qualia Resort, Hamilton Island

The Long Pavilion, qualia, Hamilton Island

The Long Pavilion, qualia, Hamilton Island

The dream destination for a Great Barrier Reef holiday is Hamilton Island: a popular locale providing many accommodation options and experiences to suit many budgets. However, qualia is THE premiere resort on Hamilton, and has been on my wishlist since it opened in 2007-2008 (and I am not alone, with famous guests including Oprah Winfrey, Toni Collette, Gordon Ramsay and Donna Karan). The stream of accolades that this resort has garnished is long and impressive, a register updated regularly with each new (or renewed!) title. When it won the Condé Nest award for Best Resort in the World in 2012, it was the first time an Australian Resort had received this honour. I was curious as to whether it would live up to my great expectations, but being full to the brim with the stress and exhaustion brought on by that pesky thing called ‘work’, I was ready to be pampered and impressed.

This cosseting began the moment we entered ‘arrivals’ at Hamilton Island airport. Directly in front of us was the qualia desk, where smiling staff ticked our names off their manifest, relieved us of our luggage tags and ushered us into the pristine, air-conditioned, leather-seated transfer van (we didn’t need to touch our bags until it was time to unpack in our rooms). As this was our first visit to Hamilton Island, our driver, David, stopped a couple of times on our short journey to the resort to point out the only island-based championship golf course in Australia and the lone tree meeting point for all on the island to gather for sunset cocktails. Both good to know, even if sunset cocktails were more likely than a round of golf on the neighbouring Dent island.

Around another corner, the authoritative wooden gates to qualia loomed in front of us – exactly as described by another visitor – “just like the entrance to Jurassic Park”…but without the dinosaurs (only wallabies, birds and other fauna). The winding road took us away from the giant gates swinging shut behind us, through the lush tropical gardens, past Spa qualia to the Long Pavilion – the main building housing the restaurant, an infinity pool, bar, library, reception and the most spectacular view on the entire island – looking north to Whitsunday Island.

Being greeted with champagne by a serene, designer-clad, smiling guest service…person is always a good way to begin a check in process. After shaking hands with Matthew, the general manager of qualia, we were led by our personal concierge, Michael, to shaded sun lounges on the deck to complete the orientation chat. In less than 20 minutes, our 3 days in residence had been mapped out for us, catering to pretty much everything on our wish list, including a cruise to Reefworld in the Great Barrier Reef and a helicopter flight back. Dinners at Long Pavilion and Pebble Beach were booked in, as well as a drop off for the following morning for our picnic lunch on a private beach…and I hadn’t even looked at the spa menu yet!

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After our lesson on our how to drive our complimentary golf buggy (for use across the entire island), we followed Michael to our Leeward Pavilion (which, at 90m2 is the smallest of the range of accommodation on offer). This south-west facing pavilion had extensive views of Dent Passage, and was far enough up the side of the escarpment for the occasional landing helicopter on the shoreline helipad to not be a nuisance. Architect Chris Beckingham’s design of these pavilions was pleasing in form and function; sleek and modern, yet with a hint of retro, with plenty of echoes of the surrounding nature in the red wood timbers and the grey stone floors and walls in the perfect bathroom. After Michael’s efficient amenities instruction briefing and pavilion tour, all that was left to do was unpack and crack open the bottle of complimentary Charles Heidsieck champagne, and bask in the serenity on our deck, suspended amongst the treetops.

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The other accommodation options available are the Windward Pavilions and the Beach House, all on the north facing side of the peninsula. These are even more luxurious with their infinity plunge pools, separate bedrooms and even more space. The Windward classic rate starts at $1550 per night for 2 people, and the Beach House (which sleeps 4) starts at $3650 per night.

