May 17, 2016
Legendary among the few people who’ve heard of it, Haggerstone Island is a speck of paradise located off the Cape York Peninsula in Tropical North Queensland that seems to teeter on the very edge of the world...
Picture Haggerstone Island from above: it sits beneath a white-hot sky, an emerald droplet floating on a tie-dyed pool of milky white, translucent turquoise and cobalt blue. It appears below us like a trophy as we approach it in our tiny plane. The effort it takes to reach Haggerstone Island – a charter flight from Weipa or Cairns or, for the adventurous, a two-day journey by boat – is rewarded before we’ve even landed on the airstrip on nearby Hicks Island.
Haggerstone Island is legendary among the few people who’ve heard of it. Located off the Cape York Peninsula in Tropical North Queensland, it is the quintessential desert-island fantasy, a speck of paradise inhabited by just a handful of people – those intrepid enough to set forth into the unknown, to leave the world far behind them. The visitors who’ve found their way here have in turn been inspired by the creators of this retreat, Roy and Anna Turner, who moved here 30 years ago and have managed to thrive on an island that seems to teeter on the very edge of the world.
In the years since they were dropped off here by barge, the Turners have made small incursions into the native foliage that strangulates the island, constructing their own accommodation as well as four unique huts for use by up to 12 visitors in total. Ours is the newest, House Mawu, a polished-concrete structure built in the manner of an African compound and set upon a rise. The giant swamp paperbark that anchors the dining pavilion in the house has its own story to tell: Roy saw the tree trunk, with its root ball still attached, embedded in a cay 20 years ago; in 1999 he dug it out and towed it back to Haggerstone Island.
“The chance of it being there, on that cay, were a billion to one,” he says. “And the chance of me coming along and saying, ‘That’s a nice tree,’ and then designing a house that the tree would fit into, were zilch.”
But the family – which grew with the arrival of son Sam in 1994 and daughter Tasha three years later – is accustomed to living off the gifts of the land and sea. An orchard garden flourishes behind the main dining pavilion, supplying most of the island’s fruit and vegetable needs; rainwater tanks store the monsoon’s bounty; chickens range free; a wild pig fattens himself on coconuts and other nutritious cast-offs.
And the infinite ocean, which ever so gently cups Haggerstone Island, can always be relied upon for its largesse. Roy aims his jet boat into the blue and teaches us how to catch our lunch: painted crayfish and coral trout with pale-blue polka dots freckling apricot skin.
Right there on the boat, Tasha poaches the trout in white wine, lemon, ginger, garlic and chilli. Sam offers us crayfish sashimi that’s so fresh we’re now spoiled for life.
Later, we moor near one of the Sir Charles Hardy Islands, which is circled by terns and slick with guano. Beneath the water’s surface we discover a world so exquisite it can’t be true: a bright garden of coral; damsels, sweetlips and fusiliers; and sardines, in their hundreds of thousands, surging through a rocky flue.