Wandermelon’s Kate Ayrton discovers Queensland’s fountain of youth in the precious waters of the Great Barrier Reef.
How many places are there in the world where you can take a seaplane to snorkel off one of the planet’s most beautiful reefs or just swim from one room to another? A member of The Leading Hotels of the World since 1988, Hayman Island is one of Australia’s first and most exclusive luxury nature-resorts, located on the northernmost of the Whitsunday Islands in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland. From the moment you step off the plane and on to the Sun Goddess, Hayman’s luxury motor launch, and are handed your first glass of bubbly before being whisked off to paradise, the years just fall away as a huge child-like grin spreads across your face. This must surely be what Charlie felt like when he got his golden ticket. Hayman is a playground not just for kids, but for grown-ups too, and a first-class ticket to feeling young again.
The Great Barrier Reef covers more than 300,000 square kilometers and is the world’s largest coral reel and ecosystem. Declared a World Heritage area in 1981 and added to the National Heritage List in 2007, it is truly one of the great wonders of the world to behold. Disappointingly, the Australian federal government has agreed to let the coal seam mining industry build the first of six shipping ports off the coast to process and export the gas being extracted from the number of wells being developed in the area. The resulting increase in shipping traffic and risk of groundings and oil spills could potentially ruin the reef. The World Heritage Committee, who was not notified of the development by the government (which contravenes their very charter), has grave concerns. Hayman’s namesake, Thomas Hayman, a navigator who was the first to pass through the Suez Canal and charter the island’s waters, and Australian aviator Reg Ansett, who liked the place so much he bought it and built the first hotel here in 1947, must be rolling in their graves.
Controversial politics and trade aside, Hayman has been a hedonistic oasis for guests since the 1950s when arrival on the island was by glamorous ‘flying boats’ as the majestic Catalina and Sandringham seaplanes were then known, attracting celebrities, politicians, dignitaries, and international holidaymakers, all eager to soak up the sun and explore the famous reef in comfort and style. Nothing has changed really. Hayman is a classic that has managed to keep up with the times by making a few modern updates along the way without losing any of its original charm. In fact many of the guests (and staff) have been coming to Hayman since they were children because it’s where their parents, and even grandparents, used to take them on holiday. Hayman is more than a vacation; it is an institution and a way of life for many who return year after year.
Hayman Island encompasses 726 acres and the main resort sits on the leeward side of the island like a majestic cruise ship marooned on a picturesque sandy beach. Nestled into the bottom of a hill for protection, the large white maritime structure curves around a turquoise bay so that all 210 accommodations – each situated within separate locations throughout the property – face the iconic Coral Sea. As resilient as it is refined, the resort recently survived two cyclones, which passed through the area earlier this year and forced its temporary closure. Celebrity landscape designer, Jamie Durie was engaged to breathe new life into the beautiful garden surrounds, which were severely damaged in the storm but are now beginning to bloom once again with an abundance of fragrant botanical delights such as gardenias, orchids and the rare Michelia Champaca, which is the flower used to make Chanel No.5.
Presiding over the famous hexagonal pool (7 times the size of an Olympic pool) at the center of the resort are 84 Pool Rooms spread across three different levels. The cascading white terraces are draped in pink, red and orange bougainvillea giving it a colorful Mediterranean ambiance under the hot Aussie sun. Each room sports a fresh, nautical look with wooden furniture and marble bathrooms, as well as a private balcony with panoramic views of the pool and sea. Here you can enjoy an upper floor deluxe suite or a pool access room on the ground floor so that you can literally roll out of bed and into the pool, making for an easy swim to the Pool Bar for an order of burger and fries, to go!
On the far side of the bay are the Lagoon Rooms, which are surrounded by heady tropical gardens and the dulcet tones of the island’s native birds, including two resident swans, Barry and Elizabeth, who are known to have tiffs and frequently retreat to separate ponds in a huff. (Thankfully, they always make up and can be seen gliding through the lily pads together in composed serenity). The tranquil and elegant scene here continues throughout the 70 rooms and 12 suites overlooking the lily lagoon and smaller lagoon pool, all decorated with solid oak furniture on white stone flooring and soft monochromatic furnishings. Higher up on the fourth floor are eight luxurious penthouses, all outfitted with private balconies from which you can enjoy pretty vistas of the lily lagoon, lagoon pool, tropical gardens, Hayman beach, and Coral Sea. Each penthouse has a unique design and comes with a personalized butler service. Lagoon suites feature a separate bedroom, lounge and dressing area, as well as a huge bathroom with a large freestanding tub, perfect for long, languid soaks. If you wander out of the bathroom to find a large white bird waddling around with a yellow quiff standing on end, bobbing its head up and down and making an ear-piercing squawk that could be construed in all kinds of ways, don’t be alarmed. It’s just the resident cockatoos, who are very curious and cheeky, but rather amusing.
