We’re leaving qualia. We’ve taken a final plunge in the infinity pool, enjoyed the views from our verandah for the last time and said goodbye to our pavilion.
The qualia coach makes its way slowly through the gardens, under the eucalyptus and the palms, past the hibiscus, azaleas and the lush green lawn. The tall gates swing open, we glide through and they close behind us. We’re back in the real world, heading back to our real lives.
I‘m leaving qualia without regrets. I’m looking forward wholeheartedly to home, the family, my own cooking, work, my own gym and even in a funny kind of way to mundane household tasks. I feel fantastic; I’m relaxed, rested, refreshed, rejuvenated and my jaded sensory imagination has been re-fired. But I’ve had enough of qualia and this I suspect is really the point and purpose of the place.
Qualia is a retreat and a refuge from the outside world, a lovely, peaceful place where everything is beautiful, luxurious, harmonious carefree and delicious. There is no discordant note, no discomfort, no ugliness and no care. It’s wonderful. It’s paradise.
But mere mortals cannot live for long in paradise, especially when there is bread to be won by the sweat of the brow on earth. They can, however, if they’re lucky take a little restorative break in paradise when it all becomes too much out there. That’s where qualia comes in.
Spa qualia sits at the heart of the resort. Like all qualia buildings, it is designed to draw the outside in and awaken the sensory imagination. Soft salt breezes waft in from the sea and the views out over the Whitsundays are sublime.
The Spa qualia ethos is to provide a unique Australian experience whilst respecting both the health and wellbeing of clients and the precious island environment.
All Spa qualia’s treatments are authentically Australian, drawing on indigenous, yet contemporary approaches. They aim to rebalance the synergy between mind and body and to capture the essence of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. All the products used have been selected because they embody the Spa qualia ethos.
After careful study and with my sensory imagination fully fired, I settle for a Sublime Facial called Aquum Elixir, a warm infusing mask with an intensive boost of vitamins and minerals which promises to saturate my skin for deep nourishment, hydration, firming and regeneration – fabulous!
From It’s a Man’s World, my husband chooses Wild Oats, a full body salt scrub, rain shower, hydrating back massage, spa facial, scalp treatment, hand and foot treatment. .
The Spa qualia experience fulfils all of its promises. It’s pure luxury and indulgence and it’s definitely a deeper sensory experience.
After breakfast in qualia’s Long Pavilion, we sit dithering over the lengthy list of daily activities which was left on our bedside table the previous night. Finally, we decide to stay and explore the experiences on offer within the qualia complex – the library, the shop and the spa. Reading, shopping and massages – my favourite things!
Tucked away in a quiet corner in the Long Pavilion, qualia’s library houses a unique and eclectic collection of works, from rare books and limited editions to best sellers. You can browse through a signed copy of fashion photographer Mario Testino’s Let Me In or launch into a light romance. The library also offers a range of the world’s most stylish parlour games by Renzo Romagnoli, a handmade chess set and Hermés playing cards. Quiet, cut off from the outside world and all its temptations, the qualia library is the ideal reader’s and writer’s retreat. I settle into a deep, comfortable chair whip out notebook and pen and begin a new post. Suddenly, the morning is over.
But before and even on the way to lunch, there’s time for a spot of shopping.
The qualia boutique is conveniently located just opposite the entrance to the Long Pavilion. If you find yourself stranded with ”nothing to wear’ for your next qualia evening, snag your bikini on the coral or just have a yen for something new and fabulous, head to the qualia boutique. Girl or guy, among its exclusive designer collection, including Collette Dinnigan, Camilla Franks, Marc Cain, Just Cavalli, Bulgari, Prada, Zegna and Melissa Odabash, you’ll certainly find something to meet your need or your desire.
As it’s been an indoor morning, we lunch outdoors, on qualia burgers (these are no ordinary bun, meat and greens combo but another sensory experience!) and fries (again no ordinary chip!) on deck chairs, beside the garden pool.
Qualia dawns are signalled by bird song and the whisper of the breeze in the trees. Top of the list of daily activities, left on my bedside table last night is qualia Yoga “a unique style born from the natural qualia essences found only on the Great Barrier Reef” It promises “a gentle journey of introspection…the perfect way to awaken your body and senses before embarking on a day of relaxation, exploration and rejuvenation” It’s irresistible. So, unplugging our little car we tootle off through the trees to the open air yoga and meditation pavilion.
There’s something truly wonderful about early morning exercise al fresco. Is it that old childhood urge to run outside and play in the new day or the instinct to stretch after sleep, or the feel of the cool morning air on the skin? Anyway, after qualia Yoga’s gentle journey of introspection (where I clear my mind of all care) I am renewed, relaxed, awake, ready for the day and for breakfast.
