You won’t find too many of Hamilton Island’s nearly 1,800 residents have anything but good feelings towards the Oatley family, which for the past 15 years or so has owned the island and done much to develop it into the magical tourist destination it is.
Of those 1800, some 1200 are direct employees of the Oatleys — or family members of employees. The rest are concessionaire business people or employed by them.
Yet when Cyclone Debbie devastated the island — largest occupied island in Queensland’s Whitsunday group — in March last year and closed it to tourism for six months, not one employee lost a job. The Oatley family puts its deep pockets to good use.
Regardless of their profession they were set to rebuilding the place. Local folklore has it that the nearest Bunnings store did very well.
By August last year — just in time for the island’s Race Week, which attracts yachties from near and far — the open-for-business flag was hoisted. To put that effort into perspective, neighbouring Hayman Island isn’t scheduled to reopen until next year.
In tourist accommodation terms, Hamilton Island offers quite a range, including the self-contained Palm Bungalows and a selection of holiday homes.
Those seeking hotel-style accommodation have three choices, beginning with the huge, multi-storey, four-star Reef View, where full-rate rooms start at $370 per night and go up to $995 per night for a two-bedroom terrace suite and $1330 per night for the two-storey Presidential Suite.
The 57-room Beach Club is adults-only, sits right on Catseye Beach, and has a generously spacious private infinity pool. Rates start at $710 per room per night, including a la carte breakfast, VIP transfers, complimentary internet, and use of equipment and facilities such as kayaks, snorkelling gear, catamarans, gym and tennis court.
Rates at the isolated, quite decadent Qualia — also adults-only — are from $1250 and reach $4550 per night for the Beach House, a hideaway with private pool and sundeck.
I’m staying at the Beach Club and finding it spacious, beautifully located and furnished, and offering just the right mix of organised luxury and complete privacy.
The Beach Club Restaurant is a treat, with stunning outlook over the beach and the pool. Service, at both breakfast and dinner, is efficient and unobtrusive.
In the evening it offers both a la carte and degustation options, the latter with matching wines if desired. As they say in the classics, is the Pope a Catholic?
The degustation is sublime, from the heirloom tomato salad served with Piper-Heidsieck Brut, through house-cured salmon, succulent pork belly and small piece of eye fillet, served with buttered carrot puree, sautéed greens, asparagus and rosemary jus.
The wines are mainly from Western Australia, including the Oatleys’ own Margaret River chardonnay and a Frankland River shiraz made by Larry Cherubino, now with his own boutique label rather than working for the substantial Houghtons company.
In all cases they are excellent in their own right, and more importantly in this setting have been well selected to match each of the dishes.
A glass of the chef’s house-made limoncello serves as an excellent palate cleanser before a richly flavoured chocolate torte with salted-caramel ice-cream and a glass of Rutherglen muscat.
I also dine in Hamilton Island’s fine-dining restaurant, Bommie, which takes its name from the Aboriginal word ‘bombora’, and is located in the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, cantilevered over the marina and no doubt one of joys of the late Bob Oatley, one of sailing’s great characters.
The menu is contemporary and wherever possible features fresh Australian produce such as Mandagery Creek venison, Fremantle octopus and Great Southern lamb.
At the heart of the island is a town with many of the essential services — post office, pharmacy, supermarket, bakery, medical centre, school, several restaurants, etc, and there’s plenty for visitors to do.
Activities are mostly, but not exclusively, water-based. Many involve Cruise Whitsundays, which offers regular sailings to the Queensland coastal settlement of Airlie Beach, as well as tours encompassing major attractions such as Whitehaven Beach and the Barrier Reef.
There’s also an excellent sunset cruise, with dinner, aboard MV Hamilton Star. The kitchen does a fine job producing a three-course meal under what must be trying, confined conditions in a galley kitchen.
The airport at the Port of Airlie is the launch pad for light-plane tours of the Whitsundays and the Reef, but Hamilton Island has its own commercial airport with regular connections to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Cairns.
And getting around the place is a breeze. Golf buggies rule — there are literally hundreds of them — and are easily hired in two- or four-seat conformations.
A current driver’s licence is essential, but do take care if drinking, as drivers are subject to RBT laws, and some of the roads are steep and winding.
John Rozentals was a guest of Expedia.
IF YOU GO
Hamilton Island, phone (02) 9007 0009, visit www.hamiltonisland.com.au