January 01, 2008

Race Week: It's all happening on Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island. Source: Sailing Whitsundays

Ever seen a whale give birth?

I hadn’t expected that thrilling spectacle to be part of my visit to Hamilton Island.

But, while out at sea viewing a yacht race – whoosh! Suddenly a whale was breaching just beside our boat. Ten minutes later, she swam away with a tiny youngster at her side. We all cheered and clinked our glasses.

It all added to the fun of my visit during the annual Audi Hamilton Island Race Week. It’s when thousands of yachties converge to compete in daily races around the Whitsundays’ most popular isle.

By night, of course, it’s time to party; and a single lass could do worse then head down to the local pub, bop to live music and mingle with scores of athletic types.

Then if you’re game, there’s always Bohemes, a seedy little club which is fine for a nightcap.

Forgetting Race Week frivolities, there are plenty of wholesome activities to enjoy on the island throughout the year. Being 1000 kilometres north of Sydney, Hamilton is never cold.. Aside from boating, there’s bushwalking, kayaking and snorkeling, and spectacular sunsets to view from the scenic lookouts dotting the island.

Luckily for me, nine-time Wimbledon doubles champ Mark Woodbridge was hosting a tennis clinic during my visit. After a few hours with him, I felt ready to take on the Williams sisters. Patient, boyish-faced Mark had that ability to gently bring out the best in us all without making us feel like we needed Zimmer frames.

I even became a better cook during my week at “Hammo,” as the friendly locals term it. Melbourne chef Geoff Lindsay hosted a class showing us all how to whip up some sexy oyster snacks.

Sydney’s celebrity chef Luke Mangan was also on hand to prepare a seafood feast for paying customers at swish restaurant Beach House one night.

These foodie and sporting events are all part of a concerted effort by the island’s owners, the Oatley family, to ensure Hamilton holds increasing appeal every year.

qualia, an ultra-luxury resort certain to attract the international jetset (rooms start at $1600 per night.)

And a new yacht club is soon to grace the island; its garden was designed by celebrity horticulturist Jamie Durie. (Wonder if his new best friend, Oprah, will pop over to check it out?)

I stayed at the Reef View Hotel, an ungainly high-rise building which redeems itself thanks to spacious rooms boasting stunning ocean views. I even saw a whale from my balcony one day; yachties aren’t the only ones drawn to the region at this time of year. The hotel also has a resident artist, Greg Wardle, who patiently helped me attempt to paint a school of fish.

The hotel is just a five-minute stroll from the marina and its accompanying strip of eateries.

It’s also just beside a steep bush trail which helped me overcome the guilt of attacking my mini-bar. I learned the hard way that it pays to keep your balcony door closed; coming home one day I found five cockatoos fighting over the packet of crisps I’d left on my bed.

Hamilton Island Race Week is Australia’s largest offshore racing regatta, with a variety of sailing races and a myriad of off-shore events.

You can enter with your own yacht, or contact Hamilton’s yacht-hire company Sunseeker, which will also help loners find a crew. The 25th Race Week takes place from August 22 to 30, 2008. For details visit hamiltonislandraceweek.com.au

Three Things To Do:

1) Catch a ferry to nearby Airlie Beach for the day or to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, which boasts 7km of white silica sand.
2) Hire a golf buggy and chug around the island, enjoying the scenic lookouts.
3) Enjoy a scalp massage with Nathan at The Relaxation Centre ((07 49468669)

For details on package deals go to www.hamiltonisland.com.au

Jacqui Lang

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