It seems that every week I hear of another new hotel opening. Across the nation, well-known brands and newcomers are building or renovating properties. But it’s one company in particular that is delivering the goods. Crystalbrook Collection is re-fashioning Cairns while making a splash from Sydney to Port Douglas.
Cairns hasn’t seen a new 5-star property open in 20 years. Crystalbrook Collection has introduced Riley, Bailey and soon, Flynn in a little over 12 months. That’s a lot of hard hats in the streets and cranes dotting the skyline.
Riley opened to much fanfare a year ago on the Esplanade. A couple of blocks away Bailey opened only two weeks ago, while Flynn opens in April 2020.
Crystalbrook Collection is the Australian business arm of the Dubai-based group headed by Syrian entrepreneur and philanthropist, Ghassan Aboud. The fast-expanding portfolio will add over 700 rooms to the Cairns market. The collection currently has a staggering 1,100 rooms in operation or development from Port Douglas to Cairns and Byron Bay to Sydney. (Crystalbrook Station – west of Cairns, was the first purchase made in Australia and subsequently, the name stuck).
Once known as a backpacker’s paradise, the ‘no shoes, no shirt, no entry’ policy might not have always been strictly enforced.
Cairns is taking on a whole new personality. Staying relaxed with a little added refinement. Locals let me know they are excited for the openings and the extra dollars they’ll bring. The Pacific Hotel’s refurbishment is award-winning while the Shanghai-La Cairns is also getting a make-over.
Riley’s expansive, whiter than white reception opens to reveal a deep cornflower sky and one helluva pool. Immediately this place is designed for fun. By day, the pool is tropical turquoise and once the sun sets it’s a deep and relaxing sapphire blue.
The pool’s over-sized rubber duck and unicorn let you know up-front Riley is fully-equipped for fun
Post pool and man-made beach, head up to Rocco (the city’s highest rooftop bar) for cocktails and sweeping views of the coast. Breakfast at Paper Crane is buffet-style but with views of the pool and the Pacific.
All the hotels and resorts in the Collection have doffed their collective caps to environmentalism. Riley has paper-free check-in and out and guest room key cards have been replaced by small (read easy to lose) 100% recycled wooden cards. Two keys are presented in what are probably re-cycled cardboard sleeves.
Nespresso pods are re-cycled and old parking fines get another life as coat hangers. Single-use plastic is a no-no but do we need paper water cartons when Cairns tap water is fine and safe? The cartons are compostable and biodegradable but the plastic bin liners are not.
Sugar cane and corn replace plastic for bags and takeaway containers. 80% of fruit and vegetables served at Riley are sourced within 3 hours of Cairns. Riley also works with Oz Harvest to reduce food waste to a minimum.
Entry-level rooms overlook the street and via the balcony, I can view the mountains and snatch water views. Bigger than some studio apartments, there’s plenty of space to stretch out by the opening balcony doors, in the king-size bed or the impromptu reading nook’s comfy chair complete with foot-stool.
In-room Apple iPads feature healthy living apps and Google Chromecast is available for video streaming. There are complimentary movies and box sets by the score. A long work desk is a welcome inclusion; happy to see double USB points for charging devices but one either side of the bed would make the early alarm more bearable.
Getting a hang of the lighting takes a while. (I would have consulted the iPad if I had time). The bathrooms are spacious and marble with a party-sized shower and two basins. Little bottles have been replaced with Economy size pump packs filled with quality, Aussie botanical lotions, washes and hair stuff. Bravo for small soap which can extend the holiday when you save waste and take it home.
Riley’s latest sibling is an altogether different destination. More introspective and less showy than Riley, it’s still grand and tropical. Entry is via a towering atrium with floor to ceiling tropical plants. In the heart of the CBD, it’s a short walk to just about anywhere in the city.
With a strong focus on art (Bailey’s hashtags is #artiseverywhere) the feel is quite serene. The rooms and suites also feature Australian artists and a decidedly Aussie colour palette. The bathrooms are huge with a cool, organic feel.
Three restaurants and bars call Bailey home. Featuring Crystalbrook’s signature beef, CC’s Bar and Grill is a popular addition to Cairns’ food scene for locals and guests. The open kitchen and dry-aging fridge take centre stage. Milk Bar is where you could take a stroll down memory lane with a range of favourites from milkshakes to old-fashioned lollies. Pachamama is a Latin fusion fine diner.
The baby of the family, Flynn is the show-off. With glass swimming pools opening to the Esplanade the baby of the family screams “look at me”.
Flynn is both elegant in design and filled with places to unwind and get happy. Billed as a property that “entertains guests – not just accommodates them”, it’s party time all the time.
Think tall palms, pressed metal ceilings and inside-out dining spaces. Boardwalk Social is a market for locals and visitors that will offer French rotisserie chicken and a range of up-market take-away. The boutique Whisky & Wine drinks list is as long as the ladder to the top-shelf drops. This space opens out to the Esplanade and cool, tropical breezes.
Rooms and suites are bright and echo the North Queensland environment. The views are up-close and spectacular.
Flynn is due to open in April 2020.
Crystalbrook Collection added inner-Sydney’s Little Albion last year and the Byron at Byron Resort in September. Newcastle will get its first 5-star hotel when Kingsley opens next year. The brutalist City Admin Centre will be re-imagined as a 130-room luxury hotel with roof-top restaurant, bar and private dining room. Next will be Port Douglas where an ultra-luxurious 30 room boutique bolthole, apartments, villas and a 5-star, 100 room hotel will take up residence next year.
Watch this space.