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Our visit to qualia really began with a long-desired and well-deserved sleep in on our first morning, followed by some recommended activity…that is if getting into a power boat and being dropped at Beach 25 can be described as ‘activity’. The private beach drop off had me enthused right from the start. Rex was the captain of our short transfer, and filled us in with suggestions on where to find turtles and manta rays from our beach as well as tips about our stay at qualia in general. The set up on the sand, well away from the incoming tide, was perfect – umbrella securely erected, sun lounge cushions shaded beneath it, towels rolled and ready, and a sealed bucket containing sunscreen, bug spray, map, phone and first aid kit. All we needed was our books and the hamper provided by the kitchen – the contents of which we had selected the day before. After about half an hour, I was wondering if we should call them to come and get us – I am so used to working, even in ‘free’ time, that I found it difficult to embrace the compulsory relaxation moments, and kept thinking of things I could be ‘getting done’. The incredulous look on the face of my spouse at this suggestion, made me abandon the crazy notion, and the remaining two and a half hours passed unmarked – walking, eating, talking, sleeping, reading…complete down time (a very rare thing in my life!).

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I highly recommend the beach drop-off on the first full day at qualia – it threw me straight into relaxation mode in such an absolute manner that I couldn’t fight it (not that I wanted to, but the programmed ‘work, work, work’ way that so many of us live our lives by is often hard to turn off!). This first day made it even easier to embrace the following hours poolside, or in the pavilion, sipping cool drinks, chatting, unwinding and revelling in the holiday.

Being a food-fan who also happens to be vegetarian, I am in gourmand heaven when a chef like Alastair Waddell flexes his creative muscles for the non-carnivore and creates inventive taste sensations that I have not already experienced many times over. Our lunch time Pebble Beach restaurant delights included two salads: one of roast pumpkin and baby beetroot, goats curd, blueberry, seeds & grains; and a quinoa, chickpea, rockmelon and feta, with olive, cucumber, radish, mint & toasted almonds. The delightful surprise element of both was the inclusion of fruit – the subtle, but effective blueberry coulis drizzled over the beetroot and pumpkin of the first, and the fresh and flavoursome cubes of rockmelon providing an unexpected contrast to the olives and feta of the second. For dinner in the Long Pavilion dining room, we were completely pampered with distinct and exciting flavours. For entrée: Organic golden egg, pine nut cream and truffle oil; and heirloom tomato, avocado ice cream and olive oil pearls. For our main courses: calamarata pasta of roast beetroot with goats curd and baby herbs; and king brown mushroom fregalone with roast artichoke and Parmesan. Pasta just as it should be, with complex, plump flavours that make you savour each and every mouthful. And breakfast! I challenge anyone to not be able to find something to their taste on this à la carte menu – we wanted to mix and match a little, and so asked for a bit of one dish and little something of another, getting spicy oven roasted tomatoes, grilled mushrooms and avocado on toasted rye, and, of course, nothing is a problem. LOVE it!

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But there is more to qualia than its multi-award winning chef. One big stand out for me is the attention to detail and attentiveness of its staff. Now, I’m not just talking about the printed comprehensive daily schedule (including weather forecast) left on our bed after ‘turn down’ (under a box of Zokoko chocolate), or the beach activities attendant on duty who will radio any approaching boats to stay away when we are snorkelling near the bommie off Pebble Beach, or even the eagle-eyed lookout standing on the shore the entire hour we were out kayaking, just in case we got into trouble and raised an arm for help. No, it’s the knowledge that we could’ve arrived at this resort without the usual accoutrements of…well, luggage (!) and instead, shopped in the boutique for our swimming costumes and clothes, used their sunscreen and reef shoes, and even their phone when out on the private beach drop-off!

