When 2020 gives you COVID-19, you make... lemonade? I'm not sure if that's how the saying goes but that's what I tried doing with my year! To be honest I was very lucky and I wasn't affected a whole lot by the lockdowns and closing of businesses. The only thing I had planned was a trip to Vietnam which even then, I hadn't booked anything for so I didn't lose any money.
As luck would have it prices for a holiday to Australia's Whitsundays had plummeted due to the pandemic and I saw this as an opportunity to finally visit Australia's North. I have always wanted to visit the Whitsundays but have never been able to justify spending so much money for a holiday that doesn't even require an overseas flight. I'm so glad I booked this trip and was pleasantly surprised by the very few people that were on the island at the time due to the fact that there were no overseas tourists. It was just me, my boyfriend Michael and a few hundred other Aussies who by the end of the week we knew most of their faces from seeing them around the island.
We were there for 5 nights in October and the weather was perfect! We didn't have to wear stinger suits (although I'm sure this will change year to year) but overall, we were really happy with the time of year we chose to go.
This was probably the easiest part! We booked this holiday through flight centre so the whole process was pretty seamless. We had flights booked as well as transfers to our hotel, all as a part of the package. It was a quick flight on Qantas Airlines (my favourite) from Brisbane to Hamilton Island and I must say, it was eerily quiet at the airport.
Upon arrival to the island, we collected our bags and checked in at the customer service desk and they advised us to head out the front and wait for our bus to our hotel. So, we headed to the waiting area and within about 5 to 10 minutes the bus had arrived and the friendly driver helped us load our bags into the bus. He gave us a quick tour of the island on the way and gave us some great recommendations before dropping us off to the front of our hotel. How easy was that?!
ACCOMMODATION We stayed at the Reef View Hotel which is (literally) a 2-minute walk from Catseye Beach which is the main beach on the Island. This place was honestly perfect for Michael and I. It was spacious, had daily housekeeping, a nice big bathroom and a large balcony where the local Cockatoos would perch themselves throughout the day. We booked a "beach view" room as opposed to a "garden view" and I highly recommend you do the same. It cost us only a little bit extra on top of our package but let me tell you it is the best money you will spend! The view of Catseye Beach is so worth it.
The staff are super friendly here and the elevator is totally glass so you can see all of Catseye Beach and other beautiful parts of Hamilton Island as you go up to your room every day. This hotel was great for families with a large pool and it wasn't the fanciest or most modern hotel on the Island (although it was still very nice) so you don't feel like you have to tippy-toe around things in case they break. Not that I would recommend breaking anything, but you know what I mean! But singles and couples without kids, it's not only just great for families it is great for anyone I promise you. The pool has full service so you can get cocktails and lunch or dinner by the pool and let me tell you, this was one of my favourite things about my holiday (I'm pretty easily pleased).
See "SPENDING" for more perks of staying at the Reef View.
The package itself cost us $3,095.00 so a total of about $1547.50 each for 5 nights including flights and accommodation as well as free breakfast every morning. Which let me tell you, is the best value for money when you see the quality of this breakfast! Now I understand this is still a lot of money to fork out, but when you consider how much it normally costs (and that's WITH crowds), you're getting a pretty good deal. I am so glad I took advantage of the cheap holiday deals while I could. Because honestly, when is a better time to see Australia than when international borders are closed?
The cost of living on the Island is generally the same as anywhere else in Australia, just with that little bit of extra cream on top or what is otherwise known as resort prices. Personally, I always save up a nice chunk of money to spend on holidays so that I don't have to think twice and can just enjoy myself. A big money saver was the free breakfast at the hotel every morning though and I highly recommend you eat breakfast there as much as you can to save some big bucks!
Now this is the most important part that I want you to take note of... is that all beach activities including basic snorkel gear, kayaks and mini catamarans are all totally FREE as a part of your package with the Reef View Hotel. All you have to do is show your room key to the guys down on Catseye Beach and you can hire whatever you please for the day with no extra charges. Now that is value for money.
PLACES TO EAT
Ok so I know I sound like a broken record by now but... your free breakfast at the Reef View Hotel! It had so many delicious options including pancakes, waffles, fresh fruit, freshly made coffees, eggs however you like them, cereal, freshly baked pastries and more.
For breakfast elsewhere there is a cute little cafe on the marina called "Marina Cafe" which has a full breakfast menu and some pretty awesome views as well.
Some other great places are:
- Romano's Italian Restaurant: This is a delicious Italian place down on the marina and if Michael and I weren't feeling so wobbly from the day out on the catamaran we would've stayed there longer!
- Bob's Bakery: As I said earlier, I'm pretty easily pleased. If you're like me and don't mind a nice pie or sausage roll and a flavoured milk for lunch then this is the place for you.
- Hamilton Island Wildlife Cafe: This place was to die for! You can literally have breakfast with the koalas. Due to COVID the full buffet breakfast wasn't on, instead we just ordered from a menu and sat in the tabled area and kept our eye on two fluffy koalas in trees in the cafe. You can actually pay to hold them too I think, but I'm not sure if this was something they were doing at the time due to restrictions.
