Hamilton Island travel guide, Whitsundays, Queensland: Best things to do and see

I'D LIKE TO EXPLORE THE ISLAND

Coming in to land over the Whitsunday's 74 islands, a five square kilometre tropical paradise, never fails to spark joy especially if you've left cooler climes behind. Stepping off the plane, you first feel the balmy breeze and then see the turquoise Coral Sea beyond. A fleet of golf buggies – "Hammo's" main mode of transport – await, whisking guests off to holiday apartments, yacht villas, low-key bungalows and five-star luxury resorts. Golf carts (for hire; there are also free shuttle buses) are ideal for exploring the island's lush hilly terrain, lending a Fantasy Island feel to this car-free paradise. Tootling around, waving at other holidaymakers, instantly puts you on island time. Despite being the Whitsundays' largest inhabited island with its own airport and bustling marina, 70 per cent of Hamilton Island remains untouched rainforest. See hamiltonisland.com.au

I'D LIKE TO SEE THE HOUSE THAT GEORGE HARRISON BUILT

The late Beatle's sprawling South Pacific-style compound with thatched roof was built in the '80s when Hamilton Island was relatively undeveloped and about as far removed from Beatle mania as you could get. After his death the Melaleuca Drive home (not open to the public) sold for $8 million, an island record at the time. Harrison was Hammo's most famous home owner, however it continues to draw celebrities: Taylor Swift, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Miranda Kerr, Naomi Watts and Chris Hemsworth among them. Even Oprah visited and has a koala at the island's Wild Life park named after her.

I'D LIKE TO SEE THE REEF

Tours depart daily from Hamilton Island for the reef and famed Whitehaven Beach, where you can sink your toes into the silica soft sand and swim and snorkel the clear, gin-like water. If the budget stretches, however, a new James Bond-style heli-tour may be the ultimate way to see the world's largest coral reef system. The three-hour Heart Island experience includes return scenic helicopter flights taking in Hill Inlet and the spectacular sweep of Whitehaven, exclusive use of the Heart Island Pontoon (maximum six people), a glass bottom boat tour of the mosaic jewel-like lagoon and more (from $999 pp). See hamiltonislandair.com; hamiltonisland.com.au

I'D LIKE TO SEE SOME SAILING ACTION

Rub shoulders with millionaires (billionaires even), salty sailors, and some of Australia's best chefs during Hamilton Island Race Week. Every August the sailing fraternity and social set descend on the island for the southern hemisphere's largest offshore keelboat regatta. French Champagne flows like water as yachts, including Hamilton Island's own 100-foot supermaxi, Wild Oats XI, battle it out offshore. Often cavorting whales compete for spectators' attention. Onshore, a whirl of social events includes Paspaley Pearl's legendary White Luncheon at Qualia, the Rolex opening night dinner by Lennox Hastie from Firedoor, and this year's Wild Oats Wines Ladies Lunch with special guest Magda Szubanski (open to Qualia guests for the first time) and nightly DJs at the Tanqueray Garden Bar. See hamiltonislandraceweek.com.au

I WANT TO TAKE A WALK AND SWIM AT A SECLUDED BEACH

It's a challenging walk with a heart pumping final ascent but the views from Passage Peak to the Lindeman Group of islands make this walk to the north-east of the island worth every drop of sweat. A number of pristine beaches can only be reached on foot including Coral Cove with its secluded stretch of sand, Escape Beach where you're unlikely to see another soul, and South East Head with its eye-popping water colour – each one respectively more remote. See hamiltonisland.com.au

I WANT SUNDOWNERS WITH A GREAT VIEW

The old school makeshift "bar" at the top of One Tree Hill (basically a bucket of beers on ice) may be gone, but the tradition of sundowners at this magical spot lives on. The One Tree Hill Bar offers an unbeatable spot for a tipple or two with expansive vistas over the Whitsunday Passage and a lawn where kids can play. The bar opens from 3pm, with many punters turning up straight from the beach. Another option is the Bommie Deck, where you can watch boats return to the marina after another fun filled day on the reef. See hamiltonisland.com.au

I'D LIKE TO SEE TURTLES

Swim with turtles, fish and other marine life on a snorkelling adventure exploring the reefs surrounding Hamilton Island. A short distance off Catseye Beach, snorkellers can hand-feed fish and observe sea turtles in the shallows. A private kayak and snorkel tour is another option. Paddle and snorkel through crystal clear waters, enjoy a tropical picnic on a remote beach and get the chance to see both turtles and sea eagles in their natural habitat. Or hire a dinghy for private island discovery. See hamiltonisland.com.au

I LIKE SHOPPING. WHERE CAN I GO?