Our location in the Coral Sea provided the perfect opportunity to cross some items off the ‘bucket list.’ A big one of these was the opportunity to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. Since every single dollar spent on the entire island can be charged back to our room at qualia, it was too easy for Michael to arrange our day at the Reef – all we had to do was turn up! Our complimentary transfer took us to the marina in the morning, we presented our voucher at the checkin booth, and after a short wait, boarded our large ferry that took us to the floating pontoon in the middle of the GBR that is ‘Reefworld’. The trip to the pontoon was nearly 2 hours, but that allowed for the scheduling of massages, private snorkel or diving tours, even diving lessons for the first timers. Since we were being flown back to qualia via helicopter at 1:45, and were arriving after 11am, it was going to be a fairly tight turn around for us. But we managed a 50minute snorkel, a massage, complimentary buffet lunch and a wander around the facilities, including the underwater viewing platform. While the snorkelling provided some fantastic moments – sea turtles, amazing coral, clams, sea slugs and an endless array of fish – the highlight of the day was the helicopter flight back to Hamilton. This flight took us over Heart Reef and Whitehaven Beach, providing the most glorious views and perfect photo ops (operated by Hamilton Island Aviation). For those wanting more time on the pontoon before returning to Hamilton, the option to return via the ferry meant leaving at 3pm instead of before 2pm, which is also the more affordable option of the two. It was certainly convenient arriving back at the helipad at qualia, with our golf buggy waiting for us in the toy-town parking area, just so we didn’t have to make the steep climb back to our pavilion at the top of the hill. They think of everything!

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For those wishing to explore more of Hamilton Island, the golf buggy at your disposal provides a fun way to zip about – and since the speed limit on the island is 20kph for all vehicles, you don’t feel like others are whizzing past in an intimidating manner! It gave us ample opportunity to check out the other accommodation options on the island, as well as the restaurants and boutiques. Our concierge, Michael, arranged some dinner reservations for a couple of nights eating elsewhere on the island, and we were very happy with his suggestions. In particular, Bommie Restaurant at Hamilton Island Yacht Club had outstanding food, again, very suited to a special occasion. The location was unique and graceful, with the soaring sails of the yacht club overhead, and fantastic views from within (thanks to architect Walter Barda), and the food delicious (thanks to chef Nicholas Gomez-Duran). It was the fine dining we expected, our vegetarian tastes were catered for with puy lentils and a medley of market vegetables, goats curd and sherry vinegar, and a sag aloo with potato, spinach, brussel sprouts and roasted cherry tomatoes. Our waiter, Enrique, was charming, in both manner and conversation, and pre-empted our every need – even to the point of appearing at our table to announce our transfer had arrived just as we were ready to leave. So, Bommie Restaurant is a very fine choice if you wish to leave the sanctuary of qualia.

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Overall, we did surprise ourselves a tad with the choices we made at qualia in regard to how we spent our time. Of course, a resort is always a good place to lie by the pool reading and relaxing (of which we did plenty!), but there are also sunset cruises around the Whitsundays, work-outs with a personal trainer in the gym, motored water sports and the enticing Spa qualia to fill your time, if so inclined. We chose an early morning kayak paddle across to Whitsunday Island; it was a perfect start to the day – we even risked taking a double kayak, and we’re still married! There were catamarans and paddleboards available, too, but our final day turned a bit windy…not enticing to the novice paddleboarder! Unfortunately, our busy schedule of fun, fine food and relaxation filled our days, and it was not until the morning of checking out that we realised that we hadn’t visited the renowned day spa – what a lost opportunity! Obviously, our visit to qualia was just too short – 4 nights is clearly not enough time to do a bit of everything (especially when getting sucked into a great book and reading by the pool becomes a priority in the day!). And I guess that’s the point – you can do as little or as much as you like at qualia, in complete luxury, and the comfort of knowing that everything you could possibly want has been thought of and every whim catered to.

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So, the verdict – is this exclusive, world-renowned resort “worth it”? It certainly exceeded all expectations, and for me was a unique and very special holiday to treasure. There are some guests who make a trip to qualia on a regular basis, and others who choose it for the important and exceptional celebrations in their lives – honeymoons, significant anniversaries or birthdays. For us, it was the latter, but we dream of it being a more regular occurrence.

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About bontaks

Nic is the the ‘Bon’ part of ‘Bontaks.’ Together we are Nic and John – two travel-addicted teachers who enjoy every opportunity to go places, meet people and experience life.

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