March 7, 2013

Whitsundays: HamiltonWorld


My expectations of Hamilton Island were not great. I thought it would be overdeveloped and overcrowded; that it would be full of hoity-toity, big-boaty non-PLUs; that everything would be hugely expensive. It certainly wasn't cheap to stay there or eat out, but on the whole I thought the place was charming in an other-worldy sort of way. Disney meets Toy Town, I'd say. 

I think this impression was largely generated by the fact that visitors and residents drive around in electric buggies. Kids get dropped off at school in them, and there are even cute 'ute' buggies with little trays replacing the second row of seats. They're quiet, environmentally friendly and provide less opportunity for idiot-macho driving. Many of the buildings, from the airport terminal to waterside restaurants, are a little bit folksy and there are far fewer primary colours than on the mainland. 
 
In contrast, the Yacht Harbour Tower overlooking the Marina side of the island and the Reef Hotel in the Resort on Catseye Bay in the northeast resemble Torremolinos-style high-rise tourist nightmares. I was told they were built in the '80s, after which the local council must have come to its senses, although not enough to knock them down. After a few days you can train your eyes not to see them and tilt the angle of your photographs. Or squeeze them like this.
The Tower popped up in this pic, however, without me noticing.
Judging by the huge numbers of buggies parked up, I wonder if most people visit the Whitsundays in winter. This was the main street mid-morning, which suited us.
Hamilton Island is lush and green and a lot of recent development is almost buried in tropical foliage. There's a big architectural statement in Toytown, however, and that's the Marina Yacht Club. Designed by Walter Barda and opened in 2009 by then Premier Anna Bligh, the building combines metal (including a copper roof), glass and wood: I loved the winged roof, the terraces jutting out over the water, and the building's 'mast'. One evening we sat in the bar on one of the terraces drinking Pimm's and alternately watching the sun set over Dent Island and the full moon rising behind us. It was as near perfect few moments as I can remember in a long while.
The Yacht Club complex includes 35 4-bed villas with equally perfect surrounds and outlooks. One of these will set you back $3 million.

You often hear the Whitsundays described as a tropical paradise. Hamilton tries hard to live up to that reputation. Another evening we went up One Tree Hill where there's a portable cocktail bar set up to enhance your enjoyment of the sunset. The rising almost-full moon embellished the view in the other direction. Stunning sea, sky and islands pix are compulsory here.



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