Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach provided us with a little bit of paradise on our Australia adventure. With day trips available to the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsundays, including Whitehaven Beach, they are the perfect places to stay to access these beautiful and iconic locations.
Hamilton Island is one of the Whitsunday Islands in Queensland. The island is mainly car-free apart from the transfers to and from the airport, and the shuttle bus which runs all over the island. The best way we can describe Hamilton Island is that it’s like one big resort with multiple hotels, pools and restaurants. Staying on the island means you’re able to use any of the hotel pools and visit any of the restaurants, you’re not just limited to your own hotels facilities – you can out your meal or drinks on the room even if you’re not in your hotel!
Back on Australia’s mainland is Airlie Beach, a resort town on the Whitsunday Coast. Airlie Beach as become popular with travellers over the years meaning it has more of a lively atmosphere, the main strip is full of hostels, restaurants and bars.
Our first stop was Hamilton Island, we spent a night here to add a little bit of luxury to our trip. Next, we jumped on the ferry over to Airlie Beach where spent three nights and took advantage of all the amazing activities on offer! If we’re honest we would have loved to have spent longer on Hamilton Island but unfortunately our holiday funds wouldn’t allow us – you’ve got to watch the wallet right!?
We flew into the Hamilton Island Airport, also known as the Great Barrier Reef Airport, from Sydney. From there we picked up the free airport transfer which took as to the Reef View Hotel which is around a four minute drive – yes yes, we know what you’re thinking, we definitely could have walked but we couldn’t pass up a free ride… right!?
The Reef View Hotel is a lovely hotel with it’s own restaurant, bar and pool. The rooms are spacious, clean, and is only a short walk to the beach and marina.
As soon as we’d checked in we headed out to explore the island, including the marina, beach and neighbouring hotels – we have to say the island is absolutely stunning, especially the sunset over the marina. As we were walking back to our hotel we stumbled across some Wallabies eating the grass. We have to say we were pretty excited and took multiple pictures – you don’t see that in London!
Later that night we decided to have dinner at Manta Ray, a Mediterranean restaurant which serves delicious pizzas, pastas and seafood. If you’re a seafood lover then we’d highly recommend the mussels or salmon for the main course.
On our second day we were up early to enjoy the sunshine! We headed down to the Marina Cafe for breakfast where we truffled down our eggs, avocado and smoothies with a stunning view over the marina – is there a better way to start the day!?
Next, we went to the beach to take part in some morning activities. One of the great things about Hamilton Island is that all the watersport equipment is free to use for hotel visitors! We opted to hire a paddleboard and spent the rest of the morning trying the master the balance to not fall off. We have to admit it did take a while but after some spectacular falls we finally mastered the art of paddleboarding.
After our sporting efforts we decided it was time to put our feet up and relax in the sunshine. We headed to the Main Pool next to the Hamilton Island Resort Centre – if we’re honest we chose this pool as it has a bar in the middle, who doesn’t love spending the afternoon drinking Corona’s in the sun?
Following maybe one to many Corona’s we headed back to our hotel to shower and change before catching the ferry to Airlie Beach. The ferry leaves Hamilton Island Marina multiple times a day, takes an hour to the Port of Airlie and costs $62 one-way. From the port there are many different ways to reach your hotel – if you’re staying on the main strip it may be worth walking to save some pennies, otherwise you can catch the bus or jump in a taxi.
We opted for the latter which took us directly to our new accommodation. During our time in Airlie Beach we stayed at the Mango House Resort, part of the Best Western group. It was a little bit of the beaten track, however we quite enjoyed the peace and quiet. Plus, it was easy to catch a bus ($2.90) or taxi ($10) to the main strip.
Our first port of call was to book those all-important day trips! You can pre-book online however we much prefer to book trips in person. You find out some much more information, ask tons of questions and even haggle on the price – we can never accept of first offer! We’re were quite lucky as most of the tourist offices are open until around 8/9pm meaning we had plenty of time to find the right one!
We finally stumbled across the Mad Travel Shop which is part of Nomads Airlie Beach Backpackers and spoke to Scott – who we have to say is a great guy! He was very friendly and help us picked the right trips for what we wanted, including trips to the Whitsundays, Skydiving and Great Barrier Reef trip for the next day – talk about sorting us out!
Once we’d haggled our hearts out, the admin was done and the money was spent we headed for some well deserved food! A little way down from Nomads is a restaurant called The Deck who serve delicious seafood, pizza and pasta. We’d highly recommend the pasta – filled us to the brim!
Now, although we would have loved to have headed to a bar and sampled Airlie Beach’s nightlife we had a very early wake up call for our Great Barrier Reef trip. So, it was back to the resort and straight to bed – no one wants to be hungover at the Great Barrier Reef.
Our day trip to the Great Barrier Reef was with Cruise Whitsundays, actually the only tour company to do trips to the Reef from Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island. A transfer picked us up from our apartment at 7am and took us to the port where the ferry was departing.
