The Pacific: Australian Islands
Haggerstone, Lizard, Bedarra and Hayman
Big Adventure: Island Outback
"We're not a resort, we're a family in the wild," says Roy Turner, the owner of Haggerstone Island Guest House, a private retreat off a largely uninhabited stretch of Cape York at the tip of Australia. He's right. Everything about this place is an adventure, beginning with getting there: a flight to the north Queensland city of Cairns, a small chartered plane for a two-hour flight to the adjacent Hicks Island, then a twenty-minute drive to a boat which crosses to the island. Four cottages, including the newly built tree house accessible by swinging rope bridge, are, to put it mildly, rustic. It's basic stuff: a bed with mosquito netting, no air-conditioning, television, or electricity after bedtime (water, thankfully, is running at all times). But the beauty of the untouched wilderness—lush tropical foliage and water shimmering with Red Emperor and coral trout, both for snorkeling and fly-fishing—make it worth the ride. As does Turner, who does a crocodile-hunter-cum-Crocodile Dundee turn by day (he, in fact, was a croc hunter) and a version of Alain Ducasse by night. That's when he, along with English wife Anna, prepares dishes he learned in culinary school in Bangkok, with local ingredients such as Thai coriander, lemongrass, and freshly squeezed coconut cream.
Islander To Know: Dennis Wallace
Make sure to take a heli-fishing trip with Dennis Wallace, aka Brazakka, the chief pilot of Cape York Helicopters. He's an ace fishing guide who's been trawling the waters in north Queensland for 36 years. He knows just the right untouched jungle streams for catching barramundi and mangrove jacks. $3,660 a day for two; includes accommodations (which vary depending on itinerary) and meals. $ Contact Brad Horn at 61-738-444992; www.brazakka.com.au.
Measuring Up: Private Island Face-Off: Lizard vs. Bedarra
THE LAYOUT 40 cottages located directly on the Reef, with access to 24 beaches scattered between the main island and small uninhabited islands nearby.
WHO GOES THERE Those who want to be on the go, in the surf, and underwater.
WHAT'S GREAT The watersports. The location makes this a diving and snorkeling paradise.
WHAT'S NOT The food. Cooking is at its best when kept simple—a perfectly spiced yellowfin tuna over Japanese salad with mustard and miso dressing. Most dishes are over-complicated with ingredients at war with each other—gorgonzola-baked mission fig with red-onion tart and apple vinaigrette or basil; sweet-potato-wrapped prawns. And the 40 rooms, while contemporary and functional, are a bit spare and bland.
ROOM TO GET The new Pavilion with a plunge pool and views of Sunset Beach and Anchor Bay. Rooms, $485-$950, includes meals; 800-225-9849, 61-2-9277-4050; www.lizardisland.com.au.
THE LAYOUT 16 villas, including two new Pavilion villas, set in an Australian rainforest.
WHO GOES THERE Those who want to hole up for a romantic, not particularly active, stay.
WHAT'S GREAT The menu, a blend of European, Asian and Pacific flavors such as a perfectly cooked rack of Mandalong lamb with rosemary jus. There's also a very good selection of Australian and New Zealand wines.
WHAT'S NOT The small beach. Serious snorkeling is at least an hour away by boat. And in such a sybaritic, lazy place, the spa should be larger and have a more varied treatment menu.
ROOM TO GET The Pavilions—two 1,000-square-foot-plus villas set apart on their own hill, with a private plunge pool and floor-to-ceiling views of Wedgerock Bay. Or the ultra-private beachside, The Point, which is similar to the Pavilions. Rooms, $620-$950, meals and drinks included; 800-225-9849, 61-2-9277-5050; www.bedarraisland.com.
Villa To Rent: Family Hideaway
ONE TO WATCH Woodwark Bay, a 4,000-acre estate surrounded by 50,000 acres of parkland just across the Whitsunday Passage from Hayman Island, is a knockout. Owned by an Australian entrepreneur and his wife, and only now available for rent, the South Seas-style thatched cottages have seven bedrooms filled with one-of-a-kind pieces: an antique Russian chest, African wall-hangings, and tiles from palaces in India. There's also a pool, a private lake for water-skiing and Jet Skiing, quad bikes for exploring, and a meditation tower for massages with a view of the rolling lawns and the bay. Any of the smaller Whitsunday Islands are easily accessible, but since you are on the main island, all conveniences are only a drive away. Meals can be arranged, cooked in the house by J.B., a talented local chef. One recent dinner included: gazpacho with crab and avocado, steamed barramundi with Asian dressing on green pawpaw (papaya) salad, and lime tart with fresh raspberries. Estate manager Roger Kelly can arrange a variety of outings, from sails around the islands to diving at the reef off Whitehaven Beach, one of the best in the world and only a quick boat ride away. Rates, $5,120 per night for up to eight people, includes meals and some activities. $ Available through Villas and Apartments Abroad, 212-213-6435; www.vaanyc.com.
With Reservations: Hayman Island
The setting is spectacular, but that's the only good part of staying at Hayman Island. The sloppy maintenance—rust in the pool, missing numbers from room doors—give it a feeling of neglect. An ongoing renovation suggests help is on the way.
Hotel rates range from the lowest-priced double to the highest-priced suite in high season. In most cases VAT is not included. Meal prices are for a three-course dinner for two, excluding beverage and gratuity.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than American Express.