Friday, 1 May 2009

Quay West Resort, Bunker Bay

Bumper stickers. They’re not the first thing that spring to mind a few minutes after checking in to a ‘stunning 5-star Resort’, yet somehow they did on this occasion.

‘Don’t follow us, we’re lost too’ or ‘My other hotel is a Youth Hostel’ – you know the kind of pithy messages – and if the Quay West Resort had been fitted with bumpers, then they would have been sticker city.

Now, just in case the CEO of Mirvac Hotels & Resorts is reading this and finds him or herself dangerously close to a cliff edge or bridge parapet, let me preface what follows by making clear that Bunker Bay is a stunningly-situated, intelligently-designed resort which succeeds in blending into the surrounding environment remarkably sympathetically.

Indeed, it lives up to Mirvac’s well-earned reputation as a property developer of imagination, creativity and quality

Unfortunately, Bunker Bay is let down badly by under-resourced recruitment and training, and a marketing department who have either never actually visited it, or never visited a real five star hotel or more worryingly, probably both. Brochured hyperbole is one thing. The reality is quite different.

Let me also say that by far and away the majority of the staff members were absolutely delightful. I’d suggest, however, that they waste at least 20% of their time apologising to guests for the interminable waits for service.

This is a ‘5-star Resort’ with no door staff and no porters. Of particular note to this party, it’s a car-free ‘5-star Resort’ with only one (permanently unavailable) wheelchair. Most Tescos have half a dozen, minimum. It’s a ‘5-star Resort’ with no beach service and the cheapest, mostly broken beach chairs and umbrellas that you’ve ever seen. Worse still, it’s a ‘5-star Resort’ where the guests themselves have to haul the beach paraphernalia backwards and forwards between sand and room.

It’s a ‘5-star Resort’ where the in-room broadband doesn’t work and the unreliable lobby WiFi service is supplied by a third party operator whose helpline is strictly office hours only.

It’s also a ‘5-star Resort’ where each individual room or villa is owned by an investor – a fairly common system Down Under – which makes the general levels of care and cleaning (or lack thereof) not just a matter of commercial concern for the hotel operator, but an enormous issue (I’d suggest) for the poor soul whose funds are tied up in what they must hope will be an appreciating asset.

You’d be certain then that I’d have made my feelings known pretty quickly – especially over the stained rugs and house of horror cobwebs festooning the vaulted villa ceiling, the broken bathroom blind or the dust and detritus in the cupboards.

Well, you’d be wrong, and I’ll tell you why.

Firstly, lots of these realisations built only slowly, over a number of days. The cleanliness issue, having become sensitised to it and looked up at the windows of all the other villas and, probably worse still, the main resort building – was clearly a feature of the entire property. A cursory glance of the housekeepers’ golf-buggies proved that they were equipped to no-more than dust, wipe and tidy.

So secondly, and in addition to the cleaning problem, it was obvious that a conversation with management (should there be any available as the hotel was running without an Operations Manager at the time) about staffing levels, training and resort facilities, not to mention their over-enthusiastic marketing, might be met with platitudes, but practically-speaking, not a lot else.

Thirdly, this was a holiday, a planned de-stress with a party in tow who would not take to being de-camped again too comfortably.

Better then, under the circumstances, to make the best of the situation and enjoy the many positives of the hotel and its location – of which there were many. Therefore, overall, the balance was tipped back in favour of Bunker Bay – the fourth reason for just going with the flow.

The hotel itself is a collection of cleverly designed studios, villas and rooms, arranged in staggered terraces and standalone groups to make the best of bush, garden and ornamental lake views, while retaining the maximum privacy.

It’s cleverly done, very much in the layout style of European Center Parcs or Fairmont’s Jasper Park Lodge in Canada - only better.

The villas have one, two or three bedrooms and some of the two-bedroomed ones can be further augmented through interconnection with an adjacent studio or room.

They’re equipped to a very high standard, with full kitchens and laundries, lounge and dining area, spa-style bathrooms with free-standing baths and walk in wetroom showers. Each villa has a furnished terrace and the beds are comfortable, even if the linens are again a far-cry from ‘5-star’.

