Haggerstone Island

Haggerstone Island

I had heard whispers of haggerstone -- a tiny, remote, castaway island resort on the northern tip of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, hand-built by an adventurous couple in Robinson Crusoe fashion. To find out if there is such a place, I hop into a six-seat plane in Cairns, North Queensland's largest town, and fly north, fi rst over virgin rainforest and then the indigo sea, which is dotted with lime-green reefs that look like giant lily pads. The airport: a clay landing strip on nearby Hicks Island. Baggage handling: by tractor. Destination: paradise.

After a 20-minute boat trip, Roy and Anna Turner welcome me to Haggerstone with unpretentious grace and joie de vivre.

The soaring, open-sided main pavilion is the heart and soul of the island, site of tropical feasts of freshly caught seafood. The garden overfl ows with mangoes, papaya, basil, bok choy, passion fruit, lemon grass and limes. I pad in my bare feet across the sand to my beach shack, where later I will wash off the sea in an outdoor shower under palm trees and then gaze from a four-poster driftwood bed across the aquamarine lagoon.

But for now, Roy, former crocodile hunter, fisherman and noted chef, is taking me on an adventure that would make Jacques Cousteau green with envy. We motor in his 40-foot cruiser across water that shifts seamlessly between turquoise and violet to stop at one of his favorite sites. Donning snorkeling gear, we glide above an 1840s shipwreck in water so clear we can see its giant anchor and bronze keel bolts from the surface. Schools of parrotfi sh and gold-spot trevally dart around lavender brain coral and gargantuan, blue-lipped giant clams. Shy rock lobsters with their opulent, orange-spotted shells, cerulean tails and purple pincers dart back into their nooks as our shadows pass overhead.

Later in the day, back on my castaway island, I wander down to the romantic thatched-roof gathering spot on Haggerstone's jetty as silvery baitfi sh skip over the water and crimson clouds streak the sky. Roy opens a bottle of champagne as Anna steams fi sh-mousse wontons wrapped in banana leaves over a fireplace crafted in a circle of rocks. As night quickly falls, the bright stars of the Southern Cross light the way back to my island home. Rates from $1,340. haggerstoneisland.com.au -- Susan Gough Henly Photo: Tony Gordon