Happy New Year dear reader; I shall kick off 2018 with some travel-related food for thought… Australia has long been at the top of my bucket list, kept on that list thanks to the mammoth pilgrimage required to reach the complete opposite point on the planet. For many travellers in the Western hemisphere, it’s a trip you might only ever make once (if perhaps at all); for others, a single visit and they decide to undertake the permanent move East. It is an enchanting and diverse land, but there’s too much to cover in a single post, so I’ll break it into two digestible bits; this is Part 1, and recounts a sublime week at Qualia on Hamilton Island, part of the Whitsundays, blessed with turquoise crystal waters, dusted with powdered white sands, and fringed by lush tropical forest. Totally repaired since a dreadful tropical cyclone wrought devastation upon the islands some 7 months earlier, The Whitsundays are Australasia’s answer to The Maldives, but with one unbeatable competitive advantage: the Great Barrier Reef. Click MORE to see what exotic treasures I found there…
My destination resort came extremely highly recommended by the ‘Antipodean cognoscenti’, of which there are MANY. If you’ve been, you have a view; and so I’m now one of those people! Qualia was the name of my hotel, and the word itself describes those individual, personal sensory perceptions which unfold within your mind, and which define your reality and existence. I like this name, as it says something about what the resort evokes. Oh yes, and I say ‘resort’ with caution, as it conjures ancient images of British package holidays in Benidorm… this is a far more subtle a kind of resort, which sits on Hamilton Island, at the beating heart of the Whitsundays and is one of 74 tropical islands that lie between the Queensland Coast and The Great Barrier Reef.
This is *the* destination to experience Australian health and vitality along this gleaming stretch of the coast. Here’s why…
SOME CONTEXT ABOUT THE ISLAND…
The entirety of Hamilton Island is owned by the Oakley family, as indeed is Qualia, the flagship hospitality destination. Visiting a large island which is owned by one family is a totally unique experience; their passion and significant investment into world-class infrastructure means the island is superbly well groomed, beautifully maintained, is very clean, feels safe and is utterly stunning. The family even built a commercial airport to ensure the throughput of tourism, which is a staggering undertaking when you sit back and think about it! Everywhere you go, you command your own Club car Buggy which is supplied by the hotel to each of its guests, but which are also used by residents across the entire island. If you go to a restaurant or bar outside of the hotel, or indeed if you undertake any other activities on the broader island, you still sign the cheque onto your hotel room. That effectively means that the whole island is your resort, and that is quite distinct from my experience of travelling anywhere else in the world. It is totally liberating!
Every year there’s a Triathlon, a Marathon, an annual long-distance swim along Whitehaven beach, canoe races, and my personal favourite, the Audi Hamilton Island Race Week for sailing!
The hotel comprises dozens of structures, all discretely woven into the cliff face at the northern-most tip of the island, and is architecturally modern and discreet, in keeping with the colours of the granite lithology and the forestry around it. This was very important to the owners, and as a guest, I feel it speaks to their respect for this protected landscape. Having been directly hit in April by Cyclone Debbie, the owners were super keen to refresh the whole resort so that they were 100% ready for their summer season (December), and they did a superb job of it; I would have and no clue that 260 kph winds were levelling this tropical paradise just 7 months prior to my visit, such was the resolve of the local people who all waded in to fix it up.
Having endured a 30-hour voyage to get here, Qualia was the first example of Australian hospitality I’d experienced, and I found it characteristically friendly, warm and welcoming. Staff genuinely seem happy to work here; you’re greeted with a real smile, (living in London that’s a rarity) as the pace and flavor of Island life seem to instill a contented tranquility amongst the c.2,000 locals. By the end of the trip, this becomes somewhat infectious…
It’s an outdoorsy, beautiful, and most immersive venue for a wellness escape in the midst of the beauty of nature…
I started each day with an hour-long 07:30 yoga class in their beautiful open-walled pavilion, followed by the healthiest breakfast whilst surveying the Coral Sea below.
I left each session feeling utterly recharged, emotionally contented and totally compelled to return.
Given the closeness to the waters, you’d be right to expect the freshest of fish, which for a pescetarian is a dream. However, there’s also plenty of chicken and red meat on the menu, sourced locally in Australia. You’ll get the opportunity to try some new fishes for the first time, such as a Humpty Doo Barramundi, as well as a host of golden reef fish that are in bountiful supply here.
Whether by the pool, on the beach, or in the open air restaurant, Qualia’s cuisine, is accompanied by endless views across the tranquil waters, which instantly renders any meal that little more inspiring. This little Pied Currawong joined me for breakfast every day to admire that vista!
