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About Lizard Island

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Getting there and getting around

Several commercial operators travel to Lizard Island, Queensland. Photo: Tourism Queensland.

Several commercial operators travel to Lizard Island, Queensland. Photo: Tourism Queensland.

The six islands of Lizard Island National Park lie 33 km off the coast of Cape Flattery, 93 km north-east of Cooktown and 250 km north-east of Cairns. Flights to Lizard Island are available from Cairns and Cooktown. Private aircraft may land with permission from the resort.

Commercial charter vessels depart Cairns, Port Douglas and Cooktown for Lizard Island.

The islands can also be reached by private vessel. Sheltered anchorages are available, although anchoring restrictions apply.

Access to the Lizard Island Resort and its facilities are for resort guests only. Visitors are welcome at the Marlin Bar although it is not open every day.

For more information see the tourism information links.

Wheelchair accessibility

No wheelchair-accessible facilities are provided in the national park.

Park features

Lizard Island National Park is surrounded by fringing reefs. Photo: Tourism Queensland.

Lizard Island National Park is surrounded by fringing reefs. Photo: Tourism Queensland.

Yellow-spotted monitor. Photo: Kym Edgerton.

Yellow-spotted monitor. Photo: Kym Edgerton.

Lizard Island National Park comprises Lizard, Osprey, Palfrey and South islands and Seabird Islets along with Eagle Island, which is located several kilometres west of Lizard Island. It is the only continental island group close to the outer barrier reef. The stark, rugged beauty of Lizard Island, rising 359 m above sea level, contrasts sharply with the sparkling blue waters and rich fringing reefs surrounding 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 there. The island's best-known animal is a lizard—the yellow-spotted monitor Varanus panoptes. Lieutenant James Cook named the island for this lizard during his exploration of the east coast of Australia in 1770. More than 40 species of birds inhabit the island group. Seabird Islets and Osprey, South and Palfrey islands are important nesting sites, particularly for terns.

The islands are rich in cultural meaning for the Dingaal Aboriginal people and contain sacred sites including initiation, ceremonial and story sites. Shell middens, which provide evidence of long-ago feasting on clams, oysters, spider shells and trochus shells, are found on the islands. Lizard Island also has a rich 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.

Camping and accommodation

Watsons Bay, Lizard Island, Queensland. Photo: Tourism Queensland.

Watsons Bay, Lizard Island, Queensland. Photo: Tourism Queensland.

Camping

Camp at Watsons Bay camping area. Visitors arriving by plane must carry all their gear 1.2 km from the airstrip to the camping area. No supplies are available on the island. Campers are welcome at the Marlin Bar, a resort bar located at the eastern end of Anchor Bay, although the bar is not open every day.

Toilets, picnic tables and gas barbecues (burners only, no hot plates) are provided. Open fires are not allowed. Bore water can be obtained from the hand-pump located 250 m from the camping area. This hand pump may be unreliable at times. If it fails, water can be collected from a tap outside the Marlin Bar (approximately 40 minutes walk from the camping area). Bring water containers suitable for carrying water this distance and treat all water before drinking.

Never feed the wildlife. Secure all food and rubbish scraps. Bins are not provided so take your rubbish away with you.

Camping permits are required and fees apply.

Other accommodation

Luxury accommodation is available at the Lizard Island Resort. A range of accommodation can be found in Cooktown, 93 km south-west of Lizard Island. For more information see the tourism information links.

Things to do

View from Cooks Look. Photo: Julie Swartz, NPRSR.

View from Cooks Look. Photo: Julie Swartz, NPRSR.

Anchor Bay, looking towards Watsons Bay. Photo: Kym Edgerton.

Anchor Bay, looking towards Watsons Bay. Photo: Kym Edgerton.

Lizard Island is surrounded by fringing reefs such as Loomis Reef. Photo: Kym Edgerton.

Lizard Island is surrounded by fringing reefs such as Loomis Reef. Photo: Kym Edgerton.

