In the ‘90s, Hamilton Island was like the Australian version of Acapulco (sort of). A beauty of a setting on the coastline, with crystal blue water and some three-star high rise hotels. Families bathing in hotel pools with sunken bars and children covered in zinc cream running around without pants on.
Though this picture certainly still exists on Hamilton Island (HI), a lot has changed in the last 10 years. Now privately owned by the Oatley family – sailors and winemakers who acquired the resort island in 2003 (and who also own the renowned sailboat Wild Oats, six-time winner of the blue water classic Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race) – the island has become a luxury getaway location, hosting over 500 weddings a year, regular honeymooners and an increasing amount of babymooners (the new excuse for a holiday pre-baby).
As it’s built around a world-class marina, sailing is a big deal at Hamilton Island, and the Oatleys have dedicated the island’s overhaul (for the most part) to holiday-makers who spend a lot of their time on the water, may arrive by boat, or at least enjoy one while they’re there. And so, in 2009, with the help of designer Walter Barda, they built the architectural wonder that is the Hamilton Island Yacht Club. Via the club, Australia is also currently challenging for the 35th Americas Cup.
While most will arrive by plane to HI, with several direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne daily, the island is just five kilometres long, and only 30 per cent inhabited, so transport on the island is by golf buggy only.
But getting around won’t be an issue. Surrounded by supreme beaches, it’s fair to say you won’t need to do much else than lap it up.
Qualia is Hamilton Island’s feature piece. A world-class luxury resort set across 30 acres with 60 private pavilions (some with private plunge pools), situated on the secluded northern-most tip of HI. This is five star luxury accommodation at its best, a place for couples looking for a secluded retreat (the minimum age is 16). Service is top notch from the minute you land on the island. This one is a real treat if you can get here.
Reef View Hotel
Back on the main drag at Catseye Beach and closer to the action, accommodation options on the island include the Reef View Hotel and Resort with spacious rooms and suites for couples and families, with balconies and tropical forest or Coral Sea views. The hotel also includes a large lagoon-like swimming pool and Reef Lounge bar.
For something more modest, but perhaps all you really need on a beach holiday, the Palm Bungalows are more affordable, free-standing haunts for those seeking the privacy of their own cabins. Located between Catseye Beach and the Marina Village, and set in tropical landscaped gardens, the bungalows have balconies, kitchen facilities and are air-conditioned.
EAT / DRINK
Being the holiday destination that it is, HI is well equipped for families. It’s also a fully functioning town with a school, a post office and a general store. There is the obligatory fish and chip shop, the ice cream shop and a bakery, but nothing to write home about. Here are some of the best options to stop in at for something to eat or drink:
Pebble Beach (at Qualia)
If you’re staying at Qualia, this is will be your regular eatery, located on the waterfront at Pebble Beach. Food here is fresh, organic and delicious, the best on the island, with lush salads and local seafood dishes including a popular seafood platter piled high with Morton Bay bugs, scallops, prawns and fish. If you not are staying at Qualia, you can visit Pebble Beach if invited by a hotel guest.
Bommie Deck at Hamilton Island Yacht Club
The amazing architectural feature built in 2010 by Walter Barda, is the iconic Hamilton Island Yacht Club. The tail of its fish-shaped rooftop pokes right out on the marina, with an outdoor cocktail bar atop, which is a hotspot for locals on a Friday night. Order cocktails in the evening and watch the sun go down before moving inside to the grand dining room for dinner at the Yacht Club. Come here for the architecture - even if you’re not dining.
Coca Chu is the island’s newest restaurant serving modern Southeast Asian cuisine and great cocktails at the bar. Fresh and light food with ocean views while you dine, request a table over looking the water and make sure to book on weekends.
Drink at One Tree Hill
At sunset, there couldn’t be a better spot to watch the sunset. At the top of the One Tree Hill is a little bar set up which, on any given night, will host a handful of people
Drink with the locals and the local pub, full with TAB and pool table. It’s a little lacklustre but it does the trick; with local beers on tap and a great view of the marina.
DO / SEE
There are many things to do on Hamilton Island, including being submerged in water and spending some quality time lying by the pool drinking cocktails with silly umbrellas in them, but if there is one experience you must have, and this is one for the bucket list, it’s the Reef Comber Tour.
Reef Comber Tour
The Reef Comber tour is an extraordinary experience, flying you over Whitehaven Beach early in the morning, with breathtaking views of this world famous beach and the Great Barrier Reef. You will then arrive at Hardy Lagoon, 50 kilometres off the coastline, where you will board a glass bottom boat and then dive off into the water with snorkels to explore the reef and colourful Finding Nemo-like sea life below. After a glass of fizz, enjoy the scenic flight back to Hamilton Island, all before 11am.
Hamilton Island Golf Course at Dent Island
A 15 minute ferry ride from the Hamilton Island Marina takes you straight down the Proserpine River to Dent Island, where the Hamilton Island Golf Club is located. The island is dedicated to the par 71, 18-hole golf course, designed by five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson, and is billed as the only championship island golf course in Australia. It’s worth the trip over for a buggy tour and a sunset G&T at the club house, even if you’re not up for teeing off.
All Saints Chapel
There’s probably few chapels in the country more romantic and idyllically placed than this pretty little white one. Perched on the top of a hill, the All Saints Chapel overlooks Catseye Beach and out onto the Whitsunday Islands. Open for public visits, you’ll be likely to find a wedding there on any day given that the island hosts over 500 a year. It’s worth the five minute detour on your buggy.
Sailing, snorkelling, yoga
At Qualia, non-motorised water sports and yoga are available to all guests and are a must. You can also hire sail boats, paddle boards and snorkels down on Catseye Beach too; the enclosed shorelines make for sweet sailing conditions above water, and some pretty spectacular slights down below.
Follow Hamilton Island on Instagram @hamiltonisland
Broadsheet travelled to Hamilton Island as a guest of the island.