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A Week On A Small Australian Tropical Island

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After leaving Adelaide we headed north to Sydney.  We were only there about 72 hours, and I haven’t exactly written a post about it yet.  Partially because the weather was generally shiest.  And partially because I’m backlogged on everything.  Either way, eventually.  Maybe?

After Sydney we hopped a 3 hours flight north to the Whitsunday Islands, which sit off the coast of mainland Australia, nestled against the Great Barrier Reef.  We were staying on Hamilton Island, since it frankly seemed like the least expensive of the options we could find for this time of year.  We also had gotten a small kitchenette since we saw the island had a grocery store.  Though, in the end the groceries somehow would cost more than just going out and having dinner.  Seriously. A 1.25L bottle of soda? $10.

In any case, we loved our time there.  Here’s but a small snippet of some of the things we did.  A 5 Random Things…of sorts.

1) Running to isolated beaches

One of the cool things about the island is about half of it is parkland – isolated without any homes, hotels, or other structures.  Just trails to go hiking, running, or even riding on.  Even better is that since initial portions of the trail leaving the main resort/town area are quite steep, it tends to deter most folks from going too far.

Early on in the week I decided to run to one of the beaches at the far end of the trail network. About as far a beach away on the trails as you could get.  It would mean first climbing over the main ridge of the island, before then descending another mile or so to the beach.  The trail alternated between being fairly dense woods, along with random moments of clearings like this:

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The woods were nice though, as they provided shade from the sun.  It was already about 85°F (30°C) and probably 90% humidity….at 8AM.  I’m not exactly a hot weather runner.

I only saw two people on the trails that morning on the way out, which is perfect in my mind.  Eventually I’d arrive at the beach:

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It was perhaps 100m long or so, and nicely white sand.  Even better is that if you wanted to lounge away the day at it, there was still a bit of shade under some trees near the edge of the forest.

In my case though – I was just using it as my turnaround point.  After taking these photos (in case you were wondering, I used the GoPro 3-Way Pole attached to some dead trees), I headed on back across the island. The only part that sucked?  Having to climb back up the ridge line again.

Still, I’d be happy to run out on these trails every day.  Now I just gotta find myself a tropical island to buy.  I mean, a really cheap one.

2) The Great Barrier Reef

Mid-way through the week we decided to let The Peanut have a day at the spa by herself.  And by the ‘spa’, I mean the ball pit at the Clownfish Club, which is the little daycare at the hotel.  This would actually be the very first time she’s gone to a daycare, though, she starts French daycare next week.  So consider it a tropical primer.

Meanwhile, The Girl and I jumped on a high-speed boat for two hours off to the Great Barrier Reef.  One couldn’t go all this way to Australia and this region specifically only to skip the reef!

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Of course, we knew going into it that this would be a somewhat touristy proposition.  But it was the most ‘reasonable’ option we had (chartering a helicopter wasn’t in the cards). Essentially, the tour takes you out to a pontoon that’s permanently moored out on the reef itself.  You’ve got about 3-4 hours out there to do as you please, including snorkeling or semi-submersible boat rides, or even helicopter rides.

For us though, it was just snorkeling:

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Underwater we played a bit with the Nikon Key Mission 360° action cam, with The Girl getting some shots here and there with it.

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In between snorkeling sessions, I did an openwater swim around the buoy area.  They keep you in this specific area, mostly to keep random tourists from floating off to sea.

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Still, the perimeter was about 1,000m long, so not too bad!  Regrettably, I didn’t take a reference GPS with me on my swim buoy, and relied upon the Apple Watch Series 2 GPS.  That made a beautiful track, but alas, you can’t overlay that track on the satellite view, nor can you export it to anything else.  All I can show you is this stupid JPEG image.  Super disappointed.

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#GPSProblems aside, we had a good time out there.  Certainly, with both of us being certified divers, we’d loved to have been on a liveaboard boat and spent some time diving around less touristy areas.  But with The Peanut on this trip, that wouldn’t really be realistic.