Located along the shoreline of Hayman’s beach are the latest and most spectacular additions to the resort, the über-stylish Beach Villas. Just a stone’s throw from the water’s edge they are patrolled by disapproving stone-curlew birds who seem to be the only grumpy creatures on the island. (Who can blame the poor territorial animals?) Designed by the acclaimed Amanresorts architect, Kerry Hill, the eight new customized (adults only) villas feature a super-king bed, large private plunge pool with daybed, private terrace, outdoor shower, an ‘island’ bath and separate shower, plus front row views of the Whitsundays. The villas are also equipped with wireless Internet, state-of-the-art entertainment systems, as well as a 24-hr personal butler and a complimentary bar and chocolate box bursting with Australian childhood confectionary favorites, such as Wagon Wheels, Violet Crumbles and Iced Volvos. Popular with honeymooners and groups of friends who want to party, the beach villa set-up offers complete privacy in your own intimate sanctuary away from the main resort whether it be for some quiet romance or a bit of decadent fun. (Don’t mind the kookaburras if they drop in to laugh at you. They do that.)
Just to the rear of the beach villas tucked away under a lush tropical garden canopy are perhaps the island’s best kept secret–16 private Retreat Rooms offering a cozy hideaway, ideal for more reclusive couples or as an annex to the beach villas for families traveling with nannies, kids and extended family. Rich-grained woods and soothing natural-toned furnishings create a private and secluded ambience with each room featuring a king-sized bed, separate daybed, open-plan bathroom with sunken bath, and private courtyard with a garden and outdoor rainwater shower.
Should you want the ultimate in privacy, there is the exclusive Beach House, which belonged to the former owner. Tucked away at the end of the beach, it is the epitome of a luxurious seaside escape with all the mod cons and styled with a light color palette that echoes the surrounding sandy beaches and calm blue waters. The quarters include a private courtyard, outdoor deck with gazebo and infinity plunge pool. A stay here also comes with a personalized butler service and a refreshment bar so there is no need to ever leave what feels like a private home.
No matter where you stay on Hayman, however, you won’t want to miss out on all that the island has to offer. There is a long list of activities that include deep sea diving, catamaran sailing, game fishing, sea kayaking, windsurfing, waterskiing, stand-up-paddle boarding, tennis, squash, golf, hiking, boxing and yoga. Guests can also enjoy a truly unique range of reef, helicopter and seaplane adventures, complete with bubbly and bento box picnics, courtesy of Air Whitsunday, which won the Whitsunday Tourism Award for best Tour and Transport Operator in the region. There is also a comprehensive Spa and fitness centre on the island with a variety of programs and well-being services to enjoy. Weather and tide-permitting, the Ocean Massage literally casts you adrift in the shallow waters of the bay in an open-air treatment or alternatively sheltered in a private outdoor pavilion with views of the beach, ocean and rainforest. Inside the spa, there are 13 private treatment rooms, two relaxation lounges, a hydrotherapy area, and Vichy sauna and steam room.
The Bars & Restaurants
When the day is done, The Beach Pavilion is an ideal spot to watch the sun go down and enjoy one of the many martinis on the menu, like the Antipodean–a Eucalyptus martini. (It’s easy to lose count!) While room service is always an option, there are four stellar restaurants under the supervision of award-winning Executive Chef Glenn Bacon. In pole position overlooking Hayman Beach, Azure is the resort’s more relaxed restaurant, serving Australian cuisine with a focus on fresh seafood and captivating views of the bay. The restaurant buzzes with activity in the mornings over a bountiful buffet breakfast spread made with local ingredients and is also open on some evenings for dinner indoors or outdoors on the beachfront deck. Further inland from the beach, La Trattoria serves al fresco Italian specialties and gives guests a taste of Italy in the midst of the tropics. Try the famous antipasti, a selection of gourmet pizzas, as well as sumptuous regionally sourced meat, seafood, and pasta entrées.
