Sunday, April 29, 2007

qualia: Unusual Luxury

Australia’s excited, Queensland’s excited and even the landscape gardeners on Hamilton Island are excited at the opening of Qualia, a luxury resort rivalling the best in the world. PAMELA WRIGHT reports onsite.

Although the Whitsunday Islands offer five star accommodation, there’s never been anything quite like the new resort, Qualia. The name has Latin origins meaning ‘a collection of sensory experiences’ and without doubt, lives up to its name. Set right on the secluded northern point of Hamilton Island in The Whitsundays, the exclusive resort consists of 60 private pavilions and is not just luxury, but luxury plus. About the size of a small house at 140 square metres, all villas have magnificent island vistas, dedicated staff, a private central swimming pool and exceptional, gourmet dining. About half of them have private plunge pools and I can imagine, after settling in, that plenty of guests won’t even contemplate leaving this special seclusion for the duration of their stay. I wouldn’t, although I might take leave of absence and head down to the main street of Hamilton to check out the different restaurants and bars which are lively and fun. And it’s not as if you’re stuck if you want to get out and about. Getting around is made easy with new-fangled electric two-person buggies, with one assigned to each pavilion. A bit like golf buggies, they’re easy to manoeuvre and they’re yours to use whenever you want.

Bob Oatley and son Sandy, who own the whole island, were responsible for the creation of qualia, an important addition to the premium extreme of Australian accommodation and they feel sure it will reinvigorate the luxury market here. “With uncompromising service and outstanding facilities, attention to detail in the design and construction and the scale and quality of the gardens, pools and public areas has never been seen before in this country,” said Sandy. And guests from overseas will appreciate that Qualia is distinctively Australian even down to the last piece of landscaping with the pavilions crafted from locally-sourced native timbers and stone, all set among eucalyptus trees and views of the Australian coastline and Whitsunday Passage. “The ground at Hamo is rocky and the land very hilly so the main aim was to make the mountain green and consumer friendly and we succeeded,” bragged one of the head landscape gardeners objectively. “qualia was a huge undertaking but it looks fantastic and the contrast from the land to the sea makes a magical setting,” added happy landscaper Carl Friend. Having stayed in many five star properties, this casually elegant resort has a new appeal that both domestic and international visitors have been waiting for. Built on 30 acres, the setting of the pavilions makes the most of the sun during the day and sunrises and sunsets to die for.

After landing at the Great Barrier Reef airport on daily flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns, guests, who are restricted to 18 years and over, are transferred in sumptuous style to the Long Pavilion for check-in and welcome drinks in the very swish sunken lounge at the $75 million dollar development. Of course some will arrive by helicopter and others will moor their yachts at the 205 berth Hamilton Island marina. Next year, yachties will be able to use the new Great Barrier Reef Yacht Club and the following year, the Peter Thomson designed 18-hole championship golf course will be in full swing, just across the water on Dent Island.

‘Where else but Queensland’ especially when a tailor made helicopter or boat tour will take qualia guests to The Great Barrier Reef, the most extensive reef system in the world, with 1500 species of fish, a kaleidoscope of 400 types of coral and more than 30 different marine mammals. And just 25 minutes by boat is the famous Whitehaven Beach where the pure white silicon sand can be so bright on a sunny day, sunglasses are compulsory.

Spa Qualia, by the water’s edge with the sound of the sea to soothe, has four single treatment rooms and two couples rooms complete with Roman bath, a state of the art gym, two infinity pools and a pavilion tha can be used for yoga and meditation. There are two signature treatments, both from Australia. The first is a hot stone massage called Bularri Yarrul or “warm stone” in the Kamilaroi indigenous language using 300 million year old stones from northern New South Wales. Their energy “jiva” has a deep relaxing effect on the muscles and the synergy of the stones combined with the massage is very effective in relieving tension. The second treatment, a one hour aromatherapy massage, uses a boutique range of ten Australian handmade blended essential oils called Anoint which act on the body's energy centres, or chakras, to release emotional blocks and provide relaxation and grounding.

Keeping in mind that rates include all meals, non-alcoholic beverages, non-motorised water sports, exclusive use of an electric buggy and complete indulgence, a pavilion with a plunge pool will cost $A1600 per night and $A1400 without. The ultimate in luxury is the larger Beach House right on the water with extensive entertaining areas, a full size swimming pool and a separate guest pavilion at $3000 per night. And if you want a change in your dining routine, a few selected restaurants in the main street of Hamilton are on the menu.

The head chef at qualia, Frenchman Stephane Rio, was treated to a European food familiarisation before starting at the resort. To ensure that he was right up to date with the best international food, he was sent on a ‘study tour’ to catch up on the latest trends and collect innovative recipes to be served at the two main restaurants, the elegant Long Pavilion and the more casual Pebbles. Rio and his team provide exceptional food and wine with special dining options available on the beach, in the library, in private dining rooms or, you can even order a specially prepared gourmet picnic served on the beach.

All sorts of activities, 40 altogether, are available on Hamilton and I ventured forth to try the relatively new Jetryder, a high-speed, 420 horsepower speedboat. It takes up to 14 passengers on a 30 minute super fast ride and shows some of the surrounding islands although, with the spins and full-time hanging on, there’s little opportunity to find out which is which.

The choice of the name qualia was very important to the owners and is best summed up by the beautiful ocean breeze from the Coral Sea, the water lapping over the pebble shore, the rustling of gum leaves and the scent of eucalyptus trees combined with the taste sensations of world class chefs. With a tropical climate year round, from 23 degrees Celsius in winter to 31 in summer, any which way, qualia is all too much for the senses.

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