When it’s relaxation you crave, few holidays compare to the feeling of sand between your toes, caress of a warm breeze, or the serenity of gazing out across the waters of an an exclusive island resort. And Australia has many worthy of your attention.
Although predominantly dotted around the balmy tropical north, there are a few notable exceptions further south, each one blessed with chic rooms and sensational dining. Getting there is often part of the fun too. Heli-transfer, anyone?
From all-inclusive indulgence off the remote coast of Cape York to a retreat developed by Sir Richard Branson himself, these are some of Australia’s most breathtaking island resorts.
Lizard Island Resort
Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef requires little introduction – it’s a vast paradise of rainbow-coloured reefs, clear waters dotted with remote islands, and home to more than 9,000 species of marine life. Lizard Island Resort is one of its underrated gems.
Set on the shore of its namesake island, some 240kms north of Cairns, the resort is inviting and enriching with just 40 rooms, villas and suites. Each one is designed to showcase the beauty of its location, in addition to sporting all the mod cons.
Essentia Day Spa is on hand to take you on sensory experiences that nourish your soul, while Salt Water Restaurant and Driftwood Bar will take care of nourishing your body. Seven-course beachside degustations are the icing on this already-delicious cake.
More than just spa treatments and gourmet cuisine for every meal (which are indeed worthy pastimes) there’s a myriad of activities on offer. Snorkelling and diving are essential, though there’s also kayaking, fishing, hiking and visits to the island’s research station.
Off-grid in the lofty upper reaches of Cape York Peninsula, around two hours by charter flight from Cairns, Haggerstone Island is a privately-owned hideaway where opulence, adventure and all-inclusive indulgence come together in spectacular fashion.
Available individually or as part of an exclusive island-wide booking, the resort’s five open plan villas feature an intoxicating blend of Papua New Guinean and African influences, with private decks and gardens offering front row seats to the best entertainment: nature.
The hillside Haus Mawu and enchanting driftwood Beach Hut – like an upmarket Swiss Family Robinson cabin mere steps from the sea – are perhaps the most striking of the rooms, yet each has its own distinct personality and charm.
In between daily boat adventures, snorkelling and fishing, guests feast on all-inclusive meals first-class seafood plucked from the sea (and perhaps even caught by guests themselves). What isn’t sourced from the bountiful waters is grown onsite.
Regularly gracing lists of Australia's best luxury hotels and resorts, qualia on Hamilton Island is arguably the benchmark by which almost all others are measured. Yes, it is that good, with stunning rooms, intuitive service and mouth-watering cuisine to match.
No matter which abode type you choose, a spacious Leeward or Windward Pavilion or perhaps the secluded Beach House with its 12-metre infinity pool, each commands exceptional views of the Whitsunday islands and Coral Sea.
During your stay, set off on a private boat charter or snorkel direct from the beach, take to the sky on a chopper tour above Heart Reef, or maybe lick your lips with a ‘Talk and Taste’ paired dining experience. There’s also Spa qualia onsite for relaxing treatments too.
Pebble Beach Restaurant is the signature dining experience, offering relaxed waterfront dining for lunch and dinner, with executive chef John Kennedy creating menus which showcase local seafood and produce grown onsite in the resort’s own kitchen garden.
Just a short ferry ride from Fremantle, Rottnest Island is Perth’s most iconic day trip destination: snorkelling, cycling and quokka-spotting abound. Yet there’s some fabulous accommodation available too, including the gorgeous Samphire overlooking Thompson Bay.
Adorned in soothing neutral tones, the simply-furnished rooms are all worth checking into, but it’s the Signature Beachfront Room that’s most highly-prized. With a free-standing bath, outdoor rainshower, private lounge and balcony, it’s the island’s ultimate escape.
Beat the heat in the resort’s two lagoon-style pools, stop by the Bayside Bar for a cocktail or two, or enjoy the sand between your toes at The Beach Club. An exclusive lounge – Samphire Club – is also available for in-house guests.
But really, it’s the island you’ll be wanting to experience while you’re here. The windswept landscape is captivating – best explored by bicycle – while the island’s Noongar indigenous heritage and fascinating colonial past are also well-worth delving into.
Orpheus Island Resort
Welcoming just 28 visitors at a time, Orpheus is one of the Great Barrier Reef’s most enchanting island lodges. Part of the Northern Escape Collection, it boasts a hatted restaurant, pampering day spa, and an inviting infinity pool that mirrors the Coral Sea.
Home to just 14 rooms, villas and suites, Orpheus is all about barefoot glamour. And, given its remote location, getting to the private island is an adventure in itself, with a 30-minute helicopter journey from Townsville taking you high above the coral-studded sea.
