No man is an island at the luxurious Hayman Island, Australia

Relaxing at the new One&Only resort on the exclusive Hayman Island off the coast of northern Queensland, in the shadow of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

The One&Only Hayman Island resort, as seen from the air. The exclusive destination has already proved a hit with high-profile visitors, including the cast of the American sitcom Modern Family. Courtesy One&Only
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Nobody initially thinks of Australia as place to "chill". Its various landscapes are a magnet for intrepid travellers, from hiking the tropical rainforests on the north-east coast and driving the vast red desert in the country's centre to the numerous diving hot spots on both sides.

For the celebrity set, however, or the mere wealthy, Australia’s exclusive islands in Queensland are a private playground and a getaway from the paparazzi of Europe and Hollywood. Their destination was often to the country’s premier destination of Hayman Island.

Located in the north-westerly tip of the Whitsundays (a collection of various-sized islands), the private Hayman Island has been Australia’s uber-luxury location since 1947. Its exclusivity and eco-friendly set-up drew in the likes of the former British prime minister Tony Blair, the actor Leonardo Di Caprio and the singer Elton John.

The island managed to survive a barren patch of fortune that saw it rebuilt after being battered by a pair of 2011 cyclones – both hitting four days apart – and an unenthusiastic domestic travel market that saw wealthy Aussie travellers flaunting their rising currency in neighbouring Asia.

The love is now beginning to flow back. Central to this rejuvenation was the July reopening of its sole resort, now rebranded as the One&Only Hayman Island.

Formerly known as the Hayman Island Resort, the property was taken over last year by Kerzner International Holdings, the company behind Dubai’s One&Only Royal Mirage, Atlantis The Palm and the recently announced Royal Atlantis The Palm.

The South African company shut the resort for six months and pumped in 80 million Australian dollars (Dh258.8m) to refurbish its debut Australian property, transforming the cream-coloured, ageing edifice into a slick island paradise – and, it hopes, an international drawcard for the luxury-travel market.

The property has recently ­attracted a string of high-profile guests; the cast of the hit American sitcom Modern Family relaxed in the then-closed resort during an Australian shoot in February. Similarly, the television-talk-show queen Ellen Degeneres flew in a viewer to report on their experiences before the resort was open.

It’s a sunny and humid day when my Qantas flight arrives at Hamilton Island (with the two-and-half-hour flight departing Sydney at 8.40am). I’m ushered towards an outdoor booking desk – beside the gates leading to the baggage carousel – reserved for One&Only guests.

I check in for a two-night stay at the resort while staff go about claiming my luggage. I’m asked whether I require anything from my suitcase, as I won’t be reacquainted with it until two hours later on the island, the reason being that it’s arriving via yacht. Myself and the other visitors, on the other hand, are set to indulge in an upgraded mode of transportation.

Resting with a few cool drinks inside the One&Only’s snug airport lounge, a hotel staff member walks in to announce: “Your chopper is ready.”

The words illicit nervous giggles from a few seasoned travellers – yours truly included – as we make the five-minute walk to the tarmac; greeting us is a white helicopter complete with beige leather upholstery (helicopter transfer is 660 dollars [Dh2,136] per couple).

The 10-minute flight is my first encounter with the Great Barrier Reef, one of the world’s largest coral systems with crystal-blue waters that are home to 2,900 reefs, which stretch across 344,400 square kilometres, forming a sizeable part of Queensland’s eastern coastline.

Because of the geography and the Australian government’s watchful eye over the sea-life, only seven of the nearly 900 islands contain resorts. Our helicopter pilot points out some of the other islands from above. On my left is the tiny Daydream Island; it’s one kilometre long and resembles a sandy pebble. On my right is Hook Island. With a shabbier surface, the island’s sands are darker and rugged.

There’s nothing old about the pristine white structure suddenly appearing ahead of us, however. The gleaming One &Only Resort occupies a gentle curve on the Hayman Island coast; its dove-white edifice nearly matching the sand it straddles.

