A couple of days ago, I returned from paradise, otherwise known as Hamilton Island (or Hammo, as the locals call it). We had 4 nights there, which was just enough time, although a week would be lovely. It was hard to leave, especially as the weather was 25c and blue skies. I felt guilty having so much fun in the sun, whilst our family and friends were suffering in the Sydney storms, but after many camping trips in the rain, it felt like karma!
One of the best things about Hamilton Island is that there is so much to see and do, and pretty much everything is right on your doorstep. Where else, can you land at the airport, drive 5 minutes in your golf buggy and be sipping cocktails in the pool within half an hour of landing?! The Whitsundays as a whole, are my favourite holiday destination, and if you have children, it doesn’t get better than this. It was hard to cut it down to just my top 10, but here they are…
1. If your accommodation doesn’t come with one (most of the holiday homes do), hire a golf buggy. We stayed at Whitsunday Apartments, so we did not get a golf buggy included. The first 2 days, we decided to catch the free buses instead. It was okay, but often the buses were full when you desperately wanted to get to One Tree Hill (see point 5 below), so we decided to hire a golf buggy for the last 48 hours. It costs $46 for one hour and progressively gets more expensive for upto 24 hours ($87). So, you might as well hire for 24 hours if you are going to hire for one really. If you want the damage waiver it is an extra $12, and airport drop-offs are an extra $10. The latter is really cheeky, but worth it (especially as the free bus was leaving our apartments 2 whole hours before our departure, despite it being just a 10 minute drive).
2. Play golf on Dent Island. This must rate as one of the top 10 golf courses in Australia, if not the world. The views are absolutely stunning. And if you don’t play golf, like me, go anyway. Go for the island tour by golf buggy and enjoy a delicious 2-course lunch in the Clubhouse afterwards. The golf course was designed by five-time British Open winner, Peter Thomson, and provides a challenge for both professionals and resort golfers. It is certainly not one to improve your handicap on, with its steep cliffs and distracting views. This experience doesn’t come cheap, but it is worth every cent; 18 holes cost $160, plus $40 if you need to hire clubs. If you choose to just do the tour and lunch, it costs $69. Both options include the 10 minute ferry transfers from Hamilton to Dent Island. The dress code is smart casual; collared shirts for men, and no singlets, denim, board shorts or rubber thongs. There is also a driving range on Hamilton Island itself, if you want to practice beforehand.
3. Snorkel in the fringing reef with turtles, gropers and millions of other fish. You will probably even see Nemo! On this recent trip, we chose Explore’s half-day snorkel cruise (costs $125 for adults and $75 for 5-17-year olds). Includes high quality diving and snorkelling gear, as well as wetsuits/stinger suits and flotation jackets (if required), tea and coffee and light snacks on the cruise back to Hammo. Usually they anchor off Hook Island, but we were lucky enough to go to Pitstop Bay on Border Island instead. Both destinations are about an hour’s sail each way from Hamilton Island, so we took seasick tablets beforehand, but the water was really calm anyway. Upon reaching Border Island, a small boat took us closer to the reef. I felt like a mermaid much of the time, floating along and taking a million underwater photos. NB – I hired the underwater camera from the photography store on the island for $50 for, technically, 24 hours (though I was told if I was a couple of hours late back it would be okay). Note to self, take a memory card next time as theirs cost $35!
4. Do a scenic flight over the Whitsundays. There are many options, including helicopters, seaplanes and small, light planes. On our trip to the Whitsundays last year, we did the scenic flight from Airlie Beach to Heart Reef and Whitehaven Beach, before landing at Hamilton Island. It cost only slightly more than the ferry from Airlie. You can even catch a helicopter to Reefworld, on the Great Barrier Reef, for more diving or snorkelling.
5. Enjoy drinks at One Tree Hill for sunset. On our first night here, we quickly grabbed a table at the bar and ordered a cheese platter to share, plus drinks (the $10 cocktails are refreshing, though full of ice). We soon realised though that drinking seems a lot more relaxed at One Tree Hill (which has about 13 trees now) than in Sydney for example, and lots of people were BYOg it. So, the next evening, we took our own drinks and snacks. There are even a few picnic benches, but you need to be early to get one of those.
6. Visit Whitehaven Beach, with the whitest sand in the world! We did this on our trip last year, so decided not to go again (there are so many other things to do), but I would thoroughly recommend it. In 2013, it was named the ‘number one beach in Australia’ by the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Beaches Awards. Make sure you do a trip which includes Hill Inlet, as otherwise you won’t get to the see the famous view which is in all of the photos of Whitehaven, with the swirly sand.
7. Have breakfast with the koalas at WILD LIFE Hamilton Island. You can also get up close to other marsupials, snakes, lizards, koalas and kangaroos. You can even meet the park’s very own crocodile! WILD LIFE is open from 8.30am-5pm, whilst breakfast with the koalas runs from 7-10pm. General admission costs $22 for adults and $15 for children. And a buffet breakfast with the koalas costs $35.
8. Go parasailing over the Whitsundays. You may not see all 74 islands, but the views are out of this world. Note to self, take a USB stick next time, as they charge $15 for a copy of your photos if you have your own USB stick or $30 if you want one of theirs.
9. Join a guided kayaking tour for a romantic, sunset paddle. Costs $65 per person (including reef tax) including sparkling wine and fruit juice. Operates daily, but is weather dependent so check beforehand that it is still running.
10. Make the most of the complimentary non-motorised watersports (free with all accommodation, except Whitsunday Apartments). Includes: Catamarans, snorkel equipment, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and windsurfing. If you are staying at Whitsunday Apartments, snorkelling equipment is $20 per day, catamarans start at $30 for half an hour, windsurfers and stand-up paddle boards start at $20 for half an hour and kayaks cost from $12 for half an hour.
There are so many other things to do. If you do all of the top 10 and still have time to kill. First of all, lucky you. Other suggestions include: glow in the dark mini golf, weekly trivia at the Marina Tavern on Mondays, sunset drinks at Bommie Deck Bar (the Yacht Club), jet skiing, and 4WD off road adventures.