Located just 110 nautical miles from the most northern point of the Australian east coast, Haggerstone Island is a wilderness experience like no other. Nestled in the remote and secluded Home Island group and situated 11.5 degrees south of the equator, Haggerstone is a two hour flight from Cairns and a twenty minute boat ride from the dusty airstrip of Hicks Island. It is an adventure that has taken the fancy of many seeking the ultimate escape from the real world.
Anna and Roy Turner have made Haggerston Island their home for over 30 years creating a sustainable island paradise from scratch that runs almost completely off the grid.
Arriving at Haggerstone Island
The instructions are simple – arrive at the private charter aircraft at a specific departure time, pack lightly and if the weather is good and the fish are running, prepare to go directly from the aircraft to catching your next meal.
The light aircraft from Cairns takes you on a most picturesque journey 700km north towards the last true wilderness of Australia. Flying high above the sand clays and reefs of the world famous Great Barrier Reef, watching the many boats ferrying tourists to explore the coral you are soon tracking north over Daintree, Cape Tribulation and Cooktown before you leave the mainland behind to witness an aerial view of the northern tip of the outer Great Barrier Reef.
Before you know it, you are bouncing along the dusty air strip of Hicks Island and being greeted by the Haggerstone team who quickly throw your bags into the trailer that is hauled along by an old tractor to the awaiting boat. Jo Jo II is a 40-foot cruiser decked out to catch all manner of treasures from the sea and transport guests to various locations around the Haggerstone Island waters.
As luck would have it, the weather was perfect and there was no time to waste. Withing minutes we were out on the water and catching lunch. Travel bags had been stowed, shoes were flung off and hand lines were passed out to the new arrivals. Roy explained that hand lines offer a more real experience of catching a fish, with the ability to actually feel the fish but most importantly do less harm to the fish after it is released.
Haggerstone Island depends on the surrounding waters for the majority of their produce, and importantly believe in taking care of the abundant biodiversity, in order to ensure that the environment is not impacted by their activity. From the moment that the lines hit the water, the bites are almost immediate and the bucket starts to fill with what will soon become lunch and dinner. Roy only takes enough fish to feed the guests and the Haggerstone team for that day. Large breeding fish are immediately placed back in the ocean as soon as they are landed and any fish that Roy feels is too small or not quite suitable, is immediately returned to the crystal clear waters.
Roy is renowned for his culinary skills acquired over many years on his travels and particular tips and recipes that he has picked up from visiting chefs. He delights in the theatre of the cooking using fresh produce from the Haggerstone Island gardens including ginger, garlic, chilli, and always loads of fresh herbs plus a good swig of white wine. Every day Roy cooks on the boat, what has been caught that morning which can consist of crispy fish, thai style fish soup, sashimi, crayfish or his famous steamed fish and rice.
Immediately you realize that you are partaking in one of the freshest meals of your life and savouring every morsel of the delicacies that you have caught that day. Food is an important part of the Haggerstone adventure and every meal completely captivates.
Exploring the Surrounding Waters
Much of the experience of Haggerstone is on the daily fishing trips, where Roy delights in taking his guests to a unique location each day. A pioneer of these water, Roy is quick to assess whether he has chosen a good location and within the first 10 minutes of arriving if he isn’t satisfied, he quickly moves on to his next location to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to catch a variety of fish.
Having spent many years searching for crayfish in the local area, he is an expert when it comes to searching out the best locations and these adventures are often also an opportunity for guests to jump into the water with snorkels and a mask to explore the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. Roy is very clear that you never take more crayfish than you need and quickly prepares the freshly caught produce into a simple yet delightful dish.
The Island Retreat
When Roy and Anna arrived with their 70 tonne barge in 1985, the island was home to hundreds of birds, a thick lush jungle and many, many coconuts. Haggerstone had served as a coconut plantation during the world wars. As Roy explained, coconuts are critical to the operations of the island, with the coconuts being used in many aspects of island life. The husks are stuffed into small metal containers, then lit and placed under the shower pipes to create hot water. The water extracted from the coconuts is used for drinking. Milk is created from the lush white pulp and then anything that remains is fed to the wild pigs that Haggerstone capture from the mainland and feed guests as an alternate food source. Pork fed on a diet of fish, coconut and fresh paw paw definitely is a culinary delight.
Every building on the island has been built by Roy over the years and each has a unique design. Roy grew up on a farm in Victoria with a passion for nature and music. After living in Papua New Guinea for many years he developed an appreciation for native, rustic structures and design. Roy returned to Australia and began to design and build nature inspired houses in many locations around Australia. He has created many of the structures from ideas that he has seen in other locations around the world. He has mastered different techniques from lime washed walls to thatching whilst painstakingly hand constructing every building over the past 30 years. Roy has built over 40 houses and 4 resorts in his style.
The remoteness of the island has meant that Haggerstone has had to become as close to self sufficient as possible. Whilst the barges who service the local trawling fleet provide supplies to the island every two weeks, during the trawling season between March and October, Haggerstone does its best to use its own resources.
When Anna and Roy began their island adventure in 1985, one of the first priorities was to establish an orchard and garden. After much trial and error to understand what could be grown on the island, today the Haggerstone garden offers fresh produce that is enjoyed daily by the guests. The lush paw-paws and mangoes are out of this world and Anna’s herb gardens are critical to most dishes on the island. Haggerstone also maintains chickens, ducks, and geese that provide fresh free range eggs and the occasional poultry dish. Any left over food scraps are fed to the animals to ensure that nothing goes to waste.
The water supply on Haggerstone is primarily from the rainwater tanks that fill to the brim during the wet season in January and February. During particularly dry times, Haggerstone operates a desalination process that provides water for utilities.
Roy’s philosophy on sustainability is simple. You only take what you need eat and ensure nothing goes to waste.
The Local Environment
Having lived in harmony with the environment for over 30 years, Roy is well placed to recognize changes that have occurred in the waters around Haggerstone. Coral bleaching has been the most evident change recently . The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority earlier this year estimated 22 per cent of coral died across the length of the reef due to heat stress. The heat stress over last Summer has particularly impacted the area north of Cairns in which Haggerstone Island is situated. Scientists have warned that warming planet due to climate change will continue to impact the coral around the world. The live cray industry has reduced the numbers of lobster in the region but he says they are still holding okay. Hopefully the season for live craying will be closed for longer in the future.
The Island Home
When you stand back and observe Haggerstone Island, you are actually overwhelmed by the level of passion and commitment that has gone into creating a sustainable, island home environment for the Turner family and their guests. Roy’s vision was to create a paradise that offered both wilderness and freedom, and whilst he may never have dreamt of hosting people every week to his island home, he now couldn’t imagine life any other way.
Haggerstone also helps you reflect on the importance of the environment. Being on Haggerstone Island makes you far more aware of the finite resources that we have on our planet and the impact that human activity has on the environment. As Roy states, “The planet isn’t given a priority and it is our only home”
Experiencing this remote wilderness area of Australia is exhilarating. Everyone who has the opportunity to visit Haggerstone island will return home both enlightened and inspired by the simplicity of life enjoyed on this island paradise.