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I admit I was a bit snobbish about Hamilton Island, a tropical island in the Whitsunday Islands; a place I perceived as for the masses. I loved the feel that comes from it being the busiest, most inhabited island in the Whitsundays archipelago, but the accommodation was never anything to write home about, and the food was on the whole pretty woeful. Until, that is, the Oatleys took over.
The island's reincarnation is largely due to visionary billionaire patriarch and avid sailor Bob Oatley who passed away early this year. Since buying the island in 2003, the family has invested more than $350m, adding the yacht club, the marina precinct, building the superlative resort Qualia, an 18-hole golf course on neighbouring Dent Island, along with upgrading the airport. A further $250 million will be spent over the next decade to ensure Hamilton Island continues to live up to holiday-makers' expectations.
The low-rise Beach Club sits on what I think is the island's best stretch of sand, Catseye Beach, directly in front of the towering Reef View apartments (what were they thinking?). The hotel has direct access to the beach across lush manicured lawns and its own gorgeous infinity edge pool. From here it's a short stroll to the gym across the road, there are a number of fantastic bushwalk trails nearby, while the marina, shops, day spa, airport and more are a buggy ride away thanks to the 24-hour chauffeur service available exclusively to in-house guests.
A multi-million refurbishment of the Beach Club's 57 guest rooms and public areas by Australian interior designers Hare and Klein was completed in time for Audi Hamilton Island Race Week last year (the biggest event on Hammo's calendar). Its fresh, beachy vibe makes it feel like you'restaying at your own personal beach house with a restful palate of indigo, dove grey and egg shell white. My upstairs Beach Club room features limited edition prints by Australian artist John Olsen, a show-stopping egg-shaped bath and rain shower in the mosaic tiled bathroom, oversized American oak armchair and plantation shutters opening up to views over Catseye Beach. It's the epitome of beach chic, with a distinctly Australian flavour. I loved reclining on my day bed on the terrace overlooking the shimmering Coral Sea.
The intimate in-house beach front restaurant headed up by executive chef Michael Merrylees features the best of contemporary Australian cuisine. Think fried crispy white anchovies, tomato and blue cheese and torn basil or pan-seared coral trout with textured tomato, radish and young herbs. The a la carte breakfasts served poolside are superb, with daily chef's specials on offer. The Beach Club staff can book you a table at any restaurant on the island. Enjoy tapas on the Bommie Deck at the striking Hamilton Island Yacht Club – hailed the Opera House of Queensland with its billowing sail-shaped copper roof. For lunch, jump on the ferry to the Dent Island Golf Course for crisp, barramundi and chips and a glass of pinot gris on the balcony of the stylish club house. My pick however is Coca Chu for its laid back pan-Asian fare. Try the wicked twice-cooked pork ribs with sweet blood plum tamarind sauce and sesame seeds.
Take an incredible one-hour scenic helicopter flight, taking in the iconic Heart Reef, the cerulean waters of Hill Inlet and the pure white sands of Whitehaven Beach, spotting whales along the way. It's phenomenal. While the island is typically packed with happy holiday makers it's easy to lose the crowds. Head for the secluded Escape Beach for a picnic or visit Spa wumurdaylin for the divine Li'tya Ocean Dreaming treatment. Sunset yoga is also held on Thursdays at the Yacht Club (or daily if you're staying at Qualia). Soak up the views over the Whitsunday Passage and the string of 74 magical islands at the new sunset cocktail bar on One Tree Hill.
The Beach Club's luxe, beach house vibe makes it an affordable alternative to high-end Qualia. Its boutique feel with proficient staff, terrific food and exclusive club-like ambience make it my pick on the island.
Highlight A tie between sipping a mojito as the sun slipped into the Coral Sea, and the warm, friendly and proficient young staff.
Lowlight The position of the pool in front of the restaurant means limited privacy, especially when you need to return to your room in your swimmers.
HOW TO GET THERE
Rooms start from $650. See hamiltonisland.com.au.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. See hamiltonislandraceweek.com.au.