Editor’s Note: Wilson Island’s tented paradise is currently taking a vacation of its own. Check back for updates on its reopening. In the meantime, check out nearby Heron Island, another southern Great Barrier Reef castaway stay.
While planning a trip to Australia, my husband and I knew our tropical getaway had to incorporate two things: Glamping and the Great Barrier Reef. Is there a better travel cocktail? To our extreme delight, this combo led us to Wilson Island, a private coral cay with six tents, on-demand wine, and a personal chef in the southern Great Barrier Reef.
Reaching paradise found is no small feat, though, when you’re sipping Champagne at sunset watching baby turtles hatch before your eyes, the plane and two-boat journey fades into oblivion.
On Wilson, there’s no fancy dock or water toys or plunge pool. The lack of these luxuries only adds to the castaway allure. Upon arrival, our skipper put the speedboat in neutral and let us off three feet from shore. I hiked up my dress, dodged a few waves, waded up to the deserted beach, and stood in awe for a good five minutes.
Basking in island bliss, I met my host, one of two staff members who tend to guests’ every island need. She welcomed us, explained Wilson’s “island time” flow—breakfast, beach, wine, lunch, snorkel, Champagne, dinner, sleep (repeat)—and carried our bags to the tent. As she was walking away I noticed she had no shoes on, and realized, “what’s the point?” The entire enclave is serenaded in sand.
Closed on three sides and secluded from other guests by the islet’s thick tropical foliage, my sand-hued safari-style stay was graced with a timber base, a king-sized bed, and a white hammock gently swaying in the wind. The ocean side of our plot was left open offering a view more magnificent than priceless art. It should be noted that I never closed that fourth tent flap, the vista was too soul-soothing.
Keen on exploring the five-acre footprint, we found the central washhouse for when nature calls (or we needed a solar-powered shower), and the Longhouse, where all meals are prepared and served. Peering at the board games, books, and rows of wine, we got stalled here when we met the chef who rushed over during prep to offer us some chocolate and wine.
Hand-in-hand, we took our pinot gris to the beach and strolled speechless as birds flew overhead and the waves lapped up over our feet. For the next hour, I searched for places to hide, so I’d never have to leave.
For lunch, we sat at a 12-person long table topped in shells and multi-utensil place settings. Over more wine, macadamia nut-crated barramundi—brought to shore by local fisherman—sweet potato purée, and watermelon granita, we traded travel stories with the other island-goers. Despite the formal menu, t-shirts and bathing suit coverups were the most elegant attire. At Wilson, you come as you are, sea-swept hair and all.
Full and little tipsy from our feast, we spent the afternoon transitioning between sand and surf, snorkelling with turtles, (friendly) reef sharks—yes, I almost peed my bathing suit at the sight—and a gazillion tropical fish in a rainbow of color.
While sharing the water with sharks is bucket list-level, it was nighttime that created the most lasting impression. As we were watching the sun paint a tangerine hue on the horizon, we were summoned to a communal beachfront pavilion where Champagne paired with cheese and crudités was served on a silver platter.
Just as my bubbly was fizzing over my flute, someone yelled “turtle.” In a flash, I ran over—making sure to keep a respectable distance—and for the next 30 minutes watched a baby turtle hatch from its egg, dodge rocks and driftwood on its way to shore, and flail like a toddler as it learned to swim.
In a state of is-this-for-real bliss I started weeping, knowing I was experiencing something near otherworldly. Once I composed myself, I asked our host if there were any cancellations for the next night. I knew in advance the island was fully booked, but after my eye-popping day, I felt the universe was on my side.
A few minutes later she came back and informed me there had been a double booking and we could stay another evening. All I had was 24 hours worth of clothes, but I didn’t care. We were shipwrecked in style, and for the next 36 hours, I was on a mission of Great Barrier Reef proportions.