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Hamilton IslandJuly 18, 2008 By: Mark Rogers Travel Agent
This gem among Australia’s Whitsunday Islands offers vacations for a range of budgets
Australia’s Whitsunday Islands are a group of 74 islands just off the Queensland coast at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. Arguably the most popular of all is Hamilton Island, which functions as a beach resort with all the bells and whistles. The approximately six-square-mile island has a selection of three- to five-star hotels, a marina, a village of boutique shops, eight swimming pools and nine restaurants.
Many Hamilton Island resorts offer incredible views of the Coral Sea
Hamilton Island’s natural charms have been carefully protected, with 70 percent of the island remaining in its natural state. As an added plus for those wanting to get away from it all, cars are banned, so people get around on golf carts or by hoofing it.
Hamilton Island is a one-hour flight from Brisbane, two hours from Sydney and three hours from Melbourne. It is also the only Queensland island with a modern airport equipped to handle jets.
For diving enthusiasts, this destination has a fringing coral reef, with the best snorkeling and diving at Catseye Beach. You can also visit the Outer Reef by high-speed catamaran or helicopter. Hardy Reef is another popular spot for diving or reef viewing.
Day tours to the Great Barrier Reef are another preferred option. Fantasea Cruises operates daily, full-day trips to the largest permanent floating platform, Reefworld, where guests can snorkel, scuba dive, take in the sights from the underwater viewing chamber or ride a semi-submersible submarine. H2O Sportz runs half-day snorkel trips to the reef, departing from the Dive Shop at Hamilton Island Marina.
One of the attractions that make the island unique is the Koala Gallery Wildlife Experience. Guests can view and interact with koala bears and see other Aussie animals, including kangaroos and Tasmanian devils. They can also opt to feed less cuddly crocodiles, or choose to take a “Creatures of the Night” tour.
In late August the island plays host to the annual Hamilton Island Race Week yachting festival, in which more than 150 yachts from across Australia and New Zealand gather for a week of races around the islands.
From July to September, visitors might see migrating whales off the coast.
The Windward Pavilion rooms at qualia are some of the top accommodations at the property
Where to Stay
Most of Hamilton Island’s hotel accommodations are on the resort side of the island and in close proximity to Catseye Beach and the island’s main pool and resort center. An exception is the five-star luxury resort qualia, which is on the secluded, northernmost point of Hamilton Island. This resort is for adults 18 years and older.
The property has 60 private one-bedroom pavilions accessible only to the resort’s guests. Room prices include all meals and nonalcoholic beverages, non-motorized water sports and the use of a private electric buggy. Each pavilion has an unobstructed view of the Whitsunday Passage, the body of water between Hamilton Island and Whitsunday Island. The Windward Pavilions and the Beach House are the most expensive accommodations at qualia, and have the best views of the Coral Sea and ocean. The Windward Pavilions include their own plunge pools and are more than four times the size of an average hotel room.
The resort’s Beach House books fast, having the prime beachfront location and a hideaway ambiance due to the surrounding eucalyptus. The Beach House has a bedroom, entertaining area, a separate guest pavilion and private, full-size swimming pool.
The resort’s spa has six treatment rooms. Guests give high praise to the Bularri Yurrul Hot Stone Massage & Anoint Oils treatment. Pre-booking of treatments is recommended ([email protected], 617-4948-9478).
The resort’s general manager, Jason Friedman ([email protected]), has special cocktails with guests at his house or on the property’s boat. Friedman came to qualia last month after a post as camp manager at Tented Camp Golden Triangle at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in Chiang Rai, Thailand.
Rooms at the five-star Beach Club offer an oasis for couples
For lovebirds, the five-star Beach Club gears itself exclusively toward couples (guests must be at least 18). Set in landscaped gardens, the property’s 57 rooms all enjoy uninterrupted views of the Coral Sea from their own private balcony. Facilities at the boutique-style hotel include à la carte poolside dining, an infinity-edge pool, VIP Hamilton Island Airport-to-Beach Club transfers and VIP chauffeur buggy service. The general manager is Nicolette Groenendijk ([email protected]).
Rooms at the four-star Reef View Hotel all have private balconies overlooking either the hotel’s gardens or the Coral Sea. Rooms on the uppermost floors are the most popular picks, having been newly refurbished. These include the hotel’s Reef Suites, one- and two-bedroom Terrace Suites and the Presidential Suite.
For clients traveling with the kids in tow, the two-bedroom Terrace Suites sleep up to six. The kid-friendly hotel has an added-value program, “Kids Stay & Eat FREE.” Extra cots are also free of charge and should be requested at the time of booking. The general manager is Peter Hopgood ([email protected]).
Some rooms at the Reef View Hotel have picturesque views of the Coral Sea
The three-star Palm Bungalows’ accommodations are in a tropical garden setting, each with its own balcony and outdoor furniture. Catseye Beach and the main Hamilton Island resort pool are only a short walk away.
The property’s 49 freestanding bungalows are a good option for those looking for an affordable Hamilton Island holiday. Palm Bungalows also has a “Kids Stay & Eat FREE” program.
The Beach Club, Reef View Hotel and Palm Bungalows all offer free daily buffet breakfast to guests with stays of four nights or longer.
The contact person for all four hotels is Riley Carter, international sales executive ([email protected], 02-9433-0406, ext. 57406). Hopgood, the general manager at the Reef View, is also the manager at Palm Bungalows.