Clinging to the northern tip of the tropical Hamilton Island, in the midst of the Great Barrier Reef, Qualia is one of Queensland’s most serene and beautiful escapes. Built by Australian billionaires, the idyllic resort has a definite no-expense-spared feel, and all 30 acres of immaculately landscaped grounds exude elegance. And if you want a submarine adventure to be part of your stay, you've come to the right place: the reef is home to hundreds of species of fish and lots of coral, and the hotel has instructors ready to teach you how to breathe through an oxygen tank (and avoid the bends).
Sixty pavilions, including 26 north-facing Windward Pavilions, 33 south-west-facing Leeward Pavilions and one secluded Beach House.
11am, but flexible subject to availability. Check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £1251.55 (AU$2,180), including tax at 10 per cent.
Qualia has two types of rates: Classic (including breakfast), or Gourmet, which includes breakfast and dinner (to be taken at the Long Pavilion or Pebble Beach).
The resort has 12 hectares of immaculately landscaped grounds to explore, and the spa promises water glimpses and a soothing mix of treatments using Sodashi and Li’Tya products.
At the hotel
Two infinity pools, gym, spa, library, free WiFi, two-seater buggies for every suite, a four-seater golf cart for each Qualia Pavilion. In rooms: flatscreen TVs, DVD/CD players available on request, iPod dock, minibar, Aesop toiletries, private plunge pool (Windward Pavilions only).
Our favourite rooms
The Beach House, a super-private, self-contained pavilion, is our dream stay. It comes with a master bedroom and ensuite, a spacious living area with a dining table for 10, a separate guesthouse and its own 12-metre infinity pool. We also love Windward Pavilions 5, 6 and 7 (which have uninterrupted views over the Great Barrier Reef), and Windward Pavilion 23, which has an extra deck. If you have your heart set on a specific Pavilion, you can guarantee your choice when booking (for an extra charge).
The resort has two infinity-edged pools, both offering stunning views. The lap pool runs alongside the full length of the Long Pavilion, while the enormous square-shaped Pebble Beach pool is flanked by a row of cabanas and a large grassy area.
The Whitsundays are a big favourite of Australia’s sailing community, so bring your deck shoes and captain’s hat. And your sea legs.
If staying in a Qualia Pavilion, guests should bring a valid International or Australian driver's licence to use the four-seater golf carts.
This serene hotel is better suited to couples, and doesn’t cater for children under the age of 16.
If it’s a hot night, ask for tables 40 to 49 so you can dine beneath the stars.
Little black dress and jewellery for her; open-necked shirt for him.
Helmed by executive chef Doug Innes-Will, Pebble Beach is the resort’s fine-dining offering, with tasting menus that celebrate the diversity of Australia’s produce and culinary culture. Local, sustainable and ethically-produced ingredients are cooked and presented with panache, staying true to the national cuisine while toying with the country’s Asian and European influences. The tables are ranged across a balcony set over the water, ensuring plenty sun and a cooling sea breeze during the day, and a front row seat for sunset-gazing at the onset of the evening. The Long Pavilion is Qualia’s more casual, á la carte eatery, where you’ll find modern Australian cuisine served at candlelit tables swathed in white linen.
Drinks can be taken in the sunken lounge of the Long Pavilion, where you can sip tropical fruit-inspired cocktails on low-slung couches, or in a raised area that overlooks the resort’s lap pool.
The Long Pavilion stays open for as long as guests want to stay up; Pebble Beach closes at sunset.
Available 24 hours a day if you’d prefer to order a food platter in the privacy of your own pavilion.
A trail of jade hued islands set in tropical turquoise waters, the Whitsunday Islands are dotted just off the Queensland coast. Qualia sits on the secluded northern most tip of easily accessible Hamilton Island.
You can fly direct to Hamilton Island (www.hamiltonisland.com.au/airport) with Qantas (www.qantas.com; 13 13 13), Jetstar (www.jetstar.com; 13 15 38) and Virgin Australia (www.virginaustralia.com; 13 67 89). Flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane depart regularly. Airport transfers to Qualia can also be arranged.
Cruise Whitsundays (www.cruisewhitsundays.com; +61 (0)7 4946 4662) operates daily runs between Hamilton Island and the mainland Shute Harbour. Each run takes about 35-55 minutes, depending upon weather.
Worth getting out of bed for
Take a short boat trip to Whitehaven Beach, often rated as one of the most beautiful in the world. With seven kilometres of pure-white sand, it’s the largest in the archipelago, stretched along the south-east coast of nearby Whitsunday Island. You're also in possibly the world's most-primed-for-scuba-diving spot: head beneath the waves to the reef with an instructor, with some open-water-dive training first.
As Qualia features two top-notch restaurants you probably won’t want to stray further afield, but if you fancy a change of scene head for the marina. Home to most of the bars and restaurants which aren’t part of a hotel, it’s a good spot to score an ice-cream, fish and chips or deli treats. For a fuller meal, lively Romano’s Italian Restaurant is set waterside on this aquatic hub, serving up classic dishes and a fresh daily-changing seafood menu. Manta Ray Pizza offers wood-fired pizzas and a little bar with marina views. The intimate Beach Club Restaurant woos diners with subtle mood lighting and a majestic beachfront setting, ideal for a relaxed lunch or romantic dinner. There’s a central number for all reservations on the island (+61 (0)7 4946 9999).
