"Any mad American touring the country by car will not be disappointed by Mungo National Park, beautiful desert country six hours' drive from Melbourne in western New South Wales. You can camp or stay in a lodge, but be sure to take a supply of petrol, as there is no gas for a considerable way."Thomas Keneally, Sydney-based booker prizewinning author of Schindler's Ark
ASK AUSSIES the ultimate Great Barrier Reef trip and they'll sigh for Lizard Island, a resort in the middle of the world's most stellar dive sites, with enough high style to lure the likes of Vince Vaughn and a honeymooning Russell Crowe. A light plane ferries guests an hour north of Cairns, skimming over interlocking reefs until the green, coral-ringed isle rises 17 miles off the coast. Part of six-island Lizard Island National Park, the 2,500-acre paradise is shared by only 80 resort guests, four scientists at the island's research station, a handful of campers, and a few moored yachties. Once the plane departs, silence descends, broken only by the coos of bar-shouldered doves and the popping of corks for the welcome libation.
The digs are equally glam: a string of villas along a white-powder beach framed by smooth boulders, the favorite basking spots for statuesque goannas, the Aussie monitor lizards that give the island its name. Each cabana is a miniature temple to nature, with timber floors, a sundeck, and the blue horizon filling every view.
Amazingly, some visitors make it no farther than the Azure Spa, for a seaweed mud mask, or the open-air restaurant, to scarf up mangrove jack reef fish. The water draws the rest: Lizard sits on top of the reef, so you can dash straight from your villa to snorkel over a rookery of yard-wide giant clams. And it's only 50 minutes by powerboat to the fabled outer reef, the fertile coral ribbons where you can spot the largest fish. In one hyperactive day, I dived the Cod Hole, where 150-pound potato cod tore bait from my fingers; cruised with the predators of Shark Alley; and swam with dwarf minke whales. Then it was back to the resort for sips of Bollinger while the lizards eyed me contentedly from their rocks.