One interesting thing they offered is the ability to spend the night out there on the pontoon.  Thus you get all the time in the morning before the tourists arrive (around 11:30AM), and then all the time after they leave (around 3:00PM).  Just a handful of people.  That’d be super cool!  Maybe on another trip some day.

3) Openwater Swims: Animals want to kill me

I got in a pile of openwater swims while on the island – as well as on (above?) the Great Barrier Reef itself.  On my first swim on the island, I didn’t really see much in the way of sea life.  The tides at the time I swam were such that it stirred up a fair bit of the water, making it a bit limited in visibility.

However later in the week I did better with animals. Even if I think some of them were out to get me.  This last swim I did at super low tide, albeit not on purpose.  To compare the differences in tides, here’s two drone shots – taken about an hour away from both low and high tides.  So the water got even further out on low tide:

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This meant that I had to walk quite some way to even get to the water’s edge.  Once I did, I stood there in about ankle deep water and got all my watches and junk ready to go.  A few GPS watches, the swim buoy, packing in some flip-flops for the walk back, etc… This process took about 3-4 minutes.  Upon finishing I looked down to make my first step – and sure enough there had been a nice sized sting ray there the entire time less than a foot away.  Had I not looked down, I would have easily stepped directly on it again.  Last time that didn’t end well at all for me.

I couldn’t quite get a picture of him, as when I tried to – he swam away.  But I spotted him or his friend a few minutes later – so here ya go:

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The first part of the swim was slow going, since the water was only perhaps 2 feet deep (at most), so my stroke was a little wonky.  Eventually though I got out far enough to get into deeper water, where I managed to see a turtle.  I’ve seen a fair number of sea turtles over the years, and this was by far the largest one I’ve ever seen (though as always, pics make it look smaller).

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This was my setup by the way – this specific photo was taken a few days earlier on a higher tide day.

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A short bit after the turtle it was back into the shallow water for some time, and more slowness.  My goal was to basically swim down the beach one-way, and then walk back.  But eventually I simply ran out of water when even my chest was hitting the ground.  So it’s here I stood up…only to find a small shark circling me.  I got a picture of it swimming away; you can see the black-tip fin almost waving bye bye.

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Of course, a tiny shark like this doesn’t much bother me.  Had I seen Great Whites again…I might have had second thoughts.

From there I made the longish walk back to my starting point.  It wasn’t a fast swim of course – given I wasn’t getting much extension on my stroke, but it was at least a swim.  So that counts for something.

4) Beautiful beaches

On our second to last day, we took a small half-day trip to nearby Whitehaven Beach, a short 25-30 minute boat ride away.  Of course, we brought The Peanut with us – since she loves hanging out in the water.  For this trip, we just did the half-day, since any more would have been a lot of time on a hot desolate beach with the little one.

In taking the early morning boat (it met up at 7:45AM), we got ahead of the crowds and had the majority of the beach to ourselves.

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Or, in The Girl’s case, the majority of the water to herself.  Well, her and her floating doughnut.  No really, it’s actually a doughnut – complete with a bite out of it.

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All of the pics here were taken with the DJI Mavic drone.  This was really the perfect sort of trip for it.  It easily fit into my backpack along with towels and other stuff.  And it was quick and simple to deploy.  The only downside being the low-profile is a bit trickier on the super-fine sand.  So I had to launch it closer to the water’s edge than I’d liked to, simply to find harder sand.

What’s impressive though is just the image quality you get out of it.  I shoot dual RAW/JPEG from it, and here’s the original (actually, it’s slightly cropped to 4:3):

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But then here’s the crop of that same photo – the resolution is still amazing.  You can now clearly see the doughnut’s missing chunk on the left side.

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I didn’t actually take much video, just a bunch of photos:

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I knew that I’d likely never end up editing a video cut – and honestly, with only about 2.5 hours on the beach – we didn’t have a ton of time to get footage.  I was instead enjoying spending that time with The Peanut and The Girl.

5) Running to the peak

On our last morning on the island, The Girl and I went off on our respective runs.  She took the little one in the stroller out on the (not-so-flat) roadways, while I went back into the trails for one last trail run.  This time I’d be headed back up to the top peak, appropriately called Passage Peak.  The Girl and I had hiked it earlier in the week, but this time I was going to do it as a run.

