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A visit by Oprah Winfrey earlier this year put Hamilton Island, Australia, on the map for Americans. When Winfrey visits a destination, the country follows and, therefore, during my recent visit to Australia, I had to find out what drew one of our country's top media moguls to the tiny island at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef -- and it didn't take long to find out what the hype was about.
Hamilton Island is located off the Queensland coast and is one of the 74 Whitsunday islands. It is the only island in the Great Barrier Reef with a commercial jet airport, and it's easily reachable with direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns.
Despite its small size -- the island is only two square miles -- a wide range of activities, a variety of accommodation types, a unique culture and easy access to the Great Barrier Reef draw visitors to its shores. A new championship golf course, golf club and yacht club, with villas available as rental properties, have recently given Hamilton Island an additional boost in tourism, and its year-round good weather makes it a popular vacation spot for Australian travelers.
Lap of LuxuryWhen it comes to finding a place to stay, there is certainly no lack of fine accommodations, be it the Yacht Club Villas, the Beach Club or the world-class Qualia resort. Qualia is fit for a queen, and so it is notable to mention that this is where Oprah stayed, of course. The resort is located behind a large gated fence. Visitors are provided with a two-seater golf cart -- the preferred mode of transportation on the island ó and are met in the lobby with glasses of champagne. Indulgences include a beautiful spa -- Spa Qualia -- beachfront watersports, complimentary boat rides to White Haven Beach for a picnic and more.
Rooms, or pavilions, are spacious, open and airy, designed to take advantage of the lush scenery and gardens. One of two room categories, Leeward Pavilions have a south-facing view of the Coral Sea and start at around $950 per night for the Classic Package. The Windward Pavilions have a north-facing view of the sea, a private plunge pool and start at around $1,500. Guests can also opt for the extravagant Beach House starting at $3,000 per night. The house is a secluded hideaway with a private, full-size swimming pool, a 10-person dining area and a separate guesthouse among other amenities. Family FirstWhile luxury options abound for the jetsetter, Hamilton Island is a bastion for families, as well and, while resorts such as Qualia offer the high-end traveler seclusion, families can make themselves at home on Hamilton. A good option for accommodation is the Reef View Hotel. The property offers a selection of family rooms that have recently been configured by connecting junior rooms with two twin beds to rooms with double or king-size beds creating a two-room suite and offering parents privacy as well as an extra bathroom. Two-bedroom suites are also available and feature two bedrooms as well as a living area and a kitchenette.
The hotel, located just above Catseye Beach on the windward side of the island, has everything you could possibly want for an island stay, including a gym, a large pool, tennis courts and more.
Out and AboutFamilies will find no shortage of activities to keep them busy outside of the hotel. A visit to the reef is a must, and there are numerous ways to get there, including the Fantasea cruiser or even by helicopter. There are also options for go-kart riding, quad bike tours, a golf driving range and bowling. Hikers will enjoy the 12 miles of walking trails that take visitors up to Passage Peak.
During my visit, my favorite activity by far was at the Wildlife Park, which offers short tours to acquaint visitors with some of Australia's most unique creatures. There are wallabies, cockatoos, a wombat and -- the highlight for me -- koalas. At set times throughout the day, not only can you see the koalas in their habitat but, for a small fee, visitors can cuddle with one and have their picture taken.
Mom and dad can also leave the kids behind for some relaxing time on their own. Golf enthusiasts can take advantage of the recently opened Golf Club on Dent Island. Clients can also unwind at Spa Wumurdaylin, which offers a variety of treatments including body cocoon wraps, exfoliations, facials and massage. My Ritual Rejuvenation treatment, a hydrating facial with exotic fruits, oils and vitamins combined with a scalp and body massage, was a great way to recoup after my long flight from Los Angeles.
While mom and dad are busy on their own, the Clownfish Club keeps children entertained. Here, visitors can check-in their kids for a fun-filled day of activities with qualified childcare specialists. Older children enjoy beach games, make jewelry and do arts and crafts. Younger children have a full day of supervised play with snacks, lunch and personalized attention.