Great Barrier Reef Resort

The unpretentious luxury of Lizard Island

It's like going off the map. Heading north from tropical Cairns, an eight-seater prop plane skims the Daintree rainforest, then swoops northeast over a scattering of coral reefs. The one-hour flight to the handsome newly redone Lizard Island Resort, 20 miles off the coast of Queensland and on the northernmost island of the Great Barrier Reef, offers a delicious introduction to this untraveled region.

Lizard Island reopened last July after a $13 million redesign and accommodates just 80 guests in unpretentious luxury. Airy elevated villas (a favorite: spacious Villa One) above Sunset Beach and serene suites overlooking Anchor Bay, the resort's main beach, are decorated with classic modern furnishings in natural woods and tranquil colors. The food at the casual Ospreys restaurant is excellent, with an accent on fresh ingredients and healthy menus. Staff will arrange barbecues and candlelit beachside dining on request.

The island itself is a designated terrestrial and marine reserve, and a small research station is the resort's only neighbor. Privacy and sublime silence are assured. During the day, Anchor Bay is blissfully deserted. Colonies of staghorn corals, vivid butterflyfish, parrotfish, orange and white clown fish, as well as 75-year-old giant clams can be seen right off the beachfront. Guests head off on the dive boat, Serranidae, for a day of scuba diving and reef snorkeling. Others take an outboard, a picnic basket, and chilled Champagne to one of the island's 24 beaches. Hikers heading for 1,000-foot-high Cook's Look see curious three-foot-long monitor lizards and shimmering blue butterflies flitting through native casuarinas and melaleuca groves. Night dives and private charters for black marlin sports fishing (in season) can be arranged. No children under ten. $633-$1,000; includes all meals and activities. PMB 40, Cairns, Queensland 4871; 800-225-9849;