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