Discoveries Down Under Part 3 – Hamilton Island, Whitehaven Beach And The Great Barrier Reef

 

Hamilton Island is a little piece of heaven in one of the most beautiful of Australian landscapes …The Whitsundays archipelago,  lying just off the coast of Queensland next to the Great Barrier Reef. Its credentials as being in the centre of the action is what puts this gorgeous Island in everyone’s must-visit list.

The island is served by its very own airport, which is small, but perfectly formed. We flew from Brisbane to Hamilton Island on a very small plane, using our Qanta’s “walkabout pass” . The journey was beautiful with views over the Whitsunday Islands and The Great Barrier Reef.

Flying over the Whitsunday Islands

On arrival in the Island a transfer from the airport to the hotel takes no longer than 5 to 10 minutes.  It is all very well organised and slick; upon arrival your luggage will quickly be unloaded from your aircraft and within a few minutes you are reunited with your belongings and aboard one of the courtesy mini-buses to whisk you off to your accommodation. If you’re staying in one of the exclusive resorts (not us) they will take care of your luggage for you.

Paradise does come at a cost though, although Brian and I did manage to find an apartment with a view that did not require for us to remortgage our house in order to afford it. The apartment was at a stunning location with some of the most beautiful views we have ever seen. Stepping out into our balcony we could not believe our luck since in front of us the white sandy beach was gently hugged by the calm turquoise waters of the bay, and in the distance we could see the green peaks of other Islands surrounded by lush vegetation.

A room with a view

We wished we could stay forever, and could not believe how large our apartment was with an open plan kitchen, dinning/sitting room area and a large en-suite bedroom, it would be enough room for a family of 5 people. Unfortunately we were there only for two nights, before moving on to Airlie Beach… probably not the best decision we have ever made. With hindsight we should have stayed in this Island for the entire 5 days that we had allocated to explore the Whitsundays and The Great Barrier Reef. When we were planning our trip we decided to split our stay with 2 days at Hamilton Island and 3 days at Airlie Beach, we thought it might be too expensive to stay in the Island for the whole 5 days and were hedging our bets by staying in two places in case one was not so great. It turned out that expense was not really a factor, the excursions to the Great Barrier Reef and Whitehaven beach would have been easier from this Island, also our flight to Sydney was from Hamilton Island, so we did waste time going back and forward, although on the upside cruising around this beautiful part of the world is no hardship.

In any case we did make the most of our time on the Island during our two day stay. Our apartment was just opposite Catseye Beach where there were many water activities on offer such as windsurfing, snorkelling, kayaking etc. For ages we have been wanting to try stand up paddle-boarding and therefore this was the perfect place to do it, with very calm and warm waters.

Learning stand up paddle-boarding – not a bad place to start!

 

It took me a while to have the courage to stand up, Brian was a natural (but he fell in and I didn’t hahaha!)

There are virtually no cars in the Island, most people get around by foot (it is a small Island after all) , hopping on one of the free shuttle buses that do loops around the Island, or renting one of the golf buggies that can be easily hired.  There is no need to book in advance, we just walked in to the conveniently located shop a two minutes walk from our apartment and come out with the keys for our very own buggy. Just need to show a valid driving license. It was a lot of fun and so easy to drive around exploring the Island which is perfectly laid out for golf buggy use… there are plenty electric points to recharge the buggy and it is so easy to park it everywhere. We particularly enjoyed going up to One Tree Hill, one of the highest points on the Island,  to catch one of the most spectacular sunsets over the Whitsunday Islands.

Sunset at One Tree Hill view point

Golf buggy parking at One Tree Hill

Don’t expect to have the place to yourself since it is a very popular spot to see the sun go down behind the beautiful Whitsunday Islands whilst sipping a cocktail or two, the views are truly magical. People sit on the grass and bring a picnic for the occasion. There was a guy gently strumming his guitar and playing some soothing music. People chatted, but mostly there was a lovely and calm atmosphere of contemplation for natures spectacle.

