Greetings from Melbourne! I write this from the tenth floor of our airbnb overlooking South Wharf. If you haven’t been following closely, we left Newcastle last week. We were bound for Melbourne, with the promise of new jobs and a fresh start. Along the way, we stopped off in Canberra for the night, serving as a pretty great pit stop (five and a half hours from Newcastle) and a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and family. It also gave us a good opportunity to check out and review Ovolo Nishi, Canberra’s hip (and highly sustainable) boutique hotel.
We don’t usually make a habit of staying in five star hotels on casual road trips, but there was something about this hotel that caught my eye. And, if their sustainability credentials aren’t something to be swayed by, the perks sure as hell were. The real shame was – we would only be staying one night.
Founded in 2002 by Girish Jhunjhnuwala, Ovolo was born in Hong Kong and “remains family owned and privately operated with a charitable core.” Ovolo Nishi is designed for the modern traveller and believe me when I say, everything is thought out – nothing is amiss because they’ve thought. of. everything. What makes the property so unique is in the details, oh! and the design and the interiors and well… okay, everything about the hotel is pretty unique.
While the Ovolo umbrella has hotels dotted around Australia and throughout Asia, the Canberra property has 68 rooms in total. They lend themselves to the label of being a ’boutique hotel’ (I tend to interpret boutique hotel to meaning twenty rooms or less, but I’ll let that one go.) The New Acton based hotel is a sustainably produced, Japanese-inspired architectural masterpiece. A modern medley of 20th-century furniture, art and natural materials. Travellers to Tasmania will recognise the name of the architecture firm who designed Ovolo Nishi, as it’s the same as the folk who designed the Mona, in Hobart.
Designed as a response to Australia’s dry bush capital, Ovolo Nishi is arguably Australia’s most sustainable building. With its playful blend of vintage, raw and recycled materials; all heating, lighting and central air are controlled by the design of the building with minimal intervention.
Spotting the building from afar is extremely easy with its manic jigsaw of shapes and cute planter boxes on the facade along with a faux tree branch (made from recycled tyres) shooting through the first floor. External design aside, once inside I was immediately struck by the interior mix of textures. Velvety couches, exotic light fixtures, wooden floor boards, soft – yet – warm lighting and soothing jazz music set the scene. Let’s just say, it was a good first impression.
And then there’s the grand staircase! Made from recycled timber and collected from a demolished house; a basketball court; from the Nishi’s construction site itself; and from off cuts of Nishi’s own Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis) façade. From a visitors perspective, it’s a rebellion against modern, sleek surfaces as wooden beams jut out at different lengths. The steps below hold timber in different heights, lengths and textures that connect you from ground to mezzanine levels.
Opening the door to our room, we stumble upon vintage, repurposed and re-upholstered furniture (all made by Australian makers) which are beautifully blended against exposed walls made from concrete, clay and cork. The bed frames are made from reclaimed oak and the wardrobes from oriented strand board and are off-cuts from other carpentry products. It’s rustic, its minimalist, it’s shabby chic. I’m into it.
The sustainability credentials
Everything from their eight-star nationwide energy rating, irrigated garden with rainwater collected onsite and low VOC paint (volatile organic compounds – so carcinogenic chemicals are omitted) are considerable achievements for a 68-room property, but it doesn’t stop there!
- Recycled timber floorboards are used for common areas
- Eighteen skylights in the lobby are used to reduce the need for artificial lighting
- All hotel rooms are fitted with light sensors, so that all lights are turned off if no movement is detected. Same goes with the air-conditioning, if the windows are left open.
- Australian alpaca blankets are provided in each room to give guests more choice for natural heating during their stay.
- Hotel room windows are made from sustainable Australian hardwood, not carbon intensive mined aluminium.
- Outward facing hotel rooms have floor to ceiling glass windows to increase natural light, reducing the need for artificial lighting.
But wait! There’s more!
