2 years ago I was invited to one of the most amazing places in Australia ~ Qualia in Hamilton Island in Queensland's Whitsunday islands. As a blogger I have ~ wonderfully and gratefully at times, been offered some incredible travel opportunities, but this one will always stand out as one of my most memorable and favourite. I wrote and extensive post on it back then ~ you can read here and it still holds many cherished memories for me, as I spent most of my 4 days there, well quite literally just pinching myself that I was actually, you know... there, at Qualia (!). Therefore when Sophie Baker ~ the lady who is the communications Manager for Hamilton Island asked me a few months back if I would like to revisit this place ~ which I can really only describe as complete and utter nirvana, I again jumped at the chance and was packing quicker than lighting. Bikinis, cocktail dresses and camera gear flying ~ I couldn't get to the airport quick enough! This trip was somewhat a little less food related than the first ~ which was the Great Barrier Feast and, as noted in my above blog post link, it was a sublime experience of incredible food, stunning surroundings , great company and just basically, total bliss. However, on this occasion I was asked to come and get a feel, first hand for a new experience they are offering at Qualia called 'Weekends of Wonderment'.
The series is set to become Australia’s most intimate and unique weekend getaway ~ a weekend not to be missed for passionate travellers who want to tap into their senses and experience the Whitsundays region in a unique way.
The inaugural weekend in June 2014 began with an intimate candle making class with Elise Balzac, founder of high-end Australian soy wax candle brand Maison Balzac. Elise was a stunningly beautiful and ever-so-chic French lady who was so warm and attentive to the 24 guests. The session allowed us all to select our own unique scent and pour soy wax candles into a personal heirloom or jar our choice. Afterwards we all enjoyed champagne on the outside lawn and was great chatting away, getting to know all the other attendees.
After drinks we all headed back to our respective pavilion rooms and got dolled up for a 7 course meal at the long pavilion, designed for the event by Qualia's resident chef Alastair Waddell. Alastair is a super cool bloke and I was disappointed this time not to meet him again and say hi, but alas he was off on his honeymoon.
Many glasses of great red later and a lazy lie in, in addition to a super breakfast on Saturday morning; the journey continued with a hands-on crabbing experience with renowned chef and Tourism Australia’s ‘Restaurant Australia’ ambassador, Mark Best and expert crabber and marine biologist, Matt Vickers. This was a really amazing experience and my fave of the whole weekend. All 24 guests were split up between two of Qualia's luxury boats and we jetted out of the harbour onto the open sea on a somewhat slightly gloomier day weather-wise than we all would have hoped, but that didn't dampen our spirits and actually what I found really interesting was you can still enjoy the Whitsunday's come glorious sunny weather or equally with a spot of drizzle. It showed itself in a really different light but one I found equally as beautiful and quite mysterious and magical. As we sailed out towards the crabbing pots, there was a beautiful sense of peace and tranquility, which oddly enough slightly reminded me of parts of Ireland.
Once we moored, we were again split up into groups of 4 or 6 and climbed into little speedboats, in which we were sped out to the mud crab pots in the mangroves. It was a total ball and such a different experience to anything I have done before. It was super fun to see Matt in action and some of my fellow guests pulling up the pots and discovering what lay inside. Anything we did find was expertly tied up and put into a box to be enjoyed by guests at the evening main dinner, hosted my Mark. After our crabbing experience, we were all zoomed back to the main boats and then dropped off at an island where Qualia had put on a lavish, banquet lunch with the most incredibly fresh prawns, oysters and fish from the surrounding area and loads of amazing salads, breads and as ever, at Qualia, the champers flowed, and flowed :)
Once we got back to the hotel, the love for all things artisanal continued with an art of flower arranging session with founder of Grandiflora, Saskia Havekes; often referred to as the First Lady of Flowers ~ and who shares the same book publisher as myself Lantern. With experience working with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermes, Dries Van Noten and Acne, Havekes inspired, informed and delighted guests in both visual and conversational form. Following a discussion around her signature perfume, Magnolia Grandiflora EDP, guests were provided with the opportunity to make their own exquisite floral arrangement under Havekes’ expert tutelage. During this time, others chose to take part in an informative Gentleman’s Club talk on the Legacy of Sailing with Iain Murray, CEO of Team Australia.
The weekend culminated in an elegant ‘Weekends of Wonderment’ dinner at qualia’s renowned Pebble Beach as prepared by guest chef, Mark Best. Mark Best has won ‘Chef of the Year’ in the annual Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and ‘Restaurant of the Year’ in Australian Gourmet Traveller, Sydney Morning Herald, Time Out magazine and also in the Restaurant and Catering Association’s Awards for Excellence. His Sydney restaurant, Marque has also featured in San Pellegrino and Restaurant Magazine’s ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants’.
