In the nicest possible way, Bedarra Island is all about decadence and indulgence. It boasts an open bar (and it truly is open – you can get a drink at three in the morning if you want) with endless supplies of Bollinger and no fewer than twenty varieties of Scottish, American and Irish whisky (and whiskey). It prides itself in the quality of the food and drinks. And most visitors seem to find lying around the pool or on the two easily accessible beaches to be about the limit of their exertions.
While Bedarra tries to cater for everyone, with staff being trained to discreetly dance attention on every visitor, it has an ambience ideally suited to younger, slightly funkier couples. It really is a couples destination, with only 16 villas (effectively a total of 32 people on the island at any one time) and a gentle emphasis on enjoying a holiday by yourself rather than socialising. Like Lizard, it’s no stranger to the jet set because of its promise of privacy. Aussies usually make up more than half the guests.
This sense of privacy reaches a high point with the motorised dinghies which are moored at Wedgerock Bay and are designed so that couples can clamber aboard with a bottle of bubbly and a picnic lunch and head off to some of the truly isolated beaches on the nearby uninhabited islands. The island does have a tennis court, but it’s rarely used.
As with most of the islands on the Great Barrier Reef, actually getting to Bedarra is an obstacle course. The best route is to fly to Cairns, which is served by flights from all major cities. From Cairns it is firstly necessary to get to Dunk Island, which lies 140 km to the south, just off the coast from Mission Beach. Travellers can be driven, either by taxi or hire car, to Mission Beach and then catch a water taxi across to Dunk Island. Alternatively there are regular Mac Air flights from Cairns to Dunk or private air charter, which is a five-seater one way.
From Dunk Island there is a private launch service to Bedarra. This journey lasts about 20 minutes. It’s often a choppy crossing because of the water being whipped up by the cool afternoon breeze. For those looking to arrive in real style it’s possible to hire a helicopter from Cairns to Bedarra.
Arrival at Bedarra by launch is extraordinary. The resort is so well hidden by palms and tropical rainforest that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were arriving on a deserted island. The launch pulls up to a wharf set on a rocky headland. There is always a vehicle (the only one on the island) awaiting the new guests. It’s usually driven by the young, dynamic and pleasant island manager, Jackie McKeown.
Jackie served her island apprenticeship on Lizard Island. She explains the layout of the island, offers drinks, ensures that the luggage is whisked away to your villa (there’s no tipping – you don’t even see your bags arrive at the room) and sings the praises of both the open bar and the island’s keyless society. Yes, there are no keys used on the island. Given the intimate nature of the resort this is hardly a problem, although a crime committed by one of 32 people would be an almost perfect scenario for Hercule Poirot. There are safety deposit boxes for valuable personal items.
Bedarra, or at least the section of Bedarra where the resort is located, is very easy to understand. It is hilly and the administration, open bar and restaurant are located in a central building on a ridge between two beaches. To the north, only metres from the central building, lies Hernandia Beach. Behind the beach are a series of stepped timber verandas which have been allowed to weather so they now are characterised by a “coastal bungalow” ambience.
The highest veranda is the resort’s dining room. Immediately below it is a large veranda which features a small swimming pool edged by purple bougainvillea and palm trees. Closer to the water there’s a huge Asian-style day bed, deck chairs – both on the veranda and on the beach – and wooden tables and chairs. You could sit here all day. There are trees providing plenty of shade and waiters wander around offering drinks and food as the mood dictates.
Behind the central building, down a short, sealed track, is the more private and intimate Wedgerock Bay. It’s common to find only a single couple on this quiet beach, which is edged, to the east and west, by particularly beautiful, low-lying granite cliffs. This is where the motorised dinghies are moored, where the island’s small, but popular, therapy centre is located, and where guests can access the internet and enjoy the facilities of a small gymnasium.
On the ridge above the beach lie the best of the accommodation options on the island. Bedarra’s villas come in four configurations which range in price (all meals and drinks included). There are nine double-storey villas all located in the rainforest with glimpses over Hernandia Beach, then there are three split-level villas, two points and two pavilions. The pavilions are the pick of the accommodation options on the island. Both have uninterrupted views southward with Wedgerock Bay lying below. They are models of the currently fashionable quasi-Asian look which is currently a byword for chicness in the region.