For an alfresco drink head to Marina Daze, an open-air bar under the canopy of a mock ship’s mast and sails, ‘moored’ on a grassy area by the waterfront. There’s a central number for all reservations on the island (+61 (0)7 4946 9999).
I’m pleased I nabbed the window seat. As we descend, the spectacular Whitsundays bulge out of the depths like a great bunch of potbellied sea creatures lolling about in the midday sun.
A gracious envoy welcomes us on arrival with cool drinks, before a picturesque 10-minute drive to Qualia. This seems the ideal time to ask the obvious question: ‘Why the choice of hotel name?’ Mr Smith and I, having imagined myriad definitions of an indigenous term, couldn’t have got it more wrong. It’s ancient Greek, meaning a deep multi-sensory experience. Just what the doctor ordered.
‘Welcome to Qualia’ is the gentle greeting on our arrival at the Long Pavilion, the heart of the resort. It would be a cynical traveller who didn’t find themselves in awe of the breathtaking view from this space – it’s here that we begin to fully appreciate our good fortune. Standing in the middle of the world’s largest marine park is in itself a rare gift, never mind that we’re on the tip of an island peninsula taking in a 250-degree view of pristine nature and countless islands as far as the eye can see. The space itself sets an architectural tenor consistent throughout the resort – natural materials, mostly wood and stone, meticulously detailed and finished, furnished with muted organic tones. The pervasive atmosphere is luxurious calm. Honestly, you could just sit here all day – looking over the step-straight-in infinity pool – without ever making it to your room.
‘Glass of French? Don’t mind if I do. It’s my usual tipple.’ What am I saying? Well, in a place like this I can even believe it myself. Lounging on couches, we’re taken through a tantalising orientation of the premises. No standard check-ins here; just a cosy poolside chat, followed by a golf-buggy ride through the grounds for a spot of lunch.
The resort is revealed as a ‘community’ of pavilions enveloped by lush tropical gardens and forest. At the base of the hill, nestled on a pebbly beach is – you guessed it – Pebble Beach, another of Qualia’s network of retreats. There’s a second gorgeous infinity pool and an open-air café, should you need refreshment while you swim.
Following a scrumptious meal of Moreton Bay bugs – also known as the bay lobster – we might well be tempted to grab a towel and rest by the pool, or perhaps opt to use the catamarans or kayaks calling out to us from the beach. Nah. In truth, we’re dying to take a look at our room.
‘Swiss Family Robinson circa 2010,’ says Mr Smith. It does, indeed, feel a lot like a lavishly appointed treehouse, perched amid rainforest and oriented seaward. It’s totally private and nothing has been overlooked. Really, it’s an open-plan apartment, with a subtle dividing off of exterior, sitting, sleeping and bathing spaces. We plunge into our personal infinity pool and emerge, re-energised enough to appreciate the giant day-bed.
Time for some serious relaxation. I’m determined not to go any longer without testing Spa Qualia. Given the extensive possibilities – everything from hot-stone therapy to detoxifying wraps – I’m concerned my choice of a bespoke massage might seem tame. I needn’t have worried.
From the delicious signature herbal tea on arrival to the fabulous rub-down and Vichy shower that follows, this is pure pampering Great Barrier Reef style. My post-ritual meditation, however, is halted by a demanding Mr Smith wanting to explore the entire five square kilometres of this Queensland island, before the sun hits the watery horizon.
There are virtually no cars on Hamilton, so most holidaymakers explore in golf buggies. The residual effect is that the place is wonderfully quiet. We stop for a cocktail atop a hill, where a sunset bar is set up each evening so people can enjoy the extraordinary vista, drink in hand, or spy on distant islands through a coin-operated telescope. On the island’s main street, a group of shops, cafés and restaurants are upstaged by the pretty harbour. White weatherboard buildings and sparkling yachts remind us of Californian fishing villages. Every Sunday evening there’s a laid-back acoustic performance here on the grassy banks, so we settle in with ice-creams to listen for a while.
The romance of the Long Pavilion and its contemporary cuisine beckon. Mr Smith and I, seated on the deck under a brilliant sky, give the seven-course degustation menu a thorough sampling. Mod Oz dishes such as foie gras pithivier, crab and coriander tians and desiree-wrapped blue-eye cod give our tastebuds, and our mental dictionaries, a satisfying workout. We retire for armchair coffee in the bar, and we are sufficiently caffeinated to visit the library for some post-prandial cerebration. Mr Smith takes up an archaeological tome, while I opt for a limited-edition photographic compilation. So many gorgeous books, so little time. Back in our room I head for the pod-shaped tub to soak up the Aesop products. Mr Smith instead flexes his technological muscles with the audio/video choices. As a couple who often choose to relax in different ways, Qualia allows us to rev up or wind down in perfect synchronicity.
On our final morning we consider our brief indulgence. Mr Smith reminds me of the legend of Marc Antony transporting a beach of sand to the island of Sedir, off the Turkish coast, so that Cleopatra could meet him in an exotic location and still claim Egyptian soil between her toes. This unique hideaway evokes such fantasies. Indeed, Qualia lives up to its etymology: all five senses have been stimulated and also sated. A sixth one tells me this affair will be long remembered. And if you think that sounds sexy, it is intended to.