Star Studded: Australia's Unique Hotels

Once dominated by familiar big name hotel brands, the country’s accommodation scene is suddenly becoming more diverse, idiosyncratic and creative.

By Mark Chipperfield

Something curious is happening to the hotel scene in Australia. Stylish boutique and glamourous mid-size hotels are popping up in the major cities, while the luxury island resort, once an endangered species, is making a spirited comeback.

In Far North Queensland, One&Only Hayman Island, one of Australia’s most cherished island resorts, has been reborn after an $80 million refurbishment, with One&Only just announcing a second Australian property with a new badge for Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa. Lizard Island has just reopened after a major facelift.

Brisbane and Canberra have marked themselves as hotel hot spots – both cities will see a raft of new openings over the next few months. Brisbane’s newest boutique property is The New Inchcolm Hotel, a stylish 50-room hotel on Wickham Terrace. In 2016, Dusit Thani (Thailand’s mega international resort brand) will enter this market, taking over Brookwater Golf and Country Club in the suburb of Springfield, just 30 minutes from Brisbane CBD. In addition to the existing resident development, Dusit Thani will build a large resort and conference facility. A sparkling new 280-room W Hotel will welcome its first guests in Brisbane two years later. Canberra has seen a spate of new hotel openings over the past two years including Hotel Hotel, QT Canberra and the rebirth of the iconic Hotel Kurrajong, which was the favoured place of many of our politicians back in the day and will be again – more on that later.

Over in the west, Perth’s buoyant commercial property sector seems unstoppable. The Terrace Hotel, a 15-suite boutique hotel on St George’s Terrace, marks a new departure for the city. Ritz-Carlton has announced plans to build a new hotel in the city, while the Hilton chain has given the green light for a 241-room hotel on Riverside Drive and a second property in the port city of Fremantle.

Adelaide is playing catch up with several new hotel openings during 2014, including The Watson (an Art Hotel), Hotel Ibis Adelaide and The Mayfair, the city’s first new five-star hotel in 20 years.

The nation’s largest city, Sydney, is also seeing plenty of activity on the hotel front with exciting rebuilds of historic properties. Older properties like The Langham, Sydney and Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains have been given a new lease of life, ready to reclaim their place in the sun. Sydney’s Shangri-La Hotel has renovated its Horizons Club Lounge with the best harbour views in town, and stylishly refurbished rooms are rolling out one floor at a time. Then there is the much-anticipated Crown Casino’s new hotel tower, the centrepiece of Barangaroo, Sydney’s massive new harbourside precinct development.  Even neighbouring Darling Harbour will see Four Points By Sheraton adding a new tower and Sofitel has signed up to manage another large tower opposite and above the new exhibition centre. New recent boutique properties such as QT Sydney and 1888 have added variety as has the high-end and super exclusive The Darling, part of The Star entertainment complex. InterContinental Sydney Double Bay opened with great fanfare in November and the Pier One Sydney Harbour, in the shadows of the Harbour Bridge, has also had a massive makeover and a new badge as the inaugural Australian debut of Marriott International’s worldwide brand, Autograph Collection Hotel.

The island state of Tasmania, already renown for its small portfolio of country lodges and heritage properties, could well be home to the most interesting new hotel, Pumphouse Point.

Factor in a new generation of destination country hotels, eco-resorts in remowte places and several luxurious island properties and the Australian accommodation scene is looking pretty rosy.

LUXURY RESORTS

One&Only Wolgan Valley, New South Wales
Created by Emirates almost 10 years ago, this quintessential Australian resort (think kookaburras, gum trees and mountain ranges) was absorbed into the One&Only family in late 2014. Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, the resort consists of just 40 freestanding suites, each with a private plunge pool, a world-class spa, exceptional cuisine and a wide choice of outdoor activities, such as horse riding, wildlife safaris and archery. The resort offers a full program of children’s activities. Driving time from Sydney is 2.5 hours.