- North-west facing hotel rooms have reflective blinds that reflect 90% of the sun’s heat, reducing the need for mechanical cooling.
- Carpets in the hotel rooms are made from a natural wool, not a synthetic fibre (reducing carcinogens).
- No bin liners are used in the bathroom bins to reduce plastic use.
- I didn’t see this, but I see they state it: We also stock organic tampons, vegan condoms and sustainable bamboo toothbrushes.
- They use “Who gives a crap” loo paper, which is made from 100% recycled, post-consumer waste fibres. 50% of its profits are donated to WaterAid to build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world.
- Receipts are emailed, instead of printed.
- Notepads in rooms are made from recycled and post-consumer waste paper.
- Lastly and possibly the coolest: The hotel manages their own beehives!!
- Each room is provided with a loot bag (a snack bag full of goodies from Australian companies) and wait for it…
- An open mini bar. Yep, I said it. It can also be restocked by request. Our mini-bar had two beers, two sparkling wines (canned), two water bottles (in glass), two cans of coke and a bottle of orange juice.
- The hotel’s compendium has been developed electronically which guests can access via the iPad provided, within the iPad you can find a number of newspapers online for guests to access, thus, reducing the need for printed collateral. (Note: we did still have printed collateral in the room, which was a shame to see.)
- Express check-out is also available through the iPad, so you can just leave you key and get going.
- The room is complete with an Apple TV (so you can log in to your Netflix account and catch up on all the Queer Eye you missed last week!)
- The hotel has five complimentary Goodspeed bikes for guests to borrow (you’ll also be lent a lock and helmet)
It’s still going! Keep reading! You’re doing great!
- Complimentary sundowner drinks are offered at social hour (the first round is on the house)
- Soma Day Spa, Roji hair salon and Pilates Canberra are both on site
- Complimentary breakfast (when you book direct)
- Self-service laundry is also available at no extra cost
- Palace Electric cinema (with a café and prosecco bar) is just next door
- Daily yoga classes are complimentary
- Monthly events, such as classical music concerts and food demonstrations are run in the public lounge.
- The onsite Monster Kitchen and Bar is a ‘hatted’ restaurant (note: Monster sources ingredients from small Canberra farms to reduce their food miles.)
- Mini-library on the premises with all the classics should you need a bedtime story!
The obvious inclusions
All in-room liquids (shampoos, soaps, lotions etc) were of good-quality and in refillable containers. Wifi and 24-hour gym access are both complementary and calico fabric laundry bags are used instead of plastic ones.
While the suburb of New Action is technically only two blocks in size, it packs a lot of punch when it comes to the art, design and cuisine scene. Not to mention, it’s a short fifteen-minute walk from the city centre, surrounded by the Australian National University and Lake Burley Griffin. Within New Acton you will find the Nishi Gallery with local, interstate and international art exhibitions as well as a handful of groovy cafes and bars as well as boutique stores.
We had breaky at Morning Glory across the road, pictured above. I never knew avo-on-toast could get so fancy, but it did!
I felt the plastic shower cap and vanity kit were unnecessary and cheapened the experience. After reading more about the sustainability credentials of the property, I found inconsistencies, such as ‘our key cards are made from a certified sustainable plantation wood, not plastic.’ This wasn’t the case for our stay, same goes with the printed paper magazine in our room, which was also scattered about the reception area.
I would definitely stay here again, ideally for three nights (with their current promotion, the third night is free!) but preferably, I would try one of their other locations. While Canberra’s appeal as a weekend destination is still growing, (at least for this beach-lover), staying at Ovolo Nishi will definitely pique your interest if you’re contemplating visiting the city.
Final note: My stay at Ovolo Nishi was not gratis, I willingly paid (full price!).
I hope to try plenty more sustainable hotels (now that we’re definitely not heading abroad until 2021!) and I have my eyes on the Crystalbrook Collection! Have you been? I heard it’s great!
Until then xo