Luxury on the Great Barrier Reef: A dreamy trip to the Intercontinental Hayman Island
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Australia boasts over 22,000 miles of coastline. However, many of those miles are either lashed by frigid winds and ocean currents, or populated by hostile crocodiles and sharks. One of the areas that draws both domestic and international visitors, though, is the Great Barrier Reef which stretches along much of the Queensland coast.
There, you can find beachy towns like Airlie and Port Douglas, the primordial Daintree Rainforest, and emerald-green islands with white-sand beaches dotting the limpid, aquamarine waters.
One such island is also home to one of Australia’s most iconic beach resorts, the Intercontinental Hayman Island. Long before the current hotel existed, though, Hayman was first developed for tourism back in the 1940s. Then, in the 1980s a massive new hotel was built to the tune of AU$300 million. Following successive sales and refurbishments (plus another AU$80 million restoration after it was hit by two cyclones), Hayman Island reopened as part of the luxury chain One&Only, back in 2014. In 2017, it was hit by yet another tropical cyclone and forced to close. It eventually reopened its doors as the Intercontinental Hayman Island in 2019 following a AU$135 million redesign.
I’ve wanted to check out the resort for nearly a decade now, but its relaunch as an Intercontinental, and thus the possibility of using IHG Rewards points to book a stay, made that desire a reality on my recent trip to Australia to cover its reopening to international travelers after nearly two years of border closures due to COVID-19.
Aside from the excitement of being able to visit Australia again and experience the Great Barrier Reef before the tourist throngs return, I had a delightful experience at the Intercontinental Hayman Island and found it to be well worth the wait.
Stays will require a lot of points for award redemptions. But given the high paid room rates, you might still find redeeming IHG Rewards points to be a good deal, as I did, if you intend to visit yourself. Here are all the details you need to know.
Get the latest travel news by signing up for TPG’s free daily newsletter.
Starting rates at the 168-key Intercontinental Hayman Island hover at around AU$1,000 ($743) per night. The dates I was looking at over the month break between February and March were slightly lower than that, at AU$920 ($682) per night for a King Classic and AU$965 ($717) per night for a King Classic Retreat Courtyard View room. Both were also available for 99,000-100,000 points per night.
While those rates are high, it meant I would still be getting more value from my IHG points than TPG’s current valuation of them at 0.5 cents apiece.
I ended up booking a King Classic, which looked like it had a small balcony and a better view, for a total of 299,000 points for three nights.
Hayman Island is the northernmost of the Whitsunday Islands off Queensland’s central coast — so called because Captain James Cook first sailed through them on his ship, the Endeavour, on Whit Sunday (seven weeks after Easter) of 1770.
Most arrivals transit via Hamilton Island (HTI) to which there are several daily flights from Australia’s major cities, including Brisbane (BNE), Melbourne (MEL) and Sydney (SYD). From there, guests can book a place on the resort’s private yacht transfer for AU$210 ($156) per adult and AU$110 ($82) per child ages 5 – 15 (transfers are complimentary for children under 4). The trip takes about an hour in each direction and passes some beautiful islands along the way.
Larger parties can charter a yacht for themselves for AU$5,500 ($4,086) each way. Alternatively, you can book a private helicopter transfer for AU$800-AU$1,600 ($594-$1,188) each way, depending on the aircraft and how many people you’re bringing.
I just went with the regular round-trip transfer on the resort’s yacht. On the way out, I had it all to myself, while on the way back, I shared it with a few other couples flying out the same day. On my afternoon outbound, I was treated to Bimbadgen sparkling wine from the Hunter Valley along with an assortment of fruits and other snacks presented on a simple wooden tray. The morning return included a service of water and orange juice along with the same snacks.
The weather was warm and breezy for both legs of the journey, providing the perfect welcome and send-off for my time on Hayman. When I arrived at the resort’s marina, I was greeted by the front desk manager, who gave me a brief tour of the property and then showed me to my room, which had been upgraded to a one-bedroom ocean and pool view suite thanks to my IHG Platinum elite status. That would have cost AU$1,400 ($1,040) per night, nearly a $400 premium on the room I’d originally booked.
That seemed like a major upgrade to me, so I actually asked if this was a frequent occurrence for IHG elites and was told that it does happen fairly regularly, so that’s something to keep in mind if you book here. You will probably have the best luck (as I did) coming at less busy times.
The resort has a few different wings. My room was in the Pool Wing, which overlooked the gigantic main pool and a smaller kid-friendly one, as well as private cabanas and part of the beach.
The door opened right into the main living room of the suite. There was a low bench to the right of it where you could drop your towels and shoes after a day at the pool or on the beach. The room also included a four-person dining table, upon which I found a welcome amenity of petit fours and a bottle of sparkling wine.
The credenza along the wall held some other amenities: two water bottles to use at the resort, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes and face masks. Non-pandemic items included an espresso maker and Vittoria coffee pods, a Harman/Kardon Bluetooth speaker, a tablet that you could use to search the resort’s various offerings and the mini-fridge, which was stocked with a variety of cold beverages.
