As the plane began its descent, I was roused from my sleep by a flurry of movement in the cabin. What had been a black nightscape just three hours before, was now a tableau of glittering azures and deep ultramarines. Sunlight streamed through the glass and as we came into land it seemed we would do so on the crystal clear waters. I stepped out onto the tarmac and was warmed by a welcoming breeze. The chill of the early morning Melbourne air seemed like a distant memory. I’d arrived in paradise.
My destination: Hamilton Island on Queensland’s Whitsundays, a cluster of islands located smack bang in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. Sticking out the winter months in Melbourne can feel like some kind of cruel joke – a marathon of endless tram waits and torrential downpours. But as I dragged my carry-on across the airfield to the terminal, I could already feel that my stay on the island would prove to be the perfect winter getaway.
#hamiltonisland View from my room A photo posted by Rachel Wilson (@rmiwilson) on
Transferring from the airport to my hotel, the Reef View, was very smooth: a free airport shuttle is provided for the majority of accommodation on the island. Although, like most locations on Hamilton, it’s so close you could walk. The Reef View is one of the most affordable hotels on this luxury island (rooms start from $370 per night), but this is to say nothing of its quality. Located directly opposite Catseye Beach – one of Hamilton Island’s main beaches – guests are treated to private balconies and incredible views over the waters. It also has a comprehensive range of services, including concierge and Tour Desk, to help organise every bit of your stay.
Once I’d sent a few maddening ‘wish you were here’ pictures to my friends of the view from my room, it was time to sort myself out with a sweet new island ride. Unlike the city, Hamilton Island doesn’t suffer the pollution, noise or congestion of cars – instead, the only way to get around is by golf buggy (prices range from $46 for one hour to $87 for the entire day). I mean sure, there’s a free island shuttle bus, but the buggy offers you that distinct taste of freedom and the opportunity to discover the island at your own pace.
New favourite mode of transport #thebuggy #hamiltonisland A photo posted by Rachel Wilson (@rmiwilson) on
There’s something intensely gratifying about cruising the island roads at 25km/h in this little electric chariot: nothing screams luxury tropical paradise more than the fleets of tiny wagons that populate its roads. As I pulled away from the rental station with the sun catching my wayfarers and a warm breeze wafting through my buggy, this novel new convenience put me firmly on the path to shirking those winter blues.
After settling in, it was time to wrap my head around the array of activities on offer. The island’s main attraction is its surroundings: isolated in azure waters and home to a host of tropical wildlife, the natural beauty encountered on Hamilton Island is second to none. The Great Barrier Reef will likely be number one on your “must do” list, and there are plenty of different ways to see this gigantic natural wonder.
If you’re a fan of the ocean, you’re spoilt for ways to explore it. Head down to the town area of the island – the Marina – to book cruises, jet ski tours or hire a dinghy. Half day and full day boat tours are also offered, allowing you to explore the famous white Whitsunday beaches, with a little snorkeling thrown in to acquaint yourself with the local sea life. On the island itself, paddle boards and kayaks are available to rent on the beaches, or if you’re content with the sand itself, there are plenty of sun loungers to go around.
I opted for a jet skiing tour ($255 per adult), and we set off from the deck with our guide compelling us to ride at full speed on the less than calm waters.
Weaving around the island’s waterways showered in sea spray, it’s easy to see why jet skiing is such a popular pastime here: the experience is both exhilarating and refreshing. Other high energy options include the Jetryder high speed boat trips ($65 per adult) and, for those who prefer to stay on solid ground, off-road ATV tours ($159 per vehicle). Bookings are essential for these activities, and it’s best to plan ahead to maximise your time on the island. There’s also a handy app that lists the day’s activities along with booking information and essential info. In any case, you won’t be at a loss for things to do.
Safely back on land and feeling fatigued after my jet ski adventure, it was time to kick back and enjoy the island’s bars and restaurants. The previous evening I’d jumped on my buggy and headed up to One Tree Hill, one of the Island’s newer bars, for sushi and cocktails. Situated atop one of the island’s highest vantage points, the bar-cum-lookout point is the place to watch the boats drawing white lines across the ocean while sipping on a Hamilton Island Iced Tea (their version of a Long Island Iced Tea) with the sun setting in the distance. I joined the Sunset Sail aboard a catamaran the next night. With complimentary snacks and an open bar for the duration of the trip, we sailed out north to watch the sun go down from the boat: it was the perfect choice for laid-back pre-dinner drinks and stunning Instagram ops.
Sunset sail hair so dope A photo posted by Rachel Wilson (@rmiwilson) on
Moving onto dinner, the island has plenty of different options from fine dining to pub grub. However, foodies won’t want to miss Coca Chu, one of the newly opened restaurants on the island and a definite stand-out. The restaurant offers exquisite South East Asian dishes in a sharing style menu with plenty of well-mixed cocktails to match. There’s no such thing as ordering too much at this place. Actually, the food is so good you’ll want to dine there both nights of your stay.
Let the locals show you how
If your weekend isn’t a weekend without a late night on the town, you still have the chance to let off steam until the early hours over at the Marina. There’s no friendlier welcome than island locals, who are always up for a drink and a chat; get talking to them to find kindred travellers and good company. During the Sunset Sail, I got chatting to siblings Ben and Brooklyn, two Sunshine Coast natives and Island residents who’d come to work on Hamilton for a taste of that sweet island life. I met them at the Marina Tavern for an evening of karaoke surrounded by locals, before we headed to Captain’s Club for a night cap.
The only late-night option on the island, Captain’s is decked out with nautical decorations and offers up affordable bar prices with music you can dance to. It may not have been the cutting-edge live music we’re often spoiled with in cities, but this was more than made up for by the vibrant crowd and easy-going atmosphere. Surpassing the driving curfew, I had to leave my beloved buggy harbourside while Ben and Brooklyn walked me back to my hotel; I would have to pick it up in the morning ready for drop-off and a final farewell.
(All images by Rachel Wilson. Rachel was a guest of Hamilton Island.)
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Rachel Wilson is a writer from the UK whose work has appeared online at The Guardian, TheVine, The Vagenda and more. She loves films, photography, books, music and travel – especially if any of the above are in French. You can find her @rmiwilson on Twitter and Instagram.