Pristine water, clear blue skies, lush green bush, dazzling wildlife, and a plethora of adventures to take on – Hamilton Island has it all. Here’s how to explore the island without breaking the bank.
We acknowledge that this adventure is located on Giya Nation, the traditional Country of the Giya people who have occupied and cared for this land and water for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.
- Snorkel or dive tours
- Bushwalking the Icons trail
- Whitehaven Beach
- Catseye Beach
Finding Adventure on Hamilton Island
Located some 600km south of Cairns, Hamilton Island is the largest inhabited island of the Whitsundays, and the only one with a commercial airport and daily flights from Melbourne, Sydney, Cairns, and Brisbane. The ease of access and its year-round fantastic weather makes Hamilton Island a destination of choice for families, couples and friends alike all along the East Coast.
Packed with lavish resorts, you might think Hamilton Island belongs to loaded golf-playing boomers wearing visors, but this jewel has something for everyone. If you plan right and know what to do, you can make Hamilton Island a more affordable and equally as action-packed, adventure holiday.
Read more: Top 10 Adventures in the Whitsundays
Coral Cove & Passage Peak Walk
Park your buggy at the eastern end of Catseye Beach and turn on your step tracker for some glorious bushwalking!
Starting from the Scenic Trail Entrance, walk up to the Saddle Junction (1.8km), and pick a trail from there. Saddle Junction is the best place to start as it’s the crossing of all the trails within the park.
We combined a beach trail with the must-do Passage Peak trail, and started making our way down to Coral Cove (another 1.3km) where a cheesy, Insta-worthy swing set awaits you for some fabulously basic photos. Let your hair down, pull your best duck face and sashay away.
Go for a quick dip in the gorgeous Driftwood Bay before making your way back up to Saddle Junction, and on to Passage Peak. Once you reach the top of the hill, brace yourself for the most spectacular panorama the island has to offer.
Snorkel and Dive Tour
For the best chance to see marine life up close, I strongly recommend booking a snorkel tour. There are snorkelling spots accessible from the island in a dinghy, however professional cruises will take you all the way to the Great Barrier Reef for an unforgettable snorkel or dive experience.
We booked the Sail & Snorkel Tour ($190 per person) on a catamaran which takes you to Whitehaven Beach 1.5 hours away. Whitehaven is the Whitsundays’ most popular beach with sand so fine, it squeaks underneath your feet. Our catamaran anchored for about 1.5 hours, plenty of time to swim, play, walk or rest on the brightest beach you’ve ever been on.
After lunch, head to the best snorkel spot in the Whitsundays, Chalkies Beach. The crew has quality equipment you can borrow, but if you really want to impress everyone and get some oohs and aahs, pack your own full face mask. I can’t guarantee you’ll attract any suitors with that thing on, but you’ll have a much more comfortable snorkel experience.
Offroad Adventure Tours
Hamilton Island has its own go-kart racing track for family fun, but if you’re looking for a bit of an off-track driving adventure, take on a tour in an ATV (all terrain vehicle).
Offroad Adventure Tours will take you on an ATV through scenic fire trails as well as to The Resort Lookout for magnificent views. Prices start from $159 for an hour long tour, and you must hold a valid driver’s license to drive.
Take a Ride on a Dinghy
Dinghys don’t look like much, but they’re much harder to navigate than you think. If you’re like me and struggle a little with boats (okay, fine, motorised vehicles in general), hand the driving over to someone else, lest you cop a serious telling off from the staff.
Dinghies can be hired from $169 for three hours, during which time you should head to a very appropriately-named spot: Beautiful Beach. Drop the anchor and pop on a snorkel, but beware of the tides, or you’ll need to push your dinghy back to the water after it’s beached.
Hire a Kayak or Paddleboard
Kayaks and paddleboards are an affordable way to discover the waters surrounding the famous Catseye Beach. For guests staying at selected fancy resorts such as Qualia, they’re even complimentary. For the rest of us peasants, a small fee applies.
Starting from $15 for half an hour, grab your paddle and hop on! Once you’ve paddled to your heart’s content, reward yourself with a poolside cocktail at the public Main Pool Bar.
One Tree Hill
One Tree Hill is the highest point of Hamilton Island accessible by buggy. With a cute little bar and breathtaking views, sunset is the best time to hit the Hill. Pack a blanket, a few snacks and chilled bevies, set up camp on the grass, and watch the magic happen.
Gorgeous colours and a great atmosphere, One Tree Hill sunsets are a must-do. If you’re patient enough, wait until it gets dark and gaze at the billions of stars above your head. We were lucky to be there when the lunar eclipse occurred on May 26th, an unbelievable experience!
Adventures That Break The Bank
If you have a more generous budget, your options are almost limitless! Scenic helicopter and plane tours, golfing, spa days, or even game fishing.
The most important thing to know is that activities book out very fast! So my number one tip is, plan ahead! Book your activities well in advance, at least two or three weeks prior to departure. This goes for restaurants too; if you’re travelling with a large group, be sure to book ahead to avoid being turned away by every venue.
Read more: 5 Ways To Road Trip On The Cheap
There are no campgrounds or holiday parks on the island itself. Hamilton Island remains a somewhat luxury destination, and most of the available accommodation are rooms in posh resorts.
But a great alternative to save a coin on both lodging and food is to rent your own holiday home and cook your own meals. There are plenty of options on the Hamilton Island site, as well as on Airbnb.
For groceries, there’s only one supermarket on the island, as well as one bottle shop. Both are fairly well stocked, but very expensive compared to the mainland.
The great thing about Hamilton Island is that you don’t need much to get going, and most of the essentials can be purchased at the local IGA.
Make sure you pack:
- Swimsuit and wetsuit for winter
- Snorkel or diving gear if you have your own
- Walking shoes
- Binoculars for wildlife spotting
Read more: Remember to leave no trace!
How To Get There
Aside from authorised vehicles, Hamilton Island is car-free. The only ways to get around the island are by putting one foot in front of the other, until you reach your destination… Or you can hire a buggy, which is unsurprisingly the most popular option. Some accommodations include a buggy with your booking, and for those that don’t, buggy hire starts at $59 for two hours.
Please note: Airport hires are currently closed until further notice, and buggies can only be hired from Catseye Beach. There’s also a free shuttle bus operating between the Resort Centre (Catseye Beach) and the Marina Village.