Breakfast – my favourite meal – was afforded a lengthy menu including my daily regular, egg white omelet with shavings of parmesan cheese, rocket and a pesto-herb dressing, plus a small exotic-fruits chia porridge. Every morning a two juice power shots would appear along with a small fresh fruit platter. The quality of the food was high though perhaps not in comparison to what Italy / France is capable of conjuring.
Activities are somewhat of a speciality for Qualia. There’s the Spa, Yoga, charters, cruises, Golf, guided walks, local food tasting classes, Rib tours, jet ski tours, seaplane/helicopter tours, wildlife tours, naturopath discussions, gymming, and sailing, amongst many others.
There’s an indoor/ outdoor gym which is adequately equipped with Technogym machines and a selection of sufficiently heavy free weights (mostly dumbells, though some kettlebells and bars too) with bi-fold doors leading to a terrace looking out onto the sea, and steps down to a white sand training area. Serious viewspo and extremely motivating and the great outdoors is indeed the best gym on offer here, with an external rowing machine to benefit from the above.
Water sports included my favourite, sailing, alongside a superb Rib tour of the island, though there were cruises, dinghy’s, jetskis, paragliding, kayaking, paddleboarding, wakeboarding (etc) on offer!
This was such a gorgeous spa, nestled high on top of Qualia, with many of its pavilions designed in such a manner as to feel that there are no walls (clearly there are), yet it feels completely hidden away from the rest of the world. It’s an open-air sanctuary where you instantly relax. You often feel a soft warm sea breeze whilst gazing out over the ocean. Wonderful toiletries from Aesop adorn every part of this complex, which benefits sauna and steam facilities, outdoor showers, endless spa treatments including deep tissue, reflexology, reiki, naturopathy, and personal training. I visited daily for a dose of invigoration. Away from the spa complex, THIS infinity pool…
Every morning there’s a complimentary yoga class on offer, hosted by the lovely teacher (and island local) Damien Evans who is a distinguished Naturopath and Iridologist; his energy and spirit are a superb accompaniment to the day’s beginning, so I could not recommend this daybreak activity more strongly. He is only too happy to help you feel better on your trip, and strikes a great balance to get you there.
There are several mildly demanding routes available to walk, stretching to 20km of trail. I found them to be better for taking in the scenery than executing a punishing workout, though the island is most certainly blessed with some interesting hilly relief!
THE GREAT BARRIER REEF
Invariably the star attraction in this part of the globe, it is the single biggest structure made by living organisms in the world. It’s also the world’s largest coral reef system, composed of more than 2,900 separate reefs & 900 islands, which stretch for 2,300 kilometres over an area of around 350,000 square km. It is vast. And it just happens to be a 30min chopper trip away from the hotel, which has its own Helipad. I undertook the ‘Best of Both Worlds‘ excursion, which involved departing at 08:30 from the helipad, snorkelling in the reef before anyone else has arrived, then hot-tailing over to Whitehaven beach for a private picnic on the untouched white sands. Rather than talk about it, here’s a little picture montage to tell the story…
This half-day heli-tour was undoubtedly the coolest thing I’ve done all year, possibly in many years. Whilst it was expensive, it was totally worth it, as a once in a lifetime experience that has indelibly etched images of exquisite natural beauty on my retinas.
There are 60 pavilions, all of which offer huge floor to ceiling windows, and all with their unique sea views. The rooms are light and airy with high ceilings using solid natural materials like wooden floors, slate tiling, white linen, and 100% cotton fibers which I always find ease my sleep. The huge, plush and perfectly made-up beds ensure you get the high-quality restorative sleep that’s required on an escape. Plus, this was the sunrise view from the balcony each morning, when jetlag gets you up at 5:30 in time to see the sunrise, and nature awakens with a stunning aviary chorus…
If you’re used to Europe, this is not another cultural experience filled with the heritage or artefacts of ancient civilisations; the island is new in its construction (having been founded in the 70s), but loses nothing for this. The raw natural beauty is the real ancient civilisation here; Hamilton Island is a highly polished destination for an indulgent wellness retreat, promoting cognitive ease at every turn. A visit to Qualia absolutely restores and refreshes, time both stands still and runs rampant, the senses are delighted by the finish, and it’s not at all stuffy in the mind’s eye, but rather, characteristically casual and altogether sumptuous.
If you’re contemplating making a big trip in 2018, then you’ve plenty of time to plan for this one, as their summer kicks off on 1st December (though the weather is frankly pleasant all year round for this pseudo-tropical island).
More to follow…