I visited the idyllic Hamilton Island in August 2014 with a group of photographers from Meetup hosted by its leader and multi award winning, film photographer Destin Sparks. It was my first trip to tropical northern Queensland and whilst alcohol and late nights featured prominently so did extremely early mornings and a whole lot of fun!! It was also my first ever trip up in a helicopter!
To understand this beautiful set of islands we must re-trace our steps back hundreds of millions of years ago and to a time that volcanoes in the area were active. Mountain ranges were formed and some thousands of years later the Whitsunday Islands were born.
We visited in winter (August 2014) but the first thing that hits you when you land in its tiny airport is the heat and humidity. It rarely dips below 25 degrees and it’s just bliss! You definitely don’t need long sleeves or winter jumpers. The second thing that you realise is… GOLF CARTS!! Just 1200 people live on the island (mostly workers and tourists) and to protect them and the island cars are not allowed. You get golf carts to circumnavigate your way around the island. They might not go particularly fast but they’re really fun to race!
Here is a map of the island, just in case you’re interested!
As a group of twelve we stayed in Villa Tropica, just north of One Tree Hill, with amazing views high over the hilly western coast. I snapped this photo of the setting sun from the balcony deck. As you’re so close to the equator the sun sets quite early, usually around 6pm every night.
A very short distance from the house and up a pretty steep hill is One Tree Hill where cocktails are served every night from 5pm. Woop Woop. I am such a sucker for a pink cocktail or two!
We experienced three sunsets in total and none of them disappointed. I have fantastic memories of sitting on that hill, watching the sun go down over the boats sailing around in the channels between Hamilton and Dent Island. I can only imagine just how perfect it must be to experience that from a sailing boat! Certainly if you’re brave enough, The Whitsundays offer ‘Bare boating’ where you can rent and skipper your own boat for a week at a time!
There’s no day light saving in Queensland so the sun sets at a near constant time throughout the year and with virtually no street lighting and no light pollution the skies are crystal clear. Distant galaxies and constellations are perfectly visible with the naked eye.
On the east side of the island sits a small and sheltered chapel. It’s called All Saints Chapel. I am led to believe that the bells ring when you get married here but I didn’t hear them. I’d love to go back and photograph a wedding here. Can you imagine a better backdrop? And with personalised touches such a butterfly releases and fireworks… swoon…
Northern Queensland is most famous for its beaches. Pristine white beaches with turquoise, transparent waters and plentiful marine life. No trip to this part of the world is complete without a visit to Whitehaven Island. In the summer it is heaving with tourists but in the winter there are fewer and you’re more likely to be able to appreciate its tranquility and sheer beauty.
Is there any better way than arriving at Whitehaven Beach than in your own private charter?! Sailing in The Whitsundays is an incredibly serene experience. The waters are usually calm and still and the visibility in the water is good. You can snorkel on nearby reefs and see the tropical fish, dolphins and turtles and of course during July and August there are whales. You can book whale watching trips and even swim with them!
Whitehaven Beach is located on Whitehaven Island, one of Hamilton Island’s neighbours. It’s about an hour’s sail from Hamilton or you can choose to go by speedboat which is much quicker although not so environmentally friendly.
For a beach junkie, Whitehaven Beach is about as close to perfection as you’ll get! 7km of Queensland’s Cleanest Beach (2008) and the world’s top Eco-Friendly beach (2010). There are no dogs and no smoking allowed on its pristine, pure silica sand beach. Unlike many of Australia’s sandy beaches which are HOT HOT HOT to walk on, this sand doesn’t retain heat. Its closest reef is Martin Islet Reef just a short boat ride away – 3 minutes.
Whitsunday island is a national park and an environmental hot-spot with lace monitors, birds, wallabies, tree snakes, fruit bats and a huge variety of plants and trees. It isn’t uncommon to see the lace monitors basking under the shoreline trees.
Being the smallest crew member I was allowed to be winched up to the top of the boat for views across Whitsunday Island. It was much windier up there than I imagined but very peaceful. Thank you to the crew for winching me up!
Back onto Hamilton Island and at the northern end of Catseye beach the sand is replaced by pebbles, stones and rocks. Overlooking the bay that houses Hamilton Island’s reef and the private, adult only resort of Beach Club we spent our very last morning photographing the sunrise.
Catseye beach during the day offers a swimming pool, a restaurant, a verandah bar and if you’re felling indulgent why not pop into reef view hotel for a massage and spa!?
If you’re feeling energetic or like a brisk walk don’t forget to take some decent shoes because Passage Peak Trek is the highest point on Hamilton Island. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you’ll make it up in time for sunrise but I am not that foolhardy! After a few hours sleep, a cocktail fuzzy head and a light spot of breakfast we trekked up the 1750m slopes to be rewarded with spectacular views over Perseverance Island and the Coral Sea.
Eating and drinking is well covered on the island regardless of budget or taste. If you’re interested in a bit of award winning, fine dining, Bommie will be right up your avenue. It’s exquisite menu features Queensland delicacies including vegetarian alternatives. Situated high above the marina it boasts an intimate wooden deck and 180 degree views, a great wine list, fairy lights to set the mood and no children! The prices reflect the quality. Marina Tavern offers views over the waterfront as well as a great bar menu. Fancy some locally caught fish and chips? Head over to Popeye’s take out but watch out for those pesky white cockatoos who’ll eat chips out of your hand! If you’re after a few cheeky cocktails head down to The Garden Bar for their pink cocktail special! It’s not cheap at $25 a glass but it certainly hits the spot!
Our penultimate day on the island saw my first trip in a helicopter. With a hangover the size of my entire body I wasn’t prepared for how long we’d have to sit in the helicopter whilst it warmed up. The noise and vibration of the rotating blades coupled with the heat on the ground and the rising fumes made me feel queasy as we sat for at least 10 minutes however it was all really worth it. We went up with HamiltonIslandAir at a cost of $200pp for a 20 minute ride. I’m so pleased I did it, the queasiness of sitting on the tarmac left as soon as we were in the air!
It was quite a hazy day with lots of low lying cloud but I managed to take hundreds of photos from the sky.
Hamilton Island is a privately owned island (leased from the Qld Gov) set up just for tourists. There is no denying that its existence is purely to make money for its owners however its sheer beauty and immensity really struck me. I was so struck by how privileged I was to have witnessed it. I am eternally grateful to Destin Sparks for arranging this. I still think it was the best 3 days of my life and I’ll never forget the amazing time we had and the great friendships I made. Just looking through these photos has given me goosebumps!
I was so overwhelmed with the beauty that I vowed to go back again!