Bedarra Island a lost paradise
Island life has captured the imagination of writers for centuries. There's often a shipwreck or similar catastrophe and then things unravel from there. (Think Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe or William Golding's Lord of the Flies.) But what of those who choose to live on an island, somewhere beyond the reach of the world?
Bedarra Island isn't Australia's most remote island - it is just 10 kilometres off the North Queensland coast - but when landscape artist Noel Wood built a bamboo shack on its eastern side in 1936 to "solve one's own problems in paint and colour" it was a lost paradise.
Bedarra, which is Aboriginal for perennial water, is a true "tropical" island with high rainfall and lush rainforests. But before moving to the island Wood spent six months living rough with indigenous Australians learning bushcraft; skills that no doubt stood him in good stead in more than 60 years on the island.
It was Wood who inspired Queensland hotelier Sam Charlton's vision for the Bedarra Island Resort. When Charlton was 12 he spent a year living on Bedarra with his family. Wood, a minister's son with a long white beard and a preference for kaftans, was the only other inhabitant. He taught Sam and his brother about the island's abundant animal and plant life and invited them to borrow books from his vast collection. "I don't want to say he was A hermit but he was a very charismatic figure," Charlton says.
In his later years Wood subdivided his portion of East Bedarra into eight sections and suddenly had "more money than he knew what to do with". Afterwards he was rarely seen without a bottle of French champagne or brandy in hand. "He probably worked hard for most of his life to maintain his existence . . . but for the last 10 years of his life he basically had an island holiday," Charlton says.
That kind of excess seems fitting when you consider that the Bedarra Island Resort, located across the bay from Wood's cottage, was once renowned as an exclusive hideaway for celebrities such as the actor Russell Crowe and Fergie the Duchess of York. "It was the 80s and the champagne corks were popping," says Charlton. Then, as now, Bedarra was completely private; unlike some other Australian islands there is no air-strip, no high-rises or roads choked with tourists driving golf carts. (There are no roads at all.)
When Charlton, the grandson of legendary Australian Olympic swimmer Andrew "Boy" Charlton, bought the resort with his wife Kerri-Ann in 2011 it was in ruins after being destroyed by Cyclone Yasi.
They were faced with an environmental dilemma: would they need to make the resort larger to ensure its financially viability?
Using some of the knowledge about the island learned from Wood, such as the location of fresh water springs, Charlton concluded that they could ditch the diesel generators and desalination plant and run the resort sustainably using solar power, spring and rainwater. After an arduous 18-month cleanup including the removal of 30 tonnes of debris, they reopened with just eight luxury villas - half the number that had previously been open to guests.
That makes for an intimate experience that starts with a 40-minute private charter from the mainland with your fellow guests. (No day-trippers are allowed.) As the water taxi bumps along the ebullient driver Fozzy quips: "They call this the chiropractor coast". There is a crunching sound under the boat as we get close to the beach because of a low tide that leaves Fozzy marooned for the afternoon.
The resort has one restaurant and an open bar where if you fancy yourself as a "mixologist" you can make your own drinks or just ask the staff to make them for you. (Food and alcohol is included in the nightly tariff but there is an honesty system for top-shelf drops that involves dropping a shell into a basket.) The pool is not enormous but that's no matter because almost all the luxurious-yet-relaxed villas have their own private plunge pools.
There are activities, of course, such as tennis, kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding but almost no one seems to do them. There is something about Bedarra that encourages you to do absolutely nothing at all. When we do venture out on a bushwalk on a rough, hilly track we're encouraged to take "spider sticks" to bat away the Golden Orb Arachnids that weave thick webs across the path. (We're hoping we can use the stick to shoe away the reassuringly named Death Adder snakes which are also found on the island.)
Apart from the resort, there are a handful of private houses to rent on the 15-acre island that suit larger groups. One of them, the Bedarra Island Villa, is a sprawling compound at Doorila Bay where Noel Wood settled in the 1930s.
The main house is perched on granite boulders and looks out over the Coral Sea. The beach is fronted by twisted palm trees and is totally private except for sea turtles that are occasionally blown into the bay. Lying in an almond shaped bath in a beachfront studio you hear nothing but the sound of shushing waves and the occasional coconut falling on the roof.
Best of all, Noel Wood's original residence has been converted into a beach-side lounge room with a stone fireplace, six-seat bar and a feature wall Wood decorated with gin and cognac bottles. There is also a collection of bamboo furniture handmade by Wood.
Although Bedarra has undoubtedly changed in the 80 years since Wood first landed in his island paradise it still feels like a remote idyll, detached from the world. You get the impression he would approve.
Getting there Fly to Cairns, then hire a car or book a coach to get to Mission Beach (138 km). Mission Beach Water Taxis has daily services to Bedarra Island for A$325 (NZ$348) return per couple.
Staying there Rates for the Bedarra Island Resort start from $1090 per villa per night including all food, selected alcoholic beverages and activities. Bedarra is closed from early January until early April each year. No children under 16 are permitted. Rates for the Bedarra Island Villa start at $790 a night (three night minimum stay).
The villa is self-catering but guests are met by a caretaker who assists with luggage and other needs. Being there Snorkelling, swimming, kayaking and bushwalks are available on Bedarra. If you're staying at the resort ask them to pack a picnic and borrow a dinghy to head over to a neighbouring island for lunch.
More information For the Bedarra Island Resort, see bedarra.com.au. For the Bedarra Island Villa, see visit contemporaryhotels.com.au.
Sunday Star Times