Bubbles and sunshine
Hayman villas each have a pool. Photo: Image supplied by Hayman.
Belinda Jackson revels in me time, from morning yoga to midnight swims.
The Sun Goddess awaits: my transport to Hayman Island is a gleaming white launch awash with sparkling wine. The smooth journey from Great Barrier Reef Airport on Hamilton Island to Hayman takes an hour, which is long enough to nibble at a plate of canapes and toast the journey with flutes of sparkling wine from the Hunter Valley's Bimbadgen Estate.
A little box with chocolates handmade on the island includes a white-chocolate prawn: that's a first.
The beach on Hayman Island. Photo: Image supplied by Hayman.
Alongside me on the Sun Goddess are urbane European couples (the women carry delicious handbags), newlyweds from Japan and a few families.
I'm told the resort is almost full when I arrive, yet I see but a handful of people the entire time I'm there. "It's the great mystery of Hayman," says a Hayman staffer, Sam. "Where does everyone go?"
If they're one of a privileged few - and I've joined this elite group for only a few days - they're most likely at a beach villa. Eight sleek villas line the island's main beach, each villa curled around its own pool. No need to peer over a balcony to enjoy the view - you just roll over in bed to see the Coral Sea, where yachts ease their way between islands.
The villas were designed by masters of tropical architecture, Kerry Hill Architects, famous for their Aman resorts across Asia. and India. Each villa has a butler. Mine, Peter, flips switches to drop a light blind for privacy and runs through the villa's technology. We may be on an island in the Great Barrier Reef, but there's Apple TV, a Bose sound system, iPad and iPod.
Villas also have indoor and outdoor showers, an espresso machine and a freestanding bathtub almost big enough to sail. Minibars are free; one holds sparkling water and sparkling wine; the other has half-bottles of Chivas Regal, Belvedere vodka and 10 Cane Rum from Trinidad.
Do I really need to go outside? I decide I must, to graze. Hayman has four main restaurants: the beachy Azure, Fontaine for fine dining, the Italian-style La Trattoria and tonight's destination, Oriental, where the menu includes duck and soft herb salad, beef cheeks in red curry and Hervey Bay scallops nestled on a bed of pork mince.
A delicious whole snapper arrives at our table standing to attention and leaves, a skeleton of its former self.
After dinner I decide to exercise by way of a midnight swim in my villa plunge pool, which is deliciously warm and deliciously salty. It's the perfect prelude to sleep.
Next morning, I'm up early and take my tea to the beach to test the water: October and it's still nippy: my pool is preferable. At 8am, I walk with yoga instructor Chelsea to a timber platform amid the rainforest, frightening a big-eyed curlew, which screeches vitriol before disappearing into the greenery.
Quite frankly, yoga is a lost opportunity to Queensland: why should Bali and Thailand have the pricey yoga retreats when, in half the flight time from Melbourne or Sydney, you can be in Australia's tropical north, saluting the sun?
During the one-hour class, attended by two guests, the clouds scatter and our wind-down meditation is performed with dappled sunlight playing on our faces and the call of birdlife in the canopy above. Magical.
Breakfast is a busier scene of croissants, bacon and congee. Hayman is one of Australia's top-end resorts, but toasters are the great leveller, and the pancake machine is working overtime. Breakfast menus include tropical fruits, poached eggs and a pot of earl grey (with leaves!). I could have ordered a Bloody Mary or continued my friendship with the Bimbadgen sparkling wine, but I'm trying to keep myself nice for a walk'n'snorkel at 10.30am.
I join a small group of guests and, as the name suggests, the plan is to walk to a snorkelling spot, Blue Pearl Bay I. The original destination, Blue Pearl Bay II, is reached by boat, and today the seas are too choppy to take out the excursion craft.
The group includes two children, aged about eight, who sprint off up a bush track like Kenyan distance runners, leaving the adults to saunter at holiday speed. The trail winds to the island's spine so we emerge overlooking the resort, with its trademark pentagonal pool. It's a chance to feel Hayman's natural energy, away from the hum of humanity below.
