Feature

Isle of Plenty

G Magazine, Issue 2, April 2007

A boutique eco-resort on the Great Barrier Reef strikes the perfect balance between luxury and treading lightly on the Earth. Welcolme to Wilson Island, where the turtles outnumber the humans.

Wilson Island, Great Barrier Reef

Wilson Island, Great Barrier Reef

Credit: Voyages

Sea turtle on Wilson Island, Great Barrier Reef

Sea turtle on Wilson Island, Great Barrier Reef

Sunset, Wilson Island, Great Barrier Reef

Sunset, Wilson Island, Great Barrier Reef

Luxury camping, Wilson Island, Great Barrier Reef

Luxury camping, Wilson Island, Great Barrier Reef

Credit: Voyages

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It reads like a check-list of island clichés. Pristine aqua-blue water: tick. Colourful coral swarming with exotic fish: tick. Sun-kissed castor-sugar sand: tick.

So what makes Wilson Island, a tiny coral cay on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), stand out from every other atoll?

Well, the wild 'natives' for starters. Loud and lacking self-control, and cursed with a disproportionately large wingspan, the wedge-tailed shearwater mutton bird is one of the island's main inhabitants. Chances are you'll find yourself up close and personal with the clumsy chicken-size creatures as they crash-land home.

But that's precisely the attraction here - intimate contact with an abundance of nature in lavish, eco-friendly surrounds.

Located around 80 km off the coast off the Queensland town of Gladstone and eight nautical miles from Heron Island, it takes a mere fifteen minutes to stroll around the entire five hectare half-sand, half-rubble cay. Size hardly matters though, as there's plenty of stunning spots and species to discover, both above and below the water.

Admittedly, there are certain times of year that are less than picture perfect. Facing up to 14,000 malodorous mutton birds in January - the middle of their mating season - is akin to stepping into a Hitchcock movie for the feather-phobic.

Even for bird lovers, the stench and woeful baby-like wailing takes some getting used to. Almost every other month of the year Wilson Island is more like a scene from The Beach - green and serene. But the impressive array of bird life, from terns to buff banded rails and sea eagles, is a delightful, permanent part of the attraction.

Established as a tourist destination in 2002, Wilson Island has already earned a reputation as a world-class snorkelling spot - it's one of the few islands on the GBR that has stunning coral-scapes directly off the beach.

Nature watching

It's also a popular breeding ground for green turtles and rare loggerhead turtles; up to 100 adults lay their ping pong ball-sized eggs in the sand from November to March.

Watching the hatchlings scurry from the sand to the sea against all odds is the highlight of the after-dark activities from January to April. If they're not snapped up by a bird on the way or snacked on by waiting reef sharks (disconcerting but generally not big enough to taste test human thighs), they'll eventually come back here as adults to lay their own eggs.

Only one in one thousand make it to adulthood so visitors are under a strict look-but-don't-touch policy - 10 metres is the closest you're allowed to get. Flash photography and walking in front of turtles is banned. Even the red filtered torches you're given are restricted to three volts (which isn't much brighter than moonlight).

While it's a thrill to see the drama of birth and death play before your eyes, Wilson Is. was recently awarded Advanced Eco Accreditation from Eco Tourism Australia, which means they go to great lengths not to impact adversely on the precious ecosystem you're admiring.

Hosts can also point out virtually any species of bird on rambles through the pandanus grove. Guided reef walks at low tide are a great way to see sea stars, sea slugs, clams and the 'terminator' - a slimy sea cucumber that can break itself into multiple parts if attacked, and then reform again later.

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