Southern Ocean Lodge, South Australia
This spectacular cliff top property on Kangaroo Island defines wilderness glamour. Not only is this curved piece of modernist architecture impressive, Southern Ocean Lodge manages to provide world-class hospitality despite its splendid isolation. The property offers 21 immaculate suites – all with stunning ocean views, limestone floors and private outdoor terraces. The in-house dining experience is impressive. Wildlife tours can be booked at the front desk. Flying time to the island from Adelaide is 30 minutes.

Saffire, Tasmania
Designed by Tasmanian architect Robert Morris, Saffire Freycinet, on the east coast of Tasmania, has become the standard by which every other luxury lodge in Australia is judged. The futuristic eco-friendly property overlooks the Hazards Mountains, Freycinet Peninsula and the pristine waters of Great Oyster Bay. The property offers 20 luxurious suites, an exclusive day spa, restaurant, guest lounge and a bar. The property provides a number of signature wilderness experiences. Driving time from Hobart is 2.5 hours.

qualia, Hayman Island, Queensland
qualia has inspired many imitators, but nowhere can hope to rival its jaw-dropping views, luxurious pavilions and sheer range of things to enjoy. Whether you want to explore the Whitsunday Islands, play a round of golf, join a fitness class or snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef, it’s all here. The cuisine is second-to-none. The property consists of 60 pavilions, each with uninterrupted ocean views. Resort facilities include a spa, pool, fitness centre, restaurants and water sports centre.

OUTBACK PROPERTIES

Wildman Wilderness Lodge, Northern Territory
Opened in 2011, Wildman Wilderness Lodge is situated in the Mary River Wetlands area about half way between Darwin and Kakadu National Park. The indigenous-owned property is designed to provide guests with a privileged experience of Kakadu, offering a range of small group tours and adventures. Accommodation consists of 10 luxurious air-conditioned cabins and 15 ultra modern safari tents. The in-house restaurant showcases the very best produce from the Top End. Driving time from Darwin is two hours.

Sal Salis, Western Australia
Sometimes called Australia’s “alternative Great Barrier Reef”, Ningaloo Reef is best known for its giant whale sharks, but also offers the chance to explore a pristine coral reef just metres from the shoreline. By far the best place to stay is Sal Salis, a collection of five-star wilderness tents surrounded by sand dunes southwest of Exmouth. Tents are magnificently appointed with fresh linen, comfortable beds and ensuite bathrooms. Despite its isolation, the team at Sal Salis whips up the most fantastic meals. Expert guides are on hand to take guests diving or kayaking on the reef.

Ikara Safari Camp, South Australia
Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheatre bathed in distinctive blue mist, is the ideal base from which to explore the Flinders Ranges, one of Australia’s Outback glories. Wilpena Pound Resort offers a wide range of guided tours and excursions. In early 2014 the resort opened Ikara Safari Camp, a self-contained “glamping” experience comprising of 15 specially designed tents, each with a king bed, ensuite bathroom, fans, and other mod cons. Guests have access to resort facilities, including a bar and swimming pool.

Longitude 131, Northern Territory
Now part of the Baillie Lodges group, Longitude 131 pioneered the concept of Outback luxury and continues to be the gold standard at Uluru. This resort is set amidst the rugged Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Each of the 15 luxury pavilions enjoys dress circle views of the famous rock. Guests have a wide choice of touring options, plus signature experiences such as dining under the stars. The resort offers personalised service, fresh, modern cuisine and the oodles of privacy. The lodge is about 30 minutes by road from Uluru.

ART HOTELS

Hotel Hotel, Australian Capital Territory
Clever name, daring concept, masterful execution. Hotel Hotel, part of the Nishi Building, now appears on every Hot Hotel List in the world. Hardly surprising given its design credentials, sense of flamboyance and its award-winning dining room, Monster Kitchen & Bar. If you are looking for that wow factor, this place has it in spades. In fact, some guests wonder if they’ve been transported to Scandinavia. The hotel has just 68 rooms and prices are surprisingly modest. The complex includes a cinema, gym, library and private art gallery.

