He returned for landmark BBC series Great Barrier Reef in 2016, a glorious exploration of otherworldly corals, majestic marine mammals and phosphorescent fish, a series that left me with a serious hankering to visit myself.

And this year my bucket-list fantasy finally became a reality when my husband and I jetted into Queensland, taking a one-hour 50-minute hop-over flight from Brisbane Airport to Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays. 

Hamilton is one of multiple points in Queensland from which to explore the reef, which snakes along the north-east coast of Australia for 1,430 miles, and thankfully this southern part hasn’t been affected by the much-publicised coral bleaching, caused by rising sea temperatures.  

Lush, wild and mountainous, the Whitsundays is made up of 74 islands, with Hamilton the largest of the eight inhabited ones and the only to benefit from its own airport.

Owned by the Oatleys, an Australian winemaking and real estate family since 2003, they have set about making this one of the world’s most sought-after holiday destinations.

It now attracts the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Oprah Winfrey and Taylor Swift, who flock to its six-star resort, Qualia, which charges upwards of £750 a night.

Hamilton Island isn’t the cheapest holiday destination, but there are more wallet-friendly options, with four other resorts on the 5sq km island. We opted for Beach Club, a boutique, 57-room adults-only hotel.

The luxurious reception area blends seamlessly into the infinity pool, which in turn blends into the azure waters off Catseye Beach beyond, all framed by swaying palm trees.

Our room was no less impressive, the king-size bed facing on to tropical gardens and the beach beyond. It was easy to while away hours on our terrace, watching cockatoos and parrots flit through the palm trees, while wild wallabies loped past.

Whitehaven beach

The Whitsunday Islands and awe-inspiring Great Barrier Reef. (Image:
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Scuba dive

The Great Barrier Reef. (Image:
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Protecting the plant and animal life here is a priority, and there are strict building regulations to allow greenery to prevail.

Cars are also banned (except for resort transfer vehicles), with guests getting around on foot or by hiring a golf buggy.

We enjoyed whizzing around in ours, up to lookout point One Tree Hill for spectacular sunsets and down to the impossibly pretty marina, with its pastel-coloured facades, for shopping and dining.

The marina is dominated by Hamilton Island’s Yacht Club, with its unique roof resembling a boat’s sails, home to the island’s premier restaurant, Bommie.

Outside the resort, we were able to connect to the complimentary island-wide Wi-Fi and charge everything – food, drinks, even souvenir purchases – back to our room.

Turtle

Green sea turtle. (Image:
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It was like staying in a marooned, super-luxurious Disneyland.

Soaking up island life, of course, is only part of the fun – the majority of activities in the Whitsundays are water-focused, and a trip out to the Barrier Reef was at the top of our to-do list.

We boarded a catamaran to Bait Reef for a full-day scuba diving and snorkel trip with Explore Hamilton Island.

My husband headed off to dive, while I was given a mask and fins and jumped in with my friendly snorkelling guide, Jared.

You lose light, and therefore colour, the deeper you go, so snorkelling is one of the best ways of seeing the reef in all its glory.

And Jared made sure to impart information about the myriad fish and coral species as we swam, such as an astounding 150-year-old brain coral, white tip reef sharks, shoals of parrotfish and turtles.

It was just as spectacular as I’d imagined.

The reef system is vast – it’s the world’s largest living structure and is visible from space – and we were only exploring one small section of it.

If you want to appreciate its size, splurge on a helicopter or seaplane ride with Hamilton Island Air.

You’ll take in iconic Heart Reef as well as getting an unrivalled view of Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, with its swirling, ever-shifting ridges of white sand surrounding Hill Inlet.

Koala

Cuddle koalas at Wild Life Hamilton Island. (Image:
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My husband and I decided it was too beautiful to view from afar and headed to this 7km beach by high-speed catamaran.

Its sand is 98 per cent white silica and so soft and fine, like baby powder, that it squeaked underfoot.

Here, we laid our towels and basked in the sun before hiking through the rainforest up to Solway Lookout, which offers some of the best views out over the islands.

Sir David hadn’t disappointed me. The Barrier Reef was indeed magical – and I had found plenty more treasures here besides.

TEN THINGS YOU MUST DO IN THE WHITSUNDAY ISLANDS

1 Snorkel or dive on the Great Barrier Reef (adults from $240, children from $140, exploregroup.com).

2 … then see it from above with a flight (from $330pp, hamilton islandair.com/aeroplane-tours).

3 Marvel at the swirling sands of Hill Inlet on an excursion (adults from $130, children from $80).

4 Tee off at 18-hole Hamilton Island Golf Club, designed by champion golfer Peter Thomson, on Dent Island.

5 Treat yourself to the tasting menu by chef Trent Dawson at Bommie.

Great Barrier Reef

See the Great Barrier Reef from the air. (Image:
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6 If Qualia’s rooms are too pricey, go for dinner at its Long Pavilion restaurant instead.

7 Take a tour of Hamilton Island by jet ski ($225 per ski for adults, $40 extra for a passenger over 12 years, hamilton island.com.au/water-activities/jet-ski-tours).

8 Take in the islands with champagne on a sunset catamaran cruise (adults from $80, children from $30).

9 Cuddle a koala at Wild Life Hamilton Island.

10 Visit during Hamilton Island Sailing Week, which is in August.

Whitehaven Beach

Whitehaven Beach. (Image:
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WAY TO GO

Return economy-class flights with Singapore Airlines (singaporeair.com, 020 8961 6993) from London Heathrow to Brisbane start from £765 (book by March 31, 2019).

Prices for Heathrow Meet & Greet Parking (heathrow.com/parking) start at £99 for a week when booked at least 24 hours in advance.

Rooms at Beach Club (hamiltonisland.com.au/accommodation/beach-club-hotel-resort) start from $710 per night (roughly £399).

For more on the Whitsunday Islands, visit queensland.com.

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