The day before I landed on Hamilton Island I was told by two separate people that qualia had just been voted 2012’s worlds best resort by Conde Nast Traveler. Nice one! All I could think about on my 2½ hour flight from Sydney was kicking my shoes off and flopping into the idyllic swimming pool down by those turquoise waters. Not only was I invited to attend the Vogue Living Champagne Dinner, but as timing would have it, I got to stay at the worlds best resort.
Prior to this decadent weekend I could safely say I hadn’t been any further north in Queensland, or Australia for that matter, than Fraser Island. Unless of course you count jetting over the continent to a country north or north-west of Oz. I’ve always considered other countries for their tropical escapes, not my own. This really ought to change. I’d been under the ignorant impression that Hamilton Island was nothing more than a family-style resort with two dated high-rise towers blighting the landscape.
How wrong I was.
There’s a lot more going on than I imagined. Whilst being transferred to the secluded north-west corner of the island we stopped and took in the view of the marina and small “township” at its centre. It looked like a buzzing little place but there was no time to loiter as we had the worlds best resort to get to.
Once past the Jurassic Park-esque gates, a driveway meanders up the hill through lush gardens and native vegetation, allowing you to catch sight of eco-friendly pavilions and a spa centre nestled in the greenery. I couldn’t help but appreciate entering an adult-only place of relaxation; an escape from everyday life. That’s right. Nobody under the age of 18.
The Long Pavilion is the first taste of what qualia has to offer. Architect Chris Beckingham uses the structure and its position to frame the natural scenery and draw it to your attention. Long sweeping lines, local timbers and stones, reflective pool and Freedman Rembel furnishings. The comfort hits you immediately.
Accommodation types are fairly straight forward. The Windward Pavilions face north with sweeping views over the Whitsundays. They have a living room, separate bedroom with ensuite, private deck and plunge pool.
If you want to sleep where Oprah did on her visit to Oz, the Beach House is there for the ideal secluded retreat. An entertaining area, dining room, bedroom with ensuite, swimming pool and separate guesthouse. It was a pity qualia was at capacity otherwise I would have tried wangling a room inspection.
For my two-night stay I scored one of the Leeward Pavilions. South-west facing, it overlooked the opposite ridge of the island and Dent Island. The open-plan incorporates the sleeping and living areas and tucked away is a huge bathroom with double vanities. A welcoming bottle of Veuve Cliquot was already sitting on ice so first things first.
Shoes off, shorts on, the cork is popped and I’m stretched out on my private deck listening to the birds and even got visited by one very friendly sulphur crested cockatoo. Forget the flat screen television with its 120 movies on demand, this was sufficient entertainment for me. As for the cockatoo, it was more interested in my packet of pretzels than welcoming this particular Sydneysider to its territory.
Two restaurants can be found at qualia with the main one located in the Long Pavilion. An open deck wraps around one corner, offering views over palm and eucalyptus trees to the Coral Sea and surrounding Whitsunday islands.
I never quite made it for dinner but I did catch the early morning breeze up on the deck whilst chowing on good food and surprisingly good coffee. The scenery was mesmerising but I had to snap out of it. I was eager to jump into my club car (golf buggy) and head for Pebble Beach, less than a minute from the Long Pavilion.
With 60 pavilions in total, I was surprised to have not seen more people, even with qualia at full capacity. Arrive just after breakfast and the entire swimming pool may be considered your own. Arrive at 3 am and it most definitely is.
The pool never closes and the most appealing thing about it is the serenity, and of course its location. Nobody running around, splashing and screaming, distracting you from cooling down and chilling out.
Qualia’s second restaurant is down by Pebble Beach and the main pool. A sweeping deck overlooks the rippling water and a lunchtime-only menu is enough to fuel the body between activities like diving, snorkelling, sailing or sitting on your glutes and doing a whole lot of nothing.
OK, maybe I’ll just hang around to watch the sun set over the mainland before the evening meal. Where did I have dinner? The first night was at a fab new restaurant outside of qualia (read more in a future post) and the second was of course that elegant Vogue Living Champagne Dinner I mentioned earlier.
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, and the location simply was. Chef Alastair Waddell and his team were about to work their magic, and I couldn’t wait. A progression of six courses matched with fine Champagnes, by the pool, by the beach, beneath the stars.
Prior to taking our seats we chatted and sipped on G.H. Mumm Brut, sampling canapés of beetroot & truffle marshmallows and deliciously savoury and crunchy salt bush twigs. Let’s not forget the beautiful pork crackling, enhanced by a generous dunk in an oyster emulsion.
Once seated and settled we move on to some fruity Ruinart R de Ruinart from Champagnes oldest producer, starting with the forest of mushrooms. Served on a radial cut of wood, the medley of mushrooms is as delicate as the champagne we were sipping and a sprinkle of what resembles sawdust is actually powdered and seasoned dehydrated oyster mushroom.
The food and champagne journey moves on to fresh, over-sized glasses of Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé and a ravoli of crab and daikon. Once again the flavours are subtle yet lifted by some deliciously briney Yarra Valley salmon caviar and dabs of peppery shiso emulsion.
I was really loving the organic approach from chef Alastair where each dish felt like a garden microcosm. A 1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires joined nubs of confited Broome red emperor wading in an asparagus vichyssoise. A gentle scattering of puffed quinoa, nasturtium and fennel completed the picture.
The pairing of two of my favourite animals on one plate made me salivate immediately. Tea smoked quail and pork jowl. I thought it couldn’t get any better until I took a sip of the 2004 Veuve Clicquot la Grande Dame. Oh man. I clearly have expensive taste, I later learned. The rich smokiness of the quail matched beautifully with the fatty pork and those glorious bubbles. A little party happening inside my mouth. The thick corn emulsion helped unite each element on the plate; a few poppy seeds, some crumbs made using brioche and jamón ibérico and a ribbon made from set jamón consommé. Just brilliant.
I’m not one for dessert wines so the Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial didn’t sip too well with me. I could see why it was matched to the sweets that were to follow, however. A little teaser in the form of passionfruit lollipop; soft to the bite and dipped in pop rocks. To end, we receive a colourful arrangement of ruby grapefruit and blood orange served on a thin rectangular slice of grapefruit. Beads of basil tapioca, petals and micro basil are strewn over the top making for a perfectly fresh end to a perfect evening.
hnf travelled, ate, elegantly sipped & stayed at qualia courtesy of Hamilton Island