In the Long Pavilion, the sun slants through the trees, birds sing and the air is fragrant with coffee. I’m a breakfast person and a breakfast buffet person. The buffet at qualia is minimalist and rather disappointing. It’s not late when we arrive in the restaurant but it seems, well, somewhat tired too. By contrast, the “full, cooked breakfasts at the neighbouring table look large and lively with steam curling from generous mounds of bacon and eggs and juice still sizzling at the edges. I chew rather regretfully on my whole-grain roll and console myself with the bottomless coffee as I ponder again the qualia daily activities list. Still so much to do and so little time!
A brisk climb up the hill to our qualia pavilion, a loll with a glass of champagne in the infinity pool on the deck, a soak in the stone tub, fluffy towels, Aesop lotions and we’re ready for a qualia evening.
Each qualia pavilion comes with its own cute little electric car. We take it for its first spin up to the Long Pavilion for our first qualia evening.
Qualia evenings centre on the Long Pavilion. Here the pace is slow, relaxed and restrained enjoyment rather than revelry. The windows stand open on a balmy night. At one end of the building a barman flourishes a cocktail shaker. At the other, waiters come and go quietly in the long Pavilion Restaurant.
The Long Pavilion restaurant specialises in fine fresh regional fare and serves it up with flair and imagination. Everything on the menu appeals and we dither indecisively while the waiter hovers. We’re tempted to share and conquer for the entrée but can’t quite reach an accord between the wagyu beef (barbeque sirloin with honeydew, cucumber and raspberry vinaigrette) and the yellow fin tuna sashimi with avocado, elderflower and ginger ice.
The main is easier. We divide. I choose the crispy skin coral trout with buttered herbed with squid ink linguini and preserved lemon and he has the seared medallions of veal with butter poached oyster mushrooms and citrus jus. For dessert we re-unite for the cinnamon doughnut with raspberry emulsion and raspberry jam ice cream.
Back in our pavilion, there are handmade chocolates on the pillow and list of activities and excursions for the following day on the bedside table. The list is headed by Outdoor Yoga at dawn and followed by exclusive beach drop offs, epicurean experiences, golf, snorkelling, scuba-diving, Whitehaven Beach and Whitsunday adventures and Spas. So much to do, so little time!
They’ve thought of everything and everyone at Hamilton Island’s qualia resort, even gym junkies like me who might struggle to forgo their daily fix of physical torture.
Sweat and pain seem somewhat at odds with their mission to stimulate the sensory imagination but then perhaps that’s all part of the plan. Anyway, the gym at qualia is certainly not a gym as I know it. It’s a boutique outfit with a deck and a panorama over the sea. It’s a gym equipped with every distraction to speed you through your workout – music, television, water, fluffy towels, perfect bathrooms with exotic toiletries and stunning waterfront views of the surrounding Whitsundays Islands. And it smells of the sea, eucalyptus and exotic oils.
As in the qualia pavilions, down by the beach, one thing leads to another and one place opens onto another.
Outside the Pebble Beach Restaurant, where we’ve just enjoyed our first qualia culinary adventure, a path leads to a huge beach-side infinity swimming pool, surrounded by deck-chairs and little trellis cabanas. The pool garden opens onto the beach.
Commodious, deck chairs are drawn up at the water’s edge, with an uninterrupted vista across the water – perfect. We settle in to watch the Whitsunday world float by. A waitress in shorts and sandshoes delivers coffees and a s soon as the cups inch down to empty she arrives to remove them. Minutes later she reappears with complementary bottled water.
On the sea, the current carries logs from far out on the reef, fish jump. Kayakers paddle past. An occasional snorkel, propelled by a half hearted kick, bobs by. A yacht follows, with life-jacketed sailors leaning out to starboard. They’re blocking the view, they’re spoiling the silence. I wish them away. I close my eyes and in minutes they’ve vanished round the bend.
I brave the sea for a cooling dip. The coral is cruel on my bare, soft city feet. Note to self and others – be sure to bring the reef shoes!. The water is heavenly I float face down, lost in a landscape of ridges and ravines, schools of tiny fish dart around the forest of coral. I float face up, lost in the infinite blue. The shadows lengthen, the sky turns pink then pales. It’s time for another qualia experience – the gym!
“the qualia experience would not be complete without a culinary adventure through the finest produce our region and country has to offer”.
We begin our culinary adventure with lunch at the Pebble Beach Restaurant which sits just on the edge of the beach below our pavilion. Our table on the deck looks out over the sea to bushy bays on a distant shore and the waves lap softly at the stones below.
The menu is a great read and it’s sensibly short. Those seeking awakenings of the sensory imaginations, especially in three days, don’t really have time to linger. Still we dither. Beside us a gentleman is tackling a large colourful burger while his partner tucks into a work of art in fruits de mer which the waitress confides in a whisper is the black kingfish and salmon nori tempura with green apple, cucumber, wasabi, sweet ginger dressing.
