Hamilton Island is a simple package holiday kind of destination and one of the most popular gateways to the Great Barrier Reef.
It is part of a cluster of islands called The Whitsundays, and you could stay at any one of them and have a similar experience.
It is a very touristy place and you can either go crazy on land and sea activities or choose to just hang out at a hotel pool, drinking cocktails all day.
You will be surrounded by beautiful scenery (and lots of tourists) no matter what you do.
In this post:
- Activities Quick Summary
- Four Night Hamilton Island Itinerary
- Hamilton Island Budget
- 7 Tips for Hamilton Island
- Final Thoughts
Activities Quick Summary
Before we get into our detailed itinerary I wanted to provide a quick summary of the activities we did, and if we recommend them.
- Helicopter flight
- Reef World + Snorkeling
- Passage Peak lookout – this and many other trails are free.
- Catseye Beach snorkeling – take the turtle tour option!
- Sunset Sailing – Outstanding!
- Koala Encounter
- Hamilton Island Wildlife
- Beaches Hotel Fine Dining Restaurant
One activity we didn’t do but would highly recommend is a visit to Whitehaven Beach. We flew over it on the helicopter but did not get to explore. Some of the stories we heard on our trip make this a must-do!
Four Night Hamilton Island Itinerary
- Helicopter ride over Whitehaven Beach and Heart Reef
- Reef World Snorkeling
- Cocktails by the pool
What better way to start our Hamilton Island experience than to take a helicopter flight from the island, over the Whitsundays Islands, and out to our first Great Barrier Reef experience.
I had this planned for months as a birthday surprise for Anh – which I had managed to keep a secret until the night before.
There are a number of flight options you can take with Whitehaven Beach, Heart Reef, and Reef world the main options.
We opted for Reef World so we could mix the day with the reef snorkeling and just take the boat back in the afternoon with those on the regular reef world tour.
After being picked up at our hotel we were on the tarmac in a matter of minutes and hopped straight into the helicopter.
After taking off we did a lap of the island and the pilot pointed out some of the beaches and lookouts only accessible by the hiking trails (more on these later).
From there we flew over the top of Whitsunday Island – which is very large – before taking this sweeping left-hand turn to follow the water’s edge at Whitehaven Beach.
The large sandy inlet here is what you will see on Whitsundays postcards and the view in person is on another level. We could see a couple of helicopters that had landed on the otherwise deserted beach below.
If we ever come back we are doing that!
From there we then headed directly east for 50kms (35 miles) of empty ocean before we reached the start of the reefs.
The first was a huge flat reef with nice colors that were mostly a mix of blue and grey. It wasn’t what I Imagined but was nice all the same. We then flew over a small channel that was very narrow but apparently 70m+ deep!
On the other side of this channel was a second reef where the colors immediately went to a whole new level. It was almost a sky blue glow that radiated out as far as the eye could see.
The colors were amazing! The blue was deeper, the coral more colorful, and this is also where the site of the famous heart reef.
We circled this famous landmark twice to allow us to get some pics. I wish we could have landed here also but that is another tour (and the most expensive!!).
From there it wasn’t long until we saw the pontoons for Reef World and the helipad nearby. We swooped in to land and a boat came out to get us and take us to the main pontoon.
Our day peaked early – the helicopter was amazing!
Reef World (Snorkeling)
At Reef World you have the choice of a few activities; snorkel, scuba dive, glass-bottomed boat cruise, and of course lunch!
We thought we would check out the glass bottom boat cruise before we got wet…. Don’t bother with this unless you don’t plan on snorkeling. Nothing much to see that you don’t get a much better view of actually in the water.
So as soon as we were done with that we got our snorkel gear and stinger suits and jumped in the water.
You have a stretch of reef that you can swim alongside but they discouraged swimming over the reef. I am not sure if this was a general rule or just because the tide was getting low.
Either way I found that quite restrictive in terms of what we could encounter.
We did see some nice fish but they were not as abundant as I hoped. Similar story with the coral. It was bleached, lifeless, and didn’t really have that wow factor.
In fact, the biggest fish that we saw were hanging around closer to the pontoon rather than the reef.
Pro tip: If you are looking for wow factor from the barrier reef then head further north to Port Douglas, not the Whitsundays.
We followed this up with a decent lunch and a few drinks before the two-hour journey back to Hamilton Island by boat.
I am so grateful that we started with the helicopter ride as the views of the reef from the boat are limited and you miss out on all the best stuff. You can see across the reef but nothing stands out.
It was a rough ride home for one passenger who had succumbed to seasickness and spent the whole time vomiting in a bag with her head between her knees.
We felt bad for her and it would have been an awful time.
A word of warning for those who do suffer motion sickness to take the pre-emptive meds! I found my stomach was ok and improved with every beer I drank.
After being in the sun all day we were quite tired and opted to just hang out next to the pool for a cocktail and a swim before retiring to our room for a delivered pizza and an early night.
