Koalas and Golf in Queensland

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.

The island’s Wildlife Sanctuary has a fun activity every morning at their restaurant: They bring out some potted eucalyptus trees with live koalas in them, munching happily away on the leaves. While guests eat their breakfast (nice buffet spread with very fresh eggs and locally made breads), they can watch the koalas eat theirs. (This breakfast is very popular with families, judging from 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. Fun fact: Koalas are apparently nicknamed “fuzzybutts.” Having held one (two, actually), I can confirm that yes, their butts are, indeed, very fuzzy. 

After breakfast, I met with Matt Boileau, general manager of the Reef View Hotel, who talked a little bit about the hotel and the island. The main reason visitors to Hamilton Island would want to book the hotel, he said, is the dramatic view of the ocean and the other islands from each guest room. With the large convention center attached to the hotel, MICE and conferences are a big part of the hotel’s business, but the family market is brisk as well. The hotel recently completed a soft refurbishment of the rooms over the last two years, and will refit the foyer and the reception area next year. “But really,” he said, “we’re focusing on out-of-room experiences.”

It’s not hard: The Great Barrier Reef is at the hotel’s doorstep. Visitors can go snorkeling, sailing or whale-watching, depending on the time of year. There are plenty of direct flights from major airports on the mainland to the island, and eight or nine ferries each day. Because Hamilton is the largest developed island of the Whitsundays, it can cater to all types of guests rather than limiting who can visit.

With a few minutes to spare before my next appointment, I ran down to the beach and tested the waters, which were very calm and surprisingly warm. A lot of families were relaxing on the beach, and the shallow slope of the shoreline meant kids could walk out a good distance without being in deep water. A word of caution: During the summer months, 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 like these, most guests are willing to take the risk.

Directly across from the island’s marina is Dent Island, which has been developed as a 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 Oatleys as well, so it makes sense.) There are no hotels or villas there, and the only resident is the local lighthouse-keeper. Beyond that, the whole island is just one enormous golf course, designed by Peter Thompson. A group of Aussie specialists and suppliers (and myself) took a ferry over to try the course out. I should pause to explain that I have never played golf before in my life, and have no idea of what clubs are used for what kind of situations. Fortunately, no one else in my group of four knew very much about the game, either, so we just had fun trying to keep the balls out of the genuinely wild patches of the island and enjoying the iced tea and scones that were handed out at different tees. (At one point, faced with a nearly insurmountable rough, we gave up using the clubs and began pitching the golf balls like baseballs. The game’s a lot more fun if you don’t take it very seriously, I think.) In between putts, we marveled at the views of the Whitsundays and the turquoise ocean.  Even guests who aren’t avid golfers might want to spend a few hours on the course just to look around. It’s gorgeous.



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