The chopper lands on a small strip beside the pier, where those slowcoaches on the yacht will arrive later. I’m greeted by smiling staff, who hand me my hotel room key before a golf buggy swiftly escorts me to the hotel’s pool wing nearly 200 metres ahead.

The refurbished suite is comfort personified. The bright, creamy walls and light wooden furniture emits a sense of welcome space. The bedroom is pleasantly understated. In the centre lies a canopy bed with pale white linen. It’s flanked by smooth wooden bedside tables; there’s an open bathroom; toilets and showers are hidden behind a large mirror and marble sinks. Plenty of natural light and fresh ocean air wafts in, courtesy of the sliding doors in the bedroom and living room. The only downside is the lack of strong Wi-Fi connection in the room. I’m in a resort island, I remind myself – perhaps it’s best to keep that laptop away.

That same eye for detail can be found in the rest of the resort. With the emphasis on privacy and comfort, 49 rooms were slashed as part of the redevelopment, leaving the lush compound with a comfy 160 rooms and villas.

Most of the accommodation – with the exception of the pricey villas tucked away in the hills overlooking the sea – curve round the resort’s infinity pool. As part of the resort’s new works, my room in the pool wing now boasts an outdoor terrace, allowing me to jump straight into the unheated and refreshing pool, an act I regularly indulge in for the rest of my first day at the ­resort.

More clear blue waters are on offer the following morning. After a hearty breakfast of freshly baked croissants, omelettes and fresh fruit salad at the hotel’s beachfront restaurant Pacific, I board a speedboat for a 15-minute trip to Blue Pearl Bay on the inner reef, for an hour of snorkelling (45 dollars [Dh146] per person).

As a somewhat amateur swimmer, I thankfully didn’t have to go too far to catch a glimpse of the underwater light show. Reaching waist height, I gently submerge myself underwater, just enough to breathe using the snorkel. My goggles give me a clear view of a school of small barracuda just before they disperse in a flash. The coral is a kaleidoscope of colours: carrot red blending with lime green.

I unwisely get too close and consequently receive what locals refer to as a “coral kiss”, which is better known (and feels, believe me) as a nasty scratch. The sting is thankfully diluted courtesy of some iodine available in a first-aid kit back on shore.

Returning to the hotel for lunch of a dozen fresh Sydney rock oysters and garden salad (54 dollars [Dh175]) at On the Rocks, the resort’s poolside restaurant, I steel my nerves to face the coral once again in the afternoon.

It’s from a relatively safer distance this time. On the chopper again, I’m back in the middle of the ocean on a hour-long tour of the Great Barrier Reef (The Whitsunday Dream Tour is 899 dollars [Dh2,910] per person).

We make a quick landing at Whitehaven Beach, on an island only accessible by boat or helicopter. It’s home to the whitest sand that I’ve ever come across. The pilot explains that’s because the sand contains up to 98 per cent pure silica, a chemical compound used in the production of glass.

Back on the chopper, I encounter more beauty, this time via the many coral lagoons; some stand majestically, while others sway with the motions of the waves.

The aerial tour’s centrepiece is the fly over Heart Reef, nestled in the middle of Hook Island and Block Reef. It’s a jaw-dropping composition of coral resembling a heart shape. The exterior is encrusted with reddish and brown coral; its interior is azure water and soft, white sand.

I reflect on my experience over a tender, halal-certified Cape Grim grass-fed beef tenderloin (94 dollars [Dh304]) in my final dinner back at the resort’s gourmet restaurant Fire. I come to understand the powerful allure of a premier resort: it’s about providing an experience so steeped in wonder and comfort that it truly disconnects you from your pesky mental internal chatter and life’s daily stresses.

After two days, I feel almost ready to return to the hustle and bustle of my daily UAE life. I steal a bit more time and, instead of the chopper, elect to leave the resort and return to Hamilton Island Airport the long way back – a half-hour ride through the Whitsunday Passage by luxury yacht.

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