On arrival, guests can slip into island time with all-inclusive gourmet meals and an assortment of fine wines, beers, and spirits, together with use of water sports equipment and a daily Orpheus experience, from romantic chef picnics to sailing and snorkelling tours.
Signature experience ‘Dining with the Tides’ is a must-do. The intimate six-course degustation for two is served on the Island’s starlit pier, gazing out over the Coral Sea as barramundi, eagle rays, reef sharks and spangled emperor swim in the crystal waters below.
Far off the northwest coast of WA lies Christmas Island, an Indian Ocean territory synonymous with wild encounters. The annual red crab migration is its best known event, yet the diving and birdwatching are spectacular too. Swell Lodge is the island’s finest lodging.
All inclusive of meals, drinks and daily guided tours, the eco-lodge is home to two beautiful glass-fronted chalets, each accessed by its own private 80m walking trail through the jungle alive with crabs and exotic forest birds, to the sea.
Within each chalet is a king-size bed affording uninterrupted views, together with an ensuite and private deck. Like a documentary brought to life, red-footed boobies can often be seen nesting on the ledge out front, while frigatebirds and goshawks soar majestically by.
Self-service breakfast, picnic lunches and three-course dinners featuring locally-caught and foraged ingredients – prepared by your private chef, Issy Loving – add to the satisfaction.
Lord Howe Island is exclusive by design, yet Capella Lodge raises the exclusivity even higher, with just nine tropically-furnished suites – including the captivating Lidgbird Pavilion and Capella Suites – and communal areas tailor-made for socialising.
Part of the Baillie Lodges family, which includes The Louise in the Barossa and Silky Oaks Lodge in the Daintree, it aims to immerse guests in the island’s culture and history, its art and natural heritage, in addition to tantalising food sourced from regional producers.
Rates are mostly inclusive, encompassing breakfast and dinner, an open bar with premium wines and spirits from 6pm, selected in-suite bar, and island airport transfers. For lunch, guests are encouraged to explore some of the local offerings.
Australia’s very own ‘treasure island’, Lord Howe features a heady mix of pristine beaches, lush rainforest, and rugged mountains, not to mention incredible coral reefs. Ball’s Pyramid, just 20kms offshore, is largely considered one of the top dive sites in the country.
Originally developed in 2009 as a private retreat for family and friends of co-owners Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Australia co-founder Brett Godfrey, Makepeace Island has since become one of Noosa’s most sought-after hideaways.
Welcoming just 20 castaways at a time, exclusive use of the island includes three oversized villas, four rooms and a unique boathouse positioned right on the river. Rates include boat transfers and meals prepared by a multi-award-winning chef.
While staying you can recharge the batteries in the swimming pool or 15-seater spa, kayak around the heart-shaped island or play a game of tennis, or join a culinary masterclass with chef Zeb Gilbert.
The retreat’s most recent refurbishment was overseen by June Robinson Scott, interior designer for Branson’s own Caribbean getaway Necker Island. Within lies a blend of contemporary and traditional tropical design, with more than a few nods to South East Asia.
Bedarra is one of Queensland’s most enchanting tropical resorts – a Great Barrier Reef escape with just 11 villas dotted amid 45-hectares of rainforest; waves lapping the shore and the only sound to interrupt the serenity is your in-bound boat or helicopter transfer.
Though every room is worth checking into, a few do stand out. Among them the Treehouse villa, perched on granite boulders overlooking the sea, and The Point, a split-level sanctuary with expansive deck and infinity pool that blends into the horizon.
Pre-dinner cocktail hour is a perfect chance to mingle with other guests, comparing notes on what you may have seen on the day’s hike or getting ideas for the following day’s adventure.
When not enjoying a siesta or the fruits of Bedarra’s island location at the restaurant, by the pool or down on the beachfront, a myriad of included activities are on hand to keep you entertained. Scuba diving and deep sea fishing can also be arranged.
InterContinental Hayman Island
Emerald islands, white sands, and refined resorts spilling onto the water’s edge… the call of the Whitsundays is impossible to resist. InterContinental Hayman Island is one of the region’s most celebrated resorts, and it has some impressive technology behind it too.
Designed to be as sustainable as possible, with eco-initiatives guests likely won’t even notice, the award-winning hideaway spans three wings – Beach, Pool and Lagoon – together with the new Beachfront Pavilions and two exclusive Hayman Residences on the hilltop.
All-day fare with a stellar sea view at Pacific, delicious handmade pastas and tapas at Amici, and zesty Asian flavours at Bam Bam are a few of the culinary options available.
If you want to take it up a notch, dinners under a canopy of stars, gourmet picnics, and a group dining experience where you can go behind the scenes in the kitchen are also on offer.
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