The itinerary for future events will continue to focus around bringing internationally acclaimed experts to Qualia who will each create bespoke, unique experiences of the highest calibre for an intimate group of not more than 24 guests. By interacting with each expert in a relaxed environment, not only during their session but throughout the weekend, every Weekends of Wonderment guest will connect in a tactile manner with the beauty surrounding qualia and leave fulfilled and inspired as a result.
Onto a speedboat which ferried us all over to an incredibly lavish and plentiful, beach lunch feast
Saskia's flower arranging session all set up and ready to go.
Saskia was amazing, getting well in there and helping everyone out with their arrangements.
The two token blokes! Who somewhat surprisingly enough really got into it and produced some of the best, most creative and funky arrangements on the day.
Saskia's new perfume
The beautiful Elize Pioch of Maison Balzac
A super focused and organised Mark, sorting out details for Saturday evening's dinner in the main Qualia kitchen...
Saturday's incredible dinner at Pebble Beach
Final preparation at the Pebble Beach kitchen before service time...
The lads in the kitchen prepping the day's mud crab catch for the Saturday dinner
The incredibly talented Saskia Havekes
Internationally acclaimed florist and author Saskia Havekes grew up surrounded by market gardens and growers farms in Dural, Sydney. After studying horticulture and floristry she cut her teeth working with various florists and installation artists. Grandiflora was established in 1995. This tiny space groaning to the rafters with dramatic vegetation and luxurious blooms, was the modest launching pad for a new way of looking at foliage, buds and branches. The Grandiflora aesthetic has influenced interior styling, hospitality, fashion, editorial and even the modern rituals of giving and displaying flowers. Baby pineapples, pods, gum nuts and lotus blossoms are now the modern way to honour, court and celebrate, seeing the traditionally tightly bound bouquet has broken free.
Saskia Havekes does not arrange flowers, she curates them. From an artful posy to a full-scale installation always searching for the chance to sculpt savage beauty out of the bounty of nature and the mutability of the seasons. Drama and scale are her signatures. Massive falls of branches can flow from the ceiling of a museum or a sea of cabbage roses might sprout for a grand society wedding. As her clientele has expanded her work has become international. Collaborating with the most recognised and influential brands and celebrities in fashion, and styling and designing flowers for events and film. A favourite with contemporary fashion designers, Havekes’ career has blossomed along side a burgeoning Australian fashion industry and her adventures at fashion week have fostered some of her most experimental work. Creating a surrealist cactus garden or a hanging forest is the privilege of having an established designer’s trust or a young artist’s dreams well in hand.
Saskia has sought to share her passion for flowers in the publication of three books, GRANDIFLORA (Viking, 1999), GRANDIFLORA ARRANGEMENTS (Penguin, 2007) and GRANDIFLORA CELEBRATIONS (Penguin, Lantern 2011). Accenting natural beauty, highlighting remarkable events or cleverly suggesting wilder ways to arrange flowers and foliage, each book reveals a richer insight into the Grandiflora vision. Her fourth is on its way due for publication in 2015. 2013 saw the launch of her first two signature fragrances. Yet underpinning even the biggest events is the anchoring reality of the flowers themselves: blooming in buckets, crowding the pavement in Potts Point, Sydney. When filling the florists arms or grazing the ceiling in her tiny atelier, they remain her muse and life force. Grandiflora is still located in the small store that launched her name. Saskia still handpicks her flowers three times a week at the Sydney flower markets.
On an end note, I wanted to post up a really exciting experience I had recently, which was being shot for Vogue Magazine Australia. I was stunned and delighted to be asked to be featured and it's 'one for posterity' for me. Thought I'd give it a little mention on the blog and upload the spreads. Am very chuffed and honoured to consider myself 'In Vogue' ;) The mag is currently on sale in Aus and has a really lovely story all about my life over the past 5 years and my journey from graphic designer to photographer and cookbook author and blogger etc...
My next post will be a super feature on Mark Best and his food at Marque. Mark kindly invited me in to sample one of his degustation meals a month or so ago and it was amazing. One of the best enjoyed to date in Sydney and Australia. There will also be a signed Marque book giveaway (believe me it is stunning) to one lucky reader. And if that person happens to be in Sydney, Mark has kindly offered for the reader to pop into the restaurant where he will say hello and personally sign the book. Stay tuned until next week.
Photos supplied by Mark Best © Mark Best
Cheers Katie x