During my recent visit to the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsundays I had a very stylish base in the shape of Hamilton Island. Hamilton is the largest inhabited island in the Whitsundays and has its own airport so not only is it incredibly accessible but you’ll be greeted with spectacular reef views from the moment you enter the air space.
The island is privately owned by Hamilton Island Enterprises but you’d hardly know it as each of the hotels and restaurants have their own personality. This connection, however, means that the island is super easy to get around and you’ll find a wide range of activities on offer no matter where you stay.
If you’re planning a visit, read on to discover my top tips for what to see, do, eat and where to stay on Hamilton Island.
The Whitsundays are one of the most beautiful places in the world and sitting slap bang in the middle of them means Hamilton Island has gorgeous views from almost every angle. Whether at the Marina or sitting in my room, I just wanted to sit back and soak up the view of reef, water, peaks and islands in the distance. There are a couple of particularly pretty vantage points on the island though and they are Passage Peak and One Tree Hill.
Passage Peak is a challenging 5km hike, which I unfortunately didn’t have time for on my trip, but I’ve seen images of the 360 views you get from the top and would recommend any visitors add it to their list. If you’re not afraid of an early start the sunrise views are said to be incredibly rewarding.
One viewpoint I did get to was One Tree Hill. Easily accessible by the free shuttle buses that lap the island, One Tree Hill is the perfect viewing point for sunset on Hamilton Island – not least because they recently put a bar up there so you can soak up the scenery whilst enjoying a cold beverage. (See more in the Eat section.)
Hamilton Island is surrounded by warm turquoise waters so the best thing to do is dive right in. On Catseye Beach you’ll find a number of watersports including windsurfing, snorkelling, stand up paddleboarding and kayaking. There’s also a programme of daily activities including beach sports and group fitness classes. Pick up an Activity Guide when you arrive on the island for the latest timetable.
Hamilton is also your gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Explore Hamilton Island offer day trips to the reef on a catamaran whilst Cruise Whitsundays offer a range of experiences including the Reef Sleep and introductory SCUBA dives that I raved about here.
The simply stunning Whitehaven Beach is also a short distance from Hamilton Island and with Cruise Whitsundays you can choose to explore it on either a half day or full day tour. Half day tours will give you ample time to play on the white sand and soak in the dazzling waters whilst a full day tour will additionally take you to Tongue Lookout where you get breath-taking views of Hill Inlet.
Also offering breath-taking views are the scenic helicopter or seaplane rides you can book with Hamilton Island Air. Flying over the Great Barrier Reef and Whitehaven Beach in a helicopter was one of my favourite things I did in the Whitsundays – I can’t recommend it enough.
For more chilled out times there’s a number of swimming pools to choose from. Each hotel property has its own pool and the Resort Centre has a large pool with swim up bar that’s open to anyone on the island. There’s also a number of bushwalks and hiking trails you can get stuck into. Find more information here.
After all that exertion treat yourself to some R&R at Spa Wumurdaylin. The spa focuses on rejuvenating and soothing treatments and you’ll feel that as soon as you enter leaf-surrounded grounds. I sampled the Destination De-Stress and it was my ideal treatment as it focuses on relieving tension in the scalp, feet and upper body. I was really impressed with the staff and loved the touch of being given a personal recommendation at the end of your treatment – mine was to do more yoga and drink more water, something I definitely needed reminding of!
There’s a whole range of eatery options on the island including a supermarket and bakery for those who prefer to self-cater. My favourite dining experience was having breakfast with the koalas. Breakfast at the WILD LIFE Koala Cafe is an included option for guests of Reef View Hotel and when I tottered down one morning I wasn’t sure quite how close to the koalas I was about to get. The little table I was assigned turned out to be right underneath a tree where Oprah was hanging out. (So named after the famous O as she was born during the star’s visit to Hamilton.) This Oprah wasn’t in the mood to chat and fell asleep soon after I started tucking into the buffet but it was a unique and fun experience none-the-less.
