Luxury Island Holidays Australia
Once seen as little more than the location for the main Whitsunday Islands' airport, Hamilton Island is enjoying a new lease of life thanks to the efforts of Australian tycoon Bob Oatley. Since buying the island in 2003, the billionaire - and avid sailor - has built a swish, up-market resort called Qualia, a stunning new yacht club (with 35 luxury villas) and an 18-hole golf course on neighbouring Dent Island. Oatley's sense of razzmatazz is well illustrated by the curved copper roof of the Hamilton Island Yacht Club, dubbed 'the Opera House of far north Queensland', representing a new era of glamour for both Hamilton Island and the entire Whitsunday archipelago.
The Oatley effect is already being felt: apart from the long-running Hamilton Island Race week (held every August), the island is now hosting fashion events, ballet shows and cooking masterclasses by international chefs such as Tetsuya Wakuda. But Hamilton's resurgence really began with the opening of Qualia in 2007. Although the island has always attracted a fair share of celebrities (George Harrison owned a house here for many years), its reputation nosedived in the 1980s thanks to a rash of ill-advised tourist developments.
Surrounded by 30 acres of manicured grounds, Qualia is everything the old Hamilton Island was not: sophisticated, contemporary and elegant. Set on the northern tip of the island, well away from the marina and busy shopping strip, the resort has just 60 one-bedroom pavilions and a magnificent private Beach House. The air of calm is further enhanced by the absence of children: guests must be aged 16 or over.
Each pavilion has a generous living area, large deck and galley kitchen; Windward Pavilions also have private plunge pools, a bigger bathroom and a separate bedroom area, as well as elevated views of the neighbouring islands. All guest rooms are provided with electric golf buggies (very handy on a property this size).
The resort's facilities include a lavish spa, fitness centre, two swimming pools and the Long Pavilion, which houses the reception, restaurant, bar and wine cellar. There is a small water-sports centre stocked with sea kayaks, snorkelling equipment and 17ft catamarans for excursions to the Great Barrier Reef. Private yacht charters are available from the island's marina.
For those who want to be closer to the bustle of Hamilton Island - or are travelling with children - the impressive Yacht Club Villas (each with four bedrooms, kitchen, entertainment area and outdoor terrace) are a worthy alternative. Guests have access to the yacht club facilities (gym, lap pool and sauna), as well as the marina and the new, 18-hole golf course on Dent Island. Despite its formidable-looking fairways, club officials say the course is suitable for everyone.
Things to do: Sailing, golf, scuba diving, snorkelling, luxuriating in the spa.
Don't miss: Lunch at the clubhouse for just A$65 a head (about £40), including transfers. You don't even have to pick up a golf club, just enjoy the views.