The guest accommodation is linked to the car parks by way of pedestrianised pathways, again very much in the Center Parcs and JPL mould, with golf-buggies the only means of assisted transport. It’s these carts that will fetch and bring your luggage, if necessary, but don’t expect a rapid response.

The main hotel facilities are located around the central resort building, which houses the lobby and Reception, the bar and small library, a couple of function rooms and the hotel’s restaurant – the evocatively named ‘Other Side of The Moon’.

On the landward side of the resort building is a spa and tennis court, and on the seaward side a gym and the small swimming pool. The indoor areas are all beautifully designed; cool, light and airy, but look closely and the dust and cobwebs are plainly visible.

Breakfast is served in the ‘Other Side of The Moon’, a fairly chaotic buffet whose daily variations smacked rather more of having run out of certain components, as opposed to merely keeping things interesting and rotating the offerings. The staff clearly have no concept of the meaning of the words ‘background music’ either, as the sound system pumped out a sometimes bizarre mix of ABBA and Beethoven at factory level. There was no respite out on the terrace either, where the volume appeared even higher, but it mattered not whether seated inside or out; the clanking of the door between the two was an incessant additional percussion.

The breakfast was at least fulsome in quantity if not quality or variety, but it remained no invitation to risk lunch or dinner, so all our dining was self-catered or off-site, and the hotel lost out on significant incremental on-spend.

The gym was similarly uninviting, a goldfish bowl looked in upon from the poolside terrace. This area was usually very busy with young families who either hadn’t found the beach, couldn’t be bothered to look for the beach or considered the man-made water feature safer for their charges than that which nature had crafted. In the latter case, fair comment, I suppose.

But: that beach! A short boardwalk leads from the villas, past the ornamental lake, through some gum trees and over the small dunes. It’s no more than a couple of hundred metres from anywhere on the resort property to having your toes in the warm white sand.

It is, not to put too fine a point on it, stunning. Iridescent blue sea, lapping fringes of snow-white surf, cobalt sky and pristine, bleached sand. Couples and families dotted along with acres of space each to enjoy and an almost ever-present breeze to cool the brow. The word ‘paradise’ is far too banal to be used to describe this place, and insane jealousy too mild a reaction toward those lucky enough to live in the houses tucked into the wooded hillsides at the far Western end of the bay.

So, Bunker Bay is about long, sunny days on the sand, reading, watching and drinking in the view. It’s swimming in the warm, shallow, crystal-clear waters. And it’s about long walks at sunrise and sunset to remember that it’s the simplest things in life that often have the most profound effect on our souls. As one of the over-worked staff said of the place: ‘I never want to leave.’

Given then that the hotel itself offers little in the way of incentive to dine at the restaurant, and there is no on-property shopping, it’s to Dunsborough that guests much venture to stock up, eat out or takeaway. In all respects, the town is well-equipped to meet these needs.

A new shopping centre houses an expansive supermarket, with a suitably comprehensive (for this wine-growing region) bottle shop next door. There’s a well-regarded fish and chip shop – Squid Lips – and a chicken rotisserie. The Big Pig pizza shop on the other side of the main road offers a wide menu and prompt, good-value service and there are a couple of decent cafés, bars and restaurants to tempt; the only problem being that the drive back to Bunker Bay will require at least one abstainer from the local ferments, and therefore self-catering or takeaway seemed to win out for us every time.

Best of all, an early evening return from town will almost certainly reward the careful and observant traveller with a mob or two of marsupials along the way.

In all honesty, then, Bunker Bay has to be one of the most fabulous places that I’ve ever been to, despite the disappointments of the hotel itself. In fact, given the choice of anywhere in the World to get on an aeroplane to right now, this would be top of the list. I just can’t help feeling that I’d be even keener to go back with a Quay West name badge and a pair of size 11 boots on, to kick the place up its backside to the level of excellence that it’s so clearly capable of.

Final Verdict for the Quay West Resort, Bunker Bay: 6.0/10. The property has the potential to be a strong 8.5 or 9.0, but cleanliness, dining, staffing and service levels are all unworthy of its stunning location and intelligent design. I would return without hesitation, but having already cancelled a flexible rate and locking in a much cheaper pre-pay one, I’d only make the trip if both the standards had clearly improved and the rates moderated to reflect the risk that they might not. Disappointing.

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