Hamilton Island is the largest inhabited island of the Whitsunday Islands in Queensland, Australia, and is where my boyfriend and I decided to spend Christmas and New Years. After almost two weeks on the island, with our stay split between two resorts, I thought I would put together my recommendations in terms of where to stay, where to go/eat and things to do if you’re planning a trip to Hamilton Island. Whether you are planning a long weekend in Hamilton Island or a two-week holiday, if you’re thinking about booking, do it (you’ll thank me later)!
Accommodation – Where to Stay
Reef View Hotel
For those of you with family (particularly young ones), in a group of friends or if you’re on a bit of a budget (although it certainly isn’t cheap), the Reef View Hotel is worth considering. From the outside, it looks like your typical holiday high-rise (which is pretty much what it is on the inside). With many different rooms to suit your budget, we opted for the Coral View King Room, a spacious room for two with a private balcony overlooking the sea.
The best thing about the Reef View is its vast ocean views of the Coral sea, overlooking Catseye Beach (fun fact: Catseye Beach is a man-made beach and was initially formed using unauthorised sand taken from the famous, pristine beaches of White Haven). It is a great location for families merely because it’s close to everything you need whilst you are there (also great for those who have a tendency to be lazy *raises hand*): the beach, restaurants, shops, pools – all are within walking distance from the Reef View Hotel. I wouldn’t say it’s quite the romantic place though but many couples choose to stay here for the price and convenience. If you’re part of a couple and plan to come here during peak season (when there are LOTS of kids about) just know that this place will be as romantic as half a glass of skimmed milk (like, not at all).
For those that want something a little more intimate and a lot more luxurious (and with a super flexible budget to match) then you cannot get any more romantic that Qualia. Situated on the northern part of the island, the exclusive resort has a no-kids policy and feels very secluded (in the best way possible). For my full impression of Qualia, check out my review of the resort here. Whilst it’s slightly further out from the marina, which is the main hub for restaurants and shops, you do have full use of a golf buggy which is included in the price of your stay (available for hire if you’re staying elsewhere) plus access to a car to drop you off or pick you up wherever and whenever you desire.
Food – Places to Eat and Drink
So good that we had to come back. Coca Chu is inspired by the hawker-style street food of South East Asia (namely Thailand and Vietnam). Their menu is a fresh and contemporary twist on everyday street dishes and each dish is designed to be shared so you get to sample a real mix of unique and delectable flavours. Overlooking Catseye Beach, Coca Chu has a lovely, relaxed atmosphere with a great cocktail menu too. Grab a seat outside if you can (weather permitting).
If you crave the comfort of Italian cuisine, make sure you make a reservation at Romanos. Perched right on the marina, Romanos serves up a modern take on traditional Italian dishes. Their Wild Boar Ragu is delicious (although the pasta to sauce ratio was slightly out of sync – could have done with a little more meat). For the best views, request for a seat downstairs when making your reservation.
The first thing you will notice about Bommie without food going anywhere near your mouth is the stunning architecture set against a beautiful backdrop of the Whitsundays landscape. Set inside the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, the building design takes inspiration from marine life, specifically the manta ray, with it’s elegantly, conspicuous tail. The award-winning restaurant serves up a contemporary Australian menu, utilising seasonal produce which is fresh and locally sourced. We got to experience the 4 course Christmas Day menu, which in fact turned out to be a total of 7, with the addition of 3 complementary courses (who can say no to three desserts?).
There isn’t a vast selection of food places on the island especially if you don’t want to dine out and would rather order food to take away. Your takeaway options are: Bob’s Bakery, Popeye’s (fish and chip shop) Marina Cafe (sandwiches and wraps), and Manta Ray (pizza). For those choosing self-catering option, there is only one very small grocery store on the island down by the marina. The island could definitely do with more variety and more healthy options in terms of take-out restaurants and cafes, as well as access to another (or a bigger) grocery store. The restaurants on the other-hand are excellent.
