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Surf, Sand and Sun

8 March, 2016

Hamilton Island Trip

After several weeks of planning and endless calls enquiring about “disability access” the time came to depart for a much needed holiday. I was off to Hamilton Island for eight days of surf, sand and sun with some mates from high school. Hamilton Island is located in Queensland’s far north, just off the coast near Airlie beach. This island fits the definition of ‘Tropical Island’ perfectly. With temperatures over 30 degrees all year round, great beaches, good eateries and a lack of cars, it’s a good holiday destination for someone looking to relax and recharge.

When we were checking in at the airport, I was half expecting an argument about my manual wheelchair, and when and where I was going to transfer into the isle chair. However, Qantas were very good and were happy for me to stay in my chair, right up to the door. The three hour flight passed very quickly as we all had access to inflight entertainment, add morning tea and the flight was rather pleasant.

I was relieved to see my manual wheelchair sitting undamaged, in one piece just outside the plane when arrived in Hamilton Island. All in all I was very impressed with Qantas and their general professionalism.

It turned out that the bus transfer from the airport to our accommodation; the Whitsunday Holiday Apartments was wheelchair accessible. It was a small bus with a lift on the side. During the trip to the Apartments we were informed of the transport options around the island; there were no cars and everyone got about in golf buggies. These buggies were available for hire for about $90 per day, and you would need a car licence to drive one.

The other way to get around the island was though their free bus shuttle service. Green buses departed from the main accommodations to the marina, on the other side of the island and ran every 15 minutes. Orange buses came every 30 minutes and went around the island and purple buses came every 45 minutes, following a longer route around the island. 

 

All of the green and half of the orange buses are completely wheelchair accessible and all have top notch air-conditioning (seriously, it was cooler than the accommodation!). As a group we decided against hiring a golf buggy and made use of the buses instead. This made getting around the incredibility hilly island much easier and I found all of the bus drivers were very helpful and friendly. 

During our stay, we resided at the Whitsunday Holiday Apartments. Each apartment had a kitchen and a turndown service from the maid every few days. As any person in a wheelchair knows, the success of a holiday often hinges on the hotel/apartment in which you stay. It can make or break the trip. Since I wasn’t the one who booked the accommodation, I was worried that it wouldn’t be accessible for me – I made multiple calls to check, and double check that I was in an accessible room, however this did little to calm me.

We were given one of the newly refurbished rooms which to my surprise wasn’t on the first or second floor. As we got out of the lift on the fifth floor our apartment looked just like a normal one. When we went inside, all my friends went and admired the view while I immediately made my way around the apartment. While there was ample space in the living room, and bedroom, the bathroom was… average.

A shower bench in the corner confirmed that we had the right room, but there were no handrails and the bathroom was very snug, even for my small manual wheelchair. Although the shower door wasn’t wide enough to get through, I could reach everything and managed to transfer onto the bench. The amazing view over the main beach and bay made up for the bathroom and the rest of the apartment was very nice and modern.

After checking out the room we made our way to the marina on the other side of the island, where there are a decent amount of shops and even a convenience store. However, the main problem is that the majority of shops have a decent size step to be able to get in, and I was a little disappointed that I had to get help from my mates to manage this. Once in thought, they are generally quite spacious to move around in, with flat surfaces.

We spent the first half of our week either at one of the many pools, eating out or lounging around our apartment. The beach was just a 2 minute walk away, where there were many activities to do. The guys at the equipment hut were laid back and willing to help. Although there was no flat access to the beach, they did have a beach chair and happily carried it down the stairs for me, even offering to transfer me into a kayak; however I was happy to stay on the beach.

During the week, we went down to Sails for a buffet breakfast and out for dinner basically every night. There are a variety of places to eat, the accessible pub at the marina do a great carbonara at a good price, Romano’s at the marina are a very nice Italian restaurant and the bakery have a variety of food. The best place we went to however was a restaurant called Coca Chu, who do hawker style street food from South East Asia.

I usually stay away from Asian food, but this place had a variety of dishes with a combination of pleasant flavours that left me wanting more. However, you do need help to get into the restaurant as it’s got a couple of steps in the front.

If you want to eat in or order food for the week, the suggested way to go is ordering through Coles Online (since there wasn’t one on the island). We however found that, since we weren’t keen to cook anything at all, it’d be easier to just pick up some chips and chocolate from the convenience store at the marina! Who cooks on a holiday anyway?!

As we looked toward the second half of our stay, we started to think about what activities we wanted to do. As a group we were all keen to visit the Great Barrier Reef and see the famous Whitehaven Beach. 

Finding information on accessibility can be like pulling teeth and this was certainly the case with Hamilton Island, one of the activity information desks was up a flight of stairs and the other didn’t have any information about accessibility; despite being very keen to help. I ended up having to send my friends up to the inaccessible travel desk and ask the questions for me.

The trip out to the Great Barrier Reef ended up being accessible. Though, the Whitehaven beach trip was not due to it being reached via speedboat, so instead I relaxed by the pool while my mates went to the beach and then we all saw the Reef together the next day.

For the Great Barrier Reef venture we had to be at the marina at 9am, for a 9.30am departure. Quite a number of ferries and activities depart from there so it was very busy. The staff were very helpful and ensured that we were in the right line, and the first onto the boat.

"The trip out to the Reef took about two hours which passed at pace because the staff were doing safety demonstrations and talking about some of the activities that were available to do while we were there."

It occurred to me very quickly however, that when the tourist desk said “its accessible, just come down and well get you on” they meant that they were going to play it by year and hoped it worked out for them. Getting on and off the ferry required them to carry me up a set of stairs, but once I was on it was fine. They made sure we had a table and there was food provided.

The trip out to the Reef took about two hours which passed at pace because the staff were doing safety demonstrations and talking about some of the activities that were available to do while we were there. You could go snorkelling and diving, there were massages, helicopter flights, an underwater viewing area and a submarine that went around the area. However, most of them were inaccessible.

At 11’o clock we arrived at our destination, a platoon in the middle of the ocean. I was last off the boat and again, needed to be carried off. The Great Barrier Reef was great, the life and size of it was amazing, and it was thoroughly enjoyed by all of us. Getting around the platoon was fine, and the snorkelling, and underwater viewing area was doable (but only because the staff were willing to carry me up and down the stairs).

At 3pm it was time to board the boat for the two hour journey back to the island. It was quite a bit of turbulence on the way back, but anti-sea sickness medication was available on the boat which did the trick. We got off the boat at Hamilton Island at about 5pm and after a long day we were all happy to get back to the apartment.

"The rest of the holiday went smoothly, as we spent most of the time relaxing and taking it easy with regular visits to the ice-cream shop and pool."

The rest of the holiday went smoothly, as we spent most of the time relaxing and taking it easy with regular visits to the ice-cream shop and pool. The flight back to Melbourne went as smoothly as the one to Hamilton Island; Qantas were very good again, in allowing me to stay in my wheelchair for as long as possible and the inflight morning tea and entertainment kept us happy. When we got back to Melbourne, my wheelchair was again waiting for me just outside the plane, undamaged and in one piece.

Overall it was a great holiday! The staff on the island was amazing, very helpful and friendly, the weather was hot and sunny most days and although access on Hamilton Island isn’t perfect, it’s getting better. It’s a great holiday destination for someone looking to relax, reenergize and enjoy themselves.

Stephen Callinan is a Rehabilitation Counselling student at La Trobe University, who hopes to continue on with post-graduate study in the same field. He enjoys watching sport, spending time with family and friends and staying fit and healthy.

Tags: Blog, Travel & Leisure