|Hamilton Island Yacht Club, which has a variety of dining options, is a popular gathering spot on the island.|
Every fall, Premier Aussie specialist travel agents attend an intense trade show in Australia called Corroboree. This year, Corroboree was held on Hamilton Island, and Travel Agent was the exclusive American industry publication to be invited. Rather than attend meetings, I got to sample some of what the island has to offer in a very exciting (and far too brief) three days.
Hamilton Island is part of the Whitsunday Islands—a collection of 74 islands off the coast of Queensland. Only six of them are inhabited, and only Hamilton has an airport. The island is owned by the Oatley family, who have developed it into one of the most popular vacation destinations in Australia. Most hotels and resorts on the island cater to families, although one—qualia—is strictly for the over-16 set. Good to know: More than 70 percent of Hamilton Island has been left natural and undeveloped, making for terrific hiking opportunities and real escapes from other people.
Because the vacation community on Hamilton Island is so small, guests at any hotel can go just about anywhere on the island and charge their experiences back to their rooms. This means most restaurants, expeditions, whatever, can all be included in one bill at the end of the trip. Nice and convenient. Most accommodations and developments are in the middle of the island, making everything accessible by walking or by golf carts, which are the main mode of transportation. (Some accommodations will include a golf cart for guests to use as part of a rental package—be sure to ask when booking.)
The shallow slope of the shoreline on the main part of the beach means that bathers can walk out a good distance without being in deep water. This, combined with the gentle waves, makes the beaches ideal for families and young swimmers. Good to know: During summer, jellyfish tend to come into the waters, posing a moderate risk to swimmers. Visitors are gently encouraged to swim in the many pools on the island, but with beaches as beautiful as these, most guests are willing to take the risk.
If your clients want a more exclusive beach experience, suggest an excursion to Whitehaven Beach, which looks like it was designed for picture-postcards: soft white sand stretching on for miles, and pristine turquoise water that’s just perfect for swimming. As it is on Whitsunday Island (the largest in the chain), it is also protected from development, and access is limited to chartered boats or helicopters. In short, it’s the perfect beach escape for any client who wants an exclusive experience far from the maddening crowds, and with few signs of other people.
To get there, visitors can charter a boat (about 45 minutes) or a helicopter (about 15 minutes, but leave extra time for some prime aerial photography). The sand on the beach is reportedly so pure and fine that it can be used to clean jewelry. (Sadly, I didn’t bring any to confirm that thesis.) If time is of the essence for your clients, book them a chopper ride. For boat rides to Whitehaven, operators include Cruise Indigo, FantaSea, H2O Sportz and Hamilton Island Watersports.
A popular gathering spot on the island is the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, which also serves as the base for Australia’s largest offshore yachting regatta, Hamilton Island Race Week. With formal, informal, indoor and alfresco dining options (and absolutely gorgeous views), this is a place to visit, even if only to appreciate architect Walter Barda’s impressive design.
The island’s Wildlife Sanctuary has a fun activity every morning at the restaurant: The staff brings out potted eucalyptus trees with koalas in them. While guests eat their breakfast from the extensive buffet, they can watch the koalas eat their meal of eucalyptus. (This breakfast is very popular with families, judging by the number of kids running from tree to tree and pointing joyously at the koalas.) Even better, after breakfast, guests can have their pictures taken with the koalas.
Directly across from the island’s marina is Dent Island, which has been developed as The Hamilton Island Golf Club, a par-71, 18-hole course that opened in August 2009. (Yes, it’s called the Hamilton Island Golf Club even though it’s on Dent Island. It’s owned by the Oatley family as well, so it makes sense.) The club is the only championship island golf course in Australia, and has no hotels or villas. (The only resident is the local lighthouse-keeper.) The enormous golf course, designed by Peter Thompson to cater to varying skill levels, is spread over the whole island. The island’s genuinely wild patches make for a wonderfully challenging rough, and in between putts, we marveled at the views of the Whitsundays and the turquoise ocean.
A new addition to Hamilton Island is Spa wumurdaylin (pronounced woo-mer-DAY-lin—it means “dragonfly” in the local Aboriginal language), which hasn’t even been open a month. (It was built, in part, to handle the overflow from qualia, which has a rather small spa.) Therapist Nicole Cortese brought me into the treatment room, which had a surprisingly large tinted window looking out onto the backyard. I had requested a rejuvenation treatment, which combines an hour-long massage with a 30-minute facial. Once I was on the table, she spent an hour working over just about every muscle in my body, paying particular attention to my neck and shoulders as per my request (I’m a New Yorker; I’m naturally tense). After the massage, she spent 30 minutes exfoliating my face and gently applying moisturizer. (Good to know: The spa has 11 treatment rooms, including three couples’ suites. There are also four wet rooms that have either a seven-head Vichy shower or luxury rain shower.)
How to Get There
The airport at Hamilton Island has six arrivals and departures to and from mainland Australia every day (excluding helicopters). Melbourne is the farthest city at three hours away; Brisbane is 90 minutes. Jetstar Airways flies between Hamilton and Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney; QantasLink operates to and from Cairns; and Virgin Blue brings visitors to and from Hamilton, Brisbane and Sydney.
Where to Stay
On the island, I stayed at the Reef View Hotel, a high-rise that lives up to its name in splendid fashion. The hotel’s elevators are external and have floor-to-ceiling windows, giving guests a spectacular vista as they ascend or descend. The rooms are spacious and have large balconies that look out over the reef.
For a grown-up getaway, qualia combines classy with casual for a very relaxing vibe. (The name is intentionally spelled with a lowercase “q.” Can it get any more laid-back?) This resort is hidden away on the northern point of the island, and is considered an escape within an escape. Its pavilions are quiet and private, and have individual plunge pools. Good to know: The resort only accepts guests aged 16 and up, so no need to worry about overtired toddlers while sunbathing by the infinity pool.
|qualia, whose Windward Pavilion Lounge is shown here, deftly combines classy with casual.|