The island is small at just 400 hectares in area.
Captain James Cook first charted these waters in 1770.
Commander George Nares gave Hayman its name in honour of Thomas Hayman, his navigator. The two carried out many exploits together, becoming the first to pass through the Suez Canal and completing a dangerous navigation around Antarctica.
Edwin Embury, a schoolteacher, dreamer, and amateur scientist established a biological research laboratory on the island in 1933. The abundant wildlife and proximity to the Great Barrier Reef made Hayman an ideal base for scientific discovery.
Whitsundays’ fishermen Bob and Bert Hallam established the Great Barrier Reef Game Fish Angling Club in 1935, attracting local and international game fishing enthusiasts who arrived by coastal steamer. One of them was Zane Grey, American novelist, filmmaker and big game fisherman. Grey planted the first coconut palm on the island and, in 1936, Hayman became the idyllic tropical backdrop for his comedy drama, ‘White Death’.
In 1947, Australian aviation pioneer, Reginald Ansett acquired the island. Work began on the Royal Hayman Hotel, which opened in 1950 by Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Arthur Fadden in anticipation of a royal visit to Australia, for which Hayman was granted a Royal Charter.
Hayman soon earned the reputation as Australia’s foremost leisure and honeymoon destination and attracted widespread international recognition. Arrival on Hayman was by Catalina and Sandringham flying boat. These days, guests to the island arrive by Hayman's private fleet of luxury motor yachts, and private charter helicopter or Air Whitsunday seaplane.
By July 1985, a two-year, A$300 million project commenced to transform the island into a "true luxury lifestyle destination" and in 1987 Hayman was invited to join The Leading Hotels of the World. The resort undertook another significant renovation in 2001 and received many of its modern five-star luxury amenities.
In June 2004, Mulpha Australia Limited acquired Hayman, and, in January 2010, after almost six years of planning, design and environmental consultations, the final approvals were granted. The initial phase of this strategic plan has included revitalisation of the Hayman pool and the construction of luxurious new Kerry Hill designed beach villas.
Hayman re-opened on 1 August 2011 after five months of extensive restoration on the island, due to the severe impact of Tropical Cyclone Anthony and cyclone Yasi earlier that year. This period of closure enabled Hayman to complete the repairs required to landscapes, guest and accommodation areas, activity facilities and essential infrastructure as well as undertake other planned projects.
In the surrounds of the resort, a new botanical garden has some 33,000 new plants and 327 new plant species having been introduced by landscape designer, horticulturalist and personality, Jamie Durie, who was engaged to replant Hayman's 16 hectares of gardens.
Hayman Island contributed to Australian popular culture when the television series Barrier Reef began filming at Hayman in 1969.
In 1972, the first people to row unaided across the Pacific Ocean, Sylvia Cook and John Fairfax arrived at Hayman Island after spending 361 days crossing the ocean.
In 1995, then-New Labour Party leader Tony Blair addressed Rupert Murdoch and the leaders of News Corporation at Hayman Island, laying the groundwork for Murdoch's eventual support of the party in British parliamentary elections.