Sunday, 29 May 2011

Hamilton Island

The Whitsunday Islands was the destination for our latest Australian escapade, which was timed to coincide with Tom turning 28 (on the 27th) and the one year anniversary of our engagement. After last year’s rather impressive and romantic gesture from Tom of proposing on the sandy beaches of Bunker Bay , I thought it was my turn to come up with something special to celebrate his birthday. Whilst checking my emails during a footie match (I do all my best thinking in the third quarter – obviously I’m still paying attention to the game, yes really.. erm, ok not always) I chanced upon some reasonably cheap flights to Hamilton Island. I decided to book the trip as a surprise for Tom and excitedly told him that we’d be going away to a ‘mystery location’ for his birthday! 20 minutes later at half time I carelessly flashed my phone in his direction and he couldn’t help but read the giant orange letters on my email header ‘HAMILTON ISLAND HOTEL BOOKING’. Dammit. So the surprise ended there, but the anticipation began!

The Whitsunday Islands are a collection of continental islands off the coast of Queensland, approximately 900km north of Brisbane, which are actually mountains drowned by rising sea levels. Hamilton Island is the commercial centre of the group, but other islands also welcome tourists, including the idyllic honeymoon destination Daydream Island. We’ve got 18 months to go before we can claim to be honeymooners, so after ruling out the amusingly named ‘Plum Pudding Island’ (yes, that’s real!), we settled for Hamilton.

The views from the plane as we arrived were spectacular - this is one flight to try and get a window seat.

We stepped off the plane to blue skies, 22 degrees, a slight breeze and breathtaking views. With an airport terminal the size of your average kitchen, there was no hanging around or delays, and we were efficiently shipped off to a lovely hotel room overlooking the water and surrounding islands. Whilst we were expecting it to be nice, my first impressions well exceeded my expectations, and the combination of tropical paradise plus comfort and quality was clearly designed for the ‘suitcase and hire car’(as opposed to backpack and bus) kind of traveller that I am! To top it off, there was not an insect in sight – we were not bitten, chased or scared by a single critter.
The views from our balcony made Port Phillip Bay look dull by comparison!

Celebrating Tom's birthday

Whilst I had my suitcase in tow, there was no need for a hire car here – and indeed no possibility of getting one! The island is a car free zone, with golf buggies being the preferred mode of transport instead. I had never driven a golf buggy before, but you would think that it’s pretty easy, right? Yes, right, unless you’re me. I was not comfortable in the driving seat of this particular mode of transport, and arguably I should not be allowed in the passenger seat either, after accidentally knocking the parking brake off with my camera bag and sending the cart rolling backwards down the hill – with Tom in it! We survived, and so did beloved buggy number 216. The registration was 50886, which was also roughly how many photos I took of the damn thing. Here are a select few:

I was posing here, not actually driving... can you tell?!

Buggy mania

I love this photo! By this point Tom was really fed up with me taking pictures of the buggy, so the fact that he is parked at a stop sign is very appropriate!

Our second day was spent doing what everyone comes to the Whitsundays for – sailing. Aboard a 20 metre catamaran we spent a glorious day basking in the sun, swimming, sitting on the beach, snorkelling and watching the crew do all the hard work! Snorkelling on the reef is something that I was really looking forward to, but the fish were a little disappointing in numbers and the water was freezing. The promise of 24 degree waters was definitely a false one, although the crystal clear visibility did make jumping in a slightly more tempting option. As with our previous snorkel trip, it’s stinger season in Australia, meaning that lyrca suits are mandatory for all swimmers. The protection offered is not just a physical barrier between your skin and the water, but also the unflattering cut, colour and ‘cling’ which is enough to put any jellyfish off coming near you. NOBODY looks good in these things, but some people look particularly hideous and it doesn’t help your confidence that the size is written across the shoulder in black marker – pity the woman with the XXXL suit. Our day trip also included a visit to Whitehaven beach, which has apparently made every list on the topics of Top 10 places to go / beaches to sit on blah blah. It was incredible and the pictures probably don’t do it justice, but the fact that there was a fat man selling Four X beer out of an esky on a totally uninhabited island just topped off the ‘Aussie’ experience for us!

Aboard 'On The Edge'

The 'oh so sexy' stinger suits are on! The skipper said he'd given me a special 'Teletubby suit' - when asked if he was suggesting that I was brightly coloured, rather large and made wierd noises, he looked blank!

Spot the fish!

When on the beach, a cold beer is mandatory. We had diet Coke!

Whitehaven Beach

The sunshine continued and we absorbed enough Vitamin D to allow us to return to the Batcave that Melbourne winter was become until our next trip, which is Uluru, in just two weeks time. We will remember Hamilton Island for the sunshine and palm trees, breathtaking sunsets and abundance of stars in the sky. I wanted to tell you that there were more stars in the sky than spots on a teenagers face, but Tom says that’s disgusting and I should find a more pleasant analogy. There weren’t many fish in the sea, but I’ve already got my man (sorry, couldn’t resist), and we’d go back to the Whistundays in a heartbeat. If you’re planning a trip to Australia, this paradise should be on your list.

We stayed at: The Reef View Hotel

We ate at: Mariners

We snorkelled with: Cruise Indigo