- Pizzeria and Gelato Bar: Michael and I ordered takeaway pizza from this place and it did not disappoint. The staff were friendly and it was on our door step in no time (they even brought it right to our door). Dinner that you don't even have to get out of your air-conditioned room for is a win in my book.
- Marina Tavern: This is a nice humble pub down on the Marina where you can enjoy a parmy and a beer while watching the sport. It's a great place to go and relax that isn't too fancy but still great food.
There is also an IGA grocery store which their prices actually weren't as bad as I was expecting, as well as a bottle-o next door should you want any drinks (that aren't cocktails by the pool) throughout your holiday.
Alright let's just jump right into it!
- Snorkelling: We booked a snorkel tour through Explore's Sail and Snorkel that took us to Chalkies Beach and Whitehaven Beach. There are beers, wine and cider onboard and you just run a tab all day which really takes the inconvenience out of having your wallet out all day.
- Kayaking on Catseye Beach: This is totally free with your accommodation if you're staying at Reef View Hotel and gives you a whole other perspective of the island. There are of course limits on where you can go but it's quite special to kayak out and look back at the Island from that view.
- Sunset drinks at One Tree Hill: This is a little bar/restaurant at the top of the island on One Tree Hill. It is the best vantage point for a beautiful sunset and you can enjoy a range of delicious cocktails. Or if you're wanting to save a bit of money, bring your own and enjoy it on the hill outside but just not at the bar!
- Trivia at Sail's Restaurant: This happens on a Tuesday and is a great way to get involved with some fun outside of sailing and swimming. Michael and I played with a couple we'd met on our snorkelling tour that day and we had so much fun. We won a participation prize which scored us a free game of mini golf at the Hamilton Island Sports Club.
- Hire the golf carts: I would recommend hiring one for maybe a half day or a day to get a feel for if you'd like one for the whole week. It really depends what you want to do but Michael and I enjoyed walking around the whole week (The Island isn't that big). More about this in "GETTING AROUND".
- All Saints Chapel (pictured above): This place was totally not on our radar, we happened to stumble across it on our day on our golf buggy. It was hands down one of the most beautiful chapels I've seen. It's perched up on a hill and overlooks Catseye Beach and offers some really stunning views. At the time we were there the tree in the courtyard was full of butterflies and they were flying around us the entire time, it was really something special.
For a full list of activities, you can do head here.
Getting around on the island is super easy. There is a shuttle bus that runs around the clock from all of the main hotels to all popular parts of the island (the beach, the shops, the marina). Let me tell you right now, don't make the same mistake Michael and I did and WALK to the top of One Tree Hill... the shuttle bus goes there you just have to make sure you get up there a bit earlier as this is a very popular time and can get quite busy.
Other than the shuttle bus there is a golf cart hire place where you can hire golf buggies for as little as half a day up to the whole time you will be there. Personally, I didn't see any use in hiring one for the whole week. We hired it for half a day and used it to see parts of the island we hadn't seen yet and we were pretty satisfied with that. Although for families this might be a good option when you have to carry more than just a hand bag. We certainly did envy those on their golf buggies zooming up to the top of One Tree Hill while we were huffing and puffing and regretting not doing our research better.
Outside of the shuttle and the golf carts I would just recommend walking. As I mentioned the island isn't very big and you can easily get between hotels, the beach and bars all on foot. It's a good way to discover little gift shops and places you maybe hadn't noticed while using the shuttle bus.
- Book all of your activities either before or as soon as you get there especially in peak season.
- Book your breakfast, lunch and dinner reservations as soon as you arrive. They have an app that shows you what's on and makes it super easy to find phone numbers for the cafes and restaurants so you can book. We were there at a really quiet time and still missed out on eating at some places as it was booked out already.
- If you're going out on a catamaran or boat for the day to snorkel (or whatever really) bring not only sunscreen but a proper t-shirt and hat. Michael and I watched most of our tour group fry because they were underprepared and didn't consider the many hours we would be in the sun with no cover. Whitehaven Beach has absolutely no shade on the beach and you are there for hours so you want to make sure you're properly protected otherwise it's just honestly uncomfortable.
- Catch the shuttle bus to One Tree Hill, the walk may just about kill you.
- Buy a fun Hawaiian style shirt from the gift store on day one and wear it all week! It's a great shirt to throw on over your togs to protect you from the sun and a great souvenir to take home with you.
- CLOSE YOUR HOTEL WINDOWS AND DOORS. The hotel staff warn you about this but let me tell you now, the cockatoos will enter your apartment and steal your things. We forgot to close our sliding doors once and a rogue cockatoo had entered our room and relieved itself on our furniture and gone through our stuff. I also witnessed one flying around with a kid's shoe in its mouth so be careful.
THINGS I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY
If anything, I maybe would have done a more Great Barrier Reef specific snorkel tour. Chalkies Beach and Whitehaven definitely have to be seen! But I noticed there was an actual Great Barrier Reef tour boat at the marina which I didn't realise they offered so I would just keep that in mind when booking your activities.
Other than that, I thought the 5 nights we were there was the perfect amount of time. It was one of those holidays that was just perfect really. Nothing went wrong, we weren't stressed about anything and the inclusivity of the package we bought just made everything flow so seamlessly.
To book your own Hamilton Island getaway head here.