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I’ve visited the Whitsundays now at various stages of life.

In my early twenties I sailed on a bareboat charter during Hamilton Island race week, playing den mother to six rowdy boys. My lasting memories of that trip were of (a) enough ballast in cases of vodka and beer to raise the waterline of the hull by several feet and (b) one of the boys burning his eyebrows off after igniting a barbecue solely with the fumes from his breath. Suffice to say that the natural beauty surrounding us was secondary to the excitement of the Whitehaven Beach Party.

A few years later, I visited Hayman Island a couple of times and found it wanting, with shoddy housekeeping, package tourists cleaning out the breakfast buffet and a staff composed mainly of backpackers who were more interested in one another than in their guests. That was a while ago now and I am given to understand that its recent overhaul has given it a new lease of life. 

I haven’t been in a rush back, but since Qualia opened a few years ago, I had been thinking that perhaps here was a serious rival to the glories of The South East Asian Resort. Several friends whose judgment I trusted implicitly had been back again and again. I was looking forward to a novel experience.

The Whitsundays themselves are beautiful but surprisingly barren, more dry and rocky than one would suppose. The beaches are nice (that’s damning with faint praise) and the water colour a lovely cobalt but in my opinion the waters don’t hold a candle to the Maldives, or even some of the fabulous beaches of South Australia and New South Wales. The famed Whitehaven is populated with families picnicking, backpackers playing beach cricket and private yachts bobbing up and down in the bay. In short, pretty but perhaps not all it’s hyped up to be.

Hamilton Island, the key tourism site in the Whitsundays, is a quite bizarre set up, with a range of accommodations and activities all privately offered by the same corporate group, so that you can mix and match between them. Qualia is the jewel in the crown, a high end gated resort on a tiny peninsula, with mangroves on one side and a rocky little beach on the other.

First impressions were good – there was an efficient greeting service on arrival, including bag collection (which I love) and a private transfer (around five minutes) to the resort. The main pavilion, a long construct of timber and glass was largely open to the tropical cross-breezes and a stunning and expansive view of the islands and Coral Sea . Comfortable, blocky lounge areas opened out on to a lap pool which was underutilised, quite possibly due to the intimidating nature of getting your kit off in front of a lot of people fully dressed and only a couple of metres away.

Each villa is given its own golf buggy which is fabulous fun, even if you can only go around 5 kph. The villas themselves are airy and expansive. There are two main sides to Qualia – Leeward (more sheltered, facing towards the mangrove areas) and Windward (more open, facing towards the island). Both have water views. There are also two main types of Pavilion, square and long. My preference was probably for the Windward long pavilions because of the light and views from each room. The square pavilions were a little dark, however the benefit was their complete privacy and large outdoor lounging areas, so it was a close call.

The rooms are very well designed – open, spacious, with lots of timber and glass. They offer a simple but complimentary mini bar, the obligatory Nespresso Machine and a perhaps too small selection of snacks given that the resort is not in close proximity to any handy 7-Eleven should you get the midnight munchies and prefer something other than room service.

However the best part of the room experience was the fantastic landscaping. I’m not sure how it has built up over such a short space of time, but the lush native greenery is stunning. Mature sugar gums form a natural frame for the views out of many bedroom windows, and it’s a beautiful and peculiarly Australian outlook.

As for the facilities, they have a water sports centre and large pool down by the beach for those villas without private pool. The Beach Club offers cafe lunches with a lovely view; crab cakes, pulled pork rolls etc. The main restaurant is responsible for the resort’s entry into the Relais and Chateaux stable and we had some excellent meals there.  There are other choices available on the island if you want to putt-putt over hill and dale in your buggy. However, if laziness is your natural state, you won’t be disappointed with the offerings at Qualia. The spa is large and breezy if a little plain, and the therapists are excellent.

For east coasters, it is an easy door to door trip and I can see that the convenience factor is pretty good. It’s a world class resort within easy reach and although my preference would always run to Asia for quick luxury retreat, I can really see the appeal of Qualia.