The ferry takes three hours to reach the Outer Reef, first stopping at Hamilton Island and then two hours of sailing to reach the reef. This is the perfect amount of time to read a book, catch some rays and take in the beautiful surroundings. However, the boat doesn’t offer much opportunity to sunbath, so we’d suggest heading up to the top deck where you’ll find a small area to lie-down at the front. At first we were the only ones laying out our towels, however after the boat started moving people were quick to notice our wisdom and join us!
Once you reach the reef you move over to a pontoon which is permanently situated a the reef. This is where you’ll get your all important snorkelling gear including masks, snorkels, flippers and stinger suits. From then you can spend the next four hours as you like – we obviously spent most of our time snorkelling the reef with a short spot for lunch. However, you can also opt to scuba-dive, take a trip on the glass bottom boat or sunbath on the pontoon.
The reef to absolutely stunning – you see beautiful corals, fish and giant clams! We spent hours swimming up and down the reef looking at all the different details. Plus, you don’t have to worry about burning in the mid-day sun as the stinger suits offer you full body protection.
The ferry departs from the reef at 3pm arriving back at the Port of Airlie at 6pm. Once again make sure you head up to the top deck to get your sunbathing spot! When the sun sets the view from the boat over the Whitsundays islands is stunning – make sure you look up from your book to take it all in.
That evening we were pretty tired from our day of snorkelling so we decided to stay in the apartment and cook for ourselves. There’s a supermarket just across the road from the apartments with everything you’d need to make a delicious meal. Plus, if you fancy a BBQ then you can use the grill next to the pool for free!
Our second day trip was to the Whitsundays with Thunder Cat, these high-speed boats get you to the Whitehaven Beach in no time! When we were first in Australia we took our time in a three-day sailboat around the island. It was an amazing experience so we’d highly recommend if you have a little more time and a healthier bank balance.
A transfer picked us up from our apartment at 8am and took us to Abel Point Marina where the boat departs at 9am. The first stop was the famous Whitehaven Beach, you walk up to Hill Inlet which provides stunning views over Whitehaven and the surrounding islands – the view is absolutely breathtaking!
Next you head down to the beach where you spend the next hour as you like. We walked along the shore, swam in the crystal blue water and took those all-important Instagram snaps. We have to say it gave the beaches in Zanzibar a run for there money!
One thing you can’t miss when at Whitehaven Beach is the Lemon Sharks and Stingrays. Simply walk to the right of the beach where you find a small pool connected to the sea, it may take a while to spot one but when you do loads will appear – a bit like when you’re waiting for a bus and three turn up all at once! You can walk along side them and take in there beauty. However, don’t go too close – we don’t want to scare them now do we?!
Next, you head back to have lunch on the boat and then move on to the next stop. In the afternoon you visit two snorkelling spots, the first is full of fishes including a Giant Maori Wrasse called George, most recognisable for his big blue lips. The second stop has less fish and concentrates more on the beautiful coral. It was absolutely stunning and dare we say better than the Great Barrier Reef!
We could have spent hours here swimming up and down the coral. But, be careful! At one point Natalie reached the end and decided to swim onwards, she didn’t get far before panicking and turning around. Who knows what lurks in the big blue sea!?
After a day full of adventure the boat returns to Abel Point Marina at 5pm. From here you can get a transfer back to where you’re staying or down to the main strip. We opted to go straight for dinner at Sorrento, an amazing restaurant which overlooks the marina and hands down sells the best Calamari we’ve ever had! Next, we headed back to the apartment as we had a very early and exciting morning planned!
We had another very early wake up call as I (Camilla) had signed up to do a Skydive with Skydive Australia. The transfer picked us up at 6:20am – although you can go earlier if you wish! We headed to Skydive Australia’s main office to fill out all the necessary paper work then went to the airport. Luckily Natalie was allowed to be a spectator otherwise my nerves may have got the better of me!
I decided to jump from the highest point at 15,000 ft – if you’re going to do it you might as well go from the top right!? It was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had and would recommend it to everyone – including Natalie who I hope to encourage one day!
You can read more about my Skydiving experience in a separate post here.
After the Skydive we decided it was time to relax as we’d had a busy few days. One place that is great to relax in Airlie Beach is the Lagoon. You can opt to sunbath on the sand or grass, then swim in the pool to cool down. It’s the perfect place to delve into a book and work on that ever darkening tan. Plus, if you finish your book then you can go to the Beach Book Boutique located at the back of the Lagoon.
For lunch we’d brought a range of picnic food from the Woolworths on the way to the Lagoon. From hummus and olives to cookies and crisps we were able to devour a feast without moving from our place on the sand!
Later that evening we headed back to our apartment as it was time to pack our bags and head back to Hamilton Island on the ferry. Although you can catch the ferry directly to the airport we decided to hop off at Hamilton Island’s marina to grab some dinner from the Marina Cafe and take in the stunning view one last time!
From there you can order a taxi to pick you up and drop you off at the airport. As Hamilton Island Airport is tiny they don’t suggest getting there until an hour before your flight. Our next stop: Brisbane.