The best of Queensland; boutique hotels and refurbished gems plus a few new places to stay.
Verdicts from 2007/08
Last year AT said the hype surrounding qualia, the Oatley family’s crowning glory in their quest to rejuvenate Hamilton Island, was well deserved. When AT reporter Tom Barclay (check out his review) dropped in to kick the tyres six weeks after opening, he was impressed. “The thoughtful and careful design immediately tells you you’re at a world class resort.” Tom also liked the food and lodgings. “The pavilions are superb. Very private, well appointed and totally indulgent. Sitting in your own private plunge pool overlooking the Whitsunday passage washes away any care in the world.” Tom’s partner had the last say. “It is so good, she cried when we left.” Nuff said.
Hamilton Island, (02) 9433 3349, www.qualia.com.au
“The thoughtful and careful design immediately tells you you’re at a world class resort” qualia, QLD
O’Reilly’s Mountain Villas //
In its first year, the Mountain Villas at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat have left behind a string of happy clients, the ultimate pay off for the $34m project that saw 48 new rooms built. Karen Kwok, a 41-year-old accountant, stayed in a new Mountain Villa on New Year’s Eve 2007 and says the rooms were “fresh and modern”. As we predicted in last year’s issue, the private spa and views from the balcony rated highly with Karen and other travellers. Alison Hunter and her husband also stayed at the hotel and her only complaint was that the retreat was “too upscale for our tastes.” If that’s the only problem with the hotel, we reckon they must be doing pretty well.
Lamington National Park Rd, Via Canungra, (07) 5502 4900, www.oreillys.com.au
Peppers Balé, Port Douglas //
In last year’s issue, we said Peppers Balé Port Douglas would top the Hot Hotels list for its luxurious facilities. Since opening in May 2007, the hotel has had its anticipated success, with many travellers applauding the stunning pools and gardens. Suzanne Trimble, 36, who prefers to call the hotel an “exclusive housing estate”, says while it didn’t quite blow her away she was impressed by the “beautifully appointed and spacious rooms”. Suzanne, however, must have stayed in one of the not-so-private balés we warned our readers about last year, saying the houses were “quite exposed to each other”. However, there were no such complaints from another guest, who says Peppers Balé Port Douglas has “six-star facilities” and is absolutely incredible. And, as expected, the private lap pools and the spa with beautiful treatment rooms received kudos all round.
Balé Drive, Port Douglas, (07) 4084 3000, www.peppers.com.au/bale-resort
Sea World Resort //
We had a bit of a chuckle last year when Sea World Resort made the list of Hot Hotels. Now we know why, given travellers aren’t even convinced that a refurb ever took place. It did, of course, but it seems travellers thought the renovations would be more thorough. The lobby got the total overhaul (new flooring, lighting, art, the whole nine yards), but the rooms, with just a fresh coat of paint, new furniture and LCD TVs, left many travellers uninspired as the worn carpet (and towels) remained. Among the sea (ha!) of criticism, however, traveller Brigitte thought the hotel was a bargain after exploiting a package offered by Jetstar and Sea World Resort. While she acknowledges that some fittings were quite worn, she says the hotel was “still comfortable,” complimenting the “friendly and helpful staff” and the restaurant. While the hotel itself didn’t quite get the two thumbs up, the new $1m aqua playground, WaterPlay, definitely did.
Sea World Drive, Main Beach, (07) 5591 0000, www.seaworldresort.myfun.com.au
Fresh out of the Wrapper
Hiding behind a constructed façade in a nondescript street in an uninspiring part of “The Valley”, the Limes is all things cool. While truly boutique (just 21 rooms), in reality they should have opted for, say, 15, as each room is tiny. And the even smaller bathrooms would make even Hervé Villechaize – known as Fantasy Island’s “Tattoo” – claustrophobic. The absolute highlight is the rooftop bar, open to the public with day beds and a movie screen. If you’re there at midnight, they’ll offer you still-available rooms for just $99 to sleep off your hangover. The only ones feeling bad the next morning will be the rack rate chumps.
From $289, Constance St, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, (07) 3852 9000, www.limeshotel.com.au
The absolute highlight is the rooftop bar, open to the public with day beds and a movie screen. If you’re there at midnight, they’ll offer you still-available rooms for just $99 to sleep off your hangover. The only ones feeling bad the next morning will be the rack rate chumps- Limes Hotel, Brisbane
The Elandra //
This 4.5 star resort two hours south of Cairns on Mission Beach is indeed a hot find – Grace Jones hot. Which is why the exotic super diva headlined the Elandra’s opening party. Throughout the resort there’s unique signature artwork, mostly from lost tribes of North India and Africa. AT’s picks are the wall-hung doors adorned with ghoulish skulls and a full-sized wooden tiger in the dining room. The glamorous tropical pool and bar area offer jaw-dropping views of Dunk and Bedarra Islands. The carefully decorated Elandra is a good example of how hot doesn’t always have to be prohibitively expensive.
