New benchmark for luxury holidays
By The Age
It's pronounced "kwahleea" but don't worry if you can't get your tongue around it - just say, "the new resort on Hamilton Island, the one that cost Hamilton's owners, the Oatley family, $A75 million".
Even Sandy Oatley, chairman of Hamilton Island Enterprises, is a tad confused at the resort's launch - which is unusual for an Oatley. They have a habit of being on the mark. Think Rosemount Estate wines, the family company sold to Southcorp in 2001 for $A1.5 billion. Or Wild Oats, whose yacht is in line for the hat-trick at this year's Sydney-to-Hobart.
Qualia means deep senses, Oatley tells us. "No, it doesn't," says a voice from the crowd - most likely another Oatley, as the family likes to work, travel and party in a pack. "It's a collection of sensory experiences." Everyone laughed, especially the chairman, who goes on to explain how Qualia will set new standards for luxury and that it will be uniquely Australian but ever so simple. "Understated" is a word he uses more than once, so is "natural".
Oatley also says the family believes the Whitsundays is crying out for a truly international resort. And, on a personal level, the family wants a place where they are proud to entertain their friends.
Now, having spent a couple of days at the just-opened Qualia, what I want most in this world is to be a friend of the Oatley family.
Qualia signifies a coming-of-age for Australian resorts. No nods to Asia here, no easy references to Bali that scream "tropical resort"; it is Australian to its bootstraps. It is also so simple and understated you wonder where all the millions were spent.
As most guests will come in via the airport even when the resort's helicopter pad and private jetty are built, there's no ignoring the fact that a resort for the privileged few is on an island for everyone. But there's no hanging around mingling with the masses. Qualia guests are whisked away from the airport almost as soon as they are off the plane.
Qualia is only a 10-minute journey from the airport, on the island's northernmost ridge, but once inside the imposing gates the masses are consigned to memory. I can only describe arriving at the Long Pavilion, the resort's hub, as one of life's "a-ha" moments. The sense is that this is exactly how it should be: it is the grandest of entrances but in the most understated, simple and, yes, Australian way.
All you see is water and island, specifically the peaks of Whitsunday Island, the biggest in the group of 74. Everything else in sight - the furnishings and fittings that are also beautiful, as you come to appreciate later - fades into insignificance next to the natural splendour of the Whitsundays.
I won't bore you with an endless list of adjectives trying to capture the blue of the Coral Sea; I know my limitations. Look to the pictures. Better still, start saving and see it for yourself or do the Australian thing and whack it on the credit card. (Or, best of all, befriend an Oatley.) You could argue that $1400 a night is a bit steep for a view but no other Whitsunday resort makes such a fuss - in an understated way, of course - of the surroundings.