I’m floating in my private plunge pool, sipping on an iced tea while gazing at the shimmering aquamarine waters of the Coral Sea. A yacht sails past; its occupants swivel their heads to peer curiously in my direction. I feel grand hidden away in qualia resort on the Whitsunday Coast.
I can just imagine the conversation. See that resort hidden among the trees over there on Hamilton Island? It’s one of the most exclusive in the country. I wonder which celebrity might be floating in one of those private plunge pools today. Nicole Kidman? A famous model? A technology billionaire?
From the water, looking up onto the hill through tree branches, there’s a slim chance anyone sailing past can tell that the head bobbing up and down in one of the pools is plain simple old me. And the floor-to-ceiling glass panels in my pavilion, one of 60 scattered across the hill on 12 hectares of the northern side of Hamilton Island, are tinted. So whoever is inside can enjoy the view but inquisitive sailors are unable to see in during the daytime.
qualia is the pet project of multimillionaire Bob Oatley whose yacht Wild Oats won the prestigious Sydney to Hobart yacht race the last three years running. Oatley was so impressed with the nautical lifestyle he bought Hamilton Island in 2004 for A$200 million.
Before the completion of qualia, Hamilton Island’s five other properties ranged from three-star bungalows to the five-star two-storey Beach Club. qualia shifts the island’s accommodation offering into another echelon altogether.
But don’t expect over-the-top glitz. qualia’s understated luxury fits the nature theme of its surroundings. The Whitsunday Islands is a collection of 74 islands, mostly uninhabited, covered with national parks and white sandy beaches nestled in hidden coves. The sparkling aquamarine waters form part of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef area.
There are three types of accommodation at qualia (spelt with a lower-case “q”; it’s a Latin word which means a collection of deep sensory experiences), all with ocean views. All are equipped with cutting-edge technology, Wi-Fi, plug-ins for MP3 players and digital cameras, wide comfortable beds and spacious bathrooms.
The southwest-facing Leeward Pavilions have private sundecks while the roomier north-facing Windward Pavilions each have private plunge pools. The ultimate retreat is the Beach House, an A$3100-per-night escape with a main bedroom and ensuite, a spacious entertaining area with a large flat-screen television with surround sound, a 10-person dining room, a full-sized swimming pool and a separate guesthouse.
The main building, the Long Pavilion, is almost 100 metres in length with 100 floor-to-ceiling folding glass doors. It contains the resort’s signature dining room, lounge, bar and a library. As the climate is tropical almost all year round, these doors remain open most of the time.
A long swimming pool runs along the length of the Long Pavilion on the water view side. Australian architect Chris Beckingham collaborated with interior designers Pike Withers to devise a resort that blends into its tropical surroundings. Granite from the nearby town of Bowen is used extensively; the timber used as flooring is kwila, a New Guinea hardwood, while the ceiling is made from plantation hoop pine. Prints by indigenous artist Dennis Nona hang on the walls.
Freedman Rembel, the Australian team behind Sydney’s harbour-side Quay restaurant, designed the contemporary furniture which is inspired by materials, colours and designs of the tropics. The overall look is a stylish low-key luxury that puts you instantly at ease.
Breakfast and dinner are served at the Long Pavilion while the lunch venue is a more casual restaurant at Pebble Beach. The dining space at Pebble Beach is a deck overlooking the water; the building is part of a complex that includes a pool, gymnasium and cabanas. There are nice touches like enormous pool towels designed by Kenzo and a bronze sculpture by Nona of a graceful dugong mother and her calf.
The resort’s hilly terrain requires the use of an electric golf buggy. These are provided to all guests and can also be ridden beyond qualia’s electronically controlled gates.
One morning, I take my buggy for a spin to the Hamilton Island marina which has a strip of shops, restaurants and a bank. Pulling into a parking spot, I wonder why I left my luxury hideaway and after a quick look around the marina I head back to the resort.
My next stop is qualia’s spa where treatments utilise luscious international organic product ranges from Phyts and Eminence. The spa has six treatment rooms, two with sunken Roman baths, and a meditation pavilion offering sweeping views of the Whitsundays.
I indulge in a hot stone massage treatment called Bularri Yarrul (it means warm stone in the Kamilaroi Aboriginal language). 300-million-year-old stones harvested from Australia’s northern New South Wales area are placed on my body; their vibrational energy, or jiva, relaxes my muscles and melts away the tension I’m carrying.
The massage is over all too quickly but back in my pavilion there’s still more pampering in store. Here I lie in the egg-shaped bath for a relaxing soak while luxuriating in Aesop aromatherapy bath products.
The menu at qualia changes each day and offers an array of local and seasonal produce prepared in a creative and refined style of cooking.
There are over 40 different activities on offer including sea kayaking, parasailing, deep sea fishing excursions and helicopter flights to the Great Barrier Reef, where guests can spend the day snorkelling or scuba diving.
My choice of a picnic lunch on a private beach is exactly what the doctor ordered. A staff member delivers me in a motor boat to a small secluded beach and sets up a spot beneath a large umbrella. I’m left with everything I need: an ice box filled with gourmet goodies, a cold drink, suntan lotion and a two-way radio to order anything else I might need. Here, I sink back and relax in my own private paradise.