Sipping on cocktails by the pool, sunrise swims in the ocean and relaxed seclusion on a tropical island sure does sound like the life, and I'm sure we've all dreamed about packing up and escaping to paradise at one time or another. Lisa Michele Burns did exactly that, escaping the hustle and bustle of the Australian mainland to spend six years living on Hayman Island, the most exclusive luxury resort island in the Whitsundays. We caught up with Lisa to chat about what it's really like to live on a paradise island.
Can You Tell Us A Little About Yourself?
I work as both a writer and photographer for my company The Wandering Lens, which specialises in creative media production for the tourism industry. I also edit a website under the same name, publishing travel guides to photogenic regions around the world, one of the first of which was for the Whitsundays! I’m a little obsessed with natural wonders and the outdoors, spending most of 2019 in regions of extreme climates and environments in places like Chile and Greenland to photograph landscapes for a creative climate project.
Why did you make the move to Hayman Island, and how long were you there?
The opportunity came up to takeover a contract to operate the existing photography gallery there. I was working with Lonely Planet and other publications as a freelance photographer at the time in Ireland and the idea of having a landscape gallery at home in Australia was so overwhelming that I jumped at the chance and ended up spending 6 years on the island. It was a huge commitment both financially and personally but I’m so happy I took the leap.
Did you have any connection to the Whitsundays before living on Hayman Island?
I actually spent a lot of my childhood in the Whitsundays, my parents moved to Airlie Beach in a caravan when I was 3 years old and then we returned again for my early high school years which I spent at Proserpine while living at Shute Harbour. The islands were always somewhere we explored as a family via a little trimaran boat. I remember swimming over on nearby Langford Reef and staring towards Hayman, dreaming about the luxuries that existed there! It’s funny how things work out sometimes!
What were your expectations before moving to the island? Did these match your first impressions?
I was perhaps a little naïve before moving, being only 25 and new to the business world, I pictured moving to a tropical island being all about sunshine, swimming, taking pretty photos and hanging my framed photos on the gallery walls. In reality it was a business and I learnt a lot of lessons very quickly! There was a lot of work that needed to be done on the business side of things to get it up to scratch but in terms of the island, wow.
Living in paradise was incredible, I loved photographing around the resort, finding pockets of natural beauty hidden within the resort and meeting guests from all over the world. I moved onto the island in November, so the tropical summer humidity was something to get used to initially, sorry to all of those couples who had a very sweaty photographer that first year haha!
What did a standard day on the island look like for you?
Despite living on an island, I only really got to enjoy the pools and beaches when working, even more so when photographing underwater shoots, they were my favourite! I had my gallery open from 8-5pm so when I wasn’t in there editing and preparing prints for clients, I was out photographing landscapes, weddings, portraits or events. Every day was different and dependent on what was happening on the island, it’s what kept it so interesting and creatively inspiring for six years.
One day I could’ve been photographing a wedding or an exclusive event with celebrity guests, the next there were little cygnets to photograph or passing whales! I did try and catch the sunset whenever I could, there’s something so special about island sunsets with the water and sky blending together to make you stare in awe!
Living in the Whitsundays for several years, you must have had plenty of opportunities to explore the islands and reef. What were your favourite spots to explore?
The Whitsundays have so many hidden coves and beaches that you can sail to and have all to yourself. One of my favourite places to snorkel and dive though was actually on the northern side of Hayman Island at Blue Pearl Bay. There was a hiking trail from the resort or you could take a small boat around and swim amongst some of the best coral formations on the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s hard to go past Whitehaven Beach too, that pure white silica sand is just so beautiful and for photography, aerials of Hill Inlet are something I could never get tired of! If you’ve got a boat, exploring some of the northern bays of Hook Island is worthwhile. Places like Stonehaven, ButterflyBay, Manta Ray Bay and Crayfish Bay are stunning.
What is it like living on an island? What are the biggest differences to mainland life?
It’s definitely an adjustment but such an interesting lifestyle that I’m so glad I got to experience. The staff become a little community because you’re seeing the same group of people day in, day out so you make friends really fast! The biggest difference would be the accessibility to things you become reliant on when living on the mainland, like supermarkets or being close to family and friends. Once a month I would take the ferry to the mainland with a suitcase to do a big shop of things like toiletries, favourite snacks etc. I’m sure it’s a little easier living on an island now with online shopping being more streamlined than in 2010!
Do you have one particular Whitsundays adventure that stands out?
Nothing beats that first dive underwater when the fish and coral appear before your goggles but the one that stands out the most was an aerial photoshoot. I had an idea for a photo that developed after a few years of living on the island. I wanted to photograph Hardy Reef from an angle I saw from studying satellite imagery. I needed picture perfect, still conditions with a tide that’s not too high and not too low, preferably around 10-11am to avoid glare on the water and also a helicopter.
I didn’t want to invest in paying for a flight until I knew the weather would be just right so it took about 10 months until I got the exact conditions I was after and wasn’t busy on the island with other commitments. Flying over the Great Barrier Reef as the rainbow of blues appeared, colours of coral and varying depths of water, it was spectacular! I got the shot I wanted and it became my favourite from my time living on the island, it’s framed and on my wall now as a reminder.
What would you recommend to someone visiting Hayman Island for a few days? Can you share any must-visit secluded spots on the island?
Spending time in and around the water is essential when visiting Hayman. There’s the long, beautiful Hayman Beach to laze on, you take out a catamaran or standup paddle board and explore or order a cocktail and sit on the quieter Coconut Beach, fringed by palms. To have a little adventure, I highly recommend wandering along the shore towards the east. On a lower tide you can follow the beach around, passing rock wallabies on the hillside, seeing birds, turtles, sting rays and then ending up on an area of big boulders with views towards Hook Island.
For day trips, you can take a boat to Langford Reef which is visible from most resort rooms and is possibly the best strip of sand anywhere in the world! Then there’s Whitehaven Beach, Bait Reef for diving and of course Blue Pearl Bay which I mentioned earlier, one of the best places to snorkel and it’s located on the island itself.
Since leaving the island a few years ago, where else have you lived and how does it compare?
After leaving Hayman I moved over to Provence in France, another beautiful part of the world. I was working in Europe for a few years, running photo tours and publishing travel guides to various photography hotspots like Iceland, the Lofoten Islands and the Cote d’Azur. It was quite a contrast to go from a tropical climate and scenery to winter in the northern hemisphere, especially above the Arctic Circle but I found it fascinating to venture amongst frozen landscapes.
Now I’m back home in Queensland and loving every second of it. I can’t wait to visit the Whitsundays again soon and continue my obsession with photographing the regions dreamy landscapes!