Lizard Island National Park
These six islands are surrounded by luxuriant coral reefs and warm, sparkling blue waters, fringed by mangroves and sandy beaches and cloaked in grasslands, woodlands and wind-sheared heaths.
Lizard Island National Park is the only continental island group close to the outer barrier reef. The stark, rugged beauty of Lizard Island contrasts sharply with the sparkling blue waters and luxuriant fringing reefs which surround the island group.
More than half of Lizard Island is covered in grasslands. Eucalypt and acacia woodlands, heaths, paperbark swamps and mangroves are also found on the island. More than 40 species of birds have been seen on Lizard Island, while nearby Osprey, Seabird, South, Eagle and Palfrey islands are important bird nesting sites. The island's best-known animal is a lizard — Gould's sand monitor — after which the island was named by Lt James Cook during his exploration of the east coast of Australia in 1770.
The island group is rich in cultural meaning for the Dingaal Aboriginal people. The islands contain sacred sites including initiation, ceremonial and story sites as well as middens. Lizard Island is also rich in European heritage associated with the earliest European exploration of the coast and subsequent settlement. Today the islands are a popular tourism destination and the base for world-renowned tropical marine research.
Bush camping is possible at Watsons Bay on Lizard Island. Campers must carry all their gear 1.2km from the airstrip and be self-sufficient in food, shelter and first aid. No supplies are available on the island but campers are welcome at the Marlin Bar, a resort bar and restaurant for non-residents.
Toilets, picnic tables and gas barbecues (burners only, no hot plates) are provided. Open fires are prohibited. Water containers and water-treating equipment are also required — untreated water can be obtained from a hand-pump located 250m from the campground. Boil the water for five minutes or treat it before drinking.
On Lizard Island, a network of walking tracks, ranging from easy to difficult, provides access to the national park.
(1) Chinamans Ridge — 340m one way (20 minutes) Grade: Medium
A short, steep track with rocky steps leads over a steep granite ridge between the resort and the Pandanus track. A lookout at the top of Chinamans Ridge provides views over Watsons Bay.
(2) Watsons Cottage and Pandanus track — 685m one way (30 minutes) Grade: Easy
From Watsons Bay beach, a short, sandy track leads to the ruins of Watsons Cottage. The walk continues along a boardwalk through mangroves and then joins a rough track skirting a paperbark and pandanus swamp before arriving at the airstrip. Information about Aboriginal uses of plants and animals is presented along the way.
(3) Watsons Walk — 520m one way (30 minutes) Grade: Easy
From the day-use area in Watsons Bay, a sandy track leads to the water pump, passes through a paperbark swamp and continues to Watsons Cottage where it joins the Pandanus track.
(4) Cooks Look — 2.25km return (2 hours, 30 minutes) Grade: Very difficult
From Watsons Bay beach, near the campground, a very steep, unformed track leads to the 359m summit, which affords spectacular views over the surrounding reefs and island group. The track surface varies from decomposed granite gravel to sloping granite slabs, with rough-hewn steps in some places. This walk is suitable only for very fit and healthy walkers, due to the rough terrain, loose track surface, hot climate, steep slope and difficult access at the start of the track. Extreme care must be taken.
(5) Blue Lagoon — 455m return (40 minutes) Grade: Easy
From the end of the airstrip (800m past the junction with the Pandanus track) a short, sandy track descends gently to the secluded Mangrove and Coconut beaches on the edge of Blue Lagoon. The walk provides picturesque views over Blue Lagoon towards Palfrey and South islands and Cape Flattery on the mainland.
The islands offer excellent opportunities for viewing wildlife. Many kinds of lizards are found here, most notably the Gould's sand monitor, for which the island is named. Pythons and tree snakes are also commonly seen.
Birdwatching is rewarding. Around the beaches, look for large ocean birds such as white-bellied sea-eagles and ospreys soaring high above the ocean's surface. The island group, in particular Osprey, Seabird, South and Palfrey islands, are important seabird nesting sites. Look for seabirds such as terns around the islands' beaches. Along the walking tracks, land birds such as pheasant coucals, yellow-bellied sunbirds and, in summer, pied imperial-pigeons, can be seen.
Black flying-foxes and several small insectivorous bats are the islands' only mammals. Along the beaches, green and loggerhead marine turtles nest during spring and can often be seen in shallow water close to shore.
The most popular location for snorkelling is the Clam Gardens in Watsons Bay. Giant clams (Tridacna gigas), up to 2m in length, live amongst a picturesque array of hard and soft corals. The best time to snorkel is during high tide, accessing the reef from the shore at the southern end of the beach in front of the track leading to Watsons Cottage.
The clear waters of Blue Lagoon also invite exploration. Corals in these shallow, sheltered waters form a layered mosaic with many delicate branching and leaf-like colonies in patches interspersed with areas of clean sand.
Snorkel safely at all times. Be aware of wind and currents at your chosen location and, if in doubt of safety, ask at the Resort Watersports Centre for safe locations on the day. Avoid snorkelling at low tide as corals are exposed, making snorkelling difficult. Avoid kicking, standing on or touching corals as they are easily damaged and try to avoid stirring up sand with your fins as it can smother corals and other reef animals. Always cover up to avoid sunburn as you float above the coral reefs and avoid touching any animals as some can be harmful.