Hayman Island, Queensland: A glamorous multimillion dollar revamp and better than ever

Long before Australian travellers jetted off to resorts around the world, Hayman was the antipode's most luxurious island resort. Built initially as Royal Hayman followed later by a staggering $500 million transformation by the now defunct Ansett Airways, it lured travellers with its iconic pool and palm-fringed beach lapped by Queensland's Whitsundays' cerulean seas.

Two years on from the damage wrought by Cyclone Debbie, and two multimillion-dollar refurbishments later, Hayman is back. Its latest $135 million incarnation sees the island rebranded as Hayman Island by InterContinental and ushers in a new era of luxury in the Whitsundays.

A calming neutral palette provides the foundation, interspersed with vivid beachy colours in yellow and aqua. Rattan sun lounges, shuttered white cabanas and smart blue-and-white striped sun umbrellas feature poolside, while lanai spaces offer chic lounges surrounded by lush tropical foliage. At the hip pan-Asian eatery Bam Bam, bartenders in sun visors mix cocktails in gold pineapple goblets. Smartly dressed staff are warm, efficient and ready to make your holiday dreams a reality.

"We were conscious of capturing the long history and legacy of this resort. It's a special island and holds an important place in Australia's holiday mindset," says general manager Mark Eletr. He's not exaggerating. Hayman has guests that have visited a staggering 30-40 times, while Captain Billy has been a Hayman staff member for 49 years.

Eletr said what Ansett did in 1987 in building Hayman at a cost of $500 million was "mind-bending", and today would be beyond economically viable. "We wanted to build on that incredible foundation and get things right that should've happened over the last decade." He cites infrastructure, energy conservation, waste management, and intuitive room technology as just some of what has been achieved in the two years since the island's closure. "Nowadays a guest room has to know when you walk in or out and turn on or off air conditioning and lighting," explains Eletr, also pointing out filtered water stations across the resort from which guests can fill complimentary reusable water bottles.

The new-look 166-room Hayman offers three distinct wings fronting the Coral Sea: Pool, Beach and Lagoon. The Pool Wing overlooking the famous Hayman Pool (seven times Olympic size) is popular with couples and families with older kids, and also has ready access to the new adults-only Coconut Grove Beach. The Lagoon Wing overlooking the family-friendly infinity pool and Bam Bam restaurant is a winner with all ages. The eight 120-square-metre Beach Villas designed by the late lauded architect Kerry Hill remain adults only, housing open-air private pools (mine had a palm tree, too), outdoor terraces and superb Coral Sea vistas. There are king-size beds, ensuite with an island bath, separate indoor and outdoor shower and spacious living spaces. Guests step through bi-fold doors straight onto the soft white sand of Hayman Beach.

While the Beachfront villas are not child-friendly, Eletr says some parents choose to hole up there, while grandparents (or nannies) and kids stay in Retreat rooms tucked directly behind in lush foliage.

Also fronting the beach is a chic new three-bedroom Hayman Beach House. Offering 400 square metres of luxurious privacy, it's already attracting attention, with Jen Hawkins, pregnant with her first child, and husband Jake recently staying there following a photo shoot. Inside, all three suites have their own plunge pool, master ensuite and over-sized bathtubs with open plan luxury island living, alfresco entertaining, private sun loungers and unobstructed beach access. In addition, lavish private residences with views of the Coral Sea offer families or large groups privacy with access to hotel services.

New too are the resort's five terrific dining options. Guests can start the day in Pacific exploring the various breakfast stations, DIY juice bar and enjoying a decent latte. Bar Fifty transports guests back to the globetrotting 1950s era serving classic cocktails with a Hayman twist. Fresh flavours of the sea are offered at AQUA, Hayman's breezy California-style poolside bar. Italian-inspired woodfired pizza, arancini balls and Italian vino is served up at Amici Trattoria, while bold and zesty pan-Asian cuisine is on the menu poolside at Bam Bam. Expect dishes like steamed chicken dumplings, kway teow, fresh duck rice paper rolls and spicy Asian-inspired cocktails.

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Myriad experiences are on offer, most capitalising on Hayman's position as the closest Whitsunday island to the Great Barrier Reef. There are diving excursions, guided hikes across the island, snorkelling in Blue Pearl Bay and helicopter or seaplane flights to Whitehaven Beach, taking in the glory of the Whitsundays by air.

Similarly, the Planet Trekkers kids' club offers a program aimed at sparking curiosity in the island's surrounds with everything from barramundi feeding, coral planting and sand flat tours, to bird walks, meditation classes, coconut bowling and more on offer for young guests.

Eletr says they've been mindful that people on holiday don't want to make decisions and therefore don't offer a rigid schedule of activities. "You want to come on holiday and waft from the room, to breakfast to the beach, to the spa, to lunch, to the bar, to bed. You want to have this seamless, easy, brain-off experience."

I heed his direction. I float from my villa to breakfast, kick my shoes off and stroll along the beach, enjoy a Thai massage in the Hayman Spa and roll up for a late lunch at Bam Bam. Strong gusts see a pre-organised tour cancelled. Secretly I'm glad because that means I've now got an excuse to sit and gaze over the Coral Sea, watching the palm trees sway and sea eagles soar on the swirling winds.

FIVE THINGS TO DO ON HAYMAN ISLAND

RISE EARLY

Take a sunrise hike to the north-west side of the island. Wear your swimmers for a dip in the clear waters of Blue Pearl Bay.

STRETCH

Book a private yoga class on the beach, or in the Fitness Centre during inclement weather.

EXPLORE

See the seven wonders of the world's underwater realm with a private dive or snorkel expedition.

BOAT

Board a speedboat to Langford Island for sunset drinks and canapes on the pristine sand cay.

PADDLE

Explore Hayman Island's hidden coves and spot marine life including turtles on a stand up paddle board tour.

TRIP NOTES

Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Hayman Island by InterContinental.

MORE

traveller.com.au/whitsundays

tourismwhitsundays.com.au

STAY

Hayman has rooms, suites and villas spread across three distinct wings: beach, pool and lagoon wings, starting at $750 a night, including breakfast. See haymanisland.intercontinental.com

FLY

Most people staying on Hayman Island fly into Hamilton Island where staff greet guests and take their bags. Direct daily flights are offered to Hamilton Island from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. A one-hour luxury catamaran transfer costs $210 an adult, $105 a child, one way.

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