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Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

They're in their rooms, of which there are 16. Bedarra is all about the rooms, all of them freestanding and most bang on the water. Sell the farm, pawn your tiara, rob a bank—do whatever it takes and book one of the two cubic, nearly all glass Pavilions. Have you always fantasized about spending the night in a place designed by Frank Lloyd Wright?This may be the closest you ever get. Certainly this is where one imagines Mr. Clooney and his hottie. Divinely removed from the rest of the resort, each Pavilion has a plunge pool, plus a bedroom and sitting room linked by a partially covered deck (you actually have to go outside to get from one space to the other, an advanced lesson in indoor-outdoor living). Best of all is the way the rain forest and bush turkeys nuzzle right up against all that amazing floor-to-ceiling transparency. Lying in bed and looking out, I felt like a Discovery Channel cameraman.

Bedarra's other accommodations suffer only by comparison. They're pleasant and comfortable enough, just not as dazzling. While split-level cottages are endowed with better views, duplexes with a certain tree-house flavor are nearer the beach (the views trump nearness). Avoid Nos. 9 and 10 (they're set too far back) and 8 (too close to the pool). Superficially, the decoration throughout the resort is fine, though as everyone knows the real test of a hotel is not how it looks to you in the excitement following check-in but how it looks to you after a few days, when you've had a chance to live with the lamps and audition the sofas, and the thrill of watching boats bobbing on the bay from your bathtub has worn off a bit. Subjected to this sort of scrutiny, Bedarra's furnishings look distressingly like they fell off a high shelf at Ikea. At these prices!

If the resort's rates would also seem to guarantee room service and a reception desk that stays open beyond 5:30 in the afternoon, I'm sorry to disappoint you. The restaurant gets high marks for inviting diners off the menu and proposing to cook anything they fancy, but the Asian dishes it specialized in when I was there were thin and undisciplined. As with other aspects of the property, the kitchen would benefit from a little more rigor and a little less art direction. There's a new chef, so there's hope. But even giving these provisos their full weight, Bedarra is an extraordinary resort. Some would even say great.

800/225-9849 or 61-7/4068-8233; www.bedarraisland.com; doubles from $1,594.

HAYMAN ISLAND

Private-island resorts come in all sizes on the Great Barrier Reef, from tiny to titanic. Hayman is one of the big ones, with a feel and MO similar to certain supersized properties in Acapulco (I'm thinking of the Fairmont Princess), Maui (the Grand Wailea), and Puerto Rico (El Conquistador). Given the thousands of miles and the multiple time zones that separate Hayman from these places, not to mention the ostensible cultural differences of the countries where they operate, the similarity is a little weird. Still, there are people who collect reassuringly traditional, scripted resort experiences the way other people collect unprescribed one-of-a-kind boutique-hotel experiences: They've got to have them all.

How big is Hayman?The resort has 244 guest rooms, 500 employees (including those who run the staff village), acres of marble flooring, $15 million worth of pleasure craft, tens of thousands of square feet of retail temptation, and six dining venues (Moreton Bay "bugs"—a variety of flat lobster—lashed with ginger and chiles were my gastronomic Aha! moment). Seven hundred thousand trees and shrubs have been introduced to the island; of the 1,000 palms, 22 form a glamorous avenue. The seven-times-Olympic-sized swimming pool—actually two pools, a hexagonal one set within a free-form one—loses 1,500 gallons of water in evaporation and runoff per day. (Are the pools a little splashy?Yes. Are they fun?Yes.) Billed as the world's largest cocktail, Hayman's one-quart daiquiri is served in what might just as well be a birdbath. The only thing small about Hayman is its elementary school, attended on average by eight sons and daughters of personnel.

Of all the 74 Whitsunday Islands—eight have hotels; the others are uninhabited—Hayman is the nearest to the reef. This distinction is often cited, but isn't all that meaningful, 48 miles hardly being a trip around the block. If the resort was sounding good to you until now and suddenly you're worried, you may have reason to be: the world-class water-sports center certainly makes getting out to the reef easy, but only a violent act of God could bring it closer.

Among Australians, Hayman is a once-before-I-die icon that does a brisk business in vow renewals. It is also good for conferring status: if you live in Sydney, say, and want to impress your friends, nothing does the job like a casually dropped, "I was on Hayman last weekend. Amazing place. Ever been?" And it's no accident that the island will be able to be (longingly) glimpsed from Ivana Great Barrier Reef, a mainland condo development that promises to embody the former Mrs. Trump's "style, grace, and perfection."

Hayman has been accepting paying guests since 1935. Every one of them then was a fisherman, and the accommodations were basic cabins. The next year, the American novelist Zane Grey filmed White Death on the island. A luxury resort soon replaced the cabins, capitalizing on a sensational crescent of vanilla-sand beach, and flourished for two decades before a cyclone tore it to bits in 1970.

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