It’s time you met Riley, the hotel making a huge splash in Cairns
The gateway to two World Heritage sites – the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef – Cairns is one of the most postcard-perfect destinations in Tropical North Queensland. It attracts thousands of annual visitors with its balmy weather and epic adventure activities. And yet, the city hasn’t had a new five-star hotel in more than 20 years.
Enter Riley, the second property in the portfolio of freshly minted Australian hotel chain, Crystalbrook Collection, a fast-growing brand that gives each of its accommodations a unique “personality”, rather than a group-wide design prescription. A slick $170-million redux of the Rydges Tradewinds motel, Riley is all about “living in the moment”, from its buzz-worthy bars and restaurants to its indulgent wellness facilities.
High design, Queensland style
This is the tropics, so if your hotel doesn’t revolve around water, you need to find somewhere else to stay. Thankfully, we discover that Riley has a 1,000-square-metre, sand-fringed lagoon-style pool at its heart – many rooms overlook it, and there’s easy access from the restaurants and spa.
It’s also a sparkling backdrop for the lobby, where we’re dwarfed by soaring ceilings and bespoke designer furniture in earthy tones: think covetable wooden tables, bamboo light installations and sofas we sink into and never want to leave.
The pared-back aesthetic flows into our room, which nods to the hotel’s sunny setting through pops of colour and bold prints in azure and gold.
Reason to go green
The ultimate union of style and sustainability, Riley is serious when it comes to minimising its hospitality footprint.
My luxe bathroom amenities are infused with native botanicals, supplied in refillable containers affixed to shower walls, rather than in tiny tubes you squeeze once then throw away; room keycards are made from 100% recycled wood; water is provided in cardboard cartons instead of plastic bottles; and menus and area guides are stored on a digital compendium.
When dining, we find stainless steel straws used in all restaurants and bars.
When it’s time to bed down
While most rooms and suites occupy the restored building, 55 are located in a striking Olympic-torch-shaped tower, its 12 storeys also home to two restaurants and a spa.
Regardless of where you check in, you’re guaranteed sun-drenched spaces, made all the more alluring by large private verandas that offer glimpses of the city’s waterside Esplanade.
When we finally tear ourselves away, we discover enormous bathrooms with rain showers and freestanding tubs, a minibar stocked with locally sourced snacks, yoga mats in the wardrobe, and hundreds of movies thanks to the smart TV and Google Chromecast streaming facility.
Making the most of mealtime
A Mediterranean-style restaurant and bar, Rocco is head and shoulders above the competition – literally. Set on the top floor of the hotel’s tower, this is Cairns’ loftiest place to lounge, and it comes with a menu of more than 200 types of champagne and sparkling wine as well as uninterrupted panoramas of the Coral Sea.
Back at ground level in the same building is Greenfields, where we repent for all the bubbles with loaded superfood salads, poke bowls and fresh juice.
Steps away in the original building we begin the day at Paper Crane, replete with piles of tempting pastries as well as a station where eggs are made to order; in the evening, tables spill out onto a street-side patio the proves the ideal perch for people-watching.
All meat served here is supplied by Crystalbrook Lodge, a working cattle farm 200km away – and the first hotel launched in the chain’s collection.
The tower is also home to Eléme Spa, an all-white cocoon where therapists spritz our skin with cooling Sodashi aromatics before whisking us off into one of the suites.
You can opt to have your treatment completely personalised, or try muscle-relaxing massages such as the Curative Crystalus, incorporating warmed Australian healing stones and crystals to increase vitality and focus clarity.
If time is no issue, book the Ultimate Safari ritual, which begins with a body exfoliation and ends, five hours later, with a scalp treatment, massage and facial that will leave you glowing.
Exploring the neighbourhood
While Cairns is easy to explore on foot, perhaps the best way to take in the sights is on one of Riley’s bikes. We pedal south along the Esplanade to the city’s marina, where we jump in a helicopter for a bird’s-eye view of the reef.
This is also the place to step aboard a boat for expeditions to secluded beaches on outer islands. We’re trying the new Dreamtime Dive & Snorkel catamaran, launched by local adventure outfit Experience Co. to highlight the region’s Aboriginal heritage through an immersive cruise led by Indigenous rangers.
What does the future hold?
Since the 2016 launch of Crystalbrook Lodge, this forward-thinking company has opened Riley, taken over Sydney’s 35-room Little Albion hotel, and has announced grand plans to establish a host of new properties across the country – including two more in Cairns.
Within the year, Bailey and Flynn will also welcome guests to the Queensland city. And despite the fact they’ll be within walking distance, each will be distinctive in terms of its design personality and guest appeal.
Crystalbrook’s love affair with Queensland will continue into 2021, with the group currently refashioning the Port Douglas Marina into a 30-room “six-star” called Harper and 100-room five-star that is yet to be named. Watch this space.