For retail therapy head to Marina Village. Lining Front Street are more than 20 boutiques and specialty stores offering the latest resort and swimwear (including Jets and Seafolly), jewellery and beachy homewares as well as surf wear, art and sailing brand Henri Lloyd. The Spa Qualia Boutique stocks women and men's designer wear including Zimmermann, Lisa Brown, Bvlgari, Prada, Samantha Wills, Melissa Odabash, Camilla and hats by Sydney milliner Jonathan Howard, exclusive to guests staying at Qualia (or by appointment). Post retail splurge enjoy a latte on the Bommie Deck or at Trader Pete's where cheeky cockatoos wait for handouts. See hamiltonisland.com.au

I WANT TO DO YOGA

It's an early start but those who can haul themselves out of bed are rewarded with an inspiring sunrise yoga session overlooking the Whitsundays on Dent Island. Yogis depart on the ferry from Hamilton Island at 6.15am. Enjoy one hour of Hatha yoga (mats provided) on the island's helipad followed by a healthy breakfast at the Club House ($35pp). Daily yoga is also held for Qualia guests (complimentary), and at the Sports Club ($20pp). See hamiltonisland.com.au; qualia.com.au

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I'D LIKE TO TRY GREAT FOOD AND WINE

Bommie, at the striking Hamilton Island Yacht Club, is the island's answer to fine dining, offering a pared back modern Australian menu utilising fresh, local produce. Diners seated at sail shaped tables tuck into poached coffin bay oysters, spanner crab or Moorish spiced reef fish. Overlooking the beach, zesty hawker style Thai fusion can be found at the breezy tropical Coca Chu. The in-house restaurant for the chic Beach Club, meanwhile, features the best of contemporary Australian cuisine served poolside overlooking the Coral Sea, making it one of the most romantic spots to dine on the island (hence the no kids under 18 policy). See hamiltonisland.com.au/restaurants

I WANT THE FACTS

POPULATION

2000

LOCATION

Hamilton Island lies just off the Queensland coast approximately 887 kilometres north of Brisbane and 512 kilometres south of Cairns (by air). The only island in the Great Barrier Reef with its own commercial airport, Hamilton Island offers direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns and connections from other Australian cities. One-hour direct boat transfers are also available from Port of Airlie on the mainland.

CLIMATE

April to June is considered the best time to visit with mild to warm, mostly dry weather and crisp, clear blue skies, however winter can be on the chilly side for swimming. October is the island's busiest time with almost 95 per cent occupancy.

ARCHITECTURE

You'll find a mix of tropical inspired architecture from the billowing copper sails of the Hamilton Island Yacht Club through to the Chris Beckingham designed Qualia, the Hamilton Island Golf Clubhouse and a number of exclusive homes dotted across the island. The white timber All Saints Chapel with stained glass windows and bell tower is particularly charming.

ACCOMMODATION

Hamilton Island offers a raft of accommodation choices for every budget. Tucked between lush palms and tropical foliage, the breezy Palm Bungalows are a relaxed option for couples and families alike, complete with kitchenette. At the other end of the spectrum Qualia is a swanky, adults only hideaway with 60 luxury pavilions, its own private beach, two restaurants, infinity edge pool, spa, yoga pavilion and helipad. See hamiltonisland.com.au

PACKAGES

Qualia is offering a limited number of three-night Hamilton Island Race Week packages from August 16-25, giving access to previously invite-only events including the Paspaley White Luncheon from $5990. See hamiltonislandraceweek.com.au

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traveller.com.au/whitsundays

Sheriden Rhodes visited Hamilton Island and Race Week as a guest of Hamilton Island.

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