C California Style

A fleet during Hamilton Island Race Week. Courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland.
Audi Hamilton Island Race Week is Australia’s largest offshore keelboat regatta.
Spa Ethos at Qualia resort.
Seaplanes and helicopters charter tours of the Great Barrier Reef. Courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland.
Hayman’s iconic pool with swim-in-swim-out guest rooms.
One of the beach villas at One&Only Hayman Island.

Water World

by C California Style

Anchored by two ultra-luxurious resorts, the Whitsunday Islands feature Australian hospitality at its finest.

Off the coast of Central Queensland, descend over the Coral Sea and its magnificent Great Barrier Reef, and you’ll touch down on Hamilton Island, the hub of the Whitsunday archipelago. (The country’s premier airline, Qantas, is once again servicing Hamilton after a 10-year hiatus.)

Purchased by Australian winemaker Bob Oatley in 2003, the island is the ultimate playground for the yacht set. And with all manner of water adventures and accommodations, Qualia resort (qualia.com.au) is indeed its pearl. Serene and unassuming with a natural palette of wood, stone and glass, the adults-only resort dots the tropical hillside. Each of the 60 freestanding pavilions (which come with a personal buggy at check-in to putter around the island—where you’ll spot native wallabies and the like) has uninterrupted views of the Coral Sea, and its own private sundeck or infinity-edge pool.

Disport yourself sailing, diving or fishing among the Whitsundays’ 74 islands. Chartering a chopper to snorkel the reef followed by a picnic on the secluded Whitehaven Beach is a must. And every August, during the migratory season for humpback whales, Hamilton plays host to Race Week (hamiltonislandraceweek.com.au), the largest offshore regatta in the Southern Hemisphere. Some 250 boats set sail from the Yacht Club during the Audi-sponsored event, celebrated by a week of swank dinners, fashion shows and entertainment.

An hour by yacht, or 15 minutes by helicopter or seaplane, from Hamilton brings you to the northernmost of the Whitsundays, Hayman Island (hayman.oneandonlyresorts.com). After a few wanting attempts since its heyday in the ’80s, the iconic resort has been reborn as part of the One&Only collection. An $80 million facelift from the five-star group began with the pool, arguably now a national treasure, which has been updated with private cabanas, daybeds and The Rocks bar. Among the 160 suites, villas and penthouses, the Pool Wing allows guests to dive straight into the water from their terrace while the brand new Beach Villas open to private plunge pools. Despite being the only gig on the island, there are an impressive five restaurants, a world-class spa and gym. But all gives way to the endless beauty of the main attraction just off shore, the Great Barrier Reef. 

Written and edited by Jenny Murray.