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