Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef (near drowning experience)

Fringed by lush greenery and many private powder white sandy beaches, with world class snorkelling, Lizard Island literally took my breath away. Superbly located right on the Great Barrier Reef, it doesn't get much better than this. On a five night camping trip to Lizard Island  I met a few people travelling the world on luxury yachts who unanimously agreed that Lizard Island was one of the most spectacular anywhere in the world.

View from Campground at Watson's Bay, Lizard Island

View from Campground at Watson's Bay, Lizard Island

In my Weekend Notes article, I wrote about Lizard Island including it's features, facilities, camping, my favourite reef experience and what to do there. But what I didn't reveal, is about the part where I nearly lost my life.

Our pilot had warned us that Lizard Island is relatively untouched, isolated and wild and felt that people underestimated the power of nature.  On this particular day it was quite windy and the seas were rougher than they looked.  But it was our last full day and we desperately wanted to reach a specific snorkelling spot, so I stupidly threw caution to the wind. We put on our gear and swam out.  It really didn't seem that far at all and I convinced myself it was protected by the other nearby islands, so it would be fine.


Lizard Island. The dark circle on the right is a Sea Turtle swimming close to shore. The section between the sand and the island in the distance is where I lost control and almost lost myself.

Lizard Island. The dark circle on the right is a Sea Turtle swimming close to shore. The section between the sand and the island in the distance is where I lost control and almost lost myself.

But three quarters of the way out,  the choppy seas left me taking in so much water I could barely breath - let alone swim.  My co-camper Belinda had already reached the snorkelling destination and was yelling at me to "get over here, it's fantastic".  I bobbed up and down struggling to keep my head above water.  Belinda immediately saw I was in trouble and swam back to me. 

I was in real difficulty at this stage.  Belinda grabbed me by the arm and started pulling me along.  I barely had the strength to move and was in a strange kind of daze.  The shore seemed impossibly far away.  My mind had veered off into a different stratosphere, losing awareness, and I was slowly giving up the fight without really being conscious of it at the time. Belinda was doing it tough swimming against the current to get back to shore and pulling me along at the same time.  It was too much for her.  She screamed frantically, "Tracey, you are drowning! Swim, paddle, move, you have to help me, come on!" 

Camping grounds on Lizard Island.

Camping grounds on Lizard Island.

Her urgent primal scream sent alarm bells through my body and I came out of my drowning daze in an instant.  I tried to kick, but was still taking in water, and finally I muttered to her "I can't".

Belinda wasn't taking no for an answer and thank God for that.  I think she swore a few times, but nothing I can repeat here.  "Kick, move, do something to help yourself, it's not that far, come on, focus!"   

I managed to move my feet and hands a little more. With a determined Belinda pulling me and  demanding I swim, we somehow made it to shore.  

Not even a once in a lifetime opportunity to snorkel this part of the reef is worth dying for.  I was just so thankful to be sitting on dry sand instead of the bottom of the ocean.

Me on the small plane flying from Lizard Island.

Me on the small plane flying from Lizard Island.

The hike back to camp took three or four hours, as I had taken in so much water, I was still having difficulty breathing properly.  Every few slow torturous steps I had to stop and try to get my breath. But by the end of the hike, my breathing had improved notably and I knew then that I would be okay.

The next morning we packed up our gear and met our pilot at the airstrip at the designated time.  I have never underestimated the power of the ocean since that day again.


 Click here to find out more about Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef, including it's snorkelling, hiking, camping, facilities.

There are no lifesavers or crowds to help you.  Don't swim in areas or choppy seas out of your comfort zone.  Go between April - September to avoid stinger season.  Bring plenty of sunscreen, food, tablets to make the water safe to drink, snorkelling gear and runners for hiking.

TRAVEL TIP ON A BUDGET: Seven nights on Lizard Island are better than five if you love exploring, walking, and snorkelling.  

Details for camping on Lizard can be found at the government website (click here).  At $5.45 a night it is a bargain.  You just have to fork out around $590 return per head for the small plane flight (incredibly scenic) from Cairns to Lizard Island. Call the resort for flight bookings even if you are camping. My camping experience can be found in a separate article titled Lizard Island National Park.

TRAVEL FOR NON-CAMPERS: If you are not into camping, are really cashed up and want to splash it around a bit, there is one exclusive resort on the island  - Lizard Island Resort.  Be prepared to spend upwards of $1400 per night for the privilege. 

Note: Unfortunately there is no middle ground for accommodation at Lizard Island National Park.  You either camp or stay in luxury at the Resort there.