Finding paradise

Blending adventure, relaxation and natural beauty, One&Only Hayman Island is a paradise on earth in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef


Hayman Island in the Great Barrier Reef has been drawing honeymooners and those seeking a special holiday retreat for decades. The most northerly of the Whitsunday Islands, the location is drop-dead gorgeous and now the resort has been upgraded to make this jewel in the turquoise sea an ultimate high- life holiday treat.

The global group One&Only – with stylish hotels in the Maldives, Mauritius and Cape Town – took over the property last year and splashed out A$80 million on a makeover turning the beachside slice of paradise into one of the world’s most glamorous resorts.

Let’s not be mistaken, nature must take much of the credit. The island is relatively small – at just 4km long and 3km wide you can walk around it in less than four hours. It’s covered in pine and eucalyptus trees and surrounded by a sea that changes from emerald to sapphire to turquoise through the day.

It was the island’s stunning location that won over millionaire Reg Ansett – founder of the airline Ansett Australia – and in 1950 he established the first resort. In the decades since it has changed hands a number of times and gone through various makeovers, but by all accounts was starting to look a little shabby – until One&Only stepped in. The group has a reputation for creating beautiful properties with top-notch levels of service and comfort, and it’s done it again here. Think private butlers, the sort who draws you a bath and surrounds it with candles while you’re finishing dinner.

Hayman 2It’s the kind of place where movie stars, singers and celebrities holiday. Mariah Carey and Katy Perry were there at the same time as us – at opposite ends of the resort and cocooned in private villas. And while there are certainly plenty of honeymooning couples, the refurbishment has made it just as welcoming for families and groups of friends.

You know you are in for a treat as soon as you step off the plane at Hamilton Island and spot the white One&Only launch pulled up at the jetty. Your bags are whisked away and exchanged for a glass of champagne, which gets magically refilled by cheerful, healthy- looking young Australian staff. The 50-minute journey to Hayman Island through crystal clear waters – and a couple of glasses of bubbles – prepares you for your transition to paradise.

The One&Only refurbishment has kept much of the original framework of the resort, with two major exceptions. The Pool Wing suites have been reimagined. Reducing the room number from 210 to 160, the new suites are larger and designed to take you a long way from the humdrum of everyday life. The pale stone floors, white linen curtains and an open bathroom with deep soaking tub make for an ethereal experience. But the absolute knockout feature comes when you slide open the French windows onto a broad wooden deck – with sun loungers and direct access to the pool. The distance from your four-poster white canopied bed to the pool is no more than seven metres. Now that is luxury. And the pool is open 24/7 so if you fancy a saucy midnight dip no one is going to stop you.

The swimming pool itself is the largest in the southern hemisphere – according to the General Manager Guenter Gebhard – equal to seven Olympic-sized pools and is filled with filtered seawater. A hexagonal deck in the centre of the pool area, beside the chic bar and restaurant On The Rocks, is filled with fresh water. This is where the grown-ups hang out. Sit under one of the white umbrellas, sipping a cocktail, and it’s hard not to feel like one of the luckiest people on the planet. Global crises and personal dramas fade into nothingness. When spiritual gurus talk about “living in the moment”, this is the place where you want to be doing it.

The other major structural change to the previous resort is the creation of the Aquazure pool in the Hayman wing. This is where you want to stay if you are bringing the family – the pool has a shallow entry so young children can wade in and there are sunbeds nearby so parents can keep an eye on them. And there’s a kid’s club to keep the little ones happy and private foyers to allow for interconnecting rooms.

The restructuring of the resort is smart – the two zones allow guests to choose what works best for them, whether they are parents with young children wanting to enjoy a luxury resort holiday, or honeymooners and couples after some quality time.

Gebhard is a hotelier of the old-school variety – well-travelled and people-focused, it’s obvious that his job is his passion. He came onboard ahead of the opening and has been hands-on training staff and overseeing daily operations, even spending time in the kitchen to help perfect signature dishes. And the resort has plenty of restaurants to choose from.

“People come here for three or four days; you want to give them a choice of place to dine,” he says.

And there are plenty of options to choose from. Pacific is where the daily breakfast is served from 6am and is perched right on the edge of the beach – the cheeky cockatoos that try to snatch a tasty morsel and the occasional ducks that waddle through the restaurant add to the fun.

For fine dining there’s Fire, the resort’s signature restaurant with an Australian-influenced menu – think premium Wagyu beef. Bamboo – which is fittingly nestled in a bamboo grove – serves a broad Asian menu – Thai, Korean, Indian and Chinese dishes. And for classic Italian, there is Amici which boasts a wood-fired oven for hand-rolled pizzas with classy toppings such as porcini, truffles, blue cheese and prosciutto.

With all that on your doorstep, any general manager would be hard pushed not to pack on the pounds, but Gebhard says he’s managed to drop 6kg since he started at the resort – and not because he’s been skimping on the food. He puts it down to “Bodyism”, the system created by health and well-being expert James Duigan. A personal trainer to the stars – elle Macpherson credits him with her lean figure – Duigan’s system of exercise programmes as well as supplements and health drinks are all available at the fitness centre.

As tempting as it is to sit by the pool, order cocktails and watch the day drift by, there are so many activities on offer at Hayman Island that it would be criminal not to get involved. every evening a note left on guests’ pillows outlines the activities on offer the following day, from a hike over the island to Blue Pearl Bay where you can snorkel with giant green turtles to a sunset stroll out to Dolphin Point.

There are all sorts of ways of exploring the Great Barrier Reef, from scuba diving to snorkelling. For a truly remarkably experience, nothing beats taking a helicopter tour over the remarkable reef and Whitsunday Islands. From 1,000 metres above the emerald sea you can look down on a stunning heart-shaped reef, the coral-encrusted edges sparkling like diamonds – it’s no wonder that people come to Hayman Island and fall in love with the place.

Qantas flies from Hong Kong to Sydney and, advantageous for the launch of One&Only Hayman Island, the airline has recently launched a new daily direct route from Sydney to Hamilton Island.

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About author

Kate Whitehead

Kate Whitehead is a Hongkonger and has made the city her home since she was eight. She got her first degree (BA English Lit) from Warwick University and her postgrad (MA English Lit) from Sussex University. She was on staff at the Hong Kong Standard and South China Morning Post and was the editor of Cathay Pacific’s inflight magazine, Discovery.

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