Hotel Review: Qualia, Lux Nomade reviews the Hamilton Island hotspot
Qualia’s position as one of The Whitsundays’ most exclusive high-end hotels is made apparent to me long before I enter through its imposing automatic gates and first lay my eyes on the sparkling infinity pool that borders the hotel lobby.
“This is your first time in the Whitsundays and you’re going straight to qualia? Oh wow, it’s the best of the best,” the couple I met at the airport explains. They tell me it was the set for the recent George Clooney x Julia Roberts movie Lost In Paradise, and the reality of the reference isn’t lost on me.
Hamilton Island – the coral-fringed, mountainous island that’s known as The Whitsundays’ most popular holiday destination – feels almost like a parody of the term; paradise is its apprentice. Golf buggies replace cars on the narrow roads that wind through the bushland, Rainbow Lorikeets dance between the trees, and in the far northeast corner, overlooking the glittering turquoise ocean, sits qualia.
The adults-only resort offers the kind of experience that colours the daydreams of 9-5 city executives and busy parents: an impeccably manicured site for responsibility-free, spectacularly luxurious relaxation.
The name’s Latin origin translates to mean “a deeper sensory experience”, and this philosophy has been thoughtfully interwoven into every element of the qualia experience: from the architecture of the private villas to the magnificently sleep-inducing spa treatments. Qualia is a resort that removes you from reality and places you firmly in a sun-soaked utopia.
I arrive early in the afternoon, greeted with a glass of Charles Heidsieck and a host who sits with me by the pool to run through check-in. Here, even admin is executed with indulgence.
The main lobby is a vast open space opening up onto an infinity pool that melts into the island-spotted ocean. A catamaran cuts across the channel, and a wallaby grazes quietly on the lawn.
Once I’ve settled into my villa (each guest room at Qualia is its own detached building, complete with a sun deck and lounge space), I walk along the winding path to the hotel’s private beach. Pebble Beach is a quiet, sheltered bay that’s the hotel’s activity epicentre. Below the restaurant – which serves a refined degustation menu in the evenings and an Italian-inspired selection of poolside eats during the day – paddle boards, snorkel gear and kayaks are available for guests to borrow at their whim. Just back from the beach’s coral-strewn banks, a second infinity pool is flanked by sunbeds and the occasional couple sipping colourful cocktails and flipping languidly every hour or so to even out their winter suntans.
I ask the girl behind the paddle board desk for recommendations for where to catch the sunset and am surprised by her hesitance. It turns out, the sunset from Qualia is pretty perfect from whichever angle you view it. She recommends a tree that hangs over the beach, or perhaps a sunbed by the pool. After an afternoon of sunshine, I find myself reading a book in the hotel’s main lobby when the sun begins to set, and the view is perfect. The sky above the pool is painted in an impossible palette: turquoise striped with pink and tangerine. Gentle ripples move rhythmically across the water, and a single star appears above the hills just as the resident wallaby decides it’s time for him to leave.
The views from qualia are the kind that warp time – so picturebook perfect that it’s hard to tell how long you’ve spent gripped by their beauty. On that first day, I lose a good twenty minutes looking out over the pool down at Pebble Beach, arms on the side and legs kicking slowly behind me. That evening, I watch dusk disappear until I notice that the sky has filled with stars, and it’s probably time for dinner.
The a la carte menu at Long Pavilion restaurant, which occupies a prime corner of the grounds with almost wraparound ocean views, is a contemporary Australian affair with an Italian twist: pumpkin gnocchi with burnt sage alongside poached reef fish with local clams and kina butter. A standout dish is the kingfish ceviche, which comes creatively presented on golden cubes of crispy rice with pickled daikon and a perfectly sweet furikake mayonnaise.
Returning to my pavilion after dinner, the theory I’m working with is confirmed: qualia cuts no corners. Turndown service – which I often view as an unnecessary indulgence that no self-respecting grown-up should partake in – is spectacular. Hand-rolled orange lily and sweet osmanthus petal tea is waiting for me alongside individually wrapped artisan chocolates, and between the double sinks in the bathroom, an essential oil burner is diffusing a blend of woody oils into the air.
I spend the next 48 hours held in Qualia’s peaceful embrace, leaving only once to climb the mountain on the east side of the mountain. Daytime hours at Qualia float by – between yoga classes in the open-air pavilion and exquisite treatments in the award-winning spa, where treatment rooms open up to sun-soaked private gardens.
On my final night, I’m dining at Pebble Beach, and the six-course tasting menu served overlooking the ocean is predictably exceptional. My personalised menu is presented in a wax-sealed envelope, and each dish is more divinely presented and expertly crafted than the last. I befriend the couple dining next to me, who tell me that they’re not “resort people”, but make an exception for qualia.
As I walk back to my villa and interrupt a kangaroo resting on the path beneath the stars, I can understand why.
Rooms at qualia can be booked via qualia.com.au