The very lush and very green 726-acre Hayman Island, which has a sweeping mile-long white beach, is the northern most of Australia’s Whitsundays, an archipelago of 74 islands off the central Queensland coast. Hayman has long been considered among the country’s most exclusive private-island experiences since it first gained a resort in 1950. Travelers come here for access: The island is one of the closest to the outer Great Barrier Reef, which is only a 15-minute helicopter ride away or a one-hour boat cruise. In recent years, the existing resort had been in need of a face-lift; after it changed ownership and developers Mulpha Australia poured $80 million into a three-year redo, One & Only Hayman Island debuted last summer, giving the resort time to gear up for the start of its first Great Barrier Reef peak season this spring.
Getting here involves a 60-minute flight from Cairns to Hamilton Island, with Hamilton linked to Sydney via the recently reinstated direct 21⁄2-hour Qantas flight. It’s then a 15-minute helicopter or floatplane or one-hour boat ride to Hayman over the Coral Sea. This sounds like a runaround, but it’s not: The journey is intensely exciting, flying across water that is an electric cobalt, its sapphire depths turning creamy in the white sand shallows.
The new resort is hardly intimate, although its size becomes manageable when one realizes that the property is effectively separated into two. The Pool Wing has a more adult, sophisticated dynamic centered around the Hayman pool, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. From the first-floor suites, you can wade off the deck into the water without a railing getting in the way. On the opposite side of the resort, the mood revolves around families, with cabanas and the Aquazure pool for kids.
This is a resort that’s all about choice. The range of possibilities is reflected in the restaurants: Bamboo (Asian), Amici (Italian), Fire (Australian), Aquazure (tapas), Pacific (all-day dining). A pillow menu includes an Anti-Ageing option (the cotton is impregnated with vitamin E) and a smoker’s pillow (which claims to absorb the smell of cigarette smoke). The spa treatments run beyond the usual gamut; an intriguing therapy is the floating massage with the table in the ocean’s water.
While these flourishes may seem gimmicky to some, it’s the One & Only way. The Mauritius resort had beach butlers who sprayed sunbathers with Evian. In Dubai, there is a cleaning service for sunglasses. Some ideas have been faddish; others raised the industry bar, including the introduction of Alain Ducasse to the Mauritius resort. (The kitchen incumbent has since changed, but at the time, it was a star-raising moment.)
Regardless, Hayman is special, in a special part of the world. You can’t fail to have a relaxing time—the service is breezy Australian, and it works now that it’s got that One & Only polish—even if the real reason to come is not confined to the resort, which frankly can’t be matched even in the Caribbean. There’s nowhere else in the world like it for diving, and there’s no beach like Whitehaven. Made up of 98 percent silica, Whitehaven is a jewel among day trips. It’s like walking on clouds, with the shadows of manta rays in the shallows swooping past like a flock of slow-moving birds, the only interruption being the One & Only butler stabbing the sand with an umbrella that doesn’t quite stand up in powder. Rooms, from $730; Great Barrier Reef, Queensland; 866-552-0001; hayman.oneandonlyresorts.com.
Image Credits: © Ken Kochey