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The trail itself ascends pretty darn quickly, with very little foolin’ around.  I think they did that as a deterrent to random unfit tourists or something.  Scare them off the trails with an 11% starting incline.  Not sure. Either way, even my 5-7 minute warm-up didn’t mean much at that point.

It only took me about 22 minutes to climb to the top, which isn’t too shabby for the vertical, or the distance, and being trails.  I forgot to get a pic immediately upon reaching the top – but I did take this right before heading back down.

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Once atop I pulled out the DJI Mavic drone to get a couple of quick pics.  I had stashed it in the GoPro Seeker backpack, which I’ve used for most of my trail running/hiking adventures as of late, as well as cycling where I want to take gear with me.  Despite being overpriced, it works great for that.

A minute or two later the drone was unfolded and up in the air, snapping a couple of quick shots of me:

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About 3-4 minutes later I had it back down on the ground and ready to run down the hill.  We still had to pack up the hotel room disaster (seriously, how did it explode like it did?), and get ready to head out.  Thus I had to keep things under an hour all-in.

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Still, can’t go wrong for one last quick trail run!

Randomness:

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Finally – some of you might ask whether we’d go back again to Hamilton Island?

Yes and no.

I’d have no issue recommending the place to others, as we rather enjoyed our time on the island.  But I don’t think we’d go back again to this specific island.  And the reason is simple: The groceries were too expensive.

Part of our reasoning for choosing this location over others we evaluated was that we could balance out the higher cost of staying on a small island (and the benefits that come with that), with buying groceries and cooking our own lunch/dinner each day (breakfast was included).  But when it somehow would cost *more* to buy groceries for dinner each night than just go out for food, it became kinda a silly waste of time and money.  Especially since we weren’t cooking anything fancy.  A simple protein and a side of vegetables.

My bet is if you had a bigger group you could probably gain economies of scale, but with only two of us eating adult food, it just wasn’t scalable.

One thing to understand about Hamilton Island is that it has numerous resorts and private residences on it, along with a main street and shops and stuff.  Yet it’s kinda like Disney World: At the end of the day, everything is basically owned by a single enterprise.  So while the grocery store was independently owned, it was clear that they had to pay Hamilton Island Enterprises a substantial amount of money based on certain sales factors.  Their ‘all out of bread’ sign one day indicated exactly as such.

Still – don’t get me wrong.  The island is stunningly beautiful, and the opportunities for running, riding (mountain bike), and swimming (openwater), are amazing.  And we were able to find a healthy blend of doing daily outdoor sports, yet still enjoying lounging by the pool or in the ocean right at our doorstep.  And the fact that no cars are on the island is great (only golf carts).

My only point is that judge your locale based on the various amenities that you want, and not so much based on whether or not you can save money on groceries.  And I should point out that the food we got at restaurants in town was generally quite good, and the prices for the main courses generally in-line with the prices we’d pay at home in Paris (though appetizers and drinks were crazy expensive).

With that – thanks for reading!

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Just in case folks are wondering what gear I used.  Here’s the rundown:

A) Drone shots: DJI Mavic (all these shots if you hover over them start with DJI****)
B) Underwater/in-water shots: GoPro Hero5 Black (all these shots start with GO****)
C) Running shots: GoPro Hero5 Black (also start with GO***)
D) Misc shots around the island Part 1: iPhone 6 (start with a date stamp)
E) Misc shots around island Part 2: Nikon D500 DX DSLR (starts with DSC_)

I had the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 with me, but for beach destinations I prefer the waterproofing of the GoPro Hero5 Black.  I’d use the VIRB Ultra a fair bit more the following few days in Melbourne.  I also had the GoPro Hero5 Session with me, though I was dual shooting it and the GoPro Hero5 Black on a dual-rig, but purely from an editing workflow standpoint I only used GoPro Hero5 Black photos in this post.

All my photography gear can be found here in my recently updated post!

Enjoy!

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