The Larwill, Parkville, Victoria
The Larwill Studio is the latest property from the Art Series Hotel Group, opening its doors in September 2014. Named after the late David Larwill, the property has 96 rooms called ‘workspaces’ and communal hubs, displaying original works from the artist and encouraging guests to unleash their inner artist, with sketchpads and utensils provided. With views over the beautiful Royal Parklands, guests have easy access to run, walk, play or use one of the hotel’s bikes in the park. The lobby contains a library, a gym, a 250-seat restaurant and bar, and art tours of the hotel are offered. Larwill’s love of colour is reflected in the enormous original piece in the lobby – aptly named Remember Me.

TRYP Fortitude Valley, Queensland
Street Art features in the design of this new property, which opened in September, 2014 in the now trendy Fortitude Valley. World acclaimed street artists Rone, Beastman, Fintan Magee and Numskull were all commissioned to create murals for what is Australia’s first TRYP by Wyndham hotel.  The property is a hip urban property, with a cutting-edge design – and its very own coveted graffiti, with each artist working their magic on one floor. This ensures each floor has a different feel. To add to its appeal, the original building used to house the clubhouse of a secret society called Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. True story.

HOTELS WITH THAT SOMETHING SPECIAL

Pumphouse Point Tasmanian Wilderness Retreat, Tasmania
Opening on 1 January, 2015, Tasmania’s newest luxury hotel, Pumphouse Point is located at the end of a 250-metre long jetty in the middle of Lake St Claire, exactly 2 ½ hour’s drive from Launceston, Hobart and Devonport. The original Pump House was built in the 1920s, decommissioned in the 1990s and has been brought back to life by developer Simon Currant. The 18 hotel rooms are spread across the five-storey pump house and the caretaker’ s cottage, which is located on the shore next to the jetty and also houses a restaurant and lounge. Designers Cumulus Studio have maintained the integrity of the buildings, keeping the industrial exterior the same while bringing modular rooms to the interiors.  A section of the pumphouse’s ground floor has been covered in glass to reveal the original hydro pumps while rooms bring nature inside, with wooden feature walls, fireplaces and floor to ceiling windows.

Hotel Kurrajong, Canberra
The historic Hotel Kurrajong Canberra opened in December after a major renovation. The Hotel, called home by Prime Minister Ben Chifley for 11 years in the 1940s, has retained many of its finest architectural features including pavilions, deep verandas and radiating courtyards. Most of the original plantings in the garden have also been retained. The property, located in the parliamentary precinct, oozes charm, with 147 rooms comprising 26 heritage-listed rooms, four executive suites, four balconies and eight terrace rooms. Chifley’s Bar and Grill, a nod to Ben Chifley, will be a quality-driven restaurant with an unmatched premium beef selection, by way of hand-selected meats. Diners will be wowed by contemporary creations with a focus on premium local ingredients and a selection of over 80 local and international wines. The Hotel Kurrajong Canberra is co-owned by TFE Hotels and NRMA.

The Lyall, Melbourne
The only privately-owned (and family managed) five-star hotel in Australia, The Lyall Hotel and Spa is a haven of calm and intimacy in Melbourne’s South Yarra. With 40 suites of contemporary design, the property’s ambience is one of relaxed elegance with a front desk and concierge services second to none. There is an art gallery on each floor, a very well kitted out gym, and the excellent and award-winning Lyall Spa. For longer stay guests, the Lyall Residences was added next door a few years ago. In the evenings, after a day exploring the laneways, shops or cultural highlights of Melbourne, relax with a cocktail or a glass of bubbles in the Champagne Bar, then enjoy the contemporary seasonal cuisine served with flair in Bistro Lyall, where you can choose to dine inside or al fresco on the terrace. Keep an eye on this property, with exciting plans ahead.

