In 2011, a massive storm formed in the Pacific Ocean.  Yasi, as it became known, was a force 5 cyclone, and caused immeasurable damage to everything in its path – from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon islands to Australia’s eastern coast.  Queensland, on the northern tip of the country, is no stranger to cyclones and was well prepared for the storm, yet while there were no direct fatalities, the impact it left upon the landscape was vast.

One of the towns worst affected by the storm was Mission Beach, which sits between Cairns and Townsville.   We visited the sleepy little hamlet a year after Yasi hit, and still the scars were evident; the coastline had been eroded, leaving strange ridges along the beach.  Rocks, unusual and out of place, could be found much further inland than they belonged.  Fallen palm trees littered the shore.

Nature’s alternative to the traditional sunbed…

“You think this is bad?” Said a local, as we took in the weather battered scenery.  “You should see Bedarra.”

Bedarra Island is a privately owned islet, a few kilometres from the Australian mainland.  During the 1930s, it was purchased by Noel Wood, a renowned landscape artist; over time, the tropical paradise was developed into one of Australia’s most elite private resorts, playing host to wealthy honeymooners and even celebrities such as Madonna.

It offered guests the promise of pure, uninterrupted luxury and at no less than $500 a night, you can guarantee that was exactly what they got.

And then came Yasi.

At the time that we were visiting Australia, Bedarra resort had been completely destroyed by the storm.  All that remained were the shells of the once pristine villas, and with the residential staff now out of a job for the foreseeable future, the island had been more or less completely abandoned, a ghost of its former self.

Now to most people, the idea of visiting a derelict island in the middle of nowhere wouldn’t exactly be top of the travel list; to me, it sounded like the perfect adventure.  Thankfully, we learned of a small company through word of mouth that could arrange just that.

Operating since 1975, The Mission Beach Water Taxi has long been a lifeline for those looking to visit Bedarra and nearby Dunk island, either privately as guests, or as part of a group looking to learn more about the local area.  The company is run by Captain Fozzy and his wife Nancy, who know just about everything worth knowing about the islands and their history.  We decided to join in Fozzy’s ‘Three Island hopping’ tour, which took guests round Dunk, Timana and Bedarra islands; to this day, I’m convinced it was one the best day trips I’ve been on, not just because of the scenery, but because of our cheeky captain and his dry wit.

Captain Fozzy's water taxi!

Captain Fozzy’s water taxi!

Stepping onto Bedarra, it was easy to see why the island had earned its reputation as one of the country’s most decadent spots.  The island was small, and yet gave the impression of being somewhat vaster than it was.  It had been sculpted by time and by the elements, so that its shoreline was divided into several secluded bays, each pristine beach enclosed by a sheltering of large, granite boulders and a fringing of lush, tropical rainforest.   The water, shallow and teaming with life from the coral reefs, gently lapped the shore, its turquoise colour illuminated by the sun.  If it hadn’t been for the distant outline of the Australian mainland on the horizon, it would be easy to believe that you were thousands of miles from civilisation.
2There was little to suggest, as we explored the island, that it had lain directly in Yasi’s path.  Other than the occasional telltale sign, a fallen palm tree washed up along the shoreline or the odd mound of longshore drift, everything seemed pretty much as it should.  If anything, we found the island to be teaming with life, from the colourful birds which circled above, to the giant crabs which scuttled along the edges of the rockpools.  We were even lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the rare Ulysses butterfly, whose vibrant blue wings popped against the dark, granite rocks.  Thankfully, we didn’t come upon any of the islands more dangerous creatures, but I’m told it’s not unusual to see pythons making their way through the vegetation, or to catch the occasional glimpse of a tiger shark in the nearby reefs – needless to say, I wasn’t quite brave enough to venture more than a couple of meters into the sea…check out my post on my fear of snorkelling for more on that…

Just chillin’ out on a palm tree. As you do…

While some of the group decided to venture off in search of what remained of the hotel (as Fozzy pointed out, such was the state of abandoment that even the crockery was up for grabs), we decided to stay by the beach.  As we lay under the shade of our own palm tree, gazing out across the Pacific Ocean, we couldn’t help but be aware of how lucky we were to be there in that moment.  “If there is such a place as Heaven“, I thought, “then surely this is it.”
It’s been two years since we visited Bedarra Island and a lot has changed in that time.  In typical Aussie fighting spirit, major efforts have gone into restoring the island to its former glory, and the resort is once again open for business.  In a way, I’d love to go back one day (she says, optimistically), but then again, there’s something quite exciting about the fact that we went when we did; it may only have been for the briefest of moments, but for one day, we had an island to ourselves.  A beautiful, tropical, enchanting island.  Our very own paradise.  For now, that will do.
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