We decide finally to divide and conquer, mounting a united assault on the entree of ribboned foie gras, chocolate paper and pear purée served with toasted brioche. We divide for the main. He takes the lead from his neighbour and orders the char grilled beef burger with fries, bacon, gruyere, caramelised onions, lettuce, and tomato while I wade into unknown waters for the alt ‘n’ pepper bugs with bean sprouts, Asian herbs and hot ‘n’ sour sauce. Together we conquer dessert – vanilla panna cotta with espresso jelly and hazelnut biscotti.
A wonderful beginning to our culinary adventures at qualia! After only half a day, my jaded sensory imagination is already beginning to revive!
Our qualia pavilion is tucked away at the end of one of those mysterious paths, suspended among the trees, above a quiet pebbly beach. You can hear the sea sucking at the stones.
Qualia pavilions are simple, spacious and like the Long Pavilion, in perfect harmony with the world outside. Its colours are the colours of wood, stone, earth, forests and sky from the Dennis Nona artworks on the walls to the fabrics selected by interior designer Freedman Rembel for the furnishings. Every space leads to another, each room flows to the next. On one side the living room opens onto a wooden deck with an infinity pool and a king-sized cane bed, on the other is the bedroom with a giant central bed. Beyond the bedroom is an enormous bathroom dominated by a tub of warm cream stone. Every room looks down, through the front glass wall, on trees, gardens and the sea.
There 60 pavilions at qualia but each one is hidden in its own corner of the 33 hectare garden. We feel that we have the island all to ourselves. Fans tick slowly overhead. I press a button and a glass wall rolls down. A gentle breeze blows in through the open space, bringing the smell of the sea and eucalyptus trees. There’s a flutter of wings and a sulphur-crested cockatoo lands on the rail of the deck. I am indeed in the Garden of Eden.
It would be easy to stay here forever, living on the complementary champagne, the Phillppa’s fine bagel crisps and garlic nuts, the mini-bar chocolates, the pretty little packs of herbal tea, luxuriating in the Aesops toiletries, the cloud-like towels, and the soft cocoon-like bathrobes, drinking in the views from the infinity pool, the king sized bed and the wrap around couches in the lounge or even ordering in from the sumptuous room service menu. But another zephyr ushers a faint hint of grilled seafood with a tang of je ne sais quoi through the open window. I am reminded that “the qualia experience would not be complete without a culinary adventure through the finest produce our region and country has to offer”.
Hamilton Island’s qualia, which modestly (or is it defiantly?) eschews the initial capital, is queen of Australia’s luxury retreats. It was here that Oprah Winfrey and her inner sanctum took respite from their hectic Australian tour and from the hordes that followed them. Qualia, which takes its name from the Latin for “a deeper sensory experience”, offers a ‘uniquely Australian experience … which inspires the sensory imagination”. Inspiration of the sensory imagination is apparently reserved for those over 16, as nobody under that age is admitted to qualia. Right now, this suits us perfectly. We’re besieged by under 16s, both on the home and the work front and our sensory imaginations have suffered as a comsequence.
Our qualia experience begins at the airport arrivals door. It’s immediately clear that we’re destined for quite a different place from our fellow travellers. A tanned, smiling young man, with the distinct stamp of a Greek deity, greets us and shepherds us into the purring qualia coach. In our wake others grapple with trolleys and taxis. These things no longer concern us. We’re no longer of their world. We cruise past the township, past the marina, past dozens of puttering golf carts, past sauntering holiday makers, past swish beachside resorts, past grand hillside houses, but we’re not of that world either. Up and down hills, around corners we roll.
Then almost at land’s end, at the northern tip of the island, we reach a tall, arched wooden door. It opens, as if by magic, then closes quickly behind us. On the other side, the road narrows and rolls on through a lush tropical garden of eucalyptus, palms, hibiscus, azaleas and bright green lawn. Mysterious little pathways lead away on either side. Words like Eden and paradise spring to mind. We come to a halt in front of a low, plain building of dark wood – Qualia’s Long Pavilion. When he designed qualia, Australian architect Chris Beckingham aimed to create “a luxurious Australian retreat that stimulates the senses and draws the outside in”. Qualia’s Long Pavilion epitomises that aim. We stand on the threshold, drinking it all in – gleaming wood, table tops that reflect the sky, broad inviting couches. My eye follows a path of light across the polished floor, over an impossibly blue infinity pool, through a screen of leaves, over a stretch of turquoise sea to a fringe of white beach on a steep, bush-clad island. There’s the smell of wood, eucalyptus and the ocean.
The deity installs us on a couch. Glasses of champagne materialise before us, while somewhere in the background, the business of the check-in goes on without us. Although the longhouse is Qualia’s H.Q and home to reception, the business centre, a bar, a library and a restaurant, it is restful and quiet. There is no discordant clatter of plates, no hiss of a coffee machine, no shrilling phone, no impatient click of heels. Here in the Long Pavilion, there’s only the sound of the water, the breeze in the trees, the call of an occasional bird and the soft ticking of cicadas. Time has already lost all meaning and we are lost in the view. Our glasses inch slowly down to empty. The deity re-appears. Would we like to retire to our pavilion?