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Qualia Weekends of Wonderment 2015

Clockwise from top right: Lisa Cooper, Alastair Waddell, Elise Pioch Balzac and Andrew McConnell; Nicky Tindill

Clockwise from top right: Lisa Cooper, Alastair Waddell, Elise Pioch Balzac and Andrew McConnell; Nicky Tindill

Hamilton Island luxury resort Qualia hosted its annual Weekends of Wonderment last week, with Melbourne chef Andrew McConnell's gala dinner just one of the highlights of the action-packed program.

The Weekends of Wonderment reflects the "true meaning" of Qualia, says the resort's brand manager, Nicky Tindill. "The idea stemmed from the actual meaning of the word Qualia, which is 'a collection of deep sensory experiences', so we wanted to capture that and also deliver a program that's uniquely Australian and that celebrates our local area," says Tindill.

Guests commenced their weekend with a hands-on mud-crabbing experience at Gulnare Inlet on Whitsunday Island with marine biologist Matt Vickers, while Johnnie Walker Blue ambassador Sean Baxter presented a whisky tasting and cocktail masterclass on how to build the perfect Old Fashioned. Elise Pioch Balzac, founder of boutique Australian soy wax candle brand Maison Balzac, shared her passion for candle-making (with guests making their own rose-scented sample to take home), and florist Dr Lisa Cooper imparted her knowledge on the art of arranging flowers.

Andrew McConnell prepared the Saturday night gala dinner at Qualia's beachside restaurant Pebble Beach, closing the weekend with a menu celebrating the region's local produce. There was, of course, the crab hand-caught by guests, which McConnell served as canapés (devilled on a bed of cos lettuce with fennel seed, chilli, Espelette pepper and a fried curry leaf, and also atop a seaweed cracker with sorrel and avocado), and as the garnish for a risotto of rice venere with nettles. "Going crabbing and collecting them with my own hands and then bringing them back into the kitchen and preparing them was one of the best cooking adventures I've ever had," he says.

THE FOOD  Resident executive chef Alastair Waddell prepared a banquet-style seafood menu for the opening dinner on Friday night, featuring grilled marron and goldband snapper with pine mushrooms and a knockout dessert of caramelised banana ice-cream with kaffir lime popcorn and white chocolate.

Andrew McConnell's Saturday night carte also included burrata with an heirloom tomato salad, shiro kin wagyu sirloin with pepper sauce and slow-roasted onions, and a refreshing and surprisingly savoury dessert of meringue with sheep's milk yoghurt and an apple and shiso granita.

THE DRINK  Sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon from the Robert Oatley 2013 Signature Series, Clover Hill 2008 vintage brut, Luna Rosa 2015 rosé, Tyrrell's Stevens 2010 sémillon, Cullen 2012 'Diana Madeline' cabernet merlot, and Frogmore Creek 2013 iced riesling.

WE LOVED What's not to love about spending a weekend at this benchmark luxury property in the heart of the Whitsundays? And did we mention that autumn weather in these parts means a balmy 25 degrees?

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