 

One Tree Hill view point

During our short stay in the Island we did not have enough time to do much hiking, but had we stayed longer I would have loved to do some bush-walking trails, particularly the one up to Passage Peak Trail which it is known to have fabulous views to the North and South of the Island. Hiking trails can be downloaded onto smartphones within the free Hamilton Island app.

The main hub of the Island is the Marina, where there are restaurants providing fine dining or more budget friendly options such as the Popeye’s fish and chips, Bob’s Bakery for some tasty pies, or Manta Ray for a take away pizza. There is also a pharmacy, a small but well stocked supermarket, clothes and souvenir shops.  The Marina it is a good place for people watching whilst eating a fish and chips, tasty pie or pizza take away, sitting at one of the picnic tables available by the water front. Watch out for cockatoos though who are very quick at grabbing hold of your food and legging it.

Scavenger Cockatoo had an eye on Brian’s chips

After the sun had gone down we returned to our apartment for a night time swim in the warm waters of our hotel pool,  under the light of a full moon, and  fruit-bats flying over our heads it was pure bliss… we did not want to wake up from this dream.

But wake up we must and we got on a ferry with Cruise Whitsundays from Hamilton Island Marina to Airlie Beach one early morning, the journey took us about one hour sailing through the Whitsunday Islands on the most blue sea I have ever seen.

Our ferry just arriving to take us to Airlie Beach

Great ferry ride via the beautiful Whitsundays

It was raining when we arrived at Airlie Beach, although it stopped pouring just long enough for us to walk from the harbour to our bed and breakfast hotel. We were again impressed with our accommodation, although it did not have the fabulous views we had just left behind at Hamilton Island, there were sea views nevertheless, the room was extremely comfortable and spacious. The bed and breakfast owners were a lovely couple from Tasmania, who had just bought it as a small business. They gave us a lot of information about the area and the excursions that we had planed for the next few days to the Great Barrier Reef and Whitehaven Beach.

Our bed and breakfast hotel at Airlie Beach was lovely

Whitehaven Beach

We opted to sail to Whitehaven on a Tallship, the Providence V a 62-ft gaff rigged schooner…. not one of our best decisions, since the wind was blowing from the wrong direction for the sails to be deployed and we ended up chugging along at five knots per hour and getting soaked every few second by the rough seas. But the journey out was a highlight in itself, as we sailed through Hook Passage, beautiful Islands covered in lush tropical vegetation, pretty little coves and reefs. Food and drink was provided, the crew were extremely friendly  and on the way back when the wind was blowing in the right direction we helped them to get the sails up and finally we got a taste of sailing the Whitsundays.

Sailing around the Whitsundays in an old Schooner….Aye-aye Captain

Little power boat to take us ashore

Whitsunday Island

We arrived at the Whitsunday Island and anchored at Tongue Bay where we boarded the small inflatable boat that took us ashore. From the beach we walked the short up hill walk through bush-land to the lookout at Tongue Point, the best place to see the swirling sands of Hill Inlet. The walk through the bush-land is not particularly strenuous and there are parts covered by a board walk. Australian’s appear to love their boardwalks, we found many great ones during our trip of discoveries Down Under.

Board Walk up to Hill Inlet view point

Great place for a nap….minus the spiders and creepy crawlies.

The white silica sand shifts through the waters, creating the swirling patterns. The bright white colour is due to the high silica content of 98% silica. Great for polishing your jewellery, not so great for you photography equipment or mobile phone, so keep it safely stored away from this fine sand.

Look out at Hill Inlet

Swirling sand patterns and clear water

Protected by the Whitsunday Island National park the 7 km stretch of impeccably soft, white silica sand, turquoise, blue and green water, it has been voted many times as one of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the world and the number one beach in Australia. But there is danger lurking in these waters….jellyfish. There are two main species; the Irukandji which is a small jellyfish whose sting can cause serious illness or even death and the Box jellyfish which is larger and has more tentacles, the stings cause immediate severe pain. Vinegar can help to ease the the pain, but medical help might also be necessary.  Before arriving in the Island we were given stinger suits to wear, in case we wanted to swim. We did not have enough time for a swim, but we did enjoy walking around and soaking up the beauty of this place. We saw turtles, rays, and lemon sharks in the crystal clear waters.

