For travellers who seek the finest that the world has to offer

Discover sun-kissed sustainability at the award-winning Crystalbrook Riley

Cathy Wagstaff enjoys breezy accommodation and laid-back luxury at Crystalbrook Riley, one of Cairn’s most spectacular hotels. 

A breath of fresh air on North Queensland’s luxury hotel scene, Crystalbrook Riley champions pioneering and passionate eco-efforts without compromising on luxury. With airy suites, a sprawling lagoon pool and vibrant culinary offerings, a stay at this Cairns hotshot is sure to have you living the life of Riley.

The facts 

TravellerCathy Wagstaff
Room: Resort Room
Address: 131-141 Esplanade, Cairns, Queensland
Date: May 2022
Best for:  Sun-kissed sustainability and tropical holiday adventures

The Signature factor

If sustainability is the new travel ‘X-factor’, Crystalbrook Riley deserves a spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The shining star of the Crystalbrook Collection, Riley is all about responsible luxury. The hotel offers an environmental program that serves to enhance, not compromise, the quality of its guest experience.

In fact, Crystalbrook Collection was the first hospitality group in Australia to achieve 100 per cent waste-free bathrooms. Riley also incentivises carbon free stays – each night that guests opt out of having their room serviced and linen changed, they’ll enjoy a $10 credit to spend at the hotel’s bars and restaurants. Add in paperless rooms and a convenient digital concierge and you have a winning combination.

If that doesn’t have you convinced, over 80 per cent of the produce used in Riley’s restaurants is sourced locally, within a three-hour drive from the hotel. Crystalbrook also farms their own beef to ensure the highest levels of animal welfare are maintained.

The icing on this eco-conscious cake has to be their partnership with Bella Boutique Hire, a local fashion boutique offering designer clothing and accessories for hire. Guests are encouraged to hire their holiday outfit rather than contributing to landfill with one-off pieces.

The concept

The buzz-worthy 311-room Riley burst into the Cairns accommodation landscape in November 2018, the result of a sensational $170-million makeover of the Rydges Tradewinds.

Riley is part of the Crystalbrook Collection, a sustainable Australian hotel and resort brand heralding responsible luxury all wrapped up in premium services, playful designs and stimulating environments.

Crystalbrook’s innovative presence is changing the accommodation game in Cairns, and the area is now home to two more properties, Bailey and Flynn. The collection also boasts properties in Brisbane, Newcastle, Byron Bay, Sydney, as well as a Superyacht Marina in Port Douglas.

Crystalbrook Riley lobby
Inside Riley's airy lobby

First impressions

Step one foot into the open-plan lobby and you’ll know you are on holiday. With its timber-panelled ceilings and breezy vibe, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had been transported to a Miami beach club or Byron Bay retreat.

Riley’s design is as stylish as it is fun, all wicker furniture, wooden accents and neutral hues. The lobby is dotted with soft lounges that overlook the enticing lagoon pool.

Check in is swift, and paperless; you can forget all about the usual plastic keys and hotel waste during your stay here. I’m handed a 100 per cent recycled timber room key.

The room

It is the view that hits you first as you wander into the Resort Room – a straight shot across the pool to the man-made beach and ocean beyond. The sun-drenched balcony beckons you to unfurl yourself in its oversized deck chairs as the pool gleams a sparkling aquamarine beneath.

The room itself is gracefully appointed, with a relaxing natural palate accented with splashes of gold and marble. The king bed is adorned with crisp and cocooning linens, as well as pillowslips labelled with the Crystalbrook Collection emblem. I waste no time putting on the blue and white kimono-style robe and slippers. The 55-inch HD Smart TV offers complimentary movies and streaming capabilities.

In the airy bathroom, the rain shower seals the deal but perhaps the most impressive feature of the space is the Apple iPad. Technology and service go hand in hand at Riley, and this unassuming device is actually a virtual concierge. Guests have access to information on services, menus and apps, as well as movies, video streaming and music.

Top Suite

The two-bedroom, three-balcony Riley’s Suite oozes sustainable luxury and sophistication. Hosting up to six guests between two spacious rooms with separate lounge areas and bathrooms, the suite is perfect for groups or families.

The décor is modern, clean and airy, allowing the dazzling sea views to take centre stage. Expect luxurious amenities and Crystalbrook’s state-of-the-art digital concierge services.

Stunning views at Crystalbrook Riley's Rocco
Enjoy drinks and tapas overlooking the Coral Sea

On my plate

An irrefutable highlight of any stay at Riley is sunset drinks at Rocco. The Mediterranean-inspired rooftop bar and restaurant boasts sweeping 270-degree views across Cairns and the Coral Sea. There truly is no better place to savour a drop as the sky bursts with flaming oranges and glowing pinks.

Sunset bubbles are held from 4 to 5pm daily, where guests can sip on sparkling, bellinis and Aperol spritz. Inside, you’re welcomed with earthy tones, a mezze-style menu and a warm ambience that screams of European summers. The beverage menu is extensive, with over 30 champagnes, 27 whiskies and a Moroccan influence that dominates the cocktail options.

