Room review: Crystalbrook Riley in Cairns is leading the charge for responsible luxury travel

We know about fat calories, but have you heard of climate calories?

Browsing the menu at one of Crystalbrook’s Cairns hotel restaurants, I was faced with a number of options as to where my food had come from.

There were symbols on the menu indicating whether my food had been locally produced within three hours, cultural considerations such as using native ingredients and working with indigenous communities, or whether it was ethically sourced meat. Has the whole beast been used? Was it farmed or fished sustainably?

The Crystalbrook Collection, a portfolio of hotels in Australia, prides itself on offering responsible luxury travel, but in a way so subtle many guests may not even know they are choosing a hotel group that has reimagined every aspect of its business to ensure they talk about sustainability and guests travel with a lighter footprint.

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The place

One of three Crystalbrook properties in Cairns, Riley is a modern and chic property on the northern waterfront waterfront, within walking distance to all the main shops and restaurants and the marina.

Crystalbrook is a partner of Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, a movement that seeks to scale up conservation efforts for the UNESCO World Heritage Site and reefs around the world. Upon arrival I was given a card to say that the hotel had made a $50 donation on my behalf to the movement.

Down the road are Crystalbrook’s Flynn and Bailey hotels – the Flynn offers a fun, lively venue while the Bailey celebrates the arts.

Be sure to make time to swim and relax in the lagoon pool.

Juliette Sivertsen

Be sure to make time to swim and relax in the lagoon pool.

The room

With 311 rooms and suites, the towering hotel wings create a large u-shape bordering a stunning lagoon pool facing the waterfront. There is a man-made beach around the pool with sun loungers and comfortable pods scattered around the edges.

The atrium and reception area is a beautiful modern space filled with natural light that actually encourages guests to hang out, rather than just using it as a place to wait to check in or out. Decorated with greenery and plants, there is plenty of comfortable seating overlooking the pool and even a pool table for those who fancy a bit of 8-ball.

The room

When I stayed in a resort view room, my balcony looked out over the lagoon below, while I also had a view of the ocean. Wood, gold and blue accents in the furniture were an elegant nod to the coastal setting, and a large artwork on the wall in the form of a piece of coral highlighted the importance of sustainability in protecting the reef.

Inside the resort view rooms at Crystalbrook Riley, Cairns.

Juliette Sivertsen

Inside the resort view rooms at Crystalbrook Riley, Cairns.

The rooms are large enough for a desk and armchair, as well as the outdoor furniture on the balcony. The kitchenette has a fridge, coffee machine with reusable pads and a spacious, modern, softly lit bathroom with rain shower.

The amenities

It is the small things that make a big difference to a sustainable strategy. There is no single use plastic in the hotel and the bathrooms are ‘100% waste free’ – the toothbrushes are made from sugar cane and corn starch and all products are in reusable or biodegradable bottles and packaging. The hangers are made from recycled materials and the key cards are made of wood.

There are also reusable glass water bottles in the fridge – goodbye plastic. According to Crystalbrook, they have saved over four million plastic bottles and 1.5 million plastic water bottles since 2018.

The hotel has even partnered with a local dress rental company so guests can rent their holiday clothes rather than buying something new and helping to keep clothing and fabric from ending up in landfill.

The food

The on-site Paper Crane restaurant offers Asian-inspired dining and is also where the breakfast buffet is offered, with a wide selection of teas, coffees, continental and cooked dishes, and even fresh honey hanging from a piece of gingerbread.

There is also the rooftop bar and restaurant Rocco with panoramic views of the city and the sea.

Just down the road you can pop into sister resort Crystalbrook Flynn’s restaurant ‘Italian’ for an incredible meal – this is where you can choose your meal by climate calories so you can consider where your food comes from and how it was sourced and packaged . For a unique dessert, choose the chocolate ravioli with caramelized hazelnut and black shaved truffle.

Chocolate ravioli at Crystalbrook Flynn's Italian in Cairns is a unique but delicious way to enjoy fresh pasta.

Juliette Sivertsen

Chocolate ravioli at Crystalbrook Flynn’s Italian in Cairns is a unique but delicious way to enjoy fresh pasta.

Worth stepping out for

You cannot visit Cairns without a visit to the national treasure that is the Great Barrier Reef. But make sure you go out with a carbon-free eco-certified operator, such as Passions of Paradise. Dive with a Master Reef Guide to ensure it’s a learning experience where you give back to the environment and help contribute to the future protection of this incredible Unesco World Heritage Site.

Closer to the hotel, wander up and down the Esplanade, enjoy the hustle and bustle of the waterfront and the many eateries and cute shops all within walking distance.

Worth staying in for

I could have spent all day and evening in the pool and on those sunbeds if I had nothing else to do.

The highlight

My evening swim in the illuminated pool, undisturbed by other guests.

The dim light

My only complaint is that breakfast didn’t start until 07.00 and would have liked it to be open at 06.00 for those who had to leave early on day trips.


Resort view rooms start at AU$355 per night. See:

The Spirit of Queensland train can take you from Brisbane to Cairns or pick you up from any of the stops along the way between the two destinations. See:

The author was a guest at the hotel.

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