The Spruce Goose Café – a very special Wellington place

Just over the road from Wellington’s Lyall Bay beach, backed by the weathered warehouses of Rongotai and flanked by the runway to the airport, is the Spruce Goose café.

The Spruce Goose
The Spruce Goose

The Spruce Goose’s rambling old wooden building holds a special place in Wellington’s history.  Originally it was the domestic terminal of NAC (forerunner to Air New Zealand), then, for fifty years it housed the Wellington Aero Club. Now, although opened up, pared down, painted with a marine-themed murals, furnished with bright, simple functional café tables and chairs, it still has the feel and (if you listen carefully or happen to be there in a rare quiet moment) the creaking sound of one of those iconic wooden Wellington houses.

Inside The Spruce Goose
Inside The Spruce Goose

The Spruce Goose’s interior, however, could well fade into a pleasant background blur, because the views, from here, are sensational.  On the left, planes land and launch – a heart-stopping sight in a fierce Wellington wind and a heart-lifting one on a rare still day. Out front, there’s a great sweep of sea with, always, a surfer riding, or waiting, for a wave. On the right, in the distance, are the hills, with bush and rickety wooden houses clinging to their faces or huddled in their lee.

The view from the Spruce Goose
The view from the Spruce Goose

These stunning vistas might also distract from the Spruce Goose fare, if it weren’t so good, and from the service too, if it weren’t so efficient.

When I first discovered the Spruce Goose, we were on the way to the airport to catch a plane. It was Sunday morning, the place was packed, we had a little time to spare, but none to waste. I doubted that we’d get a table but a gracious young waiter found us one immediately, by the window. We ordered coffees. They arrived minutes later and they were hot. (“So what?” you might say, but to me, when it comes to coffee, temperature matters!)  Encouraged by the coffee experience, we ordered breakfast.  It was just eggs on toast, nothing time consuming or complicated, it’s true, but given the crowd and the pressure at the time, I did expect a wait. The eggs, too, were delivered promptly. They were steaming and the toast was crisp.  The bill arrived at the wave of hand (or rather an air scribble!) Minutes later, we were on our way, satisfied and calm.

My next Spruce Goose experience was a month ago.  We had just landed at Wellington airport. It was a warm, perfect, late afternoon. Where better to enjoy those first moments back in Wellington than at the Spruce Goose, overlooking Lyall Bay?

It was quiet, the lunch crowd had long gone, and the after-workers had only just begun to trickle in. Over a rich Spruce Goose coffee, we watched the light fade on the sea. A perfect return to Wellington, in a very special place – the Spruce Goose.



There’s no place like Wellington on a good day

Flying into Wellington is always a memorable experience. On a windy day you’re tossed about like a tin can between the hills or swept across the sea, with spray slapping at your windows, then dumped on the edge of the runway and bounced along the tarmac to the terminal. Forget about the views, you’ll probably have your eyes clamped tightly shut in terror. On a calm day however, you’ll have them glued to the window, watching trees and houses glide by just beyond your wingtips, or counting the waves that roll over the rocks in the bays just below.

Lyall Bay, Wellington
Lyall Bay, Wellington

It was a perfect day when I flew into Wellington last month – windless, cloudless, clear and warm. As we floated gently to earth past Lyall Bay, where surfers idled on the glassy sea, while on the sand, after work sunbathers soaked up the last of the day’s rays, the old Wellingtonian in me stirred. I had to be down there, in that sea, on that sand, or at the very least, beside them.  Because, when it’s warm and windless that’s what Wellingtonians do, they head for the beach!

Half an hour later, I was leaning on the sea wall, gazing out towards Cook Strait, breathing in the salty air and watching a gang of schoolkids battle it out with handfuls of wet sand at the water’s edge.

Bliss! –  especially after three and a half hours confined in a plane.

There’s no place like Wellington on a good day.

The colours of holidays

Green, blue, white, grey, yellow and rainbow – these are the colours of holidays! Whatever your preferred vacation destination – forest, seaside, mountain, desert, or mix of the lot – modern tourism has you colour coded!

A beach in Aotearoa New Zealand
A beach in Aotearoa New Zealand

Green Tourism, also known as rustic, country or agri-tourism, is motivated by the quest for nature and tranquillity. Green tourists seek renewal or rejuvenation in pristine forests or beside wooded rivers and lakes.

Blue Tourism centres on the sea, lakes, rivers, spas, springs and waterfalls. At heart, Blue tourists believe in the healing, restorative powers of water.

White Tourism leads to the purity and the cold of snow covered mountains in winter, but sometimes also in summer. The mountains, especially those which are covered in snow all year round, represent something enduring and reassuring in a constantly changing world.

Grey Tourism has the towns and the cities as its destination. Its object is the artificial rather than the authentic and culture rather than nature. . 

Yellow Tourism takes the holiday maker to the desert sands, with their solitude and their vast, arid emptiness.

Multi-coloured Tourism is the experience offered by organised tours. It races you through a mix of colours – the blue of the water, the green of the countryside, the white of the mountains, the grey of the cities and the yellow of the desert – the full rainbow of sensations.

So, what’s your favourite holiday hue?


Farewell to paradise at qualia

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 balcony of our qualia pavilion
The balcony of our qualia 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.

Luxury and indulgence at Spa qualia

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 view from the qualia pavilion bathroom
The view from the qualia pavilion bathroom

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.

Spa qualia offers ten different categories of luxury spa experiences –  Sublime Facials, Quintessential Massage, Footprints and Fingerprints (manicures and pedicures), Indigenous Offerings, It’s a Man’s World, Signature Ceremonies, Additional Indulgences, Body Elements, Couples Treatments and the Day Spa Experience. Within those categories are dozens of different treatments.

Decisions! Decisions!!

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.

Reading and shopping at Hamilton Island’s qualia

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!

Qualia's Pebble Beach
Qualia’s Pebble Beach

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 dawn

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.

Qualia's Pebble Beach
Qualia’s Pebble Beach

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!


The qualia evening

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.

The view from the qualia pavilion bathroom
The view from the qualia pavilion bathroom

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!

Luxury in the gym at qualia

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.

Qualia's Pebble Beach
Qualia’s Pebble Beach

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.


Beachside luxury at qualia

As in the qualia pavilions, down by the beach, one thing leads to another and one place opens onto another.

Qualia's Pebble Beach
Qualia’s Pebble Beach

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!