From $560, Explorer Drive, South Mission Beach, (07) 4068 8596, http://www.limeshotel.com.au
The Miro //
A bright and bold façade inspired by the artist’s radical style ensures travellers won’t miss the Fortitude Valley’s newest apartment hotel. Like the master himself, this property is quirky and eclectic – don’t expect any frills. Brisbanites escape to the arty Valley for nighttime frivolity. The Miro is ideally located right in the middle of the action and there’s not much appeal to staying in with live art, theatres, music and galleries on your funky pad’s doorstep.
From $140, Robertson St, Fortitude Valley, (07) 3634 6900, www.miroaccommodation.com.au
Plantation Resort at Rainbow //
The wrapper hadn’t quite come off yet by the time we went to print, but the latest luxury resort on Rainbow Beach looks set to wow the crowds. Several new sand castles are springing up on one of our favourite stretches of white shoreline and the Plantation is leading the charge. Serviced apartments for those who’re looking to stay in their own private pad in paradise just a short boat ride away from Fraser Island, this hot new addition is the discerning luxury traveller’s proverbial pot of gold.
From $240, Rainbow Beach Rd, Rainbow Beach, (07) 5486 9600, www.plantationresortatrainbow.com.au
Paradise Palms Resort and Country Club //
It’s enough to give any golf enthusiast the yips and make them miss the fairway altogether: Paradise Palms, just 20min north of Cairns and one of Australia’s most long-standing and highly-regarded golf courses, is spending a whopping $500m to add what can only be described as a small village (not counting new restaurant and 4.5 star hotel with 96 rooms) to the existing estate. Villas, children’s theme park, gym, tennis courts, pro shop, hairdresser and whatever else you could possibly wish for will all be part of the finished über resort. Golfing escapes don’t get much better than this.
From $145, Paradise Palms Drive, Kewarra Beach, (07) 4053 9411, http://www.paradisepalms.com.au
Hunt Resort Fitzroy Island //
If you’ve always dreamed of staying on your own private tropical island, this resort offers several hot – and more affordable – options. From Dec ’08 onwards you can choose between luxurious villas, private apartments, hotel suites or campsites – heck, does it matter where you lay your head if you’re surrounded by the Great Barrier Reef and natural rainforest? It remains to be seen just how the planned day spa, restaurant, movie cinema and shop will go with the proclaimed “rare and unspoilt” environment, but if all pans out well Fitzroy Island could be a great getaway just four klicks from the mainland.
Rates TBA, Fitzroy Island, 1300 308 303, http://www.fitzroyisland.com.au
Stradbroke Island Beach Hotel & Spa Resort //
The Straddie Pub on a Hot Hotels list? But surely the circa 1962 boozer is a) lacking in accommodation and b) in desperate need of renovations! Correct – and both have been more than rectified: you’ll still get your schooner, pub grub and sweeping cliff-top views at the hot new Straddie, all in the same laidback atmosphere as before. But this traditional Beach Hotel now packs a mighty punch with added hotel rooms, villas, a day spa and then some. It looks gorgeous and AT is an instant fan.
From $155, East Coast Rd, Point Lookout, (07) 3409 8188, www.stradbrokehotel.com.au
Made-up and Made-over
Peppers Spicers Peak Lodge //
The fresh mountain air, utter tranquillity and scenic views have guests melting away at this multiple award-winning five star boutique resort and spa. Throw in four new cabins to be completed by mid-2009 and you have one hot mix right here on southeast Qld’s Scenic Rim. AT loves being able to include Spicers Peak on this year’s Hot Hotels list – while expensive, this is truly one of those places where you get what you pay for, and provides an experience you’ll cherish (and boast about) for years to come.
From $1090 all inclusive, Wilkinsons Rd, Tregony, (07) 4666 1083, www.peppers.com.au/spicers
Ruffles Lodge //
There’s no chance of any ruffled feathers at this private five star lodge. Treehouse pool villas and spa villas with 180-degree views will keep even the most demanding high-flyers happy. Set in extensive gardens and parklands and surrounded by native bush, it’s a great escape in the Gold Coast hinterland. We wouldn’t have any trouble splitting time between spa and in-room jacuzzi, but if you’re in need of some exercise, there’s a chipping green and plenty of walking trails. Although there’s no real need to walk, with golf buggies on hand to zip from lodge to private villa.
From $395, Ruffles Rd, Willow Vale, (07) 55467 411, www.ruffleslodge.com.au
Urban Brisbane //
A breezy $10m and two years were spent on the refurb of Terraces on Wickham, renamed the Urban Hotel. And by the looks of it, it’ll become a must-stay for any cool hunter passing through Brisbane. Little quirky and personal design touches set the boutique hotel apart, even if it’s not as loud or funky as some other new additions on the hot list. Think understated and übercool. Design aside, views of the city’s skyline and parklands from the Panorama Room on the tenth floor will surely take guests’ breath away.
