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How to Reach Hamilton Island from Cairns and Is It Worth the Effort?

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From the Hamilton Island website, it sounds like I can catch a bus from Cairns to Airlie Beach and then another bus to Shute Harbor. It looks like Whitsunday Shuttle and Whitsunday Transit operate buses between Airlie and Shute, but how do I get from Cairns to Airlie? I can't seem to find that type of bus information online; I'm looking for the name of a company so that I can see timetables and fares.

This trip sounds like a bit of effort - is it worth it for only 3 days? I plan to do a few day trips to the Great Barrier Reef from Cairns to snorkel and see the reef, but I am afraid that if I don't spend some nights on an island in the reef, that I won't experience it to the fullest. If I spend some time at a beach resort north of Cairns in Palm Cove (I like the looks of Angasana) or Port Douglas (Shantara) instead, would either of those beaches be nearly as nice as staying in the Whitsundays? Although I really like the looks of Hayman Island, I have ruled it out because it seems even more difficult to reach; from what I can tell, it requires taking either a boat/ferry or another flight from Hamilton Island to Hayman Island.

I plan to spend about 7 days in the Cairns area, 4 days of which I will do active things such as Cape Tribulation, Daintree, Kuranda, Tjapukai, as well as see the GBR for snorkeling, helicopter sightseeing, and perhaps a Quicksilver Cruise or the Subsea Explorer. That leaves about 3 days for relaxing on the beach. I plan to stay in Cairns city at either the Hilton or Hotel Cairns (the Shangri-La and Sebel are sold out during my desired days) for my active days, and then move to a more beachy location for relaxation, but if it is just as easy to stay in Palm Cove or Port Douglas and sightsee, then perhaps I will spend all my time in one hotel, rather than changing locations. I'll be traveling to Sydney for another 7 days or after my time in the Cairns area. (I also arrive into Sydney from the US, but plan to immediately connect to the Cairns to enjoy that portion of my trip first before ending in Sydney.)

Thanks in advance for your help.

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