Warm and clear water

Looking out for turtles and lemon sharks

The Great Barrier Reef

We also chose to take a trip to Reefworld with Cruise Whitsundays to visit their pontoon at Reefworld Hardy Reef on the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the great wonders of the natural world and it has been on our bucket list for years. We boarded the very large and modern Cruise Whitsundays Catamaran at Airlie Beach Harbour. The journey was very smooth, we stopped over at Hamilton Island to collect a few more tourists before continuing our trip out to the floating pontoon which is securely moored alongside coral walls at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. Before arrival there were various presentations on board covering snorkelling and diving techniques, food and drinks were also served by the very friendly staff.

Reefworld on the Great Barrier Reef

Reefworld pontoon

Our Catamaran approaching the pontoon

The Whitsundays Catamaran moored next to Reefworld pontoon

This stretch of coral is well protected from the Pacific Ocean currents, making it perfect for safe snorkelling and diving. The use of wet- suits, masks, fins and snorkels are all included, the gear is well marked with many different sizes available.We soon donned our fashionable stinger suits, flippers and masks for the reef exploring of our lives. There was plenty of amazing coral formations and sea creatures to see, a breathtaking underwater world. The fish were just as curious about us as we were of them coming very close to us for a good look and inspection. We have done scuba diving before many times, but decided to snorkel here instead, worried that diving here might be a bit too sanitised and feel more like Disney World of diving. We would like to be back here one day and do a live-aboard trip for a more satisfying diving experience.

Soon it was time to leave the sunshine state of Queensland, and we left Airlie Beach on a ferry back to Hamilton Island for one more cruise around the stunning Whitsunday Islands. From Hamilton Island we boarded a small Qantas aircraft to Sydney, via Brisbane again. We were sad to leave this beautiful corner of Australia, but already very excited about what discoveries Down Under were wanting for us in New South Wales.

Airlie Beach, celebrating 29 years to the day since we met in London

My next blog post will be on our time in Sydney. Have you been to the Whitsundays? What was your time there like? 

 

16 Comments on “Discoveries Down Under Part 3 – Hamilton Island, Whitehaven Beach And The Great Barrier Reef

  1. Oh my goodness. I have nothing to say but WOW!!!! Just wow! This looks and sounds amazing. Federico more than me would love this! Paddle surfing and underwater activities? He would be all over it. Me? I would be hanging out with a drink in hand and running from cockatoos 😂. I am quite the chicken you see. Seriously, this looks amazing and it was good that you didn’t fall..haha! You actually looked quite at home on the board. The view from the apartment is stunning. Once again..WOW!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Kemkem I managed to find your comment, for some bizarre reason it ended up in my spam box, very sorry 🙁 If Frederico like water sports he would love it there, it is the perfect place to do sailing, paddle boarding, kayaking etc. The cockatoos are quite aggressive, you do have to watch your food and drinks since they will try to take it from you. Thanks for persevering with the comments 🙂

  2. I have a feeling my comment a couple of days ago got swallowed by the internet :-(. This place just WOWS me! No words. It looks absolutely idyllic and serene. The view from your rental is awesome. I would have enjoyed hanging out with a drink or two while Federico would love snorkeling, paddling and all the other water sports. You look like a natural out there and awesome that you didn’t fall :-). Would l love to visit? Yes, Yes and YES!!!! 🙂

  3. Kemkem, Brian and I could not believe that view. I could see you and Frederico loving it there. I am not a very sporty person, but I did enjoy the stand up paddleboard…somehow I managed to eventually stand up hahaha. Australia did wow us completely, not a cheap destination but totally worth it in my opinion. Sorry your comment got swallowed up, it has happened to me few times. Thank you so much for persevering 😄

  4. So tropical looking! I absolutely love the views from the plane…also from your window on Hamilton Island.
    Those jellyfish make me nervous though. Is there anything that doesn’t kill you in Australia?
    Sounds like you had a great time Gilda.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Frank, the plane views over the Whitsunday Islands kept me mesmerised. The deadly creatures of Australia did keep me on my guard a little bit. I was nervous to get in the sea, I am a bit scared of sharks, but the water is so clear and inviting that is difficult to keep away😄 I kept hoping that they would fancy Brian more than me hahaha.