Walking

A network of walking tracks, ranging from easy to very difficult, allows visitors to explore Lizard Island. Many of these tracks are linked and can be undertaken as longer walks—see inset on Lizard Island National Park map. Avoid spreading weeds by checking for and removing seeds from clothing, footwear and other items. Place seeds in bins, where provided at the start of walking tracks, or in rubbish bags for later disposal off the island.

Chinamans Ridge—340 m one way (20 mins) Grade: moderate

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.

Watsons Walk—520 m one way (30 mins) 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.

Pandanus track—685 m one way (30 mins) Grade: easy

From Watsons Bay beach, follow Watsons Walk to the ruins of Watsons Cottage. The Pandanus track 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.

Blue Lagoon—455 m return (40 mins) Grade: easy

From the end of the Pandanus track (where it joins the airstrip), walk 800 m to the end of the airstrip where a short, sandy track descends gently to the secluded Mangrove beach 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.

Research Road—4.4 km return (1 hr) Grade: easy

A sandy road from the western end of the airstrip passes through woodland and leads to the Lizard Island Research Station, where guided tours are available at certain times. Vehicles use the road so visitors must take care.

Cooks Look—2.25 km return (2.5 hrs) Grade: very difficult

From Watsons Bay beach, near the camping area a very steep, unformed track leads to the summit (359 m) at Cooks Look. This lookout offers wide-ranging views over the surrounding reefs and island group. The track surface varies from decomposed granite to sloping granite slabs, with rough hewn steps in some places. This walk is suitable for very fit and experienced walkers only, 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.

Picnic and day-use areas

A day-use area is located adjacent to the camping area in Watsons Bay on Lizard Island. Visitors have access to picnic tables and toilets. An additional small day-use area with picnic tables, is provided about 300 m south along Watsons Bay beach.

Boating and anchoring

Lizard Island offers sheltered anchorages for private and commercial vessels. Provisions are in place to minimise coral damage from anchoring.

Specific anchoring restrictions apply within Lizard Island Locality 1 and these are listed as part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s (GBRMPA) special management arrangements under the Cairns Area Plan of Management.

Reef Anchorage areas have been designated in Watsons Bay and Blue Lagoon. Anchor within a Reef Anchorage area whenever possible—they have been established to minimise coral damage. Take care when anchoring—anchors and chains must be dropped on sand to avoid damage to coral. Never anchor directly on coral.

Reef protection markers are located between the southern end of Watsons Bay and Osprey Island. These white markers protect fragile reef areas—do not anchor inshore of reef protection markers except if anchoring on adjacent beach areas.

Public moorings are provided in Watsons Bay (class A) and Mermaid Cove (class B). Public moorings are available for overnight use and may only be used by one vessel at a time. Other conditions of use, such as vessel length, time limits and maximum wind strength limits, are displayed on the mooring buoy. For more information about public moorings see the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority GBRMPA.

Other vessel anchoring restrictions apply. For further information about boating and anchoring, including anchoring and mooring restrictions, see GBRMPA.

Motorised watersports, including waterskiing and the use of personal watercraft (such as jet skis), are not permitted around Lizard Island. For more information refer to the Cairns Area Plan of Management.

There are strict regulations regarding the discharge of waste in the marine park. For current regulations see GBRMPA.

Fishing and collecting

The waters surrounding Lizard Island National Park are internationally significant and are protected in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Zones in the two marine parks—the Great Barrier Reef Coast and Great Barrier Reef—provide a balanced approach to protecting the marine and intertidal environments while allowing recreational and commercial use. Check zoning maps and information and the Cairns Plan of Management before entering or conducting any activities, including fishing, in the marine parks.

Fisheries regulations apply—information on bag and size limits, restricted species and seasonal closures is available from Fisheries Queensland.

Be aware that crocodiles can turn up anywhere in croc country, including tidal reaches of rivers, along beaches, on offshore islands and cays in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait, and in freshwater lagoons, rivers, and swamps. Crocodiles are dangerous and attacks can be fatal.

Viewing wildlife

The islands offer excellent opportunities for viewing wildlife. Many kinds of lizards make the islands their home, most notably the yellow-spotted monitor, for which Lizard Island is named. Pythons and tree snakes are also commonly seen.

