Craig Tansley looks at what Queensland's Hamilton Island offers every kind of visitor.
Part of the Whitsundays, Hamilton Island will get you in holiday mode from the moment you arrive and take in the azure waters dotted with white sails, the lush, green gentle hills and the golf buggies zipping about.
Hamo, as the locals call it, has a population of just over 1000 and most of the car-free island is covered in bushland. It's in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, so there is watersport fun galore, from yachting to snorkelling. For landlubbers, there's golf and a network of walking trails leading to the island's secluded coves. But it's not all nature and adventure, the island has a glamorous edge, drawing in sailors and socialites with its luxury resort Qualia, yachting and golfing.
You can fly direct to the island from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns. Alternatively fly to Proserpine, which services Airlie Beach, and catch a 60-minute ferry over. Better still, arrive in style aboard a yacht - you'll be more than welcome to dock at Hamilton Island Marina.
While there's nothing on Hamilton Island you'd truly classify 'budget', holidaying here doesn't have to cost an arm (or a leg). Book a secluded cottage with a kitchenette at Palm Bungalows, or a self-catering apartment, then buy supplies at the IGA supermarket (and at the extensive bottle shop next door). There are 13 restaurants and takeaway outlets on Hamilton Island, including a bakery and fish and chips take-out, and there are free shuttle buses to get there (many accommodation options also offer free use of golf carts). Take BYO to the Whitsundays' best sunset spot, One Tree Hill (there's also a well-priced bar there).
The good news is lots of the activities on Hamilton Island are free. The use of catamarans, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, windsurfers, tennis, gym, sauna and snorkelling equipment is included with your accommodation. And the island has over 50 kilometres of walking trails - take the 2.7-kilometre trip to Passage Peak, the highest point on the island, or walk 3.1 kilometres to Coral Cove, your own private beach with crystal-clear water. Or rent a dinghy, pack it with food and booze and find one of the island's secret beaches.
It's hard to beat the view from a private balcony at the four-star Reef View Hotel (it's 19 storeys high) in the heart of the action at Catseye Beach. Though you might also consider a self-catered apartment - there's over 100 to choose from on Hamilton Island. Or if you're looking to spend a little more - and are having a break from the kids - the adults-only Beach Club has 57 rooms right on Catseye Beach and a private restaurant and bar.
The true point of difference: no other island resort in Australia offers the range of activities - there are over 65 to choose from - that Hamilton Island does. There's everything here from jet-boat rides, jet-ski tours and para-sailing if you like a thrill-a-minute, or there's pampering at day spa Spa Wumurdaylin, or spend your afternoons over a long lunch with cocktails at Australia's most iconic sailing club, Hamilton Island Yacht Club. The island is also the departure point for day tours to the Great Barrier Reef and Whitehaven Beach, while deep-sea fishing charters leave daily.
If it's six-star you're looking for: it doesn't get classier than Qualia, Australia's number-one luxury resort. Hidden behind big, wooden gates on the island's northern side, you'll find a private enclave of luxury pavilions, spaced out between gardens where wallabies roam. Drive your personal golf cart to the day spa, then to lunch at a beach club by the water where the beautiful people swim, and to dinner prepared by an award-winning chef and served in an open pavilion looking across the Whitsundays.
Hamilton Island is the stepping-stone to some of Australia's best luxury day excursions. Take a helicopter ride to Heart Reef: land on a helipad and travel in a jet boat, all by yourselves, around a lagoon created at low tide within the reef on the Heart Island Experience. Or take a helicopter tour to the next island over, Whitsunday Island, for a private lunch on one of the world's top-rated beaches, Whitehaven Beach. Sports-lovers can take a five-minute launch to the only championship golf course built on its own island in Australia - it's also one of the world's most spectacular courses.
The Whitsundays is the world's premier sailing destination. Why? Well, there are 74 islands - and only eight of them are inhabited, the rest are national parks - so there are a lot of secluded beaches you can sail to. What's more, the Great Barrier Reef provides protection from ocean swells. And you don't need a boat licence to charter a yacht, just a friend with a little boating experience, and you'll need to complete a short briefing. Sunsail can deliver your yacht (there's over 40 to choose from) to the marina - fly straight in and sail away.
If you'd prefer to avoid the responsibility, there's a number of skippered sailing charters - from half and full-day trips, to multiple-day sailing adventures... even in super-yachts if you'd like to look like a billionaire (eat your heart out, Lachlan Murdoch). Book through Ocean Dynamics luxury boat charters.
There are all sorts of shorter sailing trips too - everything from a 90-minute sunset sailing cruise to a trip aboard heritage yacht the 1961 Lady Enid.
Time your visit with Australia's largest offshore sailing race, Hamilton Island Race Week (in August); it's one of the biggest party events on the international sailing calendar. If you'd rather stay on shore, you can meet some of Australia's best sailors at the Hamilton Island Yacht Club.
Explore more: hamiltonisland.com.au
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