With its trio of sustainable hotels and plethora of wining and dining options, Crystalbrook Collection is helping revitalise this perennially popular holiday spot. Thanks in large part to this revitalisation, Cairns also came in at no.4 on your list of Top 50 Aussie Towns.
Find the complete list of the Top 50 Aussie Towns here.
The first taste of Crystalbrook
Crystalbrook Flynn is the fun one of the bunch: a social butterfly of a five-star hotel. True to form, there’s a giant chocolate freckle waiting to welcome me when I check into my Sea View Suite, where splashes of hot pink enliven a luxe coastal palette of sea greens and sand golds and a generous balcony places me right on the Cairns Esplanade with unbroken views of the Coral Sea.
Soak up panoramic sea views.
I soak in the tourism town’s sunshine and instant holiday vibes and, having inadvertently skipped both breakfast and lunch, devour the sweet treat with abandon. The modus operandi of Crystalbrook Collection is responsible luxury, and I feel similarly guilt-free about everything I do here.
Have a luxurious stay at Crystalbrook Flynn. (Image: Mark Lane)
From a signature treatment at the Eléme Day Spa (I’m sold on the ‘risqué’ and lymph-stimulating Bust and Booty massage; when in Cairns, right?), which is followed swiftly by a conscious cocktail (a bio-fermented Recharge perhaps, activated with B vitamins and optionally spiked with local Wolf Lane Davidson Plum gin?), everything here – and in all Crystalbrook properties – is designed to be heavy on the indulgence and easy on the conscience.
And while the note scrawled on my room’s mirror – ‘Hey there wild child’ – appears as if written in lipstick, there’s no lip service here. Since its inception in 2018, Crystalbrook Collection has been doing things differently, with sustainability in mind, in the Australian hospitality space.
Crystalbrook’s eco-friendly accommodation offering
Operating an environment free of single-use plastic is second nature; Crystalbrook has saved almost 1.5 million plastic bottles from ending up in landfills and almost 4 million plastic amenity bottles.
It has gone a step further still in becoming the first hospitality group in Australia to achieve 100 per cent waste-free bathrooms, with all amenities either biodegradable or recyclable including toothbrushes made from sugarcane and corn starch.
Crystalbrook accommodation features cosy rooms with panoramic sea views. (Image: Mark Lane)
In-room coffee capsules are zero-waste thanks to a partnership with TerraCycle, key cards are made from recycled wood, coathangers from recycled cardboard and the use of technology, such as in-room iPads, has removed an estimated 90 per cent of the paper found in a typical five-star hotel room.
And with its Climate Calories initiative – which sees menu items labelled to indicate everything from locally sourced to ethical meats to minimised waste and culturally considered – in place across all 14 restaurants and bars in the collection, patrons can drink and dine in the knowledge they are mitigating their environmental impact.
Enjoy a sumptuous meal as you explore Cairns. (Image: Alexandra Gow)
The Crystalbrook Collection difference
First came Crystalbrook Riley, a five-star luxury resort in Cairns with a linger-worthy pool and show-stopping rooftop cocktail bar, Rocco, crowning a new landmark tower – its marine hues designed to reflect the landscape – unlike anything else on the city skyline.
Enjoy your choice of signature cocktail at Rocco. (Image: Alexandra Gow)
Since then, the portfolio has expanded to include properties similarly sympathetic to their location (and each with a distinct personality expressed by its gender-neutral name) in Byron Bay, Brisbane, Newcastle and Sydney.
But its subsequent openings in Cairns – Crystalbrook Bailey in 2019 and Crystalbrook Flynn in 2020 – have helped shape the renaissance of one of Australia’s top tourism towns. With no international tourists pouring into Cairns, the pandemic proved a soft launch for this trio of sibling hotels, which set about quietly but radically transforming the face of tourism in the Tropical North Queensland hub.
Have some wine at the Rocco rooftop bar. (Image: Alexandra Gow)
In a few short years, Crystalbrook has added not only 912 rooms, but also eight drinking and dining options to the city, which – having quickly become staples on the scene – are as much about appealing to locals as they are visitors.
On night one my travel companions and I dine in warm, convivial surrounds on site at Flynn’s Italian. The next night we attend the opening of an art exhibition at Crystalbrook Bailey, the creative one of the bunch, before heading to its steakhouse CC’s Bar & Grill, where diners tuck into beef farmed at the group’s own station, three hours west in the Atherton Tablelands.
Savour a fusion of flavours in Cairns.
On our last night it’s a fresh, flavoursome al fresco meal of Asian-fusion cuisine on the esplanade at Crystalbrook Riley’s Paper Crane. Back at Crystalbrook Flynn, the market-style food and drinks hub Boardwalk Social opens right onto Cairns Esplanade and perfectly showcases the porous, centre-of-the-action attitude of the hotel.
The new Reef Magic pontoon
So too the hospitality group’s outward-looking ambition to be part of the city’s fabric. It aligns with the local council’s $28 million redevelopment of the esplanade, which has landed it with a new-look dining precinct, vertical gardens, a revamped lagoon area and more.
Lounge on the beach underneath tall palm trees.
The city’s many tourism operators have also used the pause to reinvent themselves. We amble down to Cairns Marina one bright morning and skip over the seas to Moore Reef, where the Reef Magic pontoon is newly moored.
Over the next five hours we explore this watery world at leisure. We check out the underwater observatory and scientific lab set up for reef research and projects, take a ride in a glass-bottomed boat to hear Dreamtime Creation stories of the Great Barrier Reef, snorkel the sheltered coral lagoon, where I spot not one but two sea turtles, and follow a marine biologist on a guided snorkel safari.
Owned by Australian-owned Experience Co Limited (EXP), trips out to the Reef Magic pontoon are steered by local experts passionate about reef conservation including marine biologists and Indigenous guides. Designed over three levels and 100 square metres to stringent standards, it is powered using sustainable energy and carries an Advanced Eco Accreditation.
The Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours
The next day, we glide across Trinity Inlet and through the mangroves to the heart of traditional Crocodile Country to join a new Indigenous-owned walking tour. Although it has catered to the group market since 2015, Mandingalbay Ancient Indigenous Tours is now offering tours to independent travellers and its Hands On Country tour is an enriching journey through forest that doubles as a 50,000-year-old supermarket, hardware store and pharmacy and continues to provide food and resources for the Mandingalbay Yidinji people.
The best way to end the day
We’re joined on the walk by a well-travelled couple from Victoria who, as the tour ends and we arrive back in Cairns, say they’re off to spend the afternoon by the pool at Crystalbrook Riley. A day well spent. They’re among a growing trend of domestic tourists who are choosing to linger longer in a place so often used as a launching pad for other parts of Queensland’s hot tropics. And the offering is maturing to meet them with increased options for eating, sleeping and playing responsibly and a healthy splash of luxury thrown in.
Later, I sit on my balcony at Crystalbrook Flynn overlooking the esplanade and see it buzzing with life. Families splash in the lagoon or spread out on its grassy flanks. A cargo ship pulls out of the port. Swallows dart and waders pick at the mudflats on the foreshore. Cairns has emerged from its period of enforced hibernation looking brighter than ever. But for all its changes, there is so much here that is timeless.