Black flying-foxes and several species of the smaller insectivorous bats are found on the islands. Along the beaches, green and loggerhead marine turtles nest during summer and can often be seen in shallow water close to shore.

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. Along the walking tracks on Lizard Island land birds such as pheasant coucals, yellow-bellied sunbirds and, in summer, pied imperial-pigeons, can be seen.

The islands are important seabird nesting sites—many species roost and nest on beaches and in the islands’ low vegetation. Stay well away from seabirds as they are easily alarmed. Once disturbed, adult birds can abandon their nests leaving eggs and chicks vulnerable to heat, cold and predators such as silver gulls. In summer months avoid Seabird Islets where nesting occurs close to the beach.

See the description of the park's natural environment for more details about the islands' diverse wildlife.

Other things to do

Snorkelling

The most popular location for snorkelling is the Clam Gardens in Watsons Bay on Lizard Island. Giant clams Tridacna gigas, up to 2 m in length, live among 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 on Lizard Island also invite exploration. Corals in these shallow, sheltered waters form a layered mosaic with many delicate branching and leaf-like colonies in patches interspersed between areas of clean sand.

Snorkel safely at all times. Be aware of wind and currents at your chosen location and, if in doubt, ask at the watersports centre at the resort for safe locations on the day.

See staying safe for more information.

Lizard Island Research Station tours

Established by the Australian Museum in 1973, the Lizard Island Research Station is dedicated to supporting research into all aspects of the Great Barrier Reef. Tours of the research station, located on the south-west side of the island, are available at certain times.

Find out more about the Lizard Island Research Station.

Things to know before you go

Anchor Bay and resort, Lizard Island, Queensland. Photo: Tourism Queensland.

Anchor Bay and resort, Lizard Island, Queensland. Photo: Tourism Queensland.

Essentials to bring

  • Be self-sufficient in food, water and first-aid supplies.
  • Bring water containers and water treatment equipment.
  • Bring sunscreen, hat, suitable clothing and sturdy footwear.
  • Bring a screened tent or mosquito nets for protection from insects.
  • Carry rubbish bags to take your rubbish away with you—bins are not provided.

Opening hours

Lizard Island National Park is open 24 hours a day.

Permits and fees

Permits are required for commercial or organised group activities. Contact us for further information.

Camping is permitted only at Watsons Bay on Lizard Island. Camping permits are required and fees apply. A camping tag with your booking number must be displayed at your campsite.

Pets

Domestic animals are not permitted on Lizard Island National Park or on tidal lands adjacent to Lizard Island National Park within the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park. Tidal areas include beaches, dunes, rocks and mangroves.

Climate and weather

Lizard Island has a tropical climate. The best time to visit is between May and October when rain is unlikely and temperatures are cooler. The islands’ vegetation does not provide much shade. During the wetter months, usually between December and April, maximum temperatures often rise above 30 ºC.

For more information see the tourism information links.

Weather forecasts are available from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Fuel and supplies

The nearest fuel and supplies are available at Cooktown, 93 km south-west of Lizard Island. For more information see the tourism information links below.

Research

Lizard Island is an important site for marine research. Avoid disturbing items of research equipment such as stakes or marker buoys as they are integral to scientific research carried out in the area.

Staying safe

Fringing reefs around Lizard Island, Queensland offer many snorkelling opportunities. Photo: Tourism Queensland.

Fringing reefs around Lizard Island, Queensland offer many snorkelling opportunities. Photo: Tourism Queensland.

