Lauren Quaintance enjoys a luxurious minibreak on Queensland's Hayman Island.
It's the underground tunnels, more than anything, that tell you something about Hayman Island's history - and its present. We know, of course, about the roll-call of famous actors, politicians and musicians who have stayed at the renowned luxury resort on the Great Barrier Reef; everyone from "Elton" to "Leo" to "Mariah" - guests who need be referred to only by their first names.
But it's when you learn that there are about 400m of tunnels carved out beneath the island resort that you understand how seriously its owners take discretion and privacy. Those tunnels are used to keep staff (and any of the accoutrements of a busy hotel, such as food trolleys) out of sight. But they are also used to usher VIPs to their accommodation unseen by other hotel guests.
Hayman Island has been synonymous with resort chic since Australian aviator Reg Ansett built a hotel on the 294ha island in 1950. You arrived by "flying boat" and there was a miniature train that chugged around picking up guests and delivering them to their cabins. By the 1980s, Sir Peter Abeles had taken over Ansett and he had a much grander vision, ploughing an astonishing $300 million into its redevelopment. He even bought a marble mine at Chillagoe in Northern Queensland to ensure there was enough for the rebuild.
In the decade that followed the resort was known for the kind of excess typical of the late 1980s and early 90s. In 1995, British Labour leader Tony Blair flew in from London to address Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch and senior News Corporation managers at a retreat on the island in a move that came to symbolise New Labour's allegiance to Murdoch. The resort later closed for six months after being battered by Cyclone Yasi in 2011.
And then last year, after an $80 million revamp, the resort re-opened as One&Only Hayman Island. The Dubai-based luxury resort group One & Only have nine high-end resorts in places such as the Bahamas, the Maldives and Mauritius, but this is their first in Australasia. Though the resort remains luxurious it's distinctly less flashy and more understated than Sir Peter Abeles might have liked.
Approaching from neighbouring Hamilton Island aboard the hotel's private cruiser, Sun Goddess, the resort's cascading white modernist 50s buildings reflect the late afternoon sun and, from a distance, Hayman appears just as it might have two decades ago.
But while the distinctive buildings and vast hexagonal pool remains, One&Only has added a second family-friendly pool and reduced the number of rooms in the resort from 210 to 160. Just 38sq m prior to the renovation, the pool suite we stayed in - all muted tones, billowing curtains and deep Roger Seller tub - is now 75sqm. One&Only has recognised that space is the real luxury.
You could spend your time luxuriating on a daybed on your balcony deflecting the attentions of the cunning sulphur-crested cockatoos, but that would mean ignoring the island's many diversions - both natural and man-made. Rise early for a personalised yoga work-out amid tropical palms, have a hit with a Jim Courier-trained tennis pro, or clamber up a rocky trail to get a view from the island's peak.
Less athletic pursuits include the many spa treatments. Have your back kneaded with warm herb poultices (described by the therapist as "giant tea bags" stuffed with herbs) or get a massage on a bed that is literally floating in the sea.
The spa also offers a unique pedicure designed by renowned French podiatrist Bastien Gonzalez. During the $160 hour-long treatment, a diamond-encrusted drill bit, chamois leather and mother-of-pearl buffing cream are all used to return your nails to their "natural state" and no polish is applied. There's also a fully-fledged hair salon with space for four guests where you can have your hair blow-dried and coloured should you feel the need.
There are seven restaurants and bars (including a fine-diner called Fire that wouldn't look out of place in a Las Vegas casino with its heavy red drapes, grand piano and highly-marbled wagyu beef.)
Hayman is one of only a handful of luxury resorts that welcomes under-18s, and younger children should be happy in the kids' club with its picture-perfect cubby house, or in the new pool with its artificial "beach". Even hard-to-please teens should find something to like in the specially-designed teens club with its foosball and ping-pong tables and surfeit of electronic devices.
But none of that compares to the island's natural attributes. Just one of seven developed islands in the Whitsundays group, Hayman has 2km of silica white sand beaches and turquoise water. It is possible to snorkel above a forest of coral and sea anemone, the silence broken only by the sound of iridescent parrotfish chewing loudly on a coral head. Or to be delivered to a narrow strip of sand in the sea in time to watch the sky turn from pink-ish orange to inky blue. Or to simply to walk around the resort's lush Jamie Durie-designed gardens trailed by a kaleidoscope of dozens of blue tiger butterflies.
It's these moments when you feel sorry for anyone being secreted through the resort's underground tunnels. For who wouldn't want to spend every minute possible above ground enjoying nature's excess in this remarkable place?