Lake House, Daylesford, Victoria
Known around the globe for the excellence of its cuisine, the Lake House offers a special place of escape, deep in the heart of Victoria’s spa country. Offering tasteful accommodation, a lovely pastoral setting, astonishing regional cuisine and a world-famous wine cellar, the Lake House is an unmissable experience. Guests have the use of a tennis court and the Salus Day Spa and may visit the studio of resident artist Allan Wolf-Tasker. Driving time from Melbourne is 90 minutes.

On the Horizon
By Hugh McCrystal
The Australian hotel scene is getting ready to give some of the world’s best hotels a real run for their money.

Sydney’s biggest headlines are: Crown Sydney at Barangaroo, Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour and Four Points by Sheraton Darling Harbour’s new tower.

There’s also a lot more under construction in both the CBD and fringe areas. In the city, TFE Hotels has a development site near Town Hall, where a Vibe hotel is expected and right near another office-to-accommodation conversion, the Greenland Hotel, formerly home for the Water Board.

Close to Circular Quay, the 281-room Tank Stream hotel is under construction promising affordable hip rooms. Over in the Botanical Gardens, a low-rise, boutique hotel has been proposed near the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

At the new Central Park development, Singaporean hotelier Peng Loh is opening The Clare Hotel on the site of a former pub. Expect something funky.

On the east side, QT Bondi Beach debut’s another uber-hip property in 2015 that’s going to be in serious demand. At the home of horse racing in Sydney, Adina Royal Randwick, are backing a winner, with a futuristic design and strategic views straight down the finishing straight.

Accor Hotels has just announced the Pullman Sydney Airport in 2016, close to the TFE Hotel’s – Adina Mascot, also under construction.

From Surry Hills to Chatswood, Meriton Serviced Apartments continues to throw up giant towers for the medium-to-long-stay traveller.

Up in the Queensland capital, there’s action aplenty.

The Tryp by Wyndham, NEXT Brisbane, Four Points by Sheraton Brisbane, Alpha Mosaic and Gambaro’s all recently opened their doors. To come – the hip W Brisbane, Richmont Hotel by Mantra, Emporium Hotel South Bank, a 368-room Ibis Hotel in the city, a new Art Series Hotel at the Howard Smith Wharves, a Pullman Hotel and Ibis Hotel at Brisbane Airport, a Rydges Hotel at the Brisbane Showgrounds, the Capri by Fraser Brisbane, Holiday Inn Express Spring Hill and a Sage hotel by SilverNeedle. Crown and Echo Entertainment are going head-to-head to develop a new casino hotel, the winning bid to be announced in 2015.

Casinos are also key components of two mega resorts in Queensland, the AUD$8.15 billion Aquis project in Cairns and the AUD$7.5 billion Broadwater Marine Project on the Gold Coast, both selected to proceed to the next stage of development. On the Gold Coast, Jupiters is in the process of building a new $345 million ‘six star’ luxury hotel tower, redefining their accommodation offering.

Melbourne recently saw the debut of Sheraton Melbourne, The Coppersmith, Wyndham Melbourne on William and The Larwill. Coming soon are Parkroyal Melbourne Docklands, Four Points by Sheraton Melbourne Docklands, Aloft Melbourne by Starwood, a new high rise tower at the existing Windsor Hotel and possibly a W Melbourne hotel, to add some real icing on the cake.

In Adelaide, The Mayfair hotel is next off the block and two further unnamed hotels are also being developed.

Out west in Perth, the new Ritz-Carlton Perth will set a new benchmark for the brand, while the new tower at Burwood, Crown Towers Perth, will also offer luxury rooms. The Westin Perth is also being developed, as is the converted InterContinental Perth (formerly Rydges), a Sage hotel by SilverNeedle, a DoubleTree by Hilton (also Freemantle) and a new unnamed luxury hotel at the restored State Building inside the Cathedral and Treasury development. The boutique Alex Hotel will soon open in Northbridge, Starwood is set to open an Aloft Hotel and Accor will open an Ibis Hotel. A hotel is also proposed at Perth’s Citylink development.

There is room for everyone! 

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