To enjoy a safe visit to Lizard Island

  • Keep to the walking tracks at all times; take note of the safety signs at each trailhead.
  • Always carry water, wear hats, sunscreen and sturdy footwear, and walk in the cooler part of the day.
  • As you walk, rest often in the shade as heat exhaustion can affect all walkers.
  • Stay clear of cliffs and steep rock faces and take care on uneven, slippery track surfaces, especially when wet.
  • Take care when walking near the airstrip and always stay to the outside of the white cones along the runway.
  • Wear sunscreen and cover up when you are swimming or snorkelling—do not put yourself or others at risk and always snorkel with a buddy so help is at hand.
  • If you are an inexperienced snorkeller, practise in sandy areas, sheltered from the wind, where you can put your feet down if necessary.
  • Take care near boating traffic.
  • Be aware of wind, current direction and tides.
  • Avoid snorkelling at low tide as corals are exposed, making snorkelling difficult.
  • Avoid touching coral or other animals as they may inflict a painful sting or bite.
  • Dangerous stinging jellyfish (‘stingers’) may be present in the coastal waters at any time, but occur more frequently in the warmer months. If you do enter the water, a full-body lycra suit, or equivalent, may provide a good measure of protection against stinging jellyfish and sunburn. Visit marine stingers for the latest safety and first aid information.
  • Be aware that crocodiles can turn up anywhere in croc country, including tidal reaches of rivers, along beaches, on offshore islands and cays in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait, and in freshwater lagoons, rivers and swamps. Crocodiles are dangerous and attacks can be fatal.

For more information, please read the guidelines on safety in parks and forests.

Looking after the park

Lizard Island National Park has many beautiful beaches. Photo: Kym Edgerton.

Lizard Island National Park has many beautiful beaches. Photo: Kym Edgerton.

  • Help keep the park in a natural state. Everything in the park is protected—leave everything as you found it.
  • Domestic animals are not permitted on Lizard Island National Park or on tidal lands adjacent to Lizard Island National Park within the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park. Tidal areas include beaches, dunes, rocks and mangroves.
  • Do not feed the wildlife—it can affect the natural population balance.
  • Camp only in designated camp sites—disturbance to vegetation can cause erosion and spread weeds.
  • Lighting of fires is prohibited. Bring a fuel or gas stove for cooking.
  • Rubbish bins are not provided. Do not bury rubbish—take it with you when you leave.
  • Show consideration for other campers—do not make undue noise.
  • Never use soaps or detergents in water courses as they can affect water quality.
  • Do not fossick in, take from, or cause damage to cultural sites.
  • 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.
  • Watch out for weeds. Weeds are unintentionally spread by visitors and can exclude native plants. When arriving on the island, and before setting out on the walking tracks, check for and remove seeds from clothing, footwear and other items. Place seeds in bins, where provided at the start of walking tracks, or in rubbish bags for later disposal off the island. Stay on the marked tracks to avoid picking up and spreading seeds.
  • Check for and remove contaminants, such as insects or soil, which can contribute to island degradation.

See the guidelines on caring for parks for more information about protecting the environment and heritage in parks.

Park management

Moonlight over Watsons Bay, Lizard Island. Photo: Tourism Queensland.

Moonlight over Watsons Bay, Lizard Island. Photo: Tourism Queensland.

Lizard Island National Park is managed by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) for the enjoyment of visitors and the conservation of nature.

Lizard Island was declared a national park in 1939 and the other islands in the group were added to the national park in 1987.

The reef and waters surrounding the Lizard Island group are within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The surrounding waters are within the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Cairns Area Plan of Management also has provisions for the waters surrounding Lizard Island National Park.

Fire management

Prior to European settlement, Aboriginal people traditionally used fire to manage their country—to provide access and prevent wildfires. Today fire is used to maintain Lizard Island's existing plant communities, particularly grasslands, which conserves plant diversity; and to protect the resort, research station and campground. All visitors are given prior notice of the intention to burn.

Tourism information links

Cairns & Tropical North Visitor Information Centre
www.cairnsgreatbarrierreef.org.au
The Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870
Phone: (07) 4051 3588
Email: info@ttnq.org.au

Natures Powerhouse (Visitor Information Centre)
www.cooktowns.com
Cooktown Botanical Gardens, Cooktown QLD 4895
Phone: (07) 4069 6004
Email info@naturespowerhouse.com.au

For tourism information for all regions in Queensland see www.queenslandholidays.com.au.

Further information

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Last updated
15 August 2013