From the Torres Strait on Australia's northernmost tip to the gleaming metropolis of Brisbane in the south, the Coral Sea wets the entire Queensland coast. This is a warm, tropical ocean and lucky are those who sail, swim, and snorkel in what is perhaps the most biologically rich biome on Earth. Not only do shark, tuna, billfish, and other spectacularly large fish abound, the Coral Sea is also home to the famous Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest living organism.

Nowhere in Queensland do land, sea, and sky come together so elegantly as at Hamilton Island, halfway up the coast from Brisbane. The largest of the Whitsunday Island chain (at least of the ones that are inhabited) Hamilton Island offers luxury and excitement for well-heeled travelers.

If have a lot of money and a well-developed taste for tropical luxury, Qualia resort is the place to go. It's a plush, modern accommodation made up of about 60 individual residences, situated so that each living quarter is almost totally hidden from the others by lush tropical vegetation including eucalypts, spider lily, and bamboo. The larger pavilions include a private pool, polished timber floors, and expansive views of the Coral Sea through floor-to-ceiling windows that disappear into the deck below upon the touch of a button. Guests are provided with golf carts, as no cars are allowed on the island.

This part of the Coral Sea abounds with opportunities for snorkeling, scuba diving, and other water sports. At some times of the year jellyfish are a problem so nylon "stinger suits" may be required. We've seen a lot of beaches in our time, from the beautiful, if commercial, Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman to the isolated black lava beach at Hana, Maui. Fabulous Whitehaven Beach, located a 25-minute ride away via high-speed inflatable boat from Hamilton Island compares favorably with all of them. From miles away, the beach already glows white as the 98-percent-pure silica sand reflects the austral sunlight. This brilliant strand is long, stretching about 4.5 miles from Hill Inlet to Tongue Point. Close by coral reefs make for fine snorkeling and diving. There is little development or commerce here, and so much the better for it.

Getting there: There are no bridges or car ferries to Hamilton Island. However, there is daily jet service to the Great Barrier Reef airport from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Cairns. Passenger ferry service runs several times a day between the Australian mainland and the island's marina.