Once over the ridge and down to the bay, we snorkel coral gardens and chase the flash and glimmer of a rainbow of reef fish. I spot a young turtle, which flips and curls lazily in the waters beneath me. It's a first-time spot for my snorkelling mate and staff member, Brigid, so we brag all the way back on the beach. Next month, the Great Barrier Reef will host the annual love-in between six species of turtle, but right now I feel on top of the world.
Lunch comes in the form of a bento box by the pool in my villa: prawns, avocado, roquette, roast chicken and a massive, creamy chocolate brownie I know I shouldn't eat: I'm in training for Hayman's signature chef's table tonight.
The afternoon passes in a blur of massage oil. The island's spa services include beachfront massage pavilions, hydrotherapy, Vichy, sauna and steam rooms, hair and facial salon. But I opt for a cabana rainforest retreat.
"I hope you're good at cloaking," I suggest to my therapist, Tara, as I have visions of my great southern white limbs shocking the golden locals.
Garden lovers are in for a treat on Hayman, after master gardener and short-shorts aficionado Jamie Durie put his muscle to a $4 million replanting of Hayman in 2010. Resort gardens are now a flourish of palms, vines, tropical flowers and sweetly scented jasmine.
The resort is in a period of change, too, with the coming arrival of its newest general manager, Scott Murray, fresh from Dubai's One and Only Royal Mirage hotel, new private residences and the opening of the DVF Penthouse, designed by Diane von Furstenberg (think French beige with white plantation shutters).
The island's new chef and director of restaurants, Dietmar Sawyere, formerly of Sydney's legendary Berowra Waters Inn, is bringing in degustation menus to complement Hayman's extensive kitchen offerings and planting herb gardens.
Tonight, there's a beach barbecue at Azure, in which a small battalion of white-clad chefs staff the barbecues, their grills loaded with thick steaks and Moreton Bay bugs.
In contrast, the chef's table in the main kitchen is set for just eight guests. We warm up with a glass of Moet before getting our backs into it, starting with chef de cuisine Adam Brydon's salmon tartare with chilled vichyssoise, yellowfin tuna with bloody mary sorbet and kingfish with the achingly expensive Oscietra caviar.
Wines range from an Austrian gruner veltliner to an Eden Valley viognier, and we're wowed by the quail galantine (a mini version of the archaic turducken - chicken stuffed into duck stuffed into turkey) and Darling Downs wagyu. The frozen Hayman "sloe gin martini igloo" gets us all raving, as a 60-centimetre-high icy igloo arrives in front of each guest, lit by an electric candle with a curl of dessert inside.
It's touching midnight by the time I leave the chef's table. Just the right time for a swim.
Best island time amusements
Take a helicopter for a picnic at Whitehaven Beach.
Explore Blue Pearl Bay II by speedboat, or walk.
Do a yoga class. Pilates, beach boxing and fitness classes are also available.
Book a night at the chef's table.
Spend a day on a game fishing charter.
Take a helicopter to nearby Dent Island for 18 holes of golf.
Indulge in massage — by the water, in your villa, in the rainforest.
Shop for crocodile-skin jewellery by Bruce Tully at Depazzi.
Take a seaplane scenic flight: it doubles as a swimming platform when set down.
For children aged 5-12, the ranger program is available during school holidays.
Getting there Virgin has a fare from Sydney via Brisbane to Hamilton Island, connecting by boat to Hayman Island, from about $654 low-season return, including tax. Melbourne passengers fly via Sydney, Brisbane and Hamilton Island with fares starting from $798. Hayman Island is a one-hour cruise from the Hamilton Island airport; tickets $290 adult return. Seaplane or helicopter transfers available.
Staying there Pool rooms cost from $590 a night; beach villas from $1790 a night. Phone 1800 075 175; see hayman.com.au.
Belinda Jackson was a guest of Hayman Island.