Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Australia September 2013 - Qantas Airways 2504 Economy Class (HTI → CNS)

***This post is part 14 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

Although I arrived in Airlie Beach via the Whitsunday Coast Airport (PPP) near Prosperpine, I was forced to depart via the Great Barrier Reef Airport (HTI) on Hamilton Island. The reason for this was simple: there were no flights operating the Prosperpine → Cairns route. The only way I could get to Cairns non-stop was through Hamilton Island, on the sole daily flight operated by QantasLink.

I previously wrote about how expensive the 1 hour 25 minute hop is due to the monopoly that Qantas has on this unusual route. Thankfully, I was able to put my stash of British Airways Avios to great use here, and I redeemed an award ticket for only 4,500 miles one-way.

One major disadvantage of taking this flight, however, was the inconvenience of getting to Hamilton Island. Cruise Whitsundays operates a Resort Connections ferry service that transports passengers from the mainland to several different islands in the region, in addition to a direct drop-off at the Great Barrier Reef Airport on Hamilton Island.

Unfortunately, ferry tickets are not cheap. The cost of a one-way journey to the airport is $48 AUD. If you are visiting Hamilton Island or staying at one of the resorts there, you'll need to be dropped off at the Hamilton Island Marina instead, which costs a whopping $56 AUD despite being virtually adjacent to the airport. Here is the full Resort Connections schedule, as well as how much it costs to get to each island.

Cruise Whitsundays serves arriving and departing passengers of every single scheduled flight to and from the Great Barrier Reef Airport. If you are taking the ferry from the mainland, make sure you confirm the departure point (either Abel Point Marina or Shute Harbour). Note that in September 2014, ferry facilities at Abel Point Marina will be relocated to the brand new Port of Airlie Marina.

My QantasLink flight was scheduled for 9:55 am, so I decided to catch the first ferry departing Shute Harbour at 7:50 am. It is highly recommended that you pre-purchase tickets online so you have a guaranteed spot. On the day of departure, I checked out of Base Airlie Beach early and walked to the qconnect public bus stop along Shute Harbour Road.

Qconnect links Proserpine, Airlie Beach, and Shute Harbour, and charges for tickets according to the number of zones transited. The trip from central Airlie Beach to Shute Harbour crosses one zone, so the total price was $3.60 AUD one-way. You can download a PDF of the zone descriptions and full schedule.

Qconnect bus stop on Shute Harbour Road

Qconnect timetable for Stop 29

Upon arriving at Shute Harbour, there was an amazing sunrise over the water, so I stopped for a brief moment to take in the view before walking over to the ferry terminal. There, my ticket to the Great Barrier Reef Airport was reconfirmed, and I was told to wait in the outdoor holding area until boarding was called.

Qconnect arrival at Shute Harbour

Sunrise over Shute Harbour

Shute Harbour

Cruise Whitsundays ferry terminal

We boarded the modern-looking twin-hull ferry from Berth 8. As we prepared for departure, I was a bit surprised to see how empty the vessel was. Since the online schedule showed there would only be one stop at Long Island, I figured the trip wouldn't take too long. However, I soon realized that we would be picking up and dropping off passengers at every single stop along the way.

Departure from Berth 8

Empty ferry


Departing Shute Harbour

After a smooth ride out of Shute Harbour, our first stop was Long Island, where about 50 people boarded the vessel. We then continued on to Daydream Island, where a small number of passengers disembarked and dozens more got on. By the time we departed Daydream Island, most seats on the ferry were occupied. From there, it was a straight shot to Hamilton Island.

Long Island pier

Daydream Island pier

Daydream Island

Hamilton Island Marina was not on the itinerary, but since we had already made every possible stop along the way, I assumed (correctly) that it would be our next destination. Being the most populated, and certainly the most developed, of the Whitsunday Islands group, Hamilton Island was noticeably more commercialized and crowded than both Daydream and Long Island.

We dropped off a decent number of the passengers, but then managed to take on even more after a long line of waiting guests boarded the ferry along the pier. As we exited the marina, an announcement came over the intercom, indicating that our next stop would be the Great Barrier Reef Airport right next door.

Arriving at Hamilton Island Marina

Hamilton Island Marina

Hamilton Island Yacht Club

There's just something very cool about arriving at an airport by sea. It is easy to see the end of the runway from the water, and if you're lucky enough, you might even catch an aircraft landing or taking off. Embarrassingly enough, I was the only passenger on the entire vessel who got off at the Great Barrier Reef Airport ferry pontoon.

Arriving at the Great Barrier Reef Airport

Airport ferry pontoon

Once on land, the tiny airport terminal was just a short walk away. I followed the signs into the building, and noticed that the entire hall was completely deserted. Clearly, I had arrived too early, but I suppose all of the other passengers on my flight were probably staying on Hamilton Island, so they likely had an easier time getting dropped off at the airport.

