While buying a swimsuit at The Hut on Hamilton Island, a young beachwear assistant gave me a friendly tip to go with my purchase. "You've GOT to try the karma sutra cocktail at Coca Chu restaurant" she enthused, accurately gauging what I might be up for on my first night on the Island.
Try it I did - she wasn't kidding. Best of all, as my clenched shoulders gave way to the breeze and view of stunning Catseye Beach, I wasn't mentally counting my purse change.
Promising leisure, escape, lifestyle and adventure Hamilton has a relaxed glamour with universal appeal. Not only home to the late Beatle George Harrison (and a sometimes Hollywood set), its signature five-star resort Qualia was voted Best in the World 2012 by Condé Nast Traveler Readers Choice Awards. The annual yacht racing event, celebrity beach lunches, scenic helicopter rides and PGA Golf Tournament also certainly help attract the big end of town, but as I recently discovered - it's not out of reach for the average Australian holiday-maker either.
View from One Tree Hill, Hamilton Island
Take advantage of mid-week flight deals and a short flying time to the Whitsundays from Sydney or Melbourne, and in a serviced apartment (where you can even grocery shop online before you travel) there are a number of ways to maximise the pleasures of paradise without the price tag. You don't even have to give up the cocktails.
Set up almost like a luxury camping ground the Island has free local bus transport running in every direction - a helpful alternative to $45 an hour or $85 a day golf buggies.
Bush walks to the untouched Escape Beach and other walking trails around the island cost nothing, and paddle boarding, windsurfing or kayak hire off the main beach starts at $10.
A cheap snorkel will have you brushing shoulders with a turtle in a minute's paddle to the encircling coral reef.
Make the most of water equipment hire at Catseye Beach Hamilton Island
Tours can come in as high as $699, covering The Great Barrier Reef, Heart reef, Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach, but two-in-one deals combining reef snorkelling and a trip to Whitehaven on a short half-day tour are also an option, for just $90 per person.
Pristine Whitehaven Beach
For the ultimate cheap and cheerful day, start with breakfast in and $10 early-bird putt putt before finding a lazy beach and pool-side bed (yes the one in all the brochure photos) even if you're not staying at the pool's official hotel.
Main Pool by the Beach: Hamilton Island
I had assumed I was breaking in and was ready to be forcibly removed by security in my new cossie when I nestled into my shaded pool chair. Turns out they open access to the stuff that counts for everyone, on Hamilton.