- Passage Peak hiking
- Catseye Beach snorkeling
- Sunset Sailing
Hiking (Passage Peak)
This was our first full day on the island so we wanted to do some exploring. I am a sucker for a good view and always seek out the highest point of anywhere that I visit.
On the flight the day before the pilot pointed to Passage Peak as the highest point and there was a hiking trail to take us up there.
We set off along Catseye Beach and once you reach the end of the road there is a small fence (presumably to keep the golf carts out) and a steep gravel road that heads up towards the hiking trails. This is steep but isn’t too long.
You then hit multiple junctions with trails that lead out to every corner of the island.
The trails are rough in places but mostly ok with the only real battle being with the heat!
As we got closer to the peak it did also get quite steep but these sections had steps. My favorite part of the hike (apart from the summit) was when you first got a look over the opposite side of the ridge at the islands on the other side.
We were quite high up by this point and the view was just sensational!
Once we reached the peak we were greeted with 270-degree views that stretched from Catseye Beach in one direction, past Whitsunday Island, and all the way back down the Hamilton Island coastline to the south. The best part was that we had the lookout all to ourselves!
Plenty of time and space to take in the view. But the sun was brutal by the time.
Our legs were shaky on the way down but it was much quicker and we were happy to get back to our hotel room to cool off and rehydrate for a while before heading to the beach.
Catseye Beach Snorkeling
The reef just off Catseye Beach was visible from our hotel room and we had not yet had the time to get out into the water. After a quick lunch, we hired some snorkel gear and headed into the water in search of some turtles!
There is an option to go out with a guide. It is not necessary to get around but in hindsight, I wish we did this.
There were a lot of weeds to navigate and some coral so it was difficult to know where to go to find them.
We did see the Turtle Tour later in the day and the guide is up on a stand-up paddleboard so they can see what is swimming around the immediate area. They saw turtles, we didn’t.
We did however see a fairly large stingray that was just chilling out in the sand. He could easily be stepped on where he was and we trod very carefully from then on – opting to just float rather than stand!
Located just behind the stand with the snorkel gear is a lagoon-style swimming pool, with a bar. So we hung out there and had an easier swim after working harder to snorkel.
This is a nice relaxing spot and guaranteed to be free of stingrays!!
We couldn’t hang around long though as we had our sunset cruise that evening and had to freshen up for that.
After the short walk from the hotel to the marina, I had already sweated through my clothes and negated the benefits of my recent shower.
But once we boarded the large catamaran we were able to enjoy a nice breeze as we set off to the western side of the island.
This is a gentle sailing trip up and down the coast of the island while the sun sets in the background.
The staff brought drinks to us throughout and it was a very relaxing time. Both Anh and I love a good sunset and the setting was perfect.
There would have been at least 40 people on the catamaran but it was not crowded at all and the atmosphere was friendly and laid back.
The only hazard was the netting that we were sitting on being just large enough for a dropped phone to slip through. So we held on to our devices tightly the whole time and managed to get some amazing photos.
Once the sun disappeared over the horizon the sky turned a strong pinkish/purple color, with Hamilton Island golf course in the foreground (which is actually on Dent Island).
We then turned around and gently sailed back to the marina.
From there it was a two-minute walk to the Tavern where we could finish the day with an easy dinner, a few drinks, and a nice water view. A great end to a very nice day.
- Koala Encounter
- Hamilton Island Wildlife
- Hideaway Bay hiking
- One Tree Hill sunset
- Beaches Hotel Fine Dining Restaurant
Anh has a thing for Koala’s and has been searching for a place to hold one for a long time.
Unfortunately, today wasn’t going to be the day…. But, we could get up close & personal with a very cute one-eyed koala at Hamilton Island Wildlife.
The animal encounters are fairly cheap (from $25-$40) and there are also VIP options for $160. Each animal is at a set time of the day so make sure you check the updated schedule and book your spot beforehand.
We were only there for the Koala and spent a few minutes scratching his back and getting a few pictures.
Hamilton Island Wildlife
There is also a small zoo that you can wander through which has a guided tour in the afternoons. This is worth tagging along with so you can see them feed the big saltwater crocodile!
The enclosure allows you to get right up close to him and get a good look at the sheer size of them.
I have seen plenty of crocodiles in the zoo before but had never realised just how thick the girth of their belly is. These animals are huge!
This guy was just over 4 meters long, and weighed around 400kgs (880lbs). The biggest recorded is over 6 meters long and weighs nearly double – that gives you an idea of just how thick the girth is.
As mentioned the zoo is small and will only take 20-40 minutes to walk around depending on your pace…. One unexpected surprise was that the zoo had the best coffee I found on the island. Another pro tip right there for coffee lovers.
Hiking – Hideaway Bay
Next, we headed back to the hiking trail to head towards a beach. Anh wanted to find a wooden swing that she saw online.
Unfortunately, we got the beaches mixed up and went to Hideaway Bay which we had passed the day before. The swing is at Coral Cove – which is much further away, and in that heat, it would have been a tough ask. So we will save that for next time.