There were only four check-in counters total: two for Virgin Australia and two for Jetstar, but with Jetstar being a wholly-owned subsidiary of Qantas, I figured it would make sense to get checked in at their counters. Within five minutes, my backpack was tagged to Cairns, and I had my boarding pass in hand.

Terminal building

Schedule for the day

Completely deserted check-in hall

Check-in counters

I followed the signs down an outdoor walkway to the departures area, where a quick and simple security check led into a large waiting hall. This was a pleasant area to spend the next hour or so, with plenty of open seats, a small cafe with a decent selection of menu items, and most importantly, super-fast complimentary WiFi throughout the building.

Outdoor walkway to departures

Departures hall


Cafe seating

Waiting area and small shop

With so much time left, I decided to order a breakfast croissant sandwich from the cafe, and I enjoyed my meal while taking in views of the tarmac. There are very few flights per day into and out of the Great Barrier Reef Airport, so there isn't a whole lot of planespotting activity here, but I did get to see a Jetstar A320 land, followed soon after by our QantasLink Dash 8 300.

Breakfast croissant sandwich

Jetstar A320

QantasLink Dash 8 300

Qantas 2504 (Operated by QantasLink)
Bombardier Dash 8 300
Hamilton Island (HTI) - Cairns (CNS)
Monday September 23, 2013
Departure: 9:55 AM (scheduled) / 10:12 AM (actual)
Arrival: 11:20 AM (scheduled) / 11:30 AM (actual)
Duration: 1h 25m (scheduled) / 1h 18m (actual)
Seat: 3A (Economy)

After our aircraft pulled in and arriving passengers had deplaned, boarding was called at Gate 3. A short line formed, and we made our way outside for the quick walk to the plane. Despite an announcement that all electronic devices must be turned off on the tarmac, the rule was not enforced, and many people took their time with photos.

Gate 3

Walking to our aircraft


Our Bombardier Dash 8 300 had some wear and tear, but the interiors were well-maintained, and seat pitch was a very generous 32 inches. I selected 3A by the window, which I knew would be quite loud due to its proximity to the propellers, but since this was a short flight anyways, it wasn't a huge inconvenience.

Even with only 50 seats on board, the flight was not completely full. Although at the prices Qantas was charging per revenue ticket, I suspect there was no need for a high load factor to make a profit on this route. Luckily, the seat next to me remained empty.

Dash 8 300 interior

Seat 3A and 3B

32-inch pitch

After a few further inspections, we departed slightly behind schedule. Taking off from Hamilton Island affords some truly stunning views of the Whitsunday Islands. I was a bit worried that I had picked a seat on the wrong side of the aircraft for pictures, but I honestly don't think there was a single bad window seat to be had on this flight.

Preparing the aircraft

Views upon takeoff

Whitsunday Islands

As with all my previous flights on Qantas thus far, service was impeccable, and the snacks and drinks served were more than sufficient considering the duration. After reaching cruising altitude, our friendly flight attendant came by and offered us a wide selection of beverages (including my favorite ginger beer), water, and a pack of cookies (Belgian chocolate chip and white chocolate and macadamia). She then came around again for a coffee and tea service.

Snacks and drinks

Tea with milk

About an hour into the flight, we initiated our descent into Cairns. The scenery outside looked very lush, and matched what I had expected for the tropical far north of Queensland. We landed smoothly, and deplaned via the aircraft stairs. Unfortunately, rules regarding electronics on the tarmac were strictly enforced, and I wasn't able to take any photos until I had reached the terminal.

Descending into Cairns

Welcome to Cairns

My backpack showed up on the baggage carousel quickly, and I made it out to the bus parking bay pickup area in less than ten minutes. I had pre-booked the FNQ airport shuttle service, which has an agreement with several hostels and hotels in Cairns, offering a $5 AUD pickup from the airport. Unfortunately, dropoff service to the airport is charged the standard rate of $12 AUD per person.

I was supposed to meet the shuttle at bus parking bay 6, but when I arrived, I didn't see anyone there. A few minutes later, a shuttle pulled up along the road just outside the parking lot and the driver stuck his head out the window to ask if I was heading to the Travellers Oasis Backpackers Hostel. After hopping on, he sheepishly admitted that since I was the only scheduled pickup, he wanted to avoid the $10 AUD bus parking bay fee! Without any other passengers to drop off, I made it to the hostel in just under 15 minutes.

Baggage claim

Bus parking bay

FNQ airport shuttle service


  1. the pictures are great..keep up the good work

    1. Thanks for reading Evana! I appreciate it :)