I also enjoyed tucking into fish n’ chips from Popeye’s at the Marina – consuming them the Aussie way with no cutlery and aioli dip instead of Heinz tomato sauce! There’s also more upmarket restaurants along the waterfront including the chic-looking Romano’s Italian at the Marina, Sails Steak & Seafood Grill overlooking Catseye Beach and Pebble Beach at the award-winning qualia hotel (exclusively for qualia guests, or by invitation only).
My favourite places to drink on Hamilton include the Island Swim Up Bar in the Main Pool (hydrate with fresh coconut – yum!) and the One Tree Hill Bar at sunset (a glass of Rose costs a reasonable $8).
Much like the eateries, accommodation on Hamilton Island caters to every taste and budget. I tested out both Palm Bungalow and the Reef View Hotel and would recommend then both for different reasons.
The Palm Bungalows are very spacious cabins that look jungle appropriate on the outside but have all mod-cons inside. I loved the deck space with hammock out the front and the handy kitchen facilities for making cups of tea and storing cold drinks. They are a part of the Reef View Hotel so you get the same breakfast options (including Sails, WILD LIFE Koala Cafe and Pool Terrace at Reef View Hotel) but with a little more privacy as the bungalows are set back from the road.
The Reef View Hotel offers exactly what it says – incredible views of the reef, bay and surrounding islands. I was lucky enough to have a room on level 18 and the view was outstanding (the cockatoos hanging out on the balcony seemed to agree with me too!). Rooms at Reef View are also spacious and much more modern than the 80s looking exterior would suggest. The great thing about staying here is you have pool access and an extensive breakfast buffet on the ground floor, plus all the free shuttle buses down to the Marina stop just outside the front door.
I also took a peek at some of the other accommodation options on the island and would recommend the following:
qualia – accommodation consists of ultra luxurious freestanding pavilions (with either a private sundeck or infinity-edge pool) in a secluded part of the island (only guests are allowed to access the resort.) qualia was voted the best resort in the world by Conde Naste Traveller Reader’s Choice Awards in 2012 and I can see why. Service, discretion and style rule here.
Beach Club – an upmarket adults-only retreat directly on the beach. Perfect for couples on a romantic escape.
Yacht Club Villas – these luxurious villas, minutes from the Marina, are a great base for groups celebrating a special occasion. Spanning several levels the villas come with 4 bedrooms and bathrooms, state of the art kitchens, bbqs and golf buggies – like an incredibly stylish home away from home.
Getting There & Getting Around
Hamilton Island Airport is served by both Jetstar and Virgin. Flights from Sydney take 2.5hrs. Most accommodation is just a 5 minute drive away from the airport and, depending one where you are staying, a lot of properties collect your luggage from the carousel and meet you at the hotel with it.
Walking from the Resort Centre to the Marina takes approximately 10 minutes but there are a couple of shuttles buses that do loops of the island, which you can hop on for free if you don’t fancy tackling the hill. The Green Shuttle operates continuously between Catseye Beach and the Marina every 15 minutes. You can catch either the Purple or Orange shuttle up to One Tree Hill, like I mentioned earlier. Most visitors use golf buggies to navigate the island. (Some accommodation, like the Yacht Club Villas, includes complimentary use of a golf buggy as well as VIP Hamilton Island Airport transfers.) You will need a valid drivers license in order to hire a golf buggy – alas this Londoner does not have a license but got on perfectly well using the buses.
When it comes to the sad day you have to leave contact your accommodation about luggage collection. Hotels like the Reef View have a Hospitality Lounge you can freshen up in if you’ve just come back from a boat trip or the beach. The airport is quite small (as you well might expect) but there’s a quiet lounge section with comfy seating and wi-fi tucked away upstairs – look for the glass doors next to the bar and head upstairs.
All opinions and advice are my own. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!