Image: Lizard Island
Voyages Hotels & Resorts
Right on the Great Barrier Reef, the alluring Lizard Island in Coastal North Queensland delivers absolute exclusivity, top-flight dining and a to-do list sure to satiate those who must do.
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updated 10/21/2008 4:44:50 PM ET 2008-10-21T20:44:50

The South Seas are all about fantasy islands. Think of the mutinous Fletcher Christian falling head over heals for Polynesian femme fatales. Or Gauguin going native on Tahiti. Or Marlon Brando dropping out on his very own tropical atoll. Even reality-show survivors have come to know the charms of gorgeous white-sand strands, palm trees and turquoise lagoons, with plenty of fish in the sea, fruit on the trees — and maybe just a little bit of rum to wash it all down.

That’s the dream offered by posh island hideaways like the Bora Bora Lagoon Resort and Le Meridien Bora Bora in French Polynesia, albeit with modern touches like overwater bungalows, wireless internet, al fresco spas and private plunge pools. Oh, what the boys of His Majesty's Bounty could have done with all that.

But the other hotels and resorts on the Forbes Traveler list of the 10 best hotels in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific — as determined by the Forbes Traveler 400 board of experts — offer up a much different whimsy. All are far removed from the Bora Bora vibe. When it comes to hotels, this is one of the world’s most diverse regions. There are upscale urban abodes and rustic wilderness lodges, über-hip beach pads and bygone country inns that look as if they were transported lock, stock and every gin-and-tonic from jolly old England.

On Australia’s Gold Coast, Palazzo Versace is Donatella Versace’s first venture into the world of sleep. Not surprisingly, the décor is just as glam as her frocks and fashion accessories — like those high-backed lavender chairs in the Le Jardin bar, with their voyeuristic views of whoever happens to be swimming in the pool right outside. The over-the-top marble lobby would do Vegas proud; it's about as far as you could possibly get from Crocodile Dundee’s down under.

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Contrast that to Lilianfels resort and spa, which verily floats in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. The country home of Sir Frederick Darley, the white-wigged chief justice of New South Wales, the rambling Victorian manse has been transformed into a classy and comfortable highland escape by the Orient-Express hotel group. With its meticulously preened English gardens, roaring fireplaces and high tea on the verandah, the resort is a throwback to the days when Australia was a far corner of the British Empire, and the Blue Mountains the outer edge of western civilization.

It’s yet another quantum leap to the Park Hyatt Sydney and its waterfront location opposite the famed Opera House. The elongated avant-garde architecture and dockside location transform the hotel into a pseudo cruise ship permanently moored in one of the earth’s most dramatic locations. Aiding and abetting the maritime illusion is a “top deck” with swimming pool, lounge chairs and array of flags that flutter in the harbor breeze.

New Zealand offers a different kind of escape. With its tartan motifs and blazing hearths, fly fishing and deer hunting, Huka Lodge near Lake Taupo feels more like the Scottish Highlands than anything one would expect to find in the antipodes. And the guest book reads like a who’s who of British notoriety — everyone from the Queen and countless lords and ladies, to the members of Pink Floyd and Monty Python.

Blanket Bay resort, near Glenorchy, boasts more of an Alpine vibe, a sleek stone-and timber lodge enveloped by snow-capped peaks in a part of the South Island that served as one of the dramatic backdrops for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Less than 30 miles from Queenstown, the lodge is also perfectly placed for snowboarding, bungee jumping, heli-skiing, jet boating and other adrenaline-pumping sports.

Image: Palazzo Versace
Palazzo Versace
Donatella Versace's glam Italian style is everywhere at the Palazzo Versace on Australia's Gold Coast.
Ironically, the best desert island escape on our list isn’t even Polynesian. It’s an Aussie outpost called Lizard Island, located at the very northern most tip of the Great Barrier Reef, a place so remote you can only get their by private plane or boat. Although primarily renowned for its scuba and sports fishing, Lizard is also an ideal place for getting away from it all along secluded beaches and jungle trails where yours are likely the only footprints. “Not like anywhere else,” said one of the Forbes Traveler 400 experts. “Simple but perfect. I wanted to stay forever.”

You could easily say that for all of the hotels and resorts on our South Pacific list.

