From international luxury resorts to more low-key abodes that take their cues from the abundant nature and wildlife, these are the best stays on the Great Barrier Reef.
By Paul Chai
Whether you choose to spend the night in a tree house that overlooks the wilds of the Daintree Rainforest, stay in the world-renowned luxury of qualia on Hamilton Island or lay your head footsteps from the natural wonders of the reef in a resort set in national park, you will have a memorable getaway on the Great Barrier Reef.
Your accommodation at the 255-room Shangri-La Cairns, situated right on the Cairns Marina, allows you to pull up a chair on your balcony and look out over the Great Barrier Reef. Rooms and suites are decorated in the calm blues, greys and silvers of the sea and all contain artworks from local artists. The North Bar and Kitchen offers dining right on the waterfront with views of Trinity Inlet and the Cairns Marlin Marina where you can have cocktails and a modern-Australian menu.
Pierpoint Road, Cairns
With the Great Barrier Reef in front and lush rainforest behind, the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort’s location at Four Mile Beach has been much-loved since the 1980s. This beautiful property offers five-star rooms opening up to lush tropical gardens tucked just behind the beach. It's also just a short drive to the lively centre of Port Douglas. The Mirage’s signature restaurant Feast offers alfresco dining on the poolside deck with ingredients sourced locally and simply grilled, or book in for dinner at Harrisons by Spencer Patrick, the most nationally-awarded restaurant in Port Douglas.
Port Douglas Road, Port Douglas
Thala Beach Nature Reserve offers an immersive eco experience in a prime location. A short drive from Cairns airport, Thala Beach Nature Reserve is a family-owned haven offering a series of bungalows – and a large main building – that have been built to blend in with the surrounding forest. The emphasis here is definitely on nature. The resort helps you tune in to the natural surrounds with guided nature walks as well as information sessions run by the local Aboriginal community, the Kuku Yalanji. They will help guests learn the stories and culture of these ancient rainforest people.
Private Road Oak Beach, Port Douglas
Lizard Island Resort is set in more than 1000 hectares (2470 acres) of national park and has the Great Barrier Reef at its doorstep. At the resort guests can enjoy sunset picnics on one of the 20-odd private beaches, relax at the Essentia Day Spa or sample the daily changing menu – featuring the very freshest local seafood – at Salt Water restaurant. There are a range of room options from Oceanview Villas and opulent Beachfront Suites to the ultimate privacy of The Villa, with unspoiled views of the Coral Sea that surrounds Lizard Island.
PMB 40 Cairns
The remote beauty of Bedarra makes it one of the best examples of luxury island stays on the reef. Bedarra offers just nine villas that are hidden away in 45 hectares (110 acres) of tropical rainforest and beautifully appointed with private plunge pools, enormous viewing decks overlooking the ocean and indoor-outdoor bathrooms. This all-inclusive resort has all you could dream of on-site but also organises charters to take guests onto the reef for snorkelling or diving trips.
Bedarra Island, Mission Beach
Hidden among the treetops of the Daintree Rainforest, this luxury lodge-style resort is on the tranquil Mossman River and its location makes it easy to explore both the reef and the Daintree National Park. Rooms at Silky Oaks Lodge, such as the Daintree Treehouse, have a dark-wood interior, walk-in rain shower and private balcony with views over the river and rainforest. Guests can also visit the lush tropical surrounds of the Healing Waters Spa, which uses natural clays, flowers and plant essences for its treatments.
Finlayvale Road, Mossman
Perhaps the best-known luxury resort on the Great Barrier Reef, qualia is pure barefoot luxury nestled on the northern tip of Hamilton Island. The private pavilions are made of natural timber and stone and provide the ultimate vantage point to take in the views of the Whitsundays. In the south of the island, Hamilton Island Resort offers a range of accommodation from Palm Bungalows to the Beach Club, a 57-room adults-only boutique resort right on the beach.
20 Whitsunday Boulevard, Hamilton Island
Heron Island is a laidback resort situated right on the Great Barrier Reef with amazing dive sites directly off the beach. Some rooms are set back amid the island’s rainforest while others, such as the stand-alone Beach House, offer private beach access. It is a 100 per cent getaway experience thus the resort is proud of its lack of televisions and mobile phone reception. All the entertainment here comes from the natural world, from reef diving to up-close turtle experiences and watching the amazing array of marine bird life. The protected wildlife habitat is the ultimate in ecotourism with a scientific research station located on the island.