Australia’s remote castaway tropical island: Haggerstone

Haggerstone Island mfp

Not a skerrick of pretension can be found anywhere near the jungle green mound that is Haggerstone Island, sitting peaceably in its own reef just 80 kilometers from the tip of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. Those in the know ditch their shoes along with their big city stresses and fly 2 ½ hours from Cairns over virgin rainforest and an aquamarine sea dotted with lily-pad-like reefs.   The airport is a clay landing strip on nearby Hicks Island.  Baggage handling is by tractor. The destination: a remote, castaway tropical island paradise.

“This is the Great Barrier Reef like you’ve never experienced it before,” a well-traveled regular guest tells me. “Snorkeling, fishing and eating what you catch. And owners Roy and Anna Turner’s graceful hospitality makes it perfect.”

Bolthole for the world’s wealthy

Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer are regular Haggerstone guests. The richest woman in the Netherlands dropped in for Christmas. Yet travertine bathrooms and state-of-the-art spa facilities are nowhere to be seen. And the only surround-sound is the cooing of bar-shouldered doves and the lapping of waves along a private shore.


Haggerstone’s appeal for the rich and famous is its privacy and the freedom that affords as well as unbridled access to the exquisite beauties of the tropics, thanks to Roy’s encyclopaedic knowledge.  That and an unaffected casualness that comes from carving a unique haven out of the wilderness, which is exactly what Roy and Anna Turner have done since they arrived by barge in 1985 with water tank, building supplies, chickens and seedlings for a garden.

Things to do

We are standing atop a 40-metre sand dune as fine and white as cane sugar. Inland the vista is more Saudi Arabia than North Queensland. Then I turn seaward and cannot contain a gasp for laid out below is a paisley pattern of indigo and celadon delineating deep ocean and coral reef all the way to the horizon. There is no one here except us.

Roy  has skimmed his 12-metre jet boat across the Coral Sea to take us to this giant’s wedding cake and now he cruises the deserted mainland coast. Suddenly he stops in the middle of a cobalt patch so my companions, four Russian fishing fanatics, and I can cast our lures. Not a minute passes before each of us hauls glistening coral trout and red emperor from the inky depths.

catching-a-big-mackeral-on-Jo-Jo-II-off-Haggerstone-IslandHeading off again to a special spot, somewhere between No Name and Olive creeks, he pulls out a spear gun and screwdriver, and swims over to the mangroves with Lucy, the world’s most accomplished fishing kelpie dog, to fetch barramundi and a stash of black-lipped oysters.

Back on board the Jo Jo III, Roy serves the chilled briny oysters on toasted bread with Alkoomi Sauvignon Blanc. He whisks together chopped garlic, ginger, fresh coriander, fish sauce and a dash of chilli in a pot on the boat’s stove, adds our catch and splashes in some wine. The feast is ready in minutes. And the view…well, my Russian companions can’t stop pinching themselves.

Indeed, Roy’s adventures in Haggerstone’s pristine back yard…the lagoons, reefs, and ocean…would make Jacques Cousteau green. By helicopter we fly to The Lost Falls, a red-rock waterfall that rivals the Kimberley’s best.

One day we snorkel above an underwater garden. Another, we explore a 19th century wreck in water so shallow that you can see its giant anchor from the surface.   En route, we skim the waves with dolphin and dugong, spear rock lobster, and whip out rods when we see the tuna boil.

Robinson Crusoe cabins

Just ten guests stay on Haggerstone Island at any one time: in the free-flowing, open-sided, thatched-roofed Mawu villa, with indoor/outdoor bathrooms and a spa bath under the stars; two round wooden huts with sundecks and slate en-suites; and a rustic beach shack whose carved Balinese door leads to a shower under the coconut palms.

Two-bedroom Mawu is Roy’s newest creation. He built it around a massive 10-metre New Guinea swamp paperback log, which he towed to Haggerstone from a remote sand cay. An organic structure painted shades of the earth and sun, Mawu embodies his architectural philosophy…. an Art Nouveau reverence for natural lines amidst the Rousseau jungle.

deck-and-living-space-in-the-main-pavillionTropical feasts

At the tolling of a Bavarian cow bell, guests congregate for meals in the earthy islander-style main pavilion that opens to the cooling breezes. On the deck is a rock-encircled open fireplace, where Anna might steam lobster wontons or fry beer batter barramundi in a wok. The cuisine is inspired by the Turners travels throughout Southeast Asia and their off-seasons on the family farm in France.

A dugout canoe hangs above the bar where the head of a giant saltwater crocodile jeers. Roy saved the life of a young girl in these parts a few years back by jumping on the croc’s back and gouging out its eyes.  Just as well this farm boy turned Renaissance man spent his formative years hunting crocodiles in New Guinea. Anna, on the other hand, is the English-educated child of Australian documentary film maker, John Heyer, renowned for his outback film “The Back of Beyond.” The title could easily refer to Haggerstone.

Some people spend their lives fantasizing about the perfect island escape. Others like Roy and Anna Turner live the dream in their rough jewel of a hideaway and, luckily, share it with a fortunate few.

Your say

I’d love to hear about any other idyllic castaway islands you’ve discovered around the world.


A sand cay lagoon offers fabulous snorkeling off Haggerstone Island

Haggerstone Island

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Haggerstone Island -12.039921, 143.300234


Sue Gough Henly

Sue Gough Henly is award-winning travel writer and photographer whose bi-line has appeared in The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, The Guardian, The Toronto Star and all the major Australian publications. Her travel blog, Genuine Journeys, is full of insider tips on the best places for authentic experiences and luxury splurges. She is also the author of Australia’s Best Places travel app. When she doesn’t have sand between her toes or a pack on her back, she writes about food, wine and culture.

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