Sometimes I do my research about a place SO WELL before I decide to travel there. Other times I see a photo, fall into a state of awe, make my travel commitment without much more thought. Such was the case with Hamilton Island. A few photos of Whitehaven Beach and a helicopter view of the tropical Whitsundays left no question in my mind – I NEEDED to see this.
Lucky for me, Hamilton Island – one of the few inhabited islands in the 74 Whitsundays – was one of the destinations I could choose for my 5 Days in Queensland trip.
I sensed Hamilton Island’s “fishiness” before we arrived. Just take a look at their website – perfectly branded and informative; Social media accounts brilliantly managed. Nearly anything I wanted to know about the island or needed to book for the island was centrally located.
Upon our arrival, all visitors were picked up on a bus from the airport and dropped off (for free) at our accommodation. A branded folder intricately stuffed with anything you’d need to know about Hamilton Island waited at our hotel. Details about every restaurant, shop, activity, hiking trail, etc. etc. was a turn of the page away. For the tech enthusiasts/paperless greenies, Hamilton Island even has its own app (I learned in Oz that “greenies” means “hippy.” I like it). Beyond the expected “things to do” guide, this app includes bus timetables, weather information, and audio tours.
We discovered that we could swim in any of the nearby pools and our complementary breakfast buffet could be enjoyed at multiple restaurants [by the way, these brekky buffets were ah-mahz-ing]. Every kayak and SUP and sailboat matched with that well branded beachy blue, palm tree green, and sunshine yellow. Even the golf-carts bumped around like a happy little Utopian transportation zooming past the free shuttle service.
Everything was just too perfectly cohesive and in sync with each other. It seemed fishy. It started to feel almost… Disneyworldish (minus random characters frolicking about)… like this destination was perfectly crafted to create an enjoyable experience for its visitors….
Because it was.
It was like some Marketing Guru walked into a Hamilton Island planning meeting and said, “Don’t worry blokes, I got this.”
During the second day of feeling slightly perturbed over this paradise-esque island, we flipped on the TV (it was raining). On played an infomercial (which replayed and replayed and replayed) about Hamilton Island’s history and activities…
Hamilton Island is owned by Bob Oatley. And therefore, many of the businesses on Hamilton Island are owned by the Oatley family as well. The Oatleys are winemakers and sailors… and they purchased Hamilton Island (sounds like a good gig to me). It’s a tourist island and was developed for the purpose of… just guess… tourism! Rich guys with lots of money buying islands and making more money. Sure, there are a few people who live there, but they’re either voraciously wealthy or island workers. As far as I know.
It wasn’t always owned by the Oatleys. The island was first* possessed by Keith Williams, an entrepreneur who charged in during the 1970s to develop the island into a tourist magnet full of hotels, restaurants, a boat harbor, airport, golf course and more. He essentially laid down the blueprint/vision of Hamilton Island’s future. If there’s one thing that stands out on Mr. Williams’ resume, it’s his role in designing & developing Sea World on the Gold Coast. Theme park. Tourist destination. Okay, NOW I’m understanding the origin of the fishiness of this island…
*not, of course, including the original aboriginal island dwellers.
It seemed slightly inauthentic and forced, but that’s probably because it was – this “destination” wasn’t established organically. It was pushed there with a purpose, for… tourism! There’s nothing wrong with some good ol’ entrepreneurship to commercialize your own island into a tourist mecca. Shoot, if I had the money… But that’s why the island seemed fishy. It was so perfectly put together, so well-crafted, so designed with the tourist-escapist-mindset. I suppose I wasn’t anticipating the loudness of the commercialization. Maybe I predicted more local charm. We were completely in the company of fellow tourists enjoying their vacation and island workers catering to these vacations. Hamilton Island is a holiday island.
The beauty of Hamilton Island made me breathlessly gasp, “This place is unreal!” And then I found out the beach wasn’t exactly “real” but manmade… yep, totally unreal. Knowing the beach wasn’t natural didn’t make it less beautiful. It just built on the fishiness.
It’s a resort island, duh. Of course they’ll build their own beach! What did I expect?
Answer: See beginning of post where I’m completely taken by the beauty of the Whitsundays without doing any research. I’ve never stayed on an island completely spoiled for tourists. It was a new experience. Not a bad one, just different. No, I didn’t get to meet island locals or behold ‘daily Australian life.’ But that fishy feeling I couldn’t shake? That’s a novice resort visitor staying at her first luxury resort tourist island. And it was pretty blissful. Because I am lucky that a place like that was developed so I could enjoy a sunset like this:
The was much to do and nothing to do. We could fill our days with a million activities and excursions or relax on the beach and lounge by the pool. We could grab tinnies at the convenience store or opulently dine on oysters & champagne at a fancy restaurant. It was on Hamilton Island where I heard my first kookaburra laugh, conquered a bushwalk with incredible views, relaxed on the beach, sailed to Whitehaven, cuddled a koala, and fell more in love with the natural beauty of Queensland.
It was a little fishy, it was a lot expensive, it was brazenly touristy, but it was unpretentiously beautiful. And despite that something fishy, I really, really, really want to go back to Hamilton Island.