Hayman Island: With plenty of chatty birds and friendly sea turtles around, you're never alone on this slice of heaven in the Great Barrier Reef

Hayman Great Barrier Reef

Following the brief passage by yacht to Hayman Island, one is whooshed to the front desk on a trackless "train" of the sort found at zoos and malls. That 500-yard journey took us beneath a canopy of trees teeming with chatty macaws, kookaburras and other exotic birds, prompting photo assistant Tim O'Malley to remark, "Feels like Jurassic Park!"

Precisely. This jaw-dropping resort in the Whitsunday Island chain, in the heart of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, does many things very well. The pools are vast; the spa, sublime; the beach villas, to die for. What stayed with me long after departure was the close proximity of seriously exotic fauna, frequent reminders that we were not alone. On bushwalks around the island, I was periodically startled by thrashing in nearby underbrush- rustling noises that put me in mind of Jurassic's velociraptors. (The creatures in question turned out to be slightly less threatening: timid, grass-eating Proserpine rock-wallabies.)

Just as memorable, though, was sharing a trip in a seaplane with Alyssa Miller. Our destination, half an hour away, was Whitehaven Beach, one of the most aptly named stretches of land on the planet. The sands are 98% silica, giving them the color and consistency of powdered sugar. And the island the beach lies on is uninhabited, making it the most pristine getaway imaginable.

While I found the wildlife enthralling, not everyone was so impressed. Genevieve Morton said that the omnipresent macaws reminded her of her grandmother's Parakeet, Rita, a cruel bird that pecked at the hand that fed her. One afternoon Rita keeled over, dead before she hit the newspaper lining the cage. Genevieve recounted the bird's demise at dinner, not long before telling our server, with obvious relish, "I'll have the roast duck."