The Oriental restaurant showcases an adventurous mix of Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Indian dishes—all prepared with innovative flair—in the midst of lush gardens, a beautiful ceremonial tea house, and a tranquil rock pool. It’s the ideal setting for enjoying the signature house aperitif, Shonganai, made with ginger, lime, vodka & sparkling wine. Entrée highlights here include the barbequed duck spring roll with hoisin sauce and black vinegar, and panko-dipped minced shrimp furai prepared with radish and peanuts, served on sugar cane. Don’t miss out on the giant fortune cookie at the end of the meal washed down with a delicious chai milk chocolate parfait.
The Fontaine restaurant has enjoyed a recent makeover and is the most sophisticated of the resort’s restaurants, offering guests a taste of contemporary Australian cuisine inspired by locally sourced produce. Diners are able to pair any number of the à la carte menu items or splurge on the seven-course tasting menu at a table either indoors or outdoors on an elegant new dining platform above the swan pond. Presentation isn’t restricted to the décor; guests are frequently amazed by the creative design of the food. Sorbets come housed in their own ice igloos and some dishes look more like works of art. Our favorite was a delicately whipped lemon zest mousse in a thin tube of iced caramel on a bed of crumbed frangipanis mixed with pop rocks and a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream. Sensational! After dinner, guests can retreat to the Club Lounge for cigars, cognac and billiards, or a game of cards or chess. Or for those who dare, return to the Beach Pavilion for a flight of Tequilas, which according to the barman get a bad wrap.
For guests looking for a more personalized food experience, Hayman offers several special Chef Events. The weekly Chef’s Table, hosted by Chef Bacon and Sommelier Alex Cumming, welcomes guests into the main kitchen backstage for a six-course dinner and tutorial in the second largest kitchen in the southern hemisphere. The even more intimate Hayman Culinary Academy offers up to four guests a 12-course tasting menu including spontaneous dishes using traditional Australian ingredients. Fontaine Bench offers a 12-course tasting menu for two guests. Both experiences include a tour of the wine cellar and a visit to the legendary Hayman Chocolate Room—where all the magic happens.
For younger guests under 15, there is the Hayman Kids Club Ranger Program, where lucky kids get to go on speedboat rides and scavenger hunts, play mini tennis, learn to snorkel and scuba dive, learn photography, sail on Reef Dancer, go fish feeding and enjoy a host of other fun activities, including becoming a Junior MasterChef. (Is there no escape?) There’s even a children’s etiquette class for kids tired of being left behind while adults go off and eat in fancy restaurants with insider information on how to look and act like an adult when you need to.
On Hayman, it’s easy to lose track of who the kids and who the adults are as the island works its magic on everyone. Who needs Botox to look young again when you can just jump in the giant Hayman pool, snorkel with turtles on the Great Barrier Reef or lick the spoon in the Hayman kitchen, and feel young again. It’s much more fun and doesn’t hurt a bit. Unless, of course, you’re paying the bill… but, it’s worth it. You’ll come home looking and feeling ten years younger, and your kids may even tell you to get your elbows off the table. And if you’re really lucky, one day your grandchildren may take you back there again.
Getting There: Great Barrier Reef Airport receives direct flights from all of Australia’s major cities. Major airlines include Virgin Australia, Jetstar, and Qantas. Virgin Australia has a fare to Hamilton Island from Sydney for AU$175; Jetstar has an AU$149 fare; both take 2hr 25-mins, non-stop. Jetstar has a fare from Melbourne for AU$159 (2hr 55-mins, non-stop). Transfer to Hayman is by luxury launch, helicopter, or seaplane.
Rates: There are 12 different room types to choose from depending on your needs and all are excellent. Rates to March 2012, for a minimum three-night stay, start at approximately US$610 a night for two, including breakfasts, or from $480 a night for four nights or more; “festive season” rates, from December 19, 2011 to January 9, 2012, are higher. Beach Villas from $1668 a night, with a myriad of inclusions.
For more information, visit www.hayman.com.au and check out their current specials and events, such as the Moët-Hennessy Champagne Weekend on Friday, December 16 – Sunday, December 18, 2011 for $689 per person for the events only with an additional $870 per person, double-occupancy to include 3-nights’ accommodations and daily beachfront breakfast. Hayman is owned and operated by Mulpha Australia Ltd.
Kate Ayrton was a guest of Hayman Island. Photos courtesy of Hayman Island & Kate Ayrton.