Monday, December 15, 2008

Reflections: Hamilton Island, Australia

Hamilton Island is an amazing place. Since my visit there, I've come up with many theories and analogies, maybe I'll share those with you all one of these days. In the meantime, I want to share my favorite memories and things to do on Hamilton Island.

Pool Bar
First thing my mate Shaye and I wanted when we landed after almost 20 hrs of traveling? To jump in a pool and have a cocktail. What better place to go than to the Pool Bar, a "Cocktail-esq" bar in the pool! Beautiful views all around us while we swam and floated with cocktails in hand. The trip was getting off to a good start.

Live Music on the Marina
We lucked out. Turns out Sunday nights, there's a band that plays on this little stage down by the Marina. Not sure if it's the same band or a different one each week, but the band we heard, was amazing. Shaye and I were just taking an evening stroll, looking for a diner spot on our first night on the island, and the second we heard the music, we knew we had to plop oursleves down on the grass and stay for the show.

Music isn't complete without wine, so a quick stop into the Marina Tavern Bottle Shop, and then we were back on the grass, watching the band, taking in the views and sunset over the water.

Turns out it was a cover band, playing many of our favorite songs including "Jack and Diane" ('two Aussie kids, doin the best that they can'), "Brown Eyed Girl" (upon my request!), and even "Down Under" (and yes, at that point, Shaye and I did get up and dance. And yes, we were the only ones dancing.

Our time here was also the perfect way to meet some locals, and Shaye and I made friends that ended up showing us around during our trip (thanks to Dave and Matt!) An absolutely perfect way to spend an evening.

One Tree Hill, day
They say it's one of the most beautiful spots on the island, and they're right. Absolutely stunning views of the surrounding islands. We were amazed by how far we could see, and how clear the water was. We missed it, but hear that if you go up here at sunset, you can have a cocktail and take in the sunset from the top of the island. Probably a good spot to see the sunrise too!

One Tree Hill, night
The day views are pretty spectacular, but the night views even more amazing. You can see the water crashing, low tide, and then the lights of the resorts and marina down below. The night we went, there was actually a band playing at one of the resorts, and we could clearly hear the music as we took it all in.

Southern Hemisphere stars and constellations
While you're up at One Tree Hill at night, be sure to look UP! Especially for my Northern Hemisphere friends, you have no idea what we'e missing. The stars and constellations look completely different. There is no Orion, no Big Dipper-instead it's the Southern Cross.

Click here for some photos from all over Hamilton Island!

Great Barrier Reef
If you're already at Hamilton, the 2 and 1/2 hour boat ride to the Great Barrier Reef is definitely worth it. The water is unlike anything I've ever seen.

We went to Reefworld, and was able to go snorkeling there. People. You MUST do this. The wildlife and fish we saw was so beautiful. The colors of the fish and coral all popped. I saw bright almost neon colored blue and yellow fish, a little one that looked like it had zebra stripes (made me think of Kimpton!), a bright green and purple fish, one that was black and had a red mouth and you could almost see it's teeth (I called it the Joker Fish). It was all very 'Finding Nemo'.

Great Barrier Reef

Some of snap shots from our day on the reef

I saw sword fish, a little shark, and these clam things that had a purple top that almost looked velvety. There were areas of really shallow coral, and then suddenly it would drop off into a really deep section. At one point I saw almost a wall of silver fish in one of these drops. And I swam through it all!

In order to snorkel there, you need to put on a stinger suit, fins, then of course the snorkle mask and mouth piece. As I was dresing, I did find myself thinking, isn't it a little unnatural that we have to put on all of these clothes and dress in sting suits, flippers, etc in order to go down there? Maybe humans weren't meant to be in the water and weren't meant to disrupt the wildlife?

Don't get me wrong, it was beautiful, and I've done other arguably 'unnatural' things (umm, you really think mankind was made to jump out of a plane?) But I found myself thinking about it.

Also while I was down there, for a second, literally a split second, I found myself not wanting to eat fish and understanding how a vegeterian might feel. The wildlife was just so beautiful in it's natural habitat. It quickly passed though, and I found myself thinking about which type of fish would be the tastiest.

Whitehaven Beach
Another 'must see', is Whitehaven beach. It's a 30 min boat ride from Hamilton Island and it's one of the most amazing places in the world. BBC voted it a 'must see place before you die', and now I know why.

First, the sand on the beach is a super-fine grain white sand, and actually, isn't even really sand. It's silica. And second, there's nothing out there. Nothing. Your boat gets close to the beach, then you have to take something else to get to the beach. Once you're there, that's it. No stores, no restaurants, no bars. Just miles of beautiful and secluded beach. Click here to see our photos from Whitehaven!

Catseye Beach at night
This is one of the beaches behind one of the resorts on the island. It's pretty during the day, but at night, it's even better. The sand is hard, and you can sit down without sinking in. When it's in low tide, you can't see or hear the water. All you see is pitch black. And since there aren't many other people on the beach, it's just you and the mates you're with. Enjoying each other's company.

R Bar
*Disclaimer: This one on the list is probably the most difficult of them all. Not something just any one can go and do. BUT, if you're up for the challenge, please try. *

Hamilton Island is a resort island. Which means there's a bit of an "us versus them" culture. The staff that works there aren't suppose to mix and mingle with the resort guests. You do your thing, we do ours. That's the mentality.

Well, that's fine. Unless you're two young gals vacationing together. You tend to look for the younger hot spots. All around us were honeymooning couples, and families. Neither group really appealed to us in terms of fun people to meet and hang out with. So what did we do? We broke the barrier.

We ended up meeting some of the staff on the island. And learned that there was a staff bar! Drinks were half the price, it was up a little hill (with signs marked "Service Road" and "Staff Only" the whole way up). They often checked for employee IDs, and no guests staying at the resorts were allowed in. So what did we do? Sneak in.

Yes I know, not my finest moment, but it was one of the most fun nights we had on the trip. There was a musician playing rock songs that Shaye and I sang outloud with from our table. There was dancing on a little dance floor (which we had to restrain ourselves from doing- couldn't try any attention to ourselves!). It was all very "Dirty Dancing" if you ask me! (Well, minus the actual 'dirty dancing'!)

The best moment of the night? Our friends went to the bar to get drinks (we had to stay behind, in case they asked for staff id). Well, someone tapped us on the shoulder and we heard "Staff ID please ladies". Our jaws dropped. Were we going to get kicked out even before we had our first drink here?

As we were both speechless, the guy started laughing. It took us a moment, but we realized, he was one of the bellmen from our hotel! We had talked to him several times, but just didn't recognize him without his moustache!

In any case, this staff only bar gave us a glimpse into life on the island.

Night tour of the island on a buggy
There are no cars on Hamilton Island. Just golf carts. Or buggies as they call them there. We had decided we didn't need to rent a buggy for our short time on the island, after all, just about everything was within walking distance. And there was even a free bus that circled the island. It was generally very easy to get around.

But then we realized, there are spots on the island that really aren't walking friendly. And in order to really get a sense of the whole island, you needed to drive around it. So how did we manage to get a night time tour from our new friends.

The locals we met were kind enough to drive us around the island on our last night, showing us lots of different spots on the island that weren't over run with tourists. We noticed that there weren't many drinking and driving laws on the islands. Everyone was driving around with 'roadies', beer in one hand, steering wheel in the other. Interesting.

However, near the end of the night, as we were heading home, we did see a breathalyzer check point. It was nuts! Guess there are some rules on the island.

My parting words? Go to Hamilton Island! Make the trek, it's well worth it and you won't regret it.

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