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Published September 12th 2018
Vibrant new hotel and an amazing $34m riverside development
I spent about seven hours deliberating on where to stay in Rockhampton, pumping data into Google Maps before deciding on the Empire Apartment Hotel.
Fussy you might say but I wanted to be able to walk to all the new attractions Rockhampton has to offer, especially the $34 million dollar revitalised waterfront I'd heard so much about.
When I entered the impressive Empire Apartment Hotel (4.5 stars), I knew I had chosen wisely. The new building was state-of-the-art and the reception area was not only modern and vibrant, but the apartment hotel was also perfectly suited to take in all of Rockhampton's latest attractions.
Many of the rooms had waterfront views looking out across the majestic Fitzroy River.
First impressions count and this was the bright and airy reception area at the Empire Apartment Hotel Rockhampton
And the Empire Apartment Hotel was just a short walk from Rockhampton's newest star attraction, the architecturally significant Boathouse restaurant, which I was dying to visit. I had seen plans of this architectural gem with its expansive deck that literally hovers above the river as if you were looking out from a great ocean liner.
Artist's impression of the new Boathouse. Image supplied.
Empire offers fully self-contained apartments with their own balconies. The apartments are furnished in neutral and beige colours with flashes of silver picked up in the designer vases and lamps. There were even flecks of silver in the fabric of the bed head - a neat way to tie the decor together.
Note the photos of Rockhampton's historic buildings on the wall.
There were sparkling bathrooms with walk-in showers. These had Molton Brown of London bathroom products and large, luxurious bath sheets.
While I had no intention of cooking, I could not help but open a few of the apartment's kitchen drawers and I could see that anyone staying for a few days would find a home away from home.
As well as basics, there were thoughtful additions such as wooden spoons, salad servers, and even a lemon squeezer. One of the deep drawers held a neatly tucked away dishwasher.
Not that one needs to cook as there are three eateries attached to the hotel, including the Coffee Club , where I had breakfast the next morning, Ribs and Rumps firing up their grills in the country's beef capital, and Pacino's , a family-owned Italian restaurant which has been a Rockhampton institution for 30 years but has just moved to the riverfront to be part of the iconic new development.
Breakfast at Coffee Club which is connected to the Empire.
Having arrived late, I appreciated the complimentary fast wifi (100mg download speed) to catch up on some work, the ample-sized desk and the option of 10 channels on Foxtel. And how nice to find T2 teas, including a calming night-time brew.
I could have even done my laundry as in one of the large cupboards was a carefully concealed washing machine and dryer.
I did go to the iconic Boathouse the next evening for dinner. It was fortunate that I chatted with Zac Garven, the Tourism, Marketing, and Business Development Manager for the Empire Apartment and Edge Apartment hotels who has an office behind reception. But while he has a long and impressive title, I will always remember him as the resident foodie who gives guests great advice on where to eat.
Zac even told me about restaurants in my own city (Melbourne) that I am now determined to visit and he recommended the Sichuan baby squid at the Boathouse and yes, it was sensational. Sitting out on Boathouse's decking, eating seafood with the cool breezes coming off the Fitzroy River is a unique experience.
I also visited the Boathouse the following day for coffee as the views over the river are worth seeing both during the day and at night. The menu offers everything from daytime muffins and scones, to family fish and chips and night-time cocktails and gourmet meals such as shucked oysters, wagyu beef, and artisan cheeses. And it is not expensive for what is fast becoming a tourist and locals' must-visit-venue.
The Boathouse is only a six-minute walk from the Empire Apartment Hotel and once there you are very much in the hub of the amazing riverside development.
Sitting at eight metres above the ground, the Skywalk is the focal point of the playground where kids and adults can move safely between the towers via bridges.
There is a state-of-the-art playground as shown above. At the Water Jets Playground, there is a water wall like the one at Mona in Hobart that spells out words. Water also spurts up from the ground and during the night these spouts are lit sending a rainbow of soft, colours in a sensational display of water and light. While children might like playing there during the day at night-time it is a must-see for adults as well.
Image source Landezine International Landscape Award
It is important to note that staying in the Rockhampton's Empire Apartment Hotel near the newly revitalised riverfront does not divorce you from the rest of town. The waterfront has a grand staircase leading up to the plaza.
I met people staying at the Empire who were attending events at the Pilbeam Theatre and others who were in town because their children were in local boarding schools. The hotel provides great access to important areas of town.
Even the Rockhampton Art Gallery is only five minutes walk away. This gallery holds one of regional Australia's most significant collections of Australian modernist paintings, with works by Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, Russell Drysdale, Charles Blackman, John Brack and Jeffrey Smart.
Quay Street runs alongside the Fitzroy River and has about 30 buildings of historical significance, making it Australia's longest National Trust heritage-listed street. The difference between this and other historic precincts is that there are no modern developments to break up the historic streetscape.
You walk past impressive buildings such as the Heritage Hotel (1898), the classical revival period Customs House (1898-1901) and the three-storeyed Criterion Hotel (1891). Many of the buildings are lit by night ambient lighting that changes colour. The specially designed system has the flexibility to change the character and mood of the riverfront as you walk along.
These nearby historic buildings bring us back to the Empire Apartment Hotel, as in the rooms are photographs of these same iconic heritage buildings by local photographer Nathan White. So the old and new come together in this exciting new apartment hotel.