Photos: Awesome Australia

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  1. The sacred monolith of Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is located in Central Australia's Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which is a World Heritage site. (Torsten Blackwood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Be careful going down the road in Western Australia. There could be camels, wombats or kangaroos trying to cross. (Nick Rains / Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A kangaroo stands next to a rare waterhole as sheep gather and look for food on a station near White Cliffs in the state of New South Wales. (William West / AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Tourists look at spectacular cathedral termite mounds in the Litchfield National Park near Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory. Often visible along the Northern Territory, also know as the "Top End" highways, they are amongst the largest mounds built by termites anywhere in the world and are reminiscent of mediaeval cathedrals. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A koala rests on a branch at Sydney Wildlife World, which features Australian flora and fauna set amongst natural habitats and ecosystems. Koalas feed almost exclusively on tough, toxic eucalyptus leaves, which they can digest because they have the longest gut for their size of any mammal. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Located near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, the East MacDonnell Ranges Aerial are part of the remains of mountains that once went as high as the Himalayas. The East MacDonnell's are more varied and less crowded than the more popular West McDonnell Range. (Brian Geach / Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Visitors stand on a cantilever at the Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk tourist attraction that overlooks rainforest and coastline in the center in the Illawarra region, south of Sydney, in Australia's New South Wales. The Illawarra region gets its special character from the way the escarpment meets the sea. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Pinnacles, ancient limestone formations, rise out of the sand in Nambung National Park. There are thousands of pillars in this Western Australian area, which offer photographers images at sunrise and sunset. (Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The Three Sisters jut out of the Blue Mountains near Katoomba, New South Wales. The character of the rock formation changes as the sunlight brings out magnificent color.
    According to Aboriginal legend, there were three sisters in the Katoomba tribe who were in love with three brothers from the Nepean tribe, yet tribal law forbade them to marry. The brothers were not happy with this law and used force to capture the sisters, which caused a battle.
    A witchdoctor turned the sisters into stone to protect them from harm, but he was killed before he could reverse the spell. And so the sisters remained in the rock formation. (Lincoln Fowler / Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The large leaves of the Canna x generalis flowering plant from the Cannaceae family display their unusual coloring in the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens. The Botanic Gardens were founded on their current site by Governor Macquarie in 1816 and is the oldest scientific institution in Australia, playing a major role in the acclimatization of plants from other regions. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A droving team heads off from camp during the Great Australian Cattle Drive preview on May 7, 2009, in Oodnadatta, Australia. The Great Australian Cattle Drive takes place July 30-Aug. 29, 2010, and offers the general public the chance to experience an Australian adventure. (Quinn Rooney / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Many residents of opal mining town Coober Pedy, Australia, live underground in dugout homes. The Underground Serbian Orthodox Church is one of the town's must-see sites and includes rock carvings in the walls, a high-roof ballroom-style design and stained glass windows. (Quinn Rooney / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A young indigenous performer during the Yeperenye Federation Festival on Sept. 9, 2001, in Alice Springs, Central Australia. The Yeperenye Festival involves traditional elders with thousands of dancers, artists, singers, musicians and spectators, who gather at Blatherskite Park on the traditional lands of the Arrernte people. It was one of the largest cultural gatherings of indigenous and non-indigenous people since colonization. (Matt Turner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Mount Borradaile in the Northern Territory was inhabited for up to 50,000 years by aboriginal tribes, and it's cave walls feature some of the best examples of aboriginal art. The drawings show a huge range of dates and events. The mount and the surrounding Arnhem Land draw tourists from all over who want to see real Australian history. (James Fisher / Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The wetlands of the Yellow Water area of the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territories are a mecca for wildlife and flora. The flora in the park is among the richest in northern Australia with more than 2,000 plant species recorded. The park is also considered to be one of the most weed-free national parks in the world. (Adam Pretty / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Rex the crocodile swims in a tank at Sydney Wildlife World on March 29, 2010. Rex, a saltwater crocodile, was caught in the Northern Territory and moved to his current habitat in December last year. (Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Cows have the right of way on Norfolk Island, east of the Australian mainland, where motorists also take the time to wave to each driver they pass. (Lawrence Bartlett / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. The Australian War Memorial in Canberra is a combination of a shrine, museum and archive, which commemorates the sacrifice of Australians who died in war. (Geoff Lung / Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A giant statue of famed Australian outlaw Ned Kelly at Glenrowan, the location of his final stand, about 110 miles northeast of Melbourne. Long dismissed as tourist kitsch, Australia's "Big Things" -- giant models of everything from koalas to pineapples -- are now being heritage-listed and recognized as works of folk art. (William West / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. The Ghan railway, which runs from Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north, offers travelers the chance to see great Australian landscapes through the country's Red Center. (Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Vineyards are shown in the internationally renowned Margaret River wine region in the south-west corner of Western Australia, situated between the two coastal capes of Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A rock climber heads up a dolerite stack known as Totem Pole in Tasmania's Cape Hauy. (Nick Hancock / Tourism Australia) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Beach-goers soak in the sun on the Gold Coast in Queensland. The Gold Coast is a favorite tourist area that features some of the world's finest beaches and lively nightlife. (Sergio Dionisio / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. American Kelly Slater performs a cutback during an aerial expression session on day one of Surfsho at Bondi Beach on March 12, 2010, in Sydney, Australia. (Cameron Spencer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off of Australia's coast offers one of the world's best places to snorkel. The reef is one of the richest, most diverse ecosystems and extends from the tip of Cape York in Queensland and goes south almost to Bundaberg. And it takes up an area larger than Victoria and Tasmania combined. (Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. These massive porites corals at the Great Barrier Reef are hundreds of years old. The corals are like trees in that each year a new band is laid down in their skeletons that record their environmental histories. (Jurgen Freund / Freund Factory) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Fish of all colors swim in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia's northeastern coast. In January of 2009, Australia announced a crackdown on pollution of the Great Barrier Reef as the World Heritage-listed site comes under increasing threat from toxic chemicals and climate change. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Crimson clouds provide a beautiful backdrop during a match between Australia and England at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, Australia. (Adam Pretty / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is an iconic landmark in Australia's most populous state of New South Wales, with a population in excess of 7million people, is shown in this photo taken on May 26, 2009. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Sydney Opera House is easily one of Australia's most recognizable landmarks. The buiilding, on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbor, is a multi-venue performing arts center and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Greg Wood / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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