Activities/Entertainment – Things to do
Lunch at the Golf Club
If you like the idea of a quiet lunch looking out onto the Coral sea and observing some of the best views of the Whitsundays, make sure to book in for lunch at the Clubhouse on Hamilton Island’s Golf Club (actually located on Dent Island). Even if you are not a golfing fan ( I am most certainly not), the 2-course lunch and tour of the golf course is well worth the $69. We ordered the beef ribs for our mains and the (so huge that I could have sworn it was two portions) sticky date pudding for dessert. Both were delicious. We almost turned down the golf buggy tour to spend more time enjoying the restaurant views but we were so glad we didn’t. The tour lasted around 30 minutes and took us pretty much around the entire golf course, exposing us to some of the most absolutely stunning views of Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays. At one point there was even a snake on the golf course *shudders*.
Please note that men are required to wear a collared shirt (some old golfing tradition – even if you’re just going for lunch). If, like my boyfriend, you arrive in a crew neck t-shirt with 5 minutes til departure (the ferry takes you from the marina over to Dent island in about 10-15 minutes), run to the Henry Lloyd store across the road on the left (but don’t leave your brand new Raybans behind) and buy yourself a collared shirt that you love so much you end up wearing pretty much everyday for the rest of the holiday.
Best of Both Worlds Helicopter Tour
If you’re a chopper fiend (like my boyfriend) then Hamilton Island’s helicopter tours is non-negotiable. With many tours to choose from (to suit different budgets), we opted for the Best of Both Worlds tour on New Years Eve. The 4-hour tour includes flying to the famous White Haven Beach for a romantic picnic ( cold meat salad, chopped fresh fruit, cheese and crackers, cookies and muffins, water and champagne included) where you will spend approx. an hour enjoying your picnic whilst lapping up the warm waters and the powder like sand. This is followed by flying to the permanently moored Reef World in the Great Barrier Reef (don’t forget to bring your camera for incredible views of Hill Inlet and the Heart Reef) for some snorkelling (approx. 2 hours). Whilst we didn’t get to see much more than a variety of fish and giant clams whilst snorkelling, we did spot turtles, reef sharks, manta rays and dolphins from up in the sky. Incredible. Our pilot Ben was friendly, professional and very knowledgeable. I would highly, highly recommend doing a helicopter tour as a way of exploring the Great Barrier Reef.
For all you adrenaline junkies out there, the ATV trail is a fun way to spend some of your afternoon. The off-road adventure leads through incredibly scenic fire trails to (almost) the very top of the island where you’ll find the resort lookout allowing you to witness 360-degree views of the Whitsundays. Being off-road means you’ll get to visit the more secluded parts of the island including Coral Cove beach.
For those who want something a little more calm yet still very challenging, there are a number of walking trails across the island. If you’re brave (like my boyfriend), embark on the Passage Peak trail and you’ll be rewarded with an awe-inspiring view of the Whitsundays from the highest point on the island. Be warned, this trail is not for the faint-hearted. If (like me) you want something a little more easy, walk to the far end of Catseye Beach when the tide is out. This secluded end of the beach is littered with rocks and stones in a variety of incredible colours and is truly a splendid sight.
Pretty much everything is available in Hamilton Island, from snorkelling to paddle boarding, and from windsurfing to kayaking. You’ll find most of the equipment you need for hire down on the far end of Catseye Beach. The tide goes out incredibly far and the water is my kind of temperature (like lukewarm bathwater). Apparently turtles frequently come out to play but we weren’t lucky enough to spot them when we went out snorkelling. You can also book activities like jet skiing, guided diving and snorkelling tours, or even hire your own yacht!
Watching the Sunset
If you fancy kicking back with a cocktail whilst watching the sunset, then One Tree Hill is possibly the best place on the island to do it. As the island’s renowned hilltop resort lookout, One Tree hill is home to legendary views of the Whitsundays. There’s a small bar on standby, serving up a small selection of cocktails, wines and beers as well as nibbles such as cheese and crackers, Turkish bread and crudites with dips, and cured meats and antipasto. It’s a very casual setting so don’t worry about glamming yourself up to the nines. You’re welcome to rock up to the hilltop once you’re done with your day at the beach – just grab yourself a spot and let the sun do its thing.