  5. A little piece of heaven sounds like the perfect description, Gilda. It’s beautiful! I used to be a very good kayaker when we lived on Padre Island and have always wanted to try paddle-boarding – I might have just stayed on my knees though! The Great Barrier Reef has been on my Bucket List since forever and I’m so glad you got a chance to fulfill your dream. I’ll bet it was hard to leave! Anita P.S. I tried to leave a comment 3 times on your post last week but it disappeared into the ether. Maybe it’s in your spam folder?

    • Anita, I think you would be standing up in no time at all. I do like Kayaking also, it is so peaceful and quiet just gliding through the water. I am not good at it though. Padre Island must have been a great place for water activities? The Great Barrier Reef is a big bucket list item, so sad to hear that big parts of the reef is dying. It was a dream come true to visit it 🙂 I am very sorry about the loss of your comments, I am not sure why it’s happening, but will try to investigate and see if it is something that I am doing wrong? Thank you so much for your patience and perseverance, I really appreciate it 🙂

  6. Days like these, you want never to end, Gilda! Definitely the stuff of dreams. 🙂 I heard that the Whitsundays were badly hit by a cyclone recently. It’s an affluent area so I suppose there’s money to rebuild but it must have been a nightmare. Hard to imagine when you look at these.

    • Jo, I did not want to leave the Island and wished we could have stayed longer. Cyclone Debbie hit Hamilton Islamd pretty badly and there was a lot of damage. Interestingly the Island is owned by one family and they leased it out to the Australian government for tourism. It is a very wealthy Island so I am sure it will be back to being a beautiful paradise again in no time at all.

  7. I feel like i am in a beautiful documentary catching up on your posts. How did you find the snorkeling compared to other areas in the world you have done so?

    • Sue, snorkelling in The Great Barrier Reef was a dream come true. Originally I wanted to do scuba diving, but for that I would recommend to go on a few days live-aboard, for a more hands on experience. The under water marine life is stunning. Before coming here I would say the Red Sea has been the best place I have ever snorkelled.

  8. We’ve been to Australia but did not make it to the Great Barrier Reef. Our son did though and he raved about the experience. Beautiful photos and I had to laugh about your staying on your knees and that Brian fell in, but you didn’t it. I’d probably stay on my knees as well. 🙂 I’ll look forward to your next post about Sydney, because we loved Sydney. We only spent a couple of days but took full advantage of those days. Continued safe travels!

    • Patti, To visit this corner of Australia was truly magical. The paddle-boarding experience was interesting, I spent most of the time kneeling down, before having the courage to stand up. I laughed so much when Brian fell in, put he was a lot more adventures than me. You and Abi are definitely being very adventurous. I am looking forward to hearing more about your exciting plans 🙂

  9. Wow Gilda – You landed in paradise! Thank you for this amazingly detailed and photographed blog post. Through your writing I felt I was also discovering a new continent of spectacular natural beauty. Isn’t this little blue planet of ours a total magnificent gift?? With the knowledge you acquired from this trip, you must go back for a few months, explore a lot more and share a lot more with us….

    • Thanks so much Val, this corner of Australia was very special, there were many “pinch me” moments. We were sad to leave, since there was a lot more we wanted to explore. But as you said we have a magnificent planet with so much to see and explore, there are so many other places we want to visit, it is difficult to decide what next? Although I do think we will go back to Australia one day and stay for few months to explore it further. Thanks for commenting 🙂

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