Double Life in Far North Queensland

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As I woke the first morning on Double Island, with the insistent rays of the Far North Queensland sun streaming through the bedroom’s long, linen drapes, I had an intriguing realization – I didn’t actually know what this island looked like. It had been dark – with a humid tropical heat that came as a blissful contrast to Sydney’s winter chill – when our plane landed outside of Cairns, and the island was as pitch black as the surrounding seas upon our arrival by boat later that night. Never having seen a picture, I lay in bed and tried to imagine what was waiting for me outside.

Curiosity quickly got the better of me – throwing on a terrycloth robe, I eagerly opened the sliding glass doors. I was immediately overwhelmed by the warmth of the early morning light, glistening as it refracted off the placid waters surrounding the island. Unnoticed last night was a private plunge pool on my bungalow’s patio, adorned with a small stone frog fountain. Gardens surrounded the petite, Modernist house, leading into vibrant flowers bordering a small stone pathway. I felt drawn to follow it wherever it led, like Alice searching for her white rabbit – although in my case, it was a wallaby.

On the Australian continent for the first time, and having spent my days here in the heart of cosmopolitan Sydney, I felt compelled to add some of its iconic wildlife to my mental portraits of the visit – you know, the real Australia. Having only seen kangaroos during childhood zoo visits, I was excited when Sean Howard, the island’s entrepreneur owner, told me that the previous owner had imported wallabies – small marsupials that were close enough to a kangaroo for me – and that they still grazed in healthy numbers throughout the island’s interior.

After a relaxing breakfast in Double’s airy, cool restaurant – often used for conferences and weddings, the island has many large-scale amenities – Sean and his colleague, John, took me for a tour along the island’s pathways in one of its cheerful white golf carts. It seemed immense – lined with perfect sandy beaches, and steeply elevated, rising to a mountainous peak in the centre. Two peaks, actually – it’s called Double for a reason, after all. I kept glancing into the forests as we drove around the island’s perimeter, but despite hearing rustling in the trees, no luck.

We spent a lazy afternoon lying in the sun around the island’s pool – I’d never felt anything as fierce as the Australian sun, beating down like a hypnotic massage, making the slightest movement seem like an impossibility. Flocks of tropical birds played in the towering palms above us – long tails fluttering as they raced from tree to tree, diving and swooping in some obscure avian game of tag.

Later that day, as the sun subsided, John and I tore around the island in one of its small silver dinghies. We sped around Haycock Island, a tiny, uninhabited mountain just off of Double’s coast, avoiding the long stretches of sandy flats in between – at low tide, a sweeping bar of sand almost connects the two isles – and made our way to the remote portions where nature lay undisturbed.

As we cut through the waves, he told me fascinating bits of the island’s history with early European explorers – Captain James Cook passed by Double as early as 1770, and the island was named by another famed South Pacific voyager in the mid-19th century. Suddenly, John pointed out one high, rocky cliff, and I looked up, squinting against the sun, where the craggy branches of a lone tree were painted in relief against the brilliant sky. “It’s home to a family of eagles,” he said – and at that moment, we saw her alight from the nest – the mother flying off to find the next meal for her brood.

The sun had made me drowsy, and after dinner, I wandered back through the path to try to find my bungalow – the island is dotted with them, all beautiful and tastefully appointed – and was surprised to easily recall the voluptuous crimson flowers that greeted my particular entrance. Once again feeling the cool bed sheets against my skin, I was out for hours, a heavy sleep that passed without a dream – this Capricorn sun is like a drug for the uninitiated, and certainly for a Canadian girl like me.

When I woke, it was black as tar outside, the exterior light reaching out only a few feet into the night. Deciding to find out what the others were doing, I slipped on my heels and began down the path – and promptly ran back inside. The bushes around the porch were crashing with noises – branches slapping together, loud ferns rustling, crackling twigs in the dry underbrush – it was an absolute cacophony. I peered out into the dark from the safety of my porch, heart pounding. What on earth could it be?

The next morning, as we prepared to leave to visit Sean’s nearby Kewarra Beach Resort, an elegant mix of guest houses, restaurants and residences found just across on the mainland, I mentioned the strange noises I had heard the night before – of course, leaving out the part where I stood frozen as a statue, unable to brave the walk down the pathway. When he told me what it had been, I had to laugh – I’d been held hostage by a mob of exactly what I’d been longing to find. In the end, I may not have seen a wallaby on Double – but they, no doubt, must have seen me.