Kathryn Romeyn chooses a sampling of Australia’s greatest experiences for the ultimate adventure down under in this four part series on Australia. In Part Three, we’re taking a look at the Great Barrier Reef.
Just minutes after landing on Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef, I board the luxury yacht Sun Goddess, a glass of Azahara Pinot Noir bubbly in hand. Less than an hour later we dock at the recently reopened 160-room One&Only Hayman Island, the only destination on the private Whitsundays islands encircled by white sandy beaches and picturesque palm trees. As with the red rock, life here revolves around one thing: water. Mere minutes after entering my airy, spacious suite, I find myself taking a running leap off the wooden deck into the turquoise saltwater of the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest pool.
But I’m not here to simply laze around with icy One&Only Coladas, however delicious they are. With seven restaurants (including Aquazure for tasty tapas), two pools, a beachfront full of watersport equipment and boats, a gym and spa, guests can be as busy or as relaxed as they like. Not wanting to miss anything, I dive right in. My first order of business is a life-changing pedicure. Created by Parisian podiatrist Bastien Gonzalez, the water-free and lacquer-less treatment is more medical than it is indulgent—a drill and scalpel make appearances! –But the final result, after a rigorous buffing that I’m fairly certain leaves my therapist Jeremy in a sweat, is absolute magic. My naked tootsies haven’t looked this pristine since the day I was born. Next up: coddling. The Rebalance Ritual treatment involves a therapeutic back massage using steaming poultices of camphor and orange, plus a facial using wild-harvested Amala skincare and scalp massage.
Fitting of my postcard-perfect surroundings, sleeping here is a dream—there’s even an extensive pillow menu. (Guests who’ve racked up five stays are awarded their own personal sets of sheets and towels.) It’s the next day, following a punishing early-morning workout session, that I discover rain can be a blessing. If not for overcast skies, I would have flagged in the scorching sun when a speedboat drops me at Langford Island’s long sandbar to snorkel and picnic. I might not have followed one gorgeous iridescent green and cobalt parrotfish as he too explored the undulating barrier reef, taking nibbles of colorful coral as he swam. And without the rain during a sublime evening catamaran cruise I wouldn’t have gotten to swoon over the overwhelmingly spectacular rainbows and sunset. With a heady post-sail buzz from the glowing sky and champagne, I settle in at Fire, the resort’s fine-dining restaurant. I’m fixated on one thing: the imposing tomahawk steak, which general manager Guenter Gebhard has advised shouldn’t be missed. The tableside fanfare that comes with the some two-and-a-half-pound salt-crusted cut from Sydney’s famed Victor Churchill butcher works, mounting anticipation for the first bite, which appropriately actually melts in my mouth.
When it comes time to leave this adventure playground— after squeezing in one last paddleboard session—I get my biggest thrill yet: the ultimate exit courtesy of the resort’s gleaming white helicopter, set to take me over the Great Barrier Reef before the airport. My time in the heli is spent soaring over wonders of the world—Hardy Reef, Hook Reef and finally the must-see Heart Reef—formidable sea life (sharks, stingrays, turtles), and one of the world’s most impressive whitest-sand beaches. I marvel at phenomenal shades of blue I didn’t know existed, frenetically snapping photos and taking mental notes of the soft sands and hypnotic underwater swirls I’ll visit next time. Because without a doubt, this is a place to which I’ll return.