A three week family holiday in Australia that takes in city sights, beaches, wildlife and natural wonders. In the second part of our trip report Charlotte and family fly to Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays and visit the Great Barrier Reef
Who went, where and when: Charlotte and Jonathan with their children Francesca 13 and Edward 10 visited Melbourne, Sydney, Hamilton Island and Bamurru Plains in July and August 2013.
For Part 1: the best of Melbourne and Sydney with children click here
Part 3: bush safari at Bamurru Plains click here
Family trip to Hamilton Island – sun, sand, sea and snorkelling
Charlotte: “After Sydney we flew to Hamilton Island, one of the Whitsunday Islands on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a two and a half hour flight from Sydney and the only one of the Whitsundays with its own airport. We stayed in the Hamilton Island Yacht Club Villas which have balconies overlooking the water and breathtaking views of the ocean. In fact I could have quite happily stayed on the balcony all day watching the boats go by and the amazing sunsets.
The local cockatoos like it too – they come onto the balcony and wake you up in the mornings. There are restaurants and a lagoon-like pool up at the yacht club as well as a golf course. Each villa comes with its own electric golf buggy, plus charger point, for getting about the island.
We did some exploring with our buggy (Duggie!), in fact we nearly ran out of electricity in him on more that one occasion and there would be anxious moments as he laboured up the final hill home. We discovered that in five or ten minutes we could get to the other side of the island, and Catseye beach in particular soon became a favourite. It’s a perfect long curving stretch of sand where guests can take out paddleboards, kayaks, catamarans and windsurfers.
Hamilton is a holiday island – it doesn’t feel like the real world at all – but it is very well done and everything runs very smoothly. It’s also an ideal base if you want to explore the Great Barrier Reef. I would definitely recommend it as a place to stay with family, the children loved it. We swam every day, tried the water sports and practised our snorkelling – very important before our trip out to the GBR. The children saw a sea snake one day which worried them a bit but nothing more ominous than that! During our stay on Hamilton Island we took two day trips:
Whitehaven and Chalkies Beach
We sailed in a beautiful catamaran called On the Edge to Chalkies Beach on Haslewood Island. There were about 30 people onboard and when the crew dropped anchor the children jumped straight off the back of the boat to snorkel – the water was completely clear. Then we moved on to Whitehaven beach on Whitsunday Island where we could swim ashore. Whitehaven is staggering, a heaven on earth that still feels undiscovered.
We picnicked and the children and teenagers staged a cricket match – their own little version of the Ashes – which was supervised by a couple of guys from the boat.
Edward loved it – especially fielding in the water – and it was a perfect day from his perspective.
While the children were playing cricket Jonathan and I followed a walking trail into the hills. The views down over Whitehaven were amazing – it’s a huge stretch of white sand that contains so much silica that it sparkles as if there are diamonds in it.
Exploring the Great Barrier Reef
Our Great Barrier Reef day was a highlight of the stay at Hamilton Island. The Reef is very protected so access to it is organized in a very controlled way. After much research we’d pre-booked a trip and so we boarded – along with what felt like the rest of the world – a massive boat called the Seaflight. This took us out through the Whitsunday Islands on a two and a half hour voyage to the Reefworld pontoon which is moored on Hardy Reef.
We were a bit dubious about this trip: we wondered if it was going to be an over-touristy experience and the journey to the reef did feel a bit like that – especially during the passenger briefing and the ‘sell’ of underwater photos.
There are a number of ways to view the reef from the pontoon including a glass-bottom boat and underwater viewing chamber. But we were keen to snorkel and also to get ahead of the crowds. All the gear was provided so we collected wet suits and snorkelling kit as soon as we arrived at the pontoon and were actually the first people into the water. There’s a roped off route through the reef that visitors must follow and it has regular stations where you can stop and get your breath back.
Ed put his head straight in then popped up again with a shocked expression saying ‘It’s Really Deep!’ He was right. The water is freezing, especially compared to the beaches we’d visited, and it takes your breath away in more ways than one. Once you put your head into the water you’re in another very vibrant world: the coral is very close, though you’re not allowed to touch it, and you see fish you’ve never seen in your life before swimming in and out of it. We spotted a reef shark, huge grouper fish, giant clams and a Nemo fish in an anemone.
To get the best out of the experience I’d say that children need to be 10 + and strong swimmers who’ve snorkelled before. It’s not the place to go snorkelling for the first time. There were inflatable donuts to help support small children but they looked tricky to manage.
We were in the water for about 45 minutes. Afterwards we got out and dried off then went to the cafe. Part of the boat has a glass wall so we joined those who weren’t swimming to see where we had been.
Instead of taking the boat back to Hamilton Island we’d booked the helicopter option
so that we could see the Great Barrier Reef and Heart Reef from the air.
It was completely worth it and Francesca took some beautiful photos as we flew over Heart Reef. It was also a lot quicker than the boat journey out to the reef: we were back at Hamilton Island in half an hour.
On our last morning the children leapt into Duggie and raced over to Catseye beach for a final session of paddleboarding before we caught our flight to Brisbane.
What went wrong?
Nothing really! It would have been nice to visit the Great Barrier Reef in a more intimate way but it was still a wonderful experience. We pre-booked our day trips but could also have booked from Hamilton Island. A benefit of on-the-spot booking might be that you could choose a day with the best weather.
Australia Family Trip
Part 3: bush safari at Bamurru Plains click here
Part 1: the best of Melbourne and Sydney with children click here
Charlotte and family travelled with tailor-made holiday specialists ScottDunn
Photos taken by Charlotte and family are all rights reserved. Photos may not be reproduced without prior written consent. Image of Catseye beach courtesy of www.hamiltonisland.com.au
The Great Barrier Reef looks amazing! That’s a great point that children probably should have snorkeling experience before going here, especially if it is cold and deep. Did you feel crowded at all once you were in the water with all of the people from your pontoon boat?
Hi thanks for your question and I’m glad the post has been helpful. Charlotte says that although the boat to the Reef felt busy a lot of people stay on board the pontoon and don’t go in the sea. Charlotte and family made an effort to get out on the water quickly when they arrived and once they were in and snorkelling they didn’t feel crowded at all.