Hamilton Island is a beautiful cliche, there really is something for everyone to do! From a day spa to full-day bushwalks and all levels of adventure in between as well as free activities like time by the pool all the way through to bucket list splurges like an overnight reef stays you can do as much or as little as you like.
Free Things to Do Hamilton Island
Snorkel & Watersports
When you stay with a Hamilton Island owned property (Reef View, Palm Bungalows, Beach Club, Qualia and Holiday Homes booked direct through the resort) you usually get unlimited free use of non motorised water sports and snorkelling.
The snorkelling is best at low tide as you are closer to down to the coral and fish however you can spot turtles even at high tide on the sea grass beds (although it’s a bit spooky and deep at high tide tbh – but there was 2 different turtles just a metre from me which made up for it)!
The other watersports activities are high tide and either side of high tide only. This is so you don’t damage the reef, get stuck or fall onto the reef as its quite shallow at low tide.
So you may wish to book your stay based on the best tides for the activities you most want to do. For example, if you want to snorkel a lot you don’t want the low tide to be very early morning or later afternoon when the snorkel hire is closed and it’s too close to dusk/dawn, alternatively, if you want to mostly use catamarans and watersports then book your holiday for when higher tides are convenient for your beach time.
Pool & Resort Time
Hamilton Island is not just a resort, it’s an Island suburb. Unless you are staying in Qualia which has its own facilities, the main resort features like the swimming pools, buffet breakfast and watersports hire are all clustered around the Catseye Beach side of the Island.
The Main Pool is the busy swim-up bar pool that is close to the beach and often has live music such as on the weekend. Unfortunately it is not heated in the cooler months which makes the swim-up bar unpleasant on colder days. During winter and cooler months (not specific dates rather subject to weather) the Reef View Hotel Pool (for Reef view and Palm Bungalow Guests), Beach Club (Beach Club Guests only) and the general use Bougainvillea Pool are heated.
The reef view hotel does poolside cocktails to around 4pm (they definitely need to reno the end of the bar so there’s an outside bar service area full pool opening hours) so you can still have poolside cocktails in the colder months, just not at a swim-up bar (and you can still brave the unheated main pool).
Paid things to do on Hamilton Island
Paid activities on Hamilton Island range from budget buggy trivia rally (byo buggy) all the way through to once-in-a-lifetime, one-of-a-kind experiences and everything in between.
Great Barrier Reef Trips & Tours
There are several options for reef trips that leave from the Island as well as tours out to the Whitsunday islands and Whitehaven beach.
A fair warning though, the reef has had several bleaching events in recent years and the change was noticable to me compared to my last trip 8 years ago. However it was still beautiful with big clams, coral and fish.
Carefully consider your fitness levels etc when choosing your reef trip. There are currently two main options which are different experiences.
Cruise Whitsundays Great Barrier Reef Adventure
This is a pontoon trip. This means you cruise on a boat that docks at a permanent pontoon on the reef.
This option is very good for families with kids but it’s also a great choice if you are unfit or don’t want to swim but still want to see the reef from the viewing area or semi-submarine.
This is because if you are snorkelling you can get in and out of the water as much as you need to, you can do lots of short snorkels with breaks as you need and they have spots to rest and hold on while you snorkel.
However, on busy days there can be lots of people on the pontoon. However because people can snorkel whenever they like and lunch runs for several hours, after you first arrive and everyone’s keen to get in, the number or people in the water is spread out more evenly over the rest of the day with many people out of the water eating, resting etc on the pontoon.
Explore Full day Great Barrier Reef Snorkel Adventure
The Explore trip has the flexibility to moore at multiple sites depending on the weather and tides and is good for divers as well as snorkellers who are good swimmers and have at least average fitness. There is no pontoon, you just enter from the back of the boat and swim over to the very close by Great Barrier Reef to see the beauty of the reef as it would naturally be free of human development.
Explore provides noodles that help you float more easily so you can concentrate on enjoying the reef. You swim out onto the reef as a group with lifeguard guides on a paddle board and a lookout on the boat. This means you need to stay with the group of people from the boat out on the reef and keep up for the designated snorkel.
I just did a trip with Explore and they were great. The staff were kind and helpful and the whole tour was fantastic.
However, if you are unfit this information is important: It was a choppy day and I had only just recovered from an illness and while I am unfit I am a strong swimmer who can lap swim. I had a great first snorkel but we had challenging weather and it was really choppy and on the second snorkel I just struggled and had to return to the boat before I got to get out to the reef. I was pretty devastated and disappointed with myself and my fitness levels.
So while I would 100% recommend the company and their experience for divers and for most people of average fitness and above, I would strongly encourage you if you are overweight and unfit like me to consider the pontoon options instead so you can go at your own pace and avoid missing out on time on the reef.
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