But, we did get the beach almost all to ourselves and were able to swim and relax under a tree in a very peaceful setting.
A very relaxing afternoon after what had been a very full few days.
One Tree Hill Cocktails and Sunset
I discovered this by accident. Anh had fallen asleep back at the hotel so I went for a walk to the other side of the island that we had not seen yet.
It is a very steep walk up towards One Tree Hill – you can just get the shuttle bus – but it only takes a few minutes to get to the top.
When you reach the top of the hill the view opens right up on the right-hand side of the road looking back over Catseye Beach. I took this in for a few minutes and figured that I had come this far so I may as well keep going.
I walked around a bend in the road and found where the hill descends down the western side of the hill. Here there was a bar with a great view to the north and a grassy hill next to it where lots of people had taken their drinks to hang on the side of the hill to watch the sunset.
The atmosphere was great and I was thirsty, so I grabbed a beer and jumped on the phone to wake up Anh! “Get on the bus darling and get your butt up here – it will be worth it I promise!”
So we had an unexpected afternoon of cocktails and another great sunset from a higher vantage point than the day before – we could see the sailing boat way down on the water from the day prior.
Beaches Hotel Dinner
We had one more activity included in our tour package for our final evening on Hamilton Island – which was the romantic dinner (cringe) at the Beaches Hotel restaurant.
I had low expectations of this – meal inclusions are usually sub-par – but it turned out to be a real highlight!
The outdoor tables sat around the beachfront swimming pool that lit up in the evening darkness and provided an ambient glow around the dining area.
The food, cocktails, and service were all amazing. So if you are looking for a fine dining experience on the island then this is highly recommended!
It isn’t cheap though and we did end up spending well over whatever inclusions were in our package. But highly recommended if you want something a step up from the pub food, or hotel restaurants.
All that was left was to check out and move on to our next destination.
This was just the start of a two-week North Queensland adventure, and next up was our road trip up to Port Douglas.
Hamilton Island Budget
As mentioned, we booked this on a package. Which was not cheap but at least allowed us to pay for a lot of our activities in advance.
We paid $2,143 for the following:
- Four nights at the Reef View Hotel
- Breakfast daily
- Bottle of sparkling wine on arrival
- On the Edge” Sunset Sail on one evening and a
- 3 course set dinner on one evening at Beach Club Restaurant
On top of this, we were billed for just over $400 on checkout. This was a mix of cocktails, and meals all over the island (excluding our cocktail splurge at the Beach Club dinner).
Considering you can charge things to your room all over the island and put very little thought into what you spend this ended up being less than we expected.
So a total of ~$2,600 between the two of us.
7 Tips for Hamilton Island
1. Book a golf cart in advance
The primary mode of transport on the island is by golf cart. They are expensive at $89 per day, but they still sell out.
We had not planned on using one as it seemed unnecessary (and it is) but when there we wish we had it for half a day to make exploring a bit easier.
The island was not crowded when we visited and they were still impossible to book on arrival.
2. Try and Hike early in the morning (it is really really hot!)
It was autumn when we visited but that QLD sun was still brutal. If you plan on doing a lot of hiking then make sure you are prepared for the heat.
Carry lots of water, bring a big hat, lots of sunscreen etc.
But the best thing you can do is get up early and start before the sun really starts to beat down on you.
3. Bring Hiking Shoes
The walking trails are steep and wearing thongs/flip flops is not going to cut it.
If you’re not planning to hike then bring them anyway, and change your mind. At the very least go to Passage Peak – it only takes an hour and you will be well rewarded!
4. Beware of Stingers!
While those clear blue waters look inviting there is a risk of being stung by various types of jellyfish all through the warmer months (October to March).
The Irukandji jellyfish is very small and can occasionally drift in towards the various beaches. While stings are rare they can be severe in their effects on an individual, and in extreme cases can be fatal.
Stinger suits are available for hire on the island and are provided for most water-based activities.
5. You Can Charge Almost Everything to Your Room
The whole island is run by one central organization. This allows you to charge almost anything to your room no matter where you are.
You can’t beat that for convenience!
6. It is Easy to Travel Cheaper
Don’t take our budget outlined earlier as a strong guide for your Hamilton Island getaway. You can find cheaper accommodation, and if you are traveling with a group could easily rent a house and split the cost.
There is a supermarket and bottle shop near the marina so you can easily cook at the house and make your own cocktails and save plenty in the process.
7. Get a Window Seat When Flying in!
If you are arriving by plane then it is worth doing all you can to secure a window seat.
You get a magnificent view of the Whitsunday Islands all through your descent to Hamilton Island airport.
We both loved our time on Hamilton island and will definitely be coming back one day. We wouldn’t return to the Great Barrier Reef here though as it underdelivered compared to other destinations – we found Port Douglas to be much better for this.
But, we would love to do the trip to Whitehaven Beach by boat or helicopter one day in the future.
For now, we said goodbye to the Whitsundays feeling refreshed and ready for the next chapter of our North Queensland adventure.