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Helicoptering Over Paradise With Hamilton Island Air

“Victor Tango Foxtrot to Hamilton Island.” 

“Hamilton Island to Victor Tango Foxtrot. Weather is fine, 22 degrees…”

Me in the Helicopter

Smiling for the camera as the chopper prepares to take off. Thanks to fellow traveller Steven for this photo.

The tinny voices of the pilot — who seemed so far away despite sitting right next to me — and the air traffic controller echoed in my ears. The deafening whirr of the helicopter’s blades provided a background soundtrack that was thankfully muted by the headphones I’d been given on climbing into the chopper.

Lifting Off

Lifting off from the helipad at Hamilton Island Airport.

It seemed like it had been hours since I’d been strapped in with a 4-point harness into the passenger seat of the helicopter that had been painted in British racing green. All around me I could see a swathe of controls, some with switches and others with glowing lights. Near my feet stood pedals that I could only assume directed the helicopter. I was afraid of touching any of them lest they’d accidentally left them activated.

Speckled Ocean

The shadows of clouds create a dappled effect on the water near Whitsunday Island.

Even setting up my GoPro so it was propped on the edge of the glass floor (yes, the helicopter had a glass floor!) was nerve-racking. What if we turned sharply and it got wedged under the pedals? I didn’t think my friends would think it was a good reason to crash the helicopter. Common sense told me they would have disabled these controls before letting me anywhere near them…but I still kept an eye on the camera for a minute or two after takeoff.

Flying Over Whitsunday Island

Flying over the southern reaches of Whitsunday Island.

Eventually, the chopper slowly lifted off the ground. Unlike in movies, it didn’t lift off and disappear into the distance in a matter of seconds. Instead, it was a slow process as we inched further off the ground, the pilot maneuvering against the typically strong August winds as we rose higher and higher above the Great Barrier Reef airport.

7km of Pristine Beach

7km of pristine beach.

Suddenly, we were off. We raced above the runway and off the edge of the island. Through the glass floor I could see brilliantly blue (and impossibly clear) water rippling below us as we began to make a sweeping left turn to follow the southern coastline of the resort island.

Hill Inlet from the South

Our first glimpse of Hill Inlet as we approached from the south.

All around us, we could see islands dotting the ocean. Each green dot rising up out of the pristine waters was one of 90 Whitsunday Islands, which were so named when Captain Cook passed through their ‘one continued safe harbour’ on Whitsun (the 7th Sunday after Easter) in 1770. In a state filled with gorgeous vistas, the Whitsundays are an absolute standout. It’s hard to understand until you’re actually on a helicopter (or plane banking over the islands as it comes in to land) quite how scenic this place actually is.

Helicoptering Over Hill Inlet

The stunning sight that is Hill Inlet, seen on our first pass.

Hamilton Island is one of the larger islands in the chain, but it disappeared quickly behind us as we swept towards the main destination of our flight: Whitsunday Island, home of the famous Whitehaven Beach. I couldn’t stop gawking at the ocean, which seemed to constantly change under the dappled sunlight, with a shadow of a cloud here and a small whitecap there.

The Arrow

Hill Inlet resembling an arrow pointing out to sea as we fly north before completing our figure eight maneuver.

That ocean lapped at the tendril-shaped shores of the southern end of Whitsunday Island. The 7km stretch of pure silica that is Whitehaven Beach began to come into view ahead of us, but looking down, something else caught my eye. Water glinted in between the trees just behind the beach, which I had assumed were the standard gum tree found all across Australia but were actually mangroves in a large swamp. Who would have known that from visiting the beach by boat?

Reefs Below

Looking through the glass floor past the pedals to the reef below.

I think that at least four out of the five of us on the helicopter were holding our breath as we crossed the shores of Whitehaven Beach (and the other one was the pilot, who seemed to have seen the view once or twice before). Would the view hold up to the high expectations we’d set for it? After all, we’d paid for the more expensive helicopter ride solely so we could see Hill Inlet (at the beach’s northern end), a view that could be called the most iconic in Queensland.

Hamilton Island from Above

Hamilton Island, seen from the Qualia end. Passage Peak can be seen rising in the background.

We weren’t disappointed. In fact, the view left all of us in awe as we glimpsed it from the left hand side of the chopper. As it was nearing low tide, the inlet, so often the same blue as the ocean, was a mixture of white-gold sand and light green water. How could anyone see this view and not vote the beach the best one in the world, as it so often has been called?

Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to just hover over the inlet until we got sick of the view; instead, the pilot continued on his figure eight course and brought the inlet into view on the other side of the chopper to make sure that everyone got an equal chance to take photos. Then, seemingly as soon as it had come into view, it was gone as we cruised high above the beach, making a beeline back to Hamilton Island.

Hamilton Island Marina

Hamilton Island Marina.

Hamilton Island itself was quite impressive, with peaks and reefs galore to catch our eyes. It was made even more special by the fact that we’d been on the island for a few days so we could pick out quite a few of its landmarks. Passage Peak (the tallest peak on the island)? Yep, climbed that yesterday (although its height seemed almost trifling from our viewpoint high above). Catseye Beach? Yep, we went there both day and night. Qualia Resort? No, we didn’t go there. Way too expensive. Plus, we wouldn’t have been on this chopper if we were staying there, since its guests had some for their personal use.

Back So Soon

Back at Hamilton Island Airport so soon.

One more wide turn and a view of the Hamilton Island Marina (and its yacht-shaped yacht club) and we were back at the airport. All too soon, we were repeating the same routine of takeoff — slowly inching into position and then ever-so-carefully lowering until the struts touched the ground. Our aerial adventure was over 30 minutes after it began, and we would soon be packing up and leaving the island for good. We couldn’t have found a better way to say goodbye to the islands and my favourite part of Queensland.

Coming in to Land

Our helicopter arriving back at the Great Barrier Reef Airport.

Hamilton Island Air runs daily helicopter flights around Whitehaven Beach and Hamilton Island. They cost $200pp for 20 minutes. Our helicopter could fit five passengers but the chopper you go on may vary. Flights leave from the Hamilton Island Air terminal, which is located at the opposite end of the runway from the main airport.

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