Energy & Resources

The Harbour Lights Cairns

Ideally situated on Cairns’ stunning waterfront with amazing views over the marina, The Harbour Lights Cairns opened its doors in mid-2007.

Statistically it has 204 generous apartments over 12 levels and is a strata titled resort with both holiday and permanent occupancy. It boasts a swimming pool, outdoor sundeck, sauna, spa pool, fully equipped gymnasium and BBQ facilities while the Harbour Boardwalk offers an array (some 1100m²) of dining, retail and entertainment options.

Much like many other waterfront resorts, you say. But that is where the similarity ends.

Harbour Lights Cairns complex was designed from the beginning on the principles of sustainability and innovation.

As part of Mirvac Hotels & Resorts decision to manage the hotel (114 contemporary styled apartments) component of the development the environmental sustainability initiatives taken by the developer, were paramount. The Mirvac group is committed to industry leadership in sustainable development through innovative design, partnerships and construction of residential and non-residential buildings.


Mirvac’s approach to sustainability is well recognised. Mirvac has maintained its listing on United Kingdom’s FTSE4 Good Global Index. A listing in the Australian SAM Sustainability Index recognises Mirvac as one of the top sustainability-driven companies within the entire Australian economy. In order to ensure Harbour Lights Cairns adhered to and reflected the developer’s commitment to environmental sustainability, the consortium brought together an internationally acclaimed team to assist with the design and construction of the resort.

This included Steensen Varming one of Australia’s leading building services engineering consultancies. Steensen Varming was first established in Australia by the Danish practice in 1957, following success in winning the commission to design the Sydney Opera House with Jørn Utzon.

The design innovation and technical expertise demonstrated in this unique landmark project subsequently led to the awarding of other projects in Australia to the Steensen Varming practice. As a result, Steensen Varming was permanently established on these shores becoming incorporated in Australia in 1973. Its more recent projects include Customs House Circular Quay and the National Gallery of Australia.

The architect for Harbour Lights Cairns was the Melbourne-based international company Denton Corker Marshall, well known for the Stonehenge Vistors’ Centre in Britain, the Maya Hotel in Bali and Brisbane Square.


The combination of these experts, together with the developer’s extensive local knowledge, resulted in the completed Harbour Lights Cairns sitting supremely on its 6216m² absolute waterfront site.

Harbour Lights Cairns’ design was driven by the desire to create a building that responded to its tropical setting by using the appropriate environmental sustainability principles, including:

  • Minimising direct sun penetration by the use of deep terraces and screens;
  • Upper level apartments have opening doors and windows to habitable rooms and
  • lowered ceilings over bathrooms and service areas to house a ventilation duct that extends to the internal ventilation drum; and
  • This central drum (25m in diameter at upper levels, reducing to 15m where it passes through the podium into the lobby where it becomes an external garden. This drum allows full cross-ventilation for all apartments, either by the stack effect of rising warm air or of breezes scooped into the stack and flowing throughout the terrace windows.

Other environmental sustainability best practice initiatives include natural ventilation, daylight systems, building fabric thermal performance, solar protection and access, low-energy mechanical air-conditioning and waste water management systems.

Environmental measures implemented during the development of Harbour Lights Cairns included:

  • Low CO² emissions (low-energy lighting, space and water heating, air-conditioning plus building air tightness);
  • Insulants have low ozone depleting characteristics;
  • Use of recycled material;
  • Site development that minimised damage to local flora and fauna;
  • Domestic and rainwater management; and
  • Day lighting, passive solar control and passive ventilation techniques.


A central focus for the creation of Harbour Lights Cairns is the maximisation of natural ventilation throughout. Cross ventilation to a high percentage of apartments is achieved by acoustic transfer ducts to the inner core. Dual ventilation systems that allow for natural ventilation to be optimised under normal conditions apply throughout. Air conditioning systems are interfaced to ensure these do not operate when windows are open.

Acoustically insulated air plenums are integrated into corridor ceilings that cross ventilate with perimeter openings to provide maximum use of natural ventilation but cutting out unwanted noise from the inner core.

Controlled ventilation slots through the towers ventilate the inner core and purge heat.
Despite all of this environmental efficiency, The Sebel and Harbour Lights Cairns is a magnificent looking complex that completely complements the Cairns’ Cityport Development.

“Working in such a dynamic building allows me the confidence to know that we are providing a safe working place for not only our associates and guests but very importantly for the environment, critical to North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef’s future,” stressed Chris Northam, manager of Harbour Lights Cairns.

“The added bonus is that the site is contemporary and meets Mirvac’s sustainability principles. Sustainability initiatives displayed here ensure the sites longevity and provide a benchmark for others to follow.

“We have received nothing but praise from guests who have stayed and experienced the unique design elements and of course the renowned Sebel service!”

Want to showcase your green initiatives? Email ([email protected]) or call (07) 5440 5322

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