Hamil­ton Is­land’s Qualia has brought a new level of lux­ury to Queens­land, writes Susan Kuro­sawa

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - News -

THE gods have been smil­ing on Bob Oat­ley. The bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man’s Wild Oats XI took line hon­ours in the Syd­ney to Ho­bart race last month and Qualia, his ul­tra­glam re­sort on Hamil­ton Is­land in Queens­land’s Whit­sun­days, re­cently opened to much ac­claim.

The re­sort — low, walled and gated like a Ja­panese feu­dal com­pound — is on the north­ern­most tip of the Oat­ley-owned Hamil­ton Is­land. Its first phase of 27 north­fac­ing wind­ward pav­il­ions opened in Oc­to­ber and 33 on the west­ern lee­ward side of the es­tate will be pro­gres­sively un­veiled. Build­ing work is still un­der­way dur­ing my lateNovem­ber visit but there is no real feel that this is a con­struc­tion site. The plant­ings are ma­ture and the land­scap­ing is mostly com­plete, so de­spite the new­ness of it all, there’s al­ready a well-en­trenched feel.

This is an ul­tra-lux­u­ri­ous spread with the kind of grand spa­cious­ness, up-to-the-sec­ond de­sign and ex­clu­siv­ity that five-star trav­ellers ex­pect. The main re­cep­tion, din­ing, li­brary and bar com­plex looms over the sea from a high crow’s nest-like van­tage point. It’s known as the Long Pavil­ion, and so it is: a lean stretch al­most like a shear­ing shed but with none of the sever­ity that such a de­scrip­tion im­plies. It’s re­as­sur­ing to feel a res­o­lute sense of Aus­tralian ver­nac­u­lar here; in the same way as re­sorts such as Queens­land’s Lizard Is­land have not bowed to the generic global norm, Qualia could not be any­where but trop­i­cal Aus­tralia.

Fan­tas­tic lim­ited-edi­tion linocuts cre­ated by Tor­res Strait artist Den­nis Nona fea­ture in guest pav­il­ions, many with tur­tles, dugongs and other marine mo­tifs. He is Qualia’s artist of choice: his sculp­tures and etch­ings are scat­tered through­out the re­sort, lend­ing a clever uni­for­mity of in­trin­sic in­dige­nous Aus­tralian style.

The re­sort’s ar­chi­tect, Whit­sun­days-based Chris Beck­ing­ham, has taken an in­doorout­door approach, a log­i­cal move con­sid­er­ing the nat­u­ral beauty of this head­land set­ting. Colours re­flect stormy seas, wet sand, grey boul­ders and sum­mer skies.

Con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als — na­tive tim­bers such as hoop pine and kwila hard­wood and Bowen blue­stone — are of the re­gion. Only in­dige­nous species such as lilly pilly, gre­vil­lea and eu­ca­lypt have been used in the tiered land­scap­ing. There are screens of bam­boo and thriv­ing car­damom bushes; gnarled frangi­pani trees add creamy colour and per­fume but the feel is of tou­sled bush­land, with wa­ter views at al­most ev­ery turn.

The guest pav­il­ions are enor­mous, with lounge, bed­room and over­sized bath­room (with a shower that dumps like a cloud­burst), all four or five times the size of a stan­dard ho­tel room and beau­ti­fully equipped with a flat-screen television with 150 chan­nels, all known techno-ameni­ties and the sort of sleek and un­clut­tered in­te­rior de­sign that has be­come the dress uni­form of 21st-cen­tury ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The wind­ward pav­il­ions have private out­door pools big enough for a soak­ing plunge. The de­tails are all per­fect: beach tow­els are by Kenzo, toi­letries from Ae­sop (think: earthy fra­grances such as ginger root and gera­nium leaf) and ut­terly de­li­cious silken pyra­mid teabags’’ by Tea Drop (Earl Grey blended with laven­der or green tea sweet­ened with hon­ey­dew). There is wide tim­ber deck­ing, out­door furniture and pri­vacy screens, so it’s a bit like a mini-hol­i­day house, mi­nus the fight­ing over whose turn it is to throw prawns the bar­bie.

From the panoramic win­dow in our pavil­ion’s lounge, we watch the busy pa­rade of go­ings-on in the Whit­sun­day Pas­sage. It’s like a wall-sized TV tuned to a wa­ter­sports chan­nel. There are cata­ma­rans, yachts and small cruis­ers; there’s the scoot and splash of tiny run­abouts and the striped baubles of para­sail­ing dare­dev­ils whoosh­ing across the hori­zon like fly­ing Christ­mas or­na­ments.

The long and low planes of the re­sort rise in ter­races from Peb­ble Beach; this is a steep site so each pavil­ion has its own two-per­son elec­tric cart, and it is enor­mous fun loop­ing up and down as if on a fair­ground ride. Ev­ery­one we pass waves, which is very un­cool by fives­tar stan­dards but is in keep­ing with Qualia’s friendly vibe.

Dur­ing our break­fasts over three days, a bold crow swoops in and grabs crois­sants from the din­ing ta­bles. The staff chide it, flap ta­ble nap­kins and laugh with guests; it’s this lack of stuffi­ness that makes it a true Queens­land ex­pe­ri­ence.

