Hamilton Island is the largest inhabited island of the Whitsundays, and is on private long-term lease from the Australian government. Resorts and amenities for holiday-makers have existed on the island since 1984, and although tourism is the main attraction, increasingly, residents have been buying property there to enjoy the lifestyle, often for retirement.
When you arrive, be it by ferry or at the airport right next to the marina, you think you’re landing in a relatively large town. But, besides some rather gorgeous private holiday residences, this is pretty much a giant resort with numerous different accommodation options. Apart from one property (the Whitsunday Apartments), all the resorts, hotels, apartments, and attractions are owned and run by one company, Hamilton Island (tel. 13/73-33). That means, with a couple of exceptions (Beach Club and Qualia), you can be staying in one hotel but use the facilities of the resort down the road. You can also pop into any of the restaurants around the marina and charge your bill to your room. Equally, you can phone other hotels, restaurants, and shops through extensions from your room telephone, as it’s all interconnected. This creates a rather special resort atmosphere, where people walk around in their beachwear in the “high street” yet they are still in the resort, of sorts, and while most people stay within their chosen hotels, you can experience plenty of restaurant and pool hopping between options.
Within the main development there is one gorgeous beach, Catseye Beach, right on the doorstep. Accessible through the main resort reception only, this beach offers all the activities, such as kayaking, sailing, and snorkeling, for the entire resort community, but it is large enough to handle the influx of people.
There are several other beaches around the island; for example, the private resort Qualia has a couple of secluded beaches, but these are only open to its guests. Other beaches are away from the main island center.
Wild Life Hamilton Island
Wild Life Hamilton Island (tel. 07/4946-9078, daily 8am-5pm, adult $20, child $12, or VIP entry adult $40, child $32, includes koala photo), right in the center of the main resorts, offers close encounters of the cuddly and creepy kind. Daily activities include breakfast with the koalas (7am-10am, $35) and cuddles with koalas (8:30am-9:30am, $30). Tours, such as the one-hour “Park Keeper” tour (daily at 10am and 4pm), get you close to the animals. The “BBQ and Sunset Spotlight Animal Feeding” tours (Thurs. and Fri. at 6pm, adult $35, child $20) include a barbecue and nighttime visits to the nocturnal animals. Crocodile feeding takes place at 4pm on Wednesday and Saturday. The zoo is small, and the especially fun activities are the organized events, such as the breakfast or the tours, rather than the zoo itself.
Getting to Hamilton Island
You can fly directly into Hamilton Island Airport (HTI, tel. 07/4946-9999) from Sydney with Qantas, Jetstar, and Virgin Australia (from around $129 one way, flight duration 2.5 hours). From the airport, there are free shuttles to all the resort accommodations.
Alternatively, Cruise Whitsundays (tel. 07/4946-4662) has at least one ferry per hour leaving both Abel Point Marina and Shute Harbour to Hamilton Island, with transfers taking 30-60 minutes, depending on which connection you take, as connections are available via Daydream and Long Islands. A one-way ticket from the mainland to Hamilton Marina is $48 per person. Ferry timetables are available online and at all visitor information stalls.
Once on the island, you can either hire a buggy (tel. ext. 58263 or 07/4946-8263, from $45 per hour) or use one of the three free shuttle buses that leave regularly and stop off at all points of interest and accommodation options. Some go clockwise and others counterclockwise, so it might be faster one way rather than the other, but the entire circle takes around 20 minutes, so it really is not that important which one you take.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef.