The Whitsunday Islands are a dream. Idyllic palm trees, crystal clear turquoise waters, beautiful coral reefs and sand so white and fine it would go through a salt shaker. The Whitsundays are a must do for any Australian holiday on the tropics. Any good Aussie will call Hamllton Island “Hamo”, as it’s the nature to shorten anything longer than one syllable in Australia. Hamo is paradise. Here’s my guide on everything Hamilton Island…. (Hamo!)
SNORKEL &/ DIVE THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
Snorkelling or diving on the Great Barrier Reef is a must for everyone to do when in tropical north Queensland. The reef is in fantastic condition near Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays. It will take approximately 1 hr to 1.5hrs to reach the reef from Hamilton Island Marina.
Choosing the right tour operator makes all the difference in how enjoyable your day on the world’s best and biggest reef will be. In Australia, tour operators are restricted by permits as to where they are allowed to take tourists to. One permit is for one reef, and the Great Barrier Reef is made up for 2,900 individual reefs! That means that if a tour operator only has one permit, they must go to the same reef every single day. This consequently means that the reef could be more damaged because of the amount of tourists passing through every day. It also means that if the weather isn’t that great on that day, they still have to go there regardless of the conditions.
Secondly, the amount of tourists onboard makes all the difference. Some tour operators choose to operate at 1 tourist per 1 seat ratio. This might not seem so bad on the surface, but the boats are usually capable of holding 120+ passengers. That a lot of people to snorkel with! The better operators go with a lower passenger number e.g. 1 tourist per 1.5 seat. This means the boat is never full and there are less tourists trying to swim with you.
After much research, I found Explore Group to have the perfect combination of permits and capacity of passengers. Explore Group cap the amount of passengers onboard their snorkelling boats at 60 out of 100 seats. They also have multiple permits, so the same reef isn’t visited often. On board, the team were perfect and we had an extremely enjoyable day! Explore Group sail daily. Snorkeling costs $230pp, and diving starts at $330pp for certified divers and $360pp for an introductory course to diving. (Prices correct as at time of publication)
VISIT WHITEHAVEN BEACH & HILL INLET
Whitehaven Beach is known as one of the world’s most famous beaches. Located on neighbouring island Whitsunday Island, approximately 30 minutes by boat from Hamilton Island Marina, this 7km long beach has sand so fine that it will pass through a salt shaker!!! The sand is also unbelievably white that it almost hurts to look at it without sunglasses.
The most iconic photos of Whitehaven Beach are taken from Hill Inlet, which is located at the western end of Whitehaven Beach. Hill Inlet is technically not part of Whitehaven Beach as there is water separating it from the beach. Hill Inlet is effectively a raised lookout point to admire the beauty of Whitehaven Beach from. During certain times of the year, the water level drops and streaks of white sand and turquoise blue water leaves for a breathtaking view. Visiting is a must! However not every tour operator is allowed to go to Hill Inlet – permits again! To spell it as crystal clear as possible, a tour to Whitehaven Beach that does not explicitly say it is going to Hill Inlet will not go to Hill Inlet.
View from Hill Inlet of Whitehaven Beach
Whitehaven Beach itself is just that, a beach. It has beautiful sand. Make sure to take plenty of sunscreen with you. Please take care with your camera here, as the sand is so fine, even my waterproof camera had sand stuck in it – the sand really is THAT fine!
As we wanted to be on the beach for the full day, we choose to go with Cruise Whitsundays, and do their Ultimate Whitehaven Beach Hike, Hill Inlet & Lookout tour. The tour started with a big boat (which made me nervous!), but was assured that the boat was doing multiple stops and not everyone was bound for Whitehaven Beach. As Hill Inlet is limited in capacity by permit, only 30 tourists are allowed to travel at once. We had a little speed boat wizz us over to Hill Inlet after 2 hours on the beach. Hill Inlet was absolutely worth it, the view was truly beautiful!I
If you’re up for a half day on Whitehaven, Explore Group also does a half day tour that includes Hill Inlet. They also offer a full day trip to Whitehaven and Chalkies Beach, and a sailing half day, but these tours don’t include Hill Inlet.
THINGS TO DO ON HAMILTON ISLAND
Catseye Beach is home to three of the islands free to use public pools, so there are plenty of people here enjoying the water. Two pools are located at the Hamilton Island Resort Centre. One pool is very deep, about 3-4m deep, and not too huge, but still comfortable. The other is a large lagoon pool with a swim up bar and lots of sun loungers surrounding. In peak times, we even experienced a live band playing at the pool. Bring your preferred pool inflatable creature/fruit (my favourite is pineapple) and prepare to laze the day away in the pool.
The third pool is located just past The Beach Club, and is called Bougainvillaea Bar. This pool is smaller and is therefore a bit quieter and has easier beach access than the other resort pool (although all pools overlook the beach). There are sun loungers here as well.
You can rent catamarans, kayaks and snorkels from the resort centre. From the shore, if you swim in the eastern part of Catseye Beach and far out enough you’ll likely see some turtles swimming around.
CUDDLE A KOALA
Queensland is the only state in Australia where is it legal to cuddle a koala, so if this is something you want to do, Hamilton Island is a great place to do it. WILD LIFE on Hamilton island offer koala cuddles for $40pp or breakfast with koalas for $36pp. Booking in advance is necessary.
SUNSET SPOTS ON HAMILTON ISLAND
The best place to watch sunset is at One Tree Hill, at the very top of Hamilton Island. There is a bar called One Tree Hill, however there is also a large park right next to it (with a bit of a slope) and a few picnic tables and chairs, and a telescope. Take some drinks, snacks and a picnic rug/towel and watch the sun set. It’s beautiful.
SCENIC FLIGHT OVER HEART REEF
With the amount of stunning islands surrounding the Whitsunday Islands, seeing the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef from above is hard to beat. Especially when there is a reef that is perfectly in the shape of a heart! Scenic flights cost $299pp.
The most affordable and comfortable way to stay on Hamilton Island is to rent a house. You can look at properties through stayz.com.au, airbnb.com or hamiltonisland.com.au. For a 2 bedroom basic townhouse that sleeps 4-5 adults, expect to pay AUD $450 per night. This is for a very basic level of accommodation. If you want something nicer, expect to be paying anywhere near AUD $1000 per night.
The huge benefit to renting a house is that a golf buggy is usually included in your homes rental. Golf buggies are the primary mode of transport on the island (trust me, the hills are real here!) and the standard rental cost for a buggy is $90 per day. The location of any home on the island shouldn’t really concern you if you have a buggy. Everywhere is a 10 minute buggy ride away.
There are several hotels on Hamilton Island as well, Reef View and Qualia are the main hotels. Qualia is a luxury resort that often attracts celebrities. Qualia is a gated hotel, so only guests are able to enter and is located at the furthest point away from Catseye Beach. The Reef View hotel is a mid range hotel with, with a good location just near Catseye Beach.
There are plenty of restaurants to eat at on Hamilton Island, with enough selection for anyone’s budget. As this is a tourist location, expect the average price for a main meal to be around $28. There are restaurants located along Catseye Beach and at Hamilton Island Marina.
There is also a grocery store in Hamilton Island Marina. The selection is surprisingly good, however they don’t stock a lot of it, so can often run out of supplies in peak periods.
The weather on Hamilton Island has two seasons; Wet and Dry. Dry season is from May to January. This means most days are sunny, with the possibility of a some rain on the odd occasion. The best time to go is between September to November and April to June.
Wet season is from February to April and unfortunately has the risk of cyclones/hurricanes. Unfortunately in March 2017, Hamilton Island was hit by Cyclone Debbie, causing widespread disruption. Therefore, I can strongly recommend not travelling to Tropical North Queensland (Bundaberg to Cairns and anywhere inbetween) during wet season.
With the weather comes one unique Australian surprise in the water, jellyfish. Not to be taken lightly, the irukandji jellyfish is the size of a fingernail, yet is the most venomous and deadliest jellyfish known to mankind. If its tiny size wasnt stealthy enough, it’s almost entirely translucent. Australia continues to live up to its name hah! However, don’t let the stingers put you off from visiting this stunning part of the world. A thin wetsuit that covers your entire body (including hands, feet and head) have proven effective in protecting people from stings from the irukandji jellyfish. The designated stinger season is from approximately October to May – it differs slightly each year depending on rainfall etc. If you’re out in an organised tour, you will have a stinger suit provided for you free of charge on your day trip. At beaches, stinger suits can be rented cheaply.
FLY TO HAMILTON ISLAND
You can fly to Hamilton island from most major cities in Australia. Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar all offer flights. At peak periods, the flights can be rather expensive.
FLY & FERRY
Alternatively, you can fly to The Whitsunday Coast (Prosperine) near Airlie Beach and then take the ferry from Airlie Beach to Hamilton Island. TigerAir offers and Jetstar service Prosperine.