Qualia means a col­lec­tion


deeper sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ences’’ in Latin, and it was the win­ning name in an in-house staff con­test. It’s a catchy la­bel, but man­age­ment de­crees it should be used with a lower-case q, which is the sort of new-wave wafti­ness that makes me want to harm some­one’s chakras.

On such mat­ters of well­ness, the Qualia Spa is an oa­sis of calm and in­dul­gence; there are to-lie-down-for treat­ments of the ilk of yam and pump­kin en­zyme peel and fa­cials with steamed rose­hips. Body wraps come in flavours as de­li­ciously mad as choco­late and cherry; hands and feet are cooled with cu­cum­ber and mint. There’s even a hot stone mas­sage us­ing rocks that are are said to be 300 mil­lion years old, which is about the age I look on ar­rival.

Af­ter two spa so­journs, be­ing at­tended to in cool treat­ment rooms con­nected by flower­bor­dered breeze­ways and open­ing to sea-view gar­dens, I feel less of a relic. And that’s be­fore a ses­sion in the tem­ple-like yoga and med­i­ta­tion pavil­ion. The spa opens from 10am to 8pm and al­though it’s busy, ap­point­ments are easy enough to se­cure.

It’s an­tic­i­pated that Qualia will have strong in­ter­na­tional sup­port; with tar­iffs from $1400 for two, it’s not for the masses. There are early in­di­ca­tions it will sit neatly along­side such luxe projects as James Bail­lie’s South­ern Ocean Lazy luxe: Clock­wise from left, the view from a lux­ury pavil­ion at Hamil­ton Is­land’s Qualia re­sort; wa­ter views at ev­ery turn; a Wind­ward Pavil­ion bed­room; a daybed over­looks a private plunge pool Lodge on Kan­ga­roo Is­land, South Aus­tralia, due to open in March. Bail­lie, who mas­ter­minded the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar 2000 rein­ven­tion of Lizard Is­land, then owned by P&O Re­sorts, calls this po­ten­tial au­di­ence

plat­inum no­mads’’. They are rich in cash and time, and seek­ing un­sul­lied en­vi­ron­ments and a high level of ap­pro­pri­ate com­fort.

Qualia will need to ad­dress ser­vice, how­ever, to be a re­sound­ing suc­cess. A few of the din­ing room staff are, quite frankly, like wan­der­ing wilde­beest, smil­ing be­nignly while for­get­ting ev­ery­thing. Our pavil­ion has no beach tow­els; in the bar fridge is a half-gnawed pot of pate from the pre­vi­ous guests and we leave Peb­bles one lunchtime with­out get­ting the dessert we or­dered. Th­ese are blots on a bril­liant land­scape that may sound mi­nor but, as they say, at th­ese prices . . .

Qualia is not a re­sort where guests are ral­lied to par­tic­i­pate but the weekly re­cre­ation sheet does of­fer a range of en­deav­ours for those who refuse to re­lax. There are cata­ma­rans or kayaks to take out from Peb­ble Beach, ad­join­ing the main pool and al­ter­na­tive wa­ter’s-edge restau­rant, or guests can be dropped at a nearby is­land or scoop of white beach for a private dip and pic­nic.

There’s scuba in­struc­tion, para­sail­ing, guided snorkelling ex­cur­sions and some­thing with the dead-scary name of adrenalin rush sail­ing ad­ven­ture.

We opt for a he­li­copter whirl, set­ting off from Hamil­ton Is­land air­port for an hour-long tour over White­haven Beach, Heart Reef and Hardy Reef La­goon. The sea is the in­tense colour of turquoise, the wa­ter skim­ming the reefs is a pale-rinsed aqua­ma­rine. We see yachts at an­chor in shel­tered coves and boats busily tootling in and out of Hamil­ton Is­land ma­rina. Qualia, from this height, mostly blends into the bush and scrub but we can see its two long pools shin­ing like strips of roy­al­blue satin. Some­where down there we imag­ine our favourite drinks waiter is look­ing in our di­rec­tion as guests dither over a green ap­ple and ly­chee mo­jito or lime and co­conut mar­garita be­fore lunch. Susan Kuro­sawa was a guest of Qualia. Check­list Qualia caters for guests 18 years and over; fly to Hamil­ton Is­land air­port and be met by Qualia staff for a 10-minute road trans­fer. Fa­cil­i­ties will be aug­mented in due course by the Great Bar­rier Reef Yacht Club at Hamil­ton Is­land ma­rina and a Peter Thompson-de­signed 18-hole cham­pi­onship golf course on nearby Dent Is­land. Meals, soft drinks and Hamil­ton Is­land air­port trans­fers are in­cluded in the tar­iff; $1400 for a lee­ward pavil­ion or $1600 for a wind­ward pavil­ion with private pool. Avi­a­tion Tourism Aus­tralia of­fers he­li­copter and sea­plane scenic flights over the Whit­sun­days. Ten-minute joyflights from $129. More: www.avta.com.au.


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