It was the glossy allure of swaying palms and swim-up bars that tempted us to Queensland‘s Hamilton Island.

We love roughing it, but were tired of battling with beggars, haggling for hours and straining under backpacks. This time we wanted toilet paper in the bathroom. We wanted food that was safe to eat. We wanted drinks with paper umbrellas on the side. In short, we wanted to know if the sand was softer on the other side.

After being bustled from plane to ferry to mini-bus, we weaved past endless golf buggies. At check-in, we were greeted with an ominous warning: “Don’t open the balcony doors. It’s the cockatoos – they can cause a bit of trouble.”
I looked at my sister who shrugged. We had dealt with marauding monkeys before so a bunch of sulphur-crested natives weren’t about to intimidate us.

A warning ignored
Our accommodation had all the tropical ambience of the eastern bloc. We immediately slid open the balcony doors to release the stuffy air. We could see the road, and some trees, and the ocean was out there too – somewhere. And the sound of heavy machinery – lovely.

As we unpacked, a cockatoo silently landed on the balcony railing. “Hey look, it’s coming inside!” But delight soon turned to rancour. “It’s stealing our marshmallows!” I yelled as it lifted the packet up in its beak. We chased it out the door and saw a gang of them had lined up on the balcony rail. They watched us unblinkingly. Fearfully we latched the screen door shut.

We were later resting in our room when my sister woke up screaming. I began screaming too as I saw an enormous bird striding up her bed. Its black claws sunk through the cotton bedspread. Chasing it outside, we slammed the glass door shut. “Look!” I cried, pointing at a precision-cut circular hole in the mesh. As I looked into the bird’s steely black eye I remembered Jurassic Park. They find a way!

Again, the predator’s accomplices were lined up on the balcony. I grabbed my sister’s arm. “Don’t show them you’re afraid.” I said. “These are really scary birds,” my sister replied. If there was ever need for evidence of the evolution of dinosaurs into birds, then this was proof.

The next day we tried to find a part of the island that the cockatoos did not reign terror over. Our so-called “walking trail” turned out to be a bitumen road that went around the golf course, by the airport and then weaved into bushland at pedestrian-hostile gradients. As we descended, my sister suddenly cried out in pain as she painfully twisted her knee.

Raptors and quicksand
After about an hour, a 4WD lurched over the hill and I stood in the middle of the road, waving madly. With a relieved smile I blurted to the driver: “My sister has injured her knee – can you take us back to the resort?” The driver replied: “I’ve got to take these paninis down to the beach.” An urge came over me to start jumping and pounding on the bonnet screaming: “What is wrong with you people!”

After the ride back and helping my sister hobble up three flights of stairs we were dying to let in some fresh air, but couldn’t risk allowing the feathered raptors a second chance. It was then I realised the sand is softer on resort holidays; soft like quicksand.

It sucks you in with its promise of lolling around amongst impossible beauty when really it’s a bed-to-buggy-to-mini-bar affair. Oh sure, most people love it.

We looked at our scuffed boots and battered backpacks more fondly now. Will we ever stay somewhere ritzy again? Perhaps we will, but only as a last resort.