Outdoor seating and vibrant flavours at Paper Crane restaurant
Expect vibrant dishes at Paper Crane

Enjoy a feast of the senses at Paper Crane, where you’ll be whisked away to the bustling streets of Asia with vibrant flavours and aromatic dishes. Dine on prawn betel leaf with vegan nahm jim, mint, coconut and pandan leaf jam. Or sample the salmon sashimi tokasu – fresh salmon sashimi served in a gyoza taco shell with avocado puree, lime caviar mayonnaise, togarashi and coriander.

The whole grilled Daintree Rainforest baby barramundi is a highlight, served with banana leaf, whipped miso butter, wakame and lime. Finish your meal with a white chocolate Paper Crane egg and cocktails infused with yuzu, lychee and jasmine tea.

Their menus are labelled with ‘Climate Calorie’ info, allowing you to see whether the ingredients of your dish are locally sourced, sustainably grown or caught, consciously reduce waste and whether they are culturally considered (using native ingredients and working with Indigenous producers). Meaning you can savour your meal, comfortable that you’re mitigating your environmental impact.

Crystalbrook Riley signature robe and slippers
Crystalbrook Riley's signature robe and slippers

Spa life

Prepare to be pampered at Eléme Day Spa, with a selection of treatments and facials sure to leave you relaxed and radiant. Eléme boasts five treatment rooms open to both guests and casual visitors. The interior itself is calming, all textured white walls with splashes of teal throughout.

Experienced therapists can personalise each treatment to best suit you with a repertoire that embraces both nature and science.

Indulge in a Facial Therapy by Sodashi, infused with the purest natural ingredients designed to nourish your skin. Then, choose one of two Eléme Voyages – ‘Touchdown Jet-Lag Remedy’ or ‘Sun and Sea Skin Rescue’ – sure to wash, buff and soothe away your worries.

Staying in

Make the most of the sprawling 1000 square-metre lagoon pool and treat yourself to a luxury poolside package. Bliss out in European-inspired cabanas and soak in waves of Queensland sun while relishing refreshments and attentive service.

Choose the ‘Cabana Chic’ package to enjoy a charcuterie platter, seasonal fruit board and poolside lunch. Your refreshments come accompanied by a bottle of Mumm Champagne and bottomless sparkling water and soft drinks.

Stepping out

Crystalbrook Riley is mere steps from the Esplanade boardwalk and just a short waterfront stroll from the shopping, entertainment and business centre of Cairns. Visit the Cairns Aquarium with its onsite turtle hospital, just a stone’s throw away from the resort.

The city itself is the gateway to the iconic Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest. You can explore these wonders easily with a range of snorkelling, scuba-diving and walking tours. For an Advanced Ecotourism Certified experience, cruise to Reef Magic Cruises’ outer-reef pontoon for a day of diving with marine biologists.

If these World Heritage-listed wonders aren’t enough to occupy your time, discover countless hidden gems in the nearby Atherton Tablelands, Port Douglas, Palm Cove and Kuranda.

Bikes outside of Crystalbrook Riley
Complimentary bicycles are just one of the eco-initiatives that Crystalbrook employs

Highlights from the mini-bar

The mini-bar is somewhat sparse — stocked with water in reusable bottles and a small milk. But that just leaves more room to stash treats from one of many local breweries or nearby Rusty’s Markets. There is, however, a Nespresso coffee machine with recyclable pods and a selection of refreshing English Breakfast, Moroccan Mint and Chamomile TWG Tea blends.

I wish I could take home…

Those cloudlike microfibre blend pillows. The Alliance brand ultra-plush pillows offered warmth without weight, and – coming from someone with an obsession with down pillows – were positively dreamy.

If only…

The frosted glass panels on either side of the bathroom mirror were transparent, to make the most of the glorious view while showering.

Outside Crystalbrook Riley
Discover the award-winning Crystalbrook Riley for yourself

The accolades 

With an award-studded past cementing its status as a pioneering presence on the Australian accommodation scene, Crystalbrook has a lot to celebrate. The Crystalbrook Collection swept the Global Luxury Hotel Group category in the 2020 World Luxury Hotel Awards. Just last year, the collection took home the title of ‘Luxury Brand Australia’.

Riley itself boasts 28 (and counting) awards to its name, with recognition throughout hotel restaurant, bar and day spa categories. It won various best marketing campaign and best tech titles. The hotshot hotel has also taken home the Tripadvisor ‘Travellers’ Choice’ award for the past two years and was granted the ‘Luxury Eco Resort Australia’ title in the World Luxury Hotel Awards of 2020.

Insiders’ tips

To avoid the holiday crowds and torrential tropical showers, the ideal time to visit Cairns is from April to October. Request Room 716 for uninterrupted views across the pool to the glimmering ocean.

Tropical North Queensland residents can enjoy 15 per cent off rooms, spa treatments, food and drink at any Crystalbrook property in the area. Simply apply online for your very own Crystalbrook Local card.

Where to find Crystalbrook Riley

Crystalbrook Riley is located mere steps from Cairns Esplanade, and the Great Barrier Reef Departure Terminal. It is just seven minutes’ drive from Cairns Airport.

This article is a Signature Luxury Travel & Style digital exclusive. Be the first to see more exclusive online content by subscribing to the enewsletter.