The first indication that we were in paradise was the view from the plane. The sight of the vibrant green Whitsunday Islands jutting out from the piercing blue water had everyone craning their necks to take in the view, knowing that in just minutes our feet would be sinking into the soft white sand surrounding them. The heat and humidity hit us instantly as we stepped onto the tarmac at tiny Hamilton Island airport, which is always a welcome feeling for those looking to escape the chill of winter in a tropical locale.
It was immediately clear that we had landed in some sort of Pleasantville. Representatives from the island resorts greeted us with a warm smile, our bags were pushed out on carts instead of anonymously deposited on a conveyer belt, and in just minutes we were heading toward our new homes for the week, dodging the golf carts that everyone uses to get around.
For those lucky enough to find themselves on Hamilton Island, here are the best things to do during what promises to be an unforgettable stay.
Soak up the sun on Catseye Beach
While there is no shortage of sand on Hamilton Island, the most popular spot to soak up the sun is Catseye Beach. Many of the hotels are built just steps away which makes for easy access, and set up loungers for guests. Cockatoos are also frequent visitors, and it’s common to see the inquisitive birds with their lemon meringue-coloured headdresses scooting around.
Walking across the hot sand can be unbearable and diving into the welcoming turquoise water might seem like an easy way to cool off—but I’ve been in hot tubs with colder water! It’s incredible how warm the sea is off Catseye Beach, and its clarity makes it perfect for snorkeling or simply watching the fish from above.
On certain days the reef will go way out, meaning bathers can walk way out into the water and it still won’t go past their knees. Just be sure to keep an eye out for stingers, which have been known to frequent the area.
Eat breakfast with Koalas
A trip to Australia wouldn’t be complete without a koala meet-and-greet, and Hamilton Island is a great place to do it. Wildlife Hamilton Island is open daily, with options to tour the facility and check out the crocodiles, dingoes, kangaroos and cockatoos.
Without a doubt their most popular package is enjoying breakfast with the koalas. Visitors get to enjoy a tasty buffet while surrounded by the little koalas sleeping in the surrounding trees, and once everyone’s had their fill of brekkie a keeper will pick up one of the marsupials up for a photo-op.
Everyone gets their turn to hold one of the cuddly koalas (I got to hold a little dude named Kenny, who was two-years-old at the time), while staff take a photo which they’ll print off for you as a keepsake. It is such a thrill to hold their tiny, furry bodies as their long nails latch on. Cross your fingers that you’re as lucky as my sister, who found Kenny snuggling right into her!
Breakfast with the koalas costs about $60 per adult (which isn’t too bad considering breakfast alone usually costs at least half that anywhere else on the island). My only criticism would be that visitors only get about 15 seconds to actually hold a koala, so keep that in mind.
Hit the water
While working on your tan or wading out into the Coral Sea may be all you need to enjoy the day, those looking for more action may want to rent a kayak, hop onto a paddle board or set sail. There is no shortage of water-based excursions here (it is an island after all!), meaning there are options to suit every budget and skill level.
Activities include jet skiing, catamaran lessons, windsurfing and diving just to name a few, and can be arranged through your hotel. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen!
Take a day trip
While Hamilton Island has so much to offer that anyone could be entertained for at least a week, it would be a mistake to go all the way there and not take advantage of its proximity to some other incredible Whitsunday spots.
One of the most popular excursions is out to the famous Great Barrier Reef. Charter boats head there daily, granting the opportunity to snorkel, dive or simply lounge on Reefworld, a floating pontoon that sits on Hardy Reef.
Another unforgettable way to see it is from above, aboard a scenic flight. Usually taking between 30 and 60 minutes, the tiny planes take off from Hamilton Island or Airlie Beach, granting guests a birds-eye view of the spectacular Whitsunday islands, famous Whitehaven Beach and of course the reef.
Finally, Cruise Whitsundays ferries guests between islands throughout the day, making it easy to explore other popular Queensland spots including buzzing Airlie Beach, celebrity favourite Hayman Island, or Daydream Island which features Living Reef, a man-made lagoon teeming with fish.
Channel your inner foodie
All that action means you’ll work up an appetite, and fortunately there are lots of options when it comes to dining. A crowd favourite is One Tree Hill, which is the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail while watching the sunset. Coca chu is another popular pick, as it’s set right on the beach and offers Asian fusion cuisine (I recommend the wagyu beef). Be sure to make reservations, as it books up fast.
One word of warning: eating out on Hamilton Island can be expensive! To offset the costs, rent a room with a kitchen and try to order groceries ahead of time so you don’t have to eat every single meal out.
How to get there: Hamilton Island is accessed via air or sea. The easiest way is to fly into Hamilton Island airport, which is serviced from many major cities including Sydney and Brisbane. If you’re already at Airlie Beach or one of the nearby islands such as Daydream Island or Long Island, book a ferry transfer through Cruise Whitsundays, which costs about $50 per person depending on where you’re coming from. Finally, you could book a flight into Prosperine Airport which services Airlie Beach, then take the ferry from there.
How to get around: As the island is solely based around tourism, there are a number of free shuttle buses connecting the resorts with the restaurants, marina, airport and activities such as the golf course. Depending on the route, buses come around approximately every 15 minutes. Alternatively, rent a buggy to zip around in during your stay, at a cost of about $90 per day. Keep in mind that the island is compact enough that unless you have mobility issues you can get away without one.
Where to stay: There are a dozen different lodging options, whether you’re staying for one night or a whole week. The most common are holiday rentals such as Whitsunday Apartments, which have kitchen facilities and can sleep up to five people, making it a great option for families or groups.
While they’re not overly luxurious, Whitsunday Apartments happen to inhabit the best stretch of Catseye Beach and boasts two beautiful pools. If you choose to stay there or the neighbouring Reef View hotel, it’s worth paying extra for a seaside room, as the view you’ll wake up to is simply spectacular. Sites like Airbnb or VRBO offer similar options, and some units include the use of a buggy.
When to go: Hamilton Island is hot, hot, hot year-round. January to March is good because it’s not high tourist season, but can see some rain. April to June is considered the best time to visit as there are usually sunny skies, but keep in mind there can be lots of visitors taking advantage of spring break. September is nice as it’s not as humid, and October to December are a popular time to visit due to Christmas holidays.
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