Great Barrier Reef: Places to Explore

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Hamilton Island

Though it's the most heavily populated and developed island in the Whitsunday group, more than 70% of Hamilton Island has been preserved in its natural state. The 1,482-acre island abounds in beautiful beaches (such as long, curving, palm-dotted Catseye Beach), bush trails, and spectacular lookouts. Yet for all its natural beauty, Hamilton's is more an action-packed, sociable holiday isle than a place to get away from it all.

Around 35 minutes by ferry from Shute Harbour, Hamilton buzzes with activity. Guests of the resort, and its six types of accommodation, including hotel-style and self-catering establishments, make up most of the itinerant population, but there are private residences here—as well as throngs of day-trippers from the mainland, other islands, and cruising yachts, who wander the island's bustling marina and village each day.

In recent years the island has worked hard to improve the quality of its eateries, and its broad range of dining options includes everything from take-out pizza to upscale restaurants, but most on-island eateries still tend toward the "accessible" end of the culinary scale, though prices tend to be higher than those in comparable mainland restaurants.

For a family-friendly, one-stop Whitsundays experience, Hamilton Island is a good bet. They allow kids under age 13 to stay free, provided they stay with parents and use existing beds (no roll-aways or cribs). Under-13s can even eat free at some island restaurants when staying at resort hotels, choosing from kids' menus, and accompanied by their parents. It's set up as a small city, with its own school, post office and banking outlets, medical center, pharmacy, supermarket and DVD-hire store, plus shops, restaurants, bars, and a nightclub, all open to island guests and day-trippers. There's also a day spa/relaxation center (open daily 10–6), offering massage, aromatherapy treatments, and float-tank sessions. But little on Hamilton is free; prices—for food, activities, Internet use, even grocery items—can be steep. The ubiquitous golf carts that visitors hire to zip around the island are A$45 an hour, A$60 for 3 hours, and A$85 for 24 hours from Hamilton Island Buggy Rentals (7:30 am to 6 pm). Save a few bucks by using the free Island Shuttle service that runs around the island at regular intervals between 7 am and 11 pm.

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