From $169, Wickham Terrace, Brisbane, (07) 3831 6177, www.urbanbrisbane.com.au
Novotel Cairns Oasis Resort //
A $7m refurb, completed in June ’08, and what do you get? One hell of a lagoon pool. The free-form pool and accompanying cabana are nestled amongst an impressive rainforest oasis that lives up to the resort’s name. This sure is a little slice of paradise. The upgrade is the Novotel chain pulling its socks up to stay in line with new luxury resorts cropping up in the area. All guest rooms, public areas, the restaurant and bar have been revamped, and boy do they look good. The safety of its 4.5 stars is guaranteed, as this place is smoking.
From $159, Lake St, Cairns, (07) 4080 1888, www.novotelcairnsresort.com.au
Stamford Plaza Brisbane //
In an unbeatable location right on the bend of Brisbane River, every room at this hotel has a view – turning most local hoteliers green with envy. In the throes of a $6m refurb to all of its 252 rooms as we went to print, modern décor and amenities will finally hit the Stamford. AT’s personal favourite must be the mini LCD TVs added to bathrooms – it truly is all about the views at the Stamford. And if the hotel can make some radical improvements to its service, the Stamford Plaza can legitimately claim the crown as Brisbane’s finest luxury hotel.
From $200, Cnr Edward and Margaret St, Brisbane, (07) 3221 1999, www.stamford.com.au/spb
Sofitel Brisbane //
For a full review of Sofitel Brisbane and its recent multi-million dollar makeover, head to our review.
According to the Conrads people, they had 60 staff test eight different beds to finalise their selection. The mind (and maybe body) boggles.
Conrad Jupiters Gold Coast //
The long overdue $16m refurb of Conrad Jupiters on the Gold Coast is finished. The rooms have been modernised and are up to date with much softer lighting and simple effects, like changing the shower curtains for every guest (a nice touch). According to the Conrads people, they had 60 staff test eight different beds to finalise their selection. The mind (and maybe body) boggles. The lobby is alive and the lighting effects are the centrepiece. The executive floors are AT’s pick.
From $550, Casino Drive, Broadbeach, (07) 5592 8100, http://www.stamford.com.au/spb
Gilligan’s Cairns //
Yes, there are essential backpacker-style elements at Gilligan’s Cairns (dorms, laundry, TV room, bar and gaming room) but before you send us emails questioning its inclusion on this year’s hot list, here’s some food for thought: you’ll find hotel suites, air con, ensuites, balconies and resort-style pool complete with waterfall at what Lonely Planet calls the “Ritz of all hostels”. You might just want to steer clear of its bars, beer garden and restaurants – unless you feel like striking up a conversation with some seriously intoxicated international travellers.
Dorm beds from $22, hotel suites from $120, Grafton Street, Cairns, (07) 4041 6566, www.gilligansbackpackers.com.au
Qld Rumour Mill //
1. You’ll have to until 2012 to drink to the opening of the Westin Brisbane Empire Square Hotel and Residences.
2. A $6.5m refurb (in ’09?) will transport the heritage-listed Conrad Treasury Brisbane’s rooms into the 21st Century. Along with ubiquitous plasmas, iPod docks and plush new interiors, AT expects the upgrade to be done with style.
3. The luxurious Pullman brand is rumoured to be building a new hotel in Cairns.
4. You’d expect billowing clouds of dust after Great Keppel Island resort shut down for a major refurb, but everything is remarkably quiet in paradise. Rumour has it the current owners are holding off rebuilding while awaiting approval to develop more of the island. Could be a while yet before the tropical getaway welcomes any guests.
5. Hayman Island’s refurb has been rather highly anticipated by AT staff, but, alas, recent visitors report there hasn’t been much improvement so far. Give it another couple of years – with all the activity in the region, they’ll need to be in ship shape if they don’t want to sink.
AT’s Top Five – not new, not refurbed, just our favourites
1. Palazzo Versace //
Always a winner. Nowhere near as expensive as you might think, more fun than you can imagine. Everyone and anyone has a great time.
2. Peppers Bale //
Incredibly well designed, spacious and tropical. The pick of the TNQ destinations.
3. The Emporium //
Probably the best boutique-style hotel in Australia, the eclectic and thoughtful décor and public spaces are unbeatable.
4. Qualia //
Private, world-class, luxurious and lavish, it has rightly become the place to stay in Australia for international jet setters.
5. Voyages Wilson Island //
The ultimate island escape for someone who really wants to escape and doesn’t want a resort with three swim-up bars and a nightclub.
HotelClub 2008 Picks as voted by more than 70,000 consumers
1. Palazzo Versace, Gold Coast
2. Sheraton Mirage, Port Douglas
3. Sofitel Brisbane
4. Marriott Surfers Paradise
5. Sheraton Mirage, Gold Coast