The living room was spacious and appointed with casual beach-style furnishings – two armchairs upholstered in blue fabric and a gray chaise lounge along with a large coffee table, two wooden stools and a wall-mounted flatscreen television. The powerful ceiling fan kept things cool when I wanted to turn off the air conditioning and leave the window open.
The bedroom lay through a large archway that you could close with a sliding door. The four-poster king-size bed had decorative netting and was dressed in white linens with blue throw pillows and a runner for accents as well as a wide bench at its foot.
To either side were nightstands with lantern-like lamps, small reading lights, a telephone (on one side) and a panel of buttons to control the lighting and shades on the wall. Another large wall-mounted flatscreen TV was located to the right of the arch on the wall opposite the bed.
A frosted glass divider separated the bathroom area from the bedroom space. Just behind the partition was a deep soaking tub and then to either side of this on the opposite wall were two sinks and vanities.
Stepping past those, I came to the dual closet area with drawers and a shelf for suitcases as well as racks for hanging clothes.
Finally, past that, there was a small room with the toilet to one side and a walk-in shower with overhead and wall-mounted handheld showerheads. All the bath amenities, including shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand wash and body lotion were by Western Australia-based natural skincare brand Sodashi.
The ground-floor suites in this wing provide direct pool access so you can swim right out into the pool. Mine was on the third floor and had two balconies separated by a wall – one with a table and chairs that you could step out onto from the living room, and the other with a large daybed for two that you could access directly from the bedroom.
Overall, my suite felt very large and comfortable, with plenty of room for lounging or working both indoors and out. I didn’t hear any of my neighbors throughout my stay, though I know the rooms to either side of me were occupied. It was lovely being able to step out onto not one, but two, balconies that I had all to myself.
Food and drink
As you might expect from a resort this size and where guests tend to stay multiple days, there are several different dining options around the property. All have a mix of indoor and outdoor spaces to take advantage of the tropical clime.
The main restaurant where breakfast is served each morning is Pacific, just a short walk from the main lobby toward the beach. Many nightly rates here include breakfast, but mine did not. I paid $30 and enjoyed a made-to-order omelet and the buffet, which proffered pastries, fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, a selection of fresh juices and various cold cuts, as well as hot items like pancakes, waffles, eggs, sausage, potatoes and mushrooms.
I also ate dinner at Pacific one night. It was another extensive buffet with a selection of seafood such as oysters, prawns, fish ceviche, Moreton Bay bugs and various salads. The hot station served grilled meats like za’atar-crusted lamb chops, spatchcock chicken, shrimp, Black Angus rib-eye and fresh-caught whole fish along with sides like corn on the cob and roasted potatoes.
Desserts included mignardises like bite-size chocolate cake, caramel tart and flan. I would advise skipping lunch, coming hungry and loading up on the high-value items like the seafood since the experience costs a whopping AU$165 ($123) per person.
The first night of my stay, I had a decidedly less expensive supper at the resort’s Italian restaurant, Amici. The draw is the made-to-order pizza fresh out of the oven, including the frutti di mare with prawns, calamari, octopus and cherry tomato (AU$32 – $24). However, there are more sophisticated coastal dishes like the crumbled tuna steak with radicchio and green beans in a tahini aioli and the grilled prawns with roasted tomato, saffron and Loukaniko sausage (AU$46 – $34). I turned to the pasta menu for something lighter and settled on the tagliatelle with Moreton Bay bug tails in a flavorful sauce of lemon, garlic, chili and briny shaved bottarga (AU$46 – $34). Wines by the glass, which mostly came from Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand, were expensive, but not unreasonably so, and ranged AU$13-AU$25 ($10-$19).
The other night of my stay, I ate at Bam Bam, a pan-Asian restaurant in the Lagoon Wing, next to the infinity pool, which is also open for lunch. The menu included dishes like Shandon-style crispy chicken with rice noodles, red onion and bell peppers in a black vinegar, soy and fermented chili sauce (AU$35 – $26); and kingfish sashimi with coconut, laksa oil and red shiso (AU$36 – $27). I decided on the aromatic Singapore-style, wok-fried chili prawns with hot and sour sauce and spring onions (AU$44 – $33) along with a side of rice (AU$5 – $4).
Near the larger pool, Aqua serves food and drinks throughout much of the afternoon. I ordered the Baja-style fried fish soft tacos with cabbage and cilantro-lime dressing (AU$28 – $21). They were enormous and more than enough to share between two people. That said, I also got the chips with guacamole and salsa for AU$21 ($16), which was a mistake since everything tasted like it had come out of jars from the supermarket.
Finally, the resort has a little casual café between the lobby and the pool wing called the Grove Boutique and Café. There you can get coffee drinks and light bites like sandwiches while also stocking up on trip essentials like toiletries and reef-safe We Are Feel Good Inc. sunscreen or various items of apparel plus hats and sunglasses.
