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  Hotel of the Week: This One Got a Perfect Score….#qualia

Can’t ya just feel it? Spring is in the air….

Does that give you the itch to travel… to unwind… experience something new… and share it with someone?

Qualia Resort, Australia from

If so, here is a place to fantasize about: Qualia Resort on Hamilton Island, Australia…right near the Great Barrier Reef.  Why? Well – it always catches my attention when a hotel in the Conde Nast Traveler Gold List gets a perfect 100 points from the magazine’s readers. Qualia did in the most recent poll. That is the highest score a hotel can get, and the only one this year to do so.

I will start off by saying I have been to Hamilton Island, and it is a very casual, family friendly place. Qualia steps it up a bit – it is a high end luxury resort in the Whitsundays near the world’s largest reef system – great for diving, snorkeling, and all sorts of water activities. There is an airport on Hamilton, so it is about a 2-3 hour flight from Eastern Australia.

Qualia Resort, Australia from

The hotelier who opened it is a winemaker and sailing enthusiast, who wanted to showcase his country’s natural beauty…so the architecture is in harmony with the surroundings – love that.

The design, always catching my attention, is rich and happy at the same time, with hues of beautiful blue to pull from the incredibly blue waters on which this vacation paradise sits.

The resort has 60 private villas – and yes they are pricey – no kids under 16 allowed. Each private room looks out to the Coral Sea and surrounding islands.

There is plenty to do here – or not. Relax in your private plunge pool..

or take a Great Barrier Reef day excursion… or go golfing… or sailing. A unique outing offered is a night dive in the Great Barrier Reef… apparently the reef’s true colors come to life, but it sounds scary to me!

Guests also have access to golf carts to go around Hamilton Island.

According to one guest who gave his opinion in the Conde Nast poll… ” Once you stay at Qualia, it is difficult to stay anywhere else…”

Sounds like a good problem to have.

  Winter When It Feels Like Summer Travel

While much of the Mid-West is blanketed in snow… the Minneapolis Metrodome caved in from the storm, we in Southern California are having a heatwave! It was an odd sight to say the least, when this weekend there were two cars stopped at a light – one with a surfboard on top, and another with a Christmas tree. Talk about backwards. It is 80 degrees.

On top of that, my garden is still producing roses – even more buds coming! Normally at this time, my roses would be dormant, and I would be cutting my orchids…It is all quite harmonious because I have roses May-Nov, and orchids Nov-May…so my vases are always full. But the wacky weather we have had all year is disrupting our circadian rhythms.

I was thinking about this when it dawned on me that I have some backwards tendencies myself. I have been known to crave  a beach vacation this time of year (haven’t we all?)… and welcome a disruption to my life’s normal weather pattern. One place I have escaped to during a dreary winter is Australia, and boy was it hard to come home to foggy, cold San Francisco afterward. Down under it is just about summer right now mate. I visited the usual Sydney…but made an extra trek to the Great Barrier Reef resorts of Hamilton and Hayman Islands. Hamilton is for families… Hayman, leave the kids at home.

Heron Island Resort, Australia

But I’ve always wanted to visit Heron Island, another island resort in the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, this may be the only island you can really mean it is IN the Great Barrier Reef because you can wade out to the reef from the shores of the resort. THAT makes for some easy marine tours.

Heron Island Resort on Great Barrier Reef

Heron is one of the few upscale GB reefs that caters to families. There is a junior ranger program, with heavy emphasis on the environment, and was developed by marine biologists and naturalists.  The Junior Rangers Program offers a range of nature based activities designed to nurture a sense of exploration and caring for the environment, from reef walks, bird-watching and beach combing through to tree planting and even the opportunity to design and run your own resort island. The young explorers earn badges through each activity.

The island is surrounded by bountiful wildlife, which makes it a perfect location for a resort research station…The crystal clear waters of the reef surrounding the Research Station are home to around 60% of the 1500 species of fish and around 72% of the coral species found in the Great Barrier Reef. One of my favorite things is that there are two types of turtles that nest on the island, and if you time it right, you can observe.

Of course, all of the enrichment and fun takes place against the backdrop of drop dead beautiful beaches. There are snorkeling and diving opportunities at the resort… or you can choose to kayak out in the waters and picnic on a deserted beach.

If you feel like you’ve “been there, done that,” when you look at travel brochures, this might be the perfect antidote. Especially if you are buried in the Mid-West. I feel for ya. G’day!