50 US States and more than 60 countries. He specializes in cultural tourism, adventure travel and historical sites. His off-Broadway musicals and plays have been produced in New York, San Francisco, England and the Midwest. He is a two-time nominee for England’s Best New Song competition. He lives in New York City with his wife, Valari, and his dog, Skye.
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