ONboard: How to have it all on Hamilton Island

Exploring Whitehaven Beach at first light. PHOTO: ONmag.

Exploring Whitehaven Beach at first light. PHOTO: ONmag.

After the devastation of Cyclone Debbie, Hamilton Island is making a swift recovery and is welcoming guests back to enjoy its idyllic sunsets, sailing and sandy coves. ANNABEL WILSON spent three days with the locals and discovered the best of the island’s secrets…

Post music festival recuperation will never be the same. When I called my dear friend Renee From Byron Bay to see if we could hang out around Splendour in the Grass, she told me she didn’t live in Byron anymore. She’d moved to Hamilton Island – and we should totally hang out there instead. Renee, ever the efficient fixer (we used to do seasons working luxury concierge in Chamonix and Ibiza) would organise it all. I just had to get to Brisbane airport the morning after a three day party.

Sometimes, dream results do happen. Call it serendipity, luck or manifestation – despite my ride to the airport falling through I managed to cut in fine (with positive emphasis on fine) and haul my husk of a self onto the plane. In what was soon to be the gentlest of comedowns ever, I was promptly spirited away to a tropical island for a short sojourn in paradise.

Hamilton Island's runway and marina at dusk. PHOTO: Onmag.

Hamilton Island’s runway and marina at dusk. PHOTO: Onmag.

Just shy of two hours travel time from the mainland, our Boeing 737-800 swooped down onto the narrow runway, one of the two regular daily flights from Brisbane. Protruding into the Coral Sea, the 45m apron we land on is flanked by glamorous villas standing sentinel around bus clad hills and the rolling greens of the island’s world famous golf course. It’s a fitting welcome to what life on Hamilton is all about: leisure and exploration within a pristine setting. Since the destination was purchased by renowned winemaker Bob Oatley in 2003, the resort has been manicured into a much-loved holiday retreat. While a third of the island has been developed, the rest remains mostly in its natural state. There are over a dozen walking trails visitors can take to explore these wilderness areas.

Reunited at Arrivals, I finally got to see my old travel mate in her home country. Having met working in chalets in France, we’ve hung out in Italy, Switzerland and Ibiza, but never the South Seas. Now was our chance to spend time together on our ancestral side of the world. I was rolling with hand luggage only, so we strode straight outside into the 25 degree humid air and hopped on a shuttle up the hill to Renee’s house. What followed was an exquisite sampler of life on the island as the locals know it. With a bit of rock n’ roll thrown in. Thanks to the hospitality of my hosts, here are my thoughts on how to have it all on Hamilton Island…

Hiking to Passage Peak. PHOTO: ONmag.

Hiking to Passage Peak. PHOTO: ONmag.

 

Go wild: Weaving around the island are a series of interconnected walking trails: a great way to discover the coves, beaches and vistas of the resort. Grab a trail map from the tour desk or download the self-guided audio tour app when you arrive. A favourite among visitors and locals is the 2.6km hike to Passage Peak – the highest point on the island. Avoid the heat of the midday sun and make sure you start out before it gets too hot. Pack a hat, sunscreen, your camera, snacks, water and as Renee reminded me, “tread heavy for snakes”. Wind your way through native bush – keep an eye out for cockatoos, rainbow parakeets and laughing kookaburra – then ascend the last 800 metres via a series of steps. You’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of a chimeric sea, the Whitsundays and all the way back to the mainland.

Get a golf cart: Hamilton Island is car-free, so hire a buggy to take in the sights at a chilled-out pace ($67 for four hours). For $10, you and your crew can embark on a Buggy Rally – driving around the island to find the answers to a series of questions, each leading you to a new location. Drive carefully – there have been a few major accidents involving rolling carts or driving them over cliffs in recent times.

Sunset at One Tree Hill. PHOTO: ONmag.

Sunset at One Tree Hill. PHOTO: ONmag.

Have sundowners at One Tree Hill: Pack a rug, some vino and your favourite aperitivos to catch dusk at One Tree Hill lookout. The free shuttle can drop you off, or follow the road to the rolling grass hill where you can join other sun-worshippers toasting the closure of another day in paradise. There’s a cocktail bar there too, but we thought it more romantic to bring our own.

Take flight to Whitehaven beach: When Renee’s boyfriend asked me if I was an early riser, I had no idea what he was planning as he tapped a few messages into his phone. As the last of the light dipped behind the hills opposite our sundowner lookout, he informed us he’d sorted us a seat on the first sea-plane flight to Whitehaven Beach the next day. This adventure is well worth getting out of bed at dawn. Daily scenic flights take guests by helicopter or seaplane over the Great Barrier Reef to explore the silicone sands of Whitehaven Beach. Most trips include a champagne hamper and snorkelling options – a ‘bucket list’ experience that will make you feel like you’re in a Bond film. Our surreal morning was topped off when we saw a whale breaching below us as we flew home. For a more budget-friendly transfer to Whitehaven, take the Cruise Whitsundays catamaran half day trip.

Hobi-Cats on the beach. PHOTO: ONmag.

Hobie-Cats on the beach. PHOTO: ONmag.

Splash, explore and frolic: Palm-fringed Catseye Beach is the main spot to flop on the sand or take a dip. For the more adventurous, here’s the place from which to embark on a number of water activities. Take your pick of snorkelling, diving, paddle boarding, kayaking or hire a boat. Guided tours and lessons are available or you can skipper your own catamaran.

Have cocktails in the pool bar: There’s something dangerously decadent about being able to swim to the bar. Snaffle that holiday feeling under the thatched roof of the Island Bar at the Main Pool as you sip a cocktail in your togs. The Mai-Thais here are divine.

Main Pool, Hamilton Island. PHOTO: ONmag.

Main Pool, Hamilton Island. PHOTO: ONmag.

Dine by the marina: From fine-dining to fusion, the award-winning restaurants adjacent to the super-yachts in the harbour offer exquisite eats amid compelling vistas. If you’re after something a bit more DIY, we grabbed our pizza to takeaway from Manta-Ray, stoked up from the bottle-o across the road and ate at a picnic table with our feet in the sand. As the gin palaces in front of us rocked gently in the balmy evening breeze, we raised a glass to having it all on Hamilton Island. For me, banishing those post-festival blues will never be the same. Thanks to Renee, a rather luxurious precedent has been set.

Local's Only. Farewell drinks. PHOTO: ONmag.

Local’s Only. Farewell drinks. PHOTO: ONmag.

For ON-the-ball previews, promotion, advertising, interviews, reviews and photography for your cool happenings and concepts, get in touch with annabel@onmag.co.nz.

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