I was at the resort for just three days, so I didn’t repeat any of the restaurants. Even if my stay had been twice as long (or longer) I think the variety of venues and the dishes at each would have been enough to keep me from getting bored and, apart from that dinner buffet, the prices were reasonable.
While some folks might just want to laze the day away at the beach or by one of the pools, there are plenty of other activities to keep guests at the Intercontinental Hayman Island occupied.
Let’s start with the pools. There is a humongous one in the Pool Wing that encircles an island where you’ll find another pool and Aqua, and is traversed by a few walkways. The far side toward the beach has loungers and private cabanas for rental, while the little pool in the middle is good for families with small children since it is so self-contained.
By the Lagoon Wing, an infinity pool runs along the beach and then another arm of it extends perpendicularly toward the hotel buildings. Loungers encircle the pool and dot the nearby lawn. There are also a few different cabana-like daybeds. This area tended to be quieter since it was mostly adults.
Hotel guests can also set up for the day in loungers along the beach. Stop by the beach hut for complimentary activities like kayaking, paddle boarding and borrowing one of the catamarans to sail around the bay. Because of the tides, these activities are not available all day long, but the morning was generally a good time to be out on the water during my stay.
Next to the lobby, the resort’s activity center can book various excursions for guests. I personally enjoyed two different two-hour snorkel experiences for AU$90 ($67) per guest. The dive staff took me and about a dozen other guests out by boat to nearby islands with some good reefs and gentle currents. They dropped us there with beach chairs and umbrellas, as well as snorkel gear and stinger suits (to help avoid jellyfish stings) and left us on our own to explore the coral formations and tropical fish.
I’m an avid scuba diver, but unfortunately, the resort’s partner outfitters, Ocean Dynamics, is currently only running dive excursions a few days a week. Other guests I spoke with said they only got to dive once and then snorkel the rest of the time on one of these excursions, so it didn’t sound like I missed much.
If you’re an enthusiastic snorkeler or diver and want to spend most of your time at the Great Barrier Reef exploring its waters, this is probably not the resort for you since the offerings are pretty limited. Instead, you might want to consider staying at one of the hotels on Hamilton Island or in Airlie, or think about venturing farther up the coast to Cairns or Port Douglas.
You can book your own private snorkel and dive guides from AU$1,000 ($744) per day as well as other, more expensive adventures like a private boat trip to Whitehaven Beach, various fishing charters and more. There’s also a full roster of complimentary daily activities including nature walks, sunset hikes, yoga sessions, weaving classes, and a kid’s club that operates from 8:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. – 5 p.m. daily.
Though small, Hayman Island boasts some fantastic hiking trails to secluded coves along its periphery, as well as the main 4.5-mile loop trail I took up through the central, tree-covered hills. There I saw Proserpine rock wallabies, kingfishers and painted lorikeets before stopping at a lookout point for a stunning sunset.
Amenities and service
The hotel’s expansive gym features plenty of cardio equipment, weight machines, free weights and a studio for yoga and Pilates. However, I preferred to get my exercise by hiking and snorkeling.
There’s also an on-site salon and a spa with 11 rooms. The menu of treatments using Sodashi products include a 60-minute pure radiance facial for AU$220 ($164) and 90-minute island gemstone massage using healing stones and crystals, as well as oils made from Australian plants for AU$320 ($238). Due to a packed schedule of activities and working remotely, I didn’t get the chance to pop in for a treatment, though I would plan to do so next time if I return.
Part of the joy of returning to Australia so soon after its reopening to international travelers was being greeted with excitement at pretty much every hotel I checked into. The welcome was even more enthusiastic at the Intercontinental Hayman Island than elsewhere. Practically every staff member, from the reception agents to the folks manning the cafe counter and all the servers I met at the various restaurants were so genuinely warm and friendly. Some even thanked me for making the long journey just to visit the hotel. I thought it might have been just for my benefit, but they were so casually courteous and respectful of other guests, engaging folks about their activities for the day, how they liked their rooms, remembering what their favorite dishes were from day to day … I was truly impressed by the spirit of hospitality that was on display and it made an already great stay even better.
I’ve wanted to visit Hayman Island for years now, but it wasn’t until the resort there was reflagged as an Intercontinental that I could finally use points to offset what would have otherwise been a costly stay.
With room rates that regularly top $700 per night, the hotel is not cheap. However, award availability (often for around 100,000 points per night) seems to be fairly easy to come by at most times of the year. For that price, I might have enjoyed a few more inclusions, but the cost of add-on activities and meals was still reasonable and an upgrade to a one-bedroom suite thanks to my Platinum elite status was pretty thrilling.
While diehard scuba divers might want to stay elsewhere given the limited scope of water activities on offer, there is still plenty to do and see around the island, including snorkel excursions and sunset hikes. I’m already stocking up on IHG points again so I can book another stay on my next visit Down Under.
Featured photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.