The pavilions are a clever mixture of Asian and European elegance with a large heavy timber and metal door opening on to a timber patio which leads to a plunge pool. On one side a low-lying day bed on a timber veranda is an invitation to laze around and do very little. Behind it the entertainment lounge room features low couches, a surround sound CD and DVD system and a well-stocked refrigerator. The television offers a range of satellite and local channels including two sports channels and two movie channels and the office has a wide range of DVDs and CDs.
On the other side of the timber patio is the bedroom and bathroom. The sumptuous floating bed is positioned so that, if the blinds are raised, you awake to absolute views of Wedgerock Bay through the trees. These views extend across to the mainland which, most of the time, is blurred by the soft white heat haze so typical of the tropics. The room is intensely open plan with a desk positioned behind the bed head. The desk boasts a laptop with slow (33k modem connection) no-cost internet access. Behind a feature wall covered in grass cloth is the bathroom. While aesthetically pleasing, this design is just too open plan. It means that there’s no effective soundproofing between the bedroom and the spa bath, bathroom, shower recess (with a huge rain shower head) and toilet, which are all located behind the screen. Shower and toilet have floor-to-ceiling opaque green glass doors which dull, but do not hide, the noise.
Like all the resorts on the Great Barrier Reef, Bedarra aims to maintain its reputation as a resort for foodies. The wine list is excellent and constantly changing. It includes unusual and fine boutique wines from both Australia and New Zealand with some good French wines as well. The food, particularly in season, is an advertisement for the region’s rich and diverse tropical fruit and vegetable industries and the main meals, notably the fish, are always fresh and interesting. Gourmets are well catered for in their rooms also. A lovely touch, for example, are the interesting canapés and sushi delivered to the room in the late afternoon and the bottle of Bollinger on ice that awaits every guest upon arrival.
Few people, apart from committed gourmands, will do anything other than eulogise the cuisine. The poor chef is expected to be endlessly inventive so that, at least in theory, a visitor could stay for a year and never eat the same meal twice. As few people stay beyond a week, the theory has probably never been put to the test. The chef is also on hand to cook whatever guests ask for (so it’s possible to get a hamburger and chips if your heart so desires) and will happily cook any fish – particularly the coral trout and parrot fish – which visitors might catch while out in the motorised dinghies. And never forget the myriad joys of the open bar – all meals are served with various quality wines.
The restaurant setting is a symbol of the island’s appeal. All the tables are positioned on a large veranda which overlooks the swimming pool. Somewhere beyond the pool the waves lap against Hernandia Beach. The chairs are so comfortable and well upholstered that those who overeat are likely to fall asleep with contented grins on their faces. The tables are separated so that no-one overhears nearby conversations. The palm trees sway in the darkness and the occasional sound of a bird or a small marsupial in the dense trees adjacent can be heard.
Those who want to work off the inevitable overdose of calories can enjoy the bushwalks around the island or go swimming off the same beaches at Hernandia Bay and Wedgerock Bay.
Visitors wanting to explore the Great Barrier Reef should note that the island is 90 minutes by fast catamaran from the Outer Reef. The MV Quickcat leaves Dunk Island at 11am each morning and returns around five in the afternoon. It costs includes lunch. There is no reef around or near the island. It’s possible to charter private vessels for snorkelling and game fishing. The two recommended by Bedarra are the light tackle game fishing experience on the Tanderra, (it can hold six passengers), and the Saltaire, a 34-foot sport fishing vessel which can hold eight passengers and can be hired. Hayleys Comet Dive, which specialises in dives and snorkelling, regularly picks up from Bedarra at 9.30am and returns at 4.30pm. It costs be privately chartered.
The resort has regular makeovers. This is the inevitable result of its proximity to the sea. In its current manifestation the emphasis is on blond timber, quasi-Asian minimalism, furniture with clean, simple lines and lots of light.
The appeal of the place is obvious. The setting is pure rainforest with lianas hanging from the trees, vines growing over the granite rocks, banyan trees and huge ferns. Bedarra’s raison d’etre is simple – total relaxation, privacy and just a gentle air of decadence. The resort does not allow children under 16, and nor should it. There’d be no place for them.