I read the email for the fifth time, my heart still racing a bit. No freakin' way! I thought. When I first got the email in May asking if I was interested in coming to the Great Barrier Feast, a culinary event on Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef, I wrote back a bit cautiously. I feared it was just another press release rather than a personal media invitation, and I didn't want to get my hopes up. When more details emerged, I was beside myself – a trip to Australia was in the works! I have quite the behemoth blog post ahead, so you might want to get comfortable first.
The Great Barrier Feast, now in its fourth year, is hosted by qualia, Hamilton Island's premier luxury resort (and what may likely ruin all future "luxury" accommodations for me with its unparalleled service and amenities). When I began the 24+ hour long journey (with a stressful nearly missed connection), I knew there would be a very bright light at the end of the tunnel. And bright it was. Upon entering qualia's Long Pavilion, I was greeted with this magnificent view and an ice-cold lemongrass ginger tea (and copious amounts of champagne).
Then I was whisked away to my pavilion, which was probably, like, three times the size of my current apartment. I had a quick lunch at Pebble Beach and then 'drove' (my golf buggy) to qualia's spa. There, I had a scheduled Kumali treatment, a 90-minute ritual using products containing blends of herbs and spices to relieve tension and stimulate circulation. I've never even had a real massage before, so this experience was heavenly, especially after the travel day. The ritual began with a body scrub and mud wrap. I then hopped right outside to the rain shower and returned for a steaming poultice massage and moisturizer. Ahh, I could have laid on that massage bed all day.
The next morning, I had some free time, so I went on a mission to get to the highest vantage point on Hamilton Island – Passage Peak. It was a challenging walk for someone who hasn't seen a gym in over five years and rarely moves faster than 3 mph in her daily life. As I was alone on the trail, I had visions of snakes emerging from the forest to snap at my ankles (yes, I have quite the healthy imagination). The challenge (and oh was it a challenge in my clunky-no-arch-support Converse sneakers) was well worth it. At the top, there was a beautiful view of the Whitsundays, the collection of islands of which Hamilton Island is part, and an intense but most welcome breeze.
In the afternoon, I headed to the Hamilton Island Yacht Club where the masterclasses with Australia's top chefs were held. First up was world-renowned Quay's Peter Gilmore, who showed us how to make his signature congee with mud crab, palm heart and egg yolk emulsion, a dish "all about textures." I've had a lot of congee in my day (it's definitely a comfort food for me), but never quite like this.
That night, we had a lovely dinner at qualia's Pebble Beach, featuring Robert Oatley wines. As I walked back to my pavilion, I looked up and was seriously stunned at how many stars I could see. I believe I even saw the Milky Way! Living in a city, it can be hard to remember that stars even exist, so I was really blown away.
The next morning, the light was pretty divine at Pebble Beach. I had a leisurely breakfast and took advantage of the inspiring light to take some shots around the waterfront. A lot of people on Hamilton Island kept apologizing for the overcast weather and mercurial sun, but I loved what it did for the light. It's the blue-sky-not-a-single-cloud sunny days I find the most difficult to shoot in.
Later that morning, we headed back to the Yacht Club for a masterclass with Dan Hunter, formerly of Mugaritz and most recently of the Royal Mail Hotel. He prepared a beautiful plate of raw jumbuck (a new-to-me food term for sheep), flathead, and salted dandelion.
That night was the seven course showpiece dinner in the Long Pavilion featuring dishes from Peter Gilmore, Dan Hunter and Alastair Waddell (Executive Chef of qualia). I snuck in early to get some set-up shots, then proceeded to practically miss the start of dinner from an overzealous nap! Luckily I ran to the pavilion (with no makeup! The horror!) in time for the first course. I have no idea how the kitchen churned out 140 artfully-plated dishes for each course, but I peeked in and it was a very well-oiled machine in there.
Oh, there's so much more I could say, but you know words are not my focus (nor are they my forte) here. I hope you've enjoyed viewing a wee bit of this incredible weekend, and of course, I'd be happy to answer any questions in the comments.
An immense thank you to Sophie, Michelle, and Debra for making this trip possible!