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Island dreaming down under

One of the best ways to access the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef is from The Whitsunday islands, a group of 74 islands scattered along Queensland’s coastline.

Published 21 September, 2017

The Whitsundays has four main resort islands, several smaller ‘boutique’ islands and many uninhabited national park islands.

The largest resort island in the region is Hamilton Island, accessible by air from all major cities in Australia. From the island’s ultra-luxe qualia pavilions, to the Reef View Hotel’s more casual charms, or The Beach Club’s boutique feel, the island offers a diverse array of accommodation, venue and dining options.

Located on the northern tip of Hamilton Island, qualia’s 60 pavilions have just recently reopened after a soft refurbishment and AUD1.8 million worth of upgrades to the gardens. Since being voted Best Resort in the World in 2012 by Condé Naste, and hosting the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Taylor Swift, the luxury resort has seen a steady increase in the incentive business.

Helicopter flight over reef, qualia, Great Barrier Reef, QLD © qualia

Hamilton Island Business Event Manager Julie Ford says, “We have had USA groups that have done a complete buy out of the resort. They love the direct access (only a two-hour flight from Sydney) and the seclusion of a luxury lodge that also has The Great Barrier Reef on its doorstep, as well as over 40 activities to do right here on Hamilton Island.

“Recently a group had their farewell dinner at Hamilton Island’s championship golf course on Dent Island. They also surprised guests at the welcome reception with koala cuddles and photo opportunities for everyone, courtesy of Hamilton Island Wildlife.

“Beach drop-offs are very popular also – with the iconic Whitehaven Beach on most people’s list.

“We find that with the calibre of these high-end incentives and their well-travelled guests, it can be hard to raise the bar. However, the arrival into the Long Pavilion at qualia with its stunning views of th Coral Sea never fails to produce gasps of delight.

“We have an automotive company doing a buy out in November and they are completely re-branding the resort – the beauty of having sole use,” says Ford.

Neighbouring Hayman Island, formerly managed by One&Only, recently sustained severe cyclone damage and is slated to reopen in June 2018. It is still owned and managed by Mulpha International but the new operating brand is yet to be determined. 

Cruise Whitsundays Reefsleep experience, The Whitsundays, QLD © Tourism Whitsundays

But why sleep on land when you can sleep right over the reef with Cruise Whitsundays’ Reefsleep experience?

Alyce Carter from Cruise Whitsundays says, “There are few more unique experiences offered in the world than the chance to sleep under the stars, 40 nautical miles from shore on the Great Barrier Reef.”

Reefsleep guests travel with the other day visitors to Cruise Whitsundays’ Hardy Reef pontoon. By day, all the regular activities like snorkelling and swimming with thousands of fish, or optional extras like scuba diving, massages and scenic helicopter flights over nearby Heart Reef, are there to be enjoyed.

But by 3pm, the day crowd departs and Reefsleepers get Reefworld all to themselves. From here, guests can sip sparkling wine while they watch the sun set over the reef and witness the reef come to life at night. 

After dinner, guests sleep under the stars in a swag on the top deck of the pontoon. In the morning, they enjoy more private time with the reef before the day guests arrive.

Carter says, “This is a five million star, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Maximum capacity for Reefsleep, available for exclusive use, is currently nine people but will expand to 30 people in the near future.



  • Virgin, Qantas, Jetstar and Tiger Air all fly to Hamilton Island from major cities.
  • There is also the option of cruising or sailing to the island on-board a charter vessel from the mainland port of Airlie Beach.
  • Guests can be choppered in from Brisbane and charter flights are also welcome to land at Hamilton Island’s privately-owned airport.