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Meet the Reef House Team

In pursuit of creating unforgettable experiences for our guests. At The Reef House, our goal is to deliver an exceptional experience to every individual through friendly ‘our house’ service and attention to detail.

Wayne Harris | General Manager

Born and raised in Fremantle close to Perth in Western Australia, Wayne has been a resident in Palm Cove since 2008 and apart of the Reef House Team as General Manager for 6 years.  

The role Wayne has taken on is much more than being in charge of all aspects of the smooth functioning of The Reef House. For Wayne, he identifies his position as the role of a Custodian, maintaining the traditions and history of The Reef House, which he says is a true honour.

As a work philosophy, Wayne has often emphasised his genuine sense of care, attention and passion for making people happy, which of course extends not only to the guests but also to the Team at Reef House.

“Not only do we want to please and make people enjoy their stay, but show a special style of hospitality to fellow humans and treat people better than they expected to be treated”.

That is the overall nature of all who work at Reef House and Wayne has always looked for this personality trait within every Team Member.

“How we make you feel is the difference, nobody else can do it better.”  

Wayne and his Team want to make sure that the Reef House exceeds the promise we want to deliver. A return visit or personal recommendation to friends is the best compliment the Reef House could ever receive!

Isabelle Neil | Spa Director

Originally from Switzerland, Isabelle was trained in France by the crème de la crème; Clarins, Chanel, Dior & Phytomer, specialising in intensive therapies such as anti-ageing, deep relaxation massage and slimming treatments.

Isabelle’s extensive experience has taken her all around the world as a pioneer in providing anti-ageing facial treatments. Isabelle was the Managing Director of the first privately owned Christian Dior Spa on the Caribbean island of Saint Maarten. 

Isabelle is committed to nurturing her clients and offering unique spa treatments designed for intense relaxation, rejuvenation and general well-being. 

Isabelle leads a small dedicated team at the exclusive Reef House Spa who follow the mantra that nothing is impossible when it comes to your care and making your experience unique.

Cedric Lootvoet | Luxury Concierge

Born in Strasbourg France, Cedric has that special European charm, which has an intrinsic focus on his power of personality.

As the Luxury Concierge for The Reef House, Cedric has taken the role to a new level, reaching out to guests before they arrive by phone, where he focuses on finding the little details that will make their stay an absolute pleasure, as well as encouraging a genuine reason to return.

Having resided in the Palm Cove area for over 5 years, Cedric is here to help guests with the best places to visit, be that restaurants, a day trip to the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest, or just relaxing around the hotel with the many experiences and services provided, be that the twilight cocktail hour, sorbet around the pool or a mixology class.

Cedric chose this career path due to his innate “love of people”. His infectious smile and courteous style is a delight for all our guests and fellow team members.

Jess Silverwood | Escape Planner

Getting to know guests while they are planning their tropical getaway helps Escape Planning Specialist Jess Silverwood create a personalised Palm Cove holiday that delivers unexpected value to guests at The Reef House. There is no such thing as a reservations department at the adults-only boutique resort, instead Jess heads up the Boutique Tropical Escapes team where bespoke dream holidays are carefully crafted for each guest.

“I reach out when guests book to find out what attracted them to The Reef House, whether they have been to Palm Cove, if it is a special occasion and what they hope to get out of their holiday,” she says. “I can then make suggestions about what they might like to include in their Boutique Tropical Escape. It could be a private transfer for someone with mobility issues, desert plates and rose petals in the room for honeymooners, or perhaps an individual wine list to cater to allergies.

“I have helped a father and daughter create lasting memories on their final holiday together before he passed away, guests on their third visit wanting the same relaxing experiences each time, and girlfriends celebrating a 40th enjoy the pampering they need on a holiday away from the kids.”

In addition to the extra touches, Boutique Tropical Escapes has a number of signature experiences including beachfront yoga, stretch and breathe classes, an Indigenous cultural journey, and a skincare talk with a Mimosa at the day spa. The most popular activities are the cocktail classes and the wine tasting.

“Nearly every guest does the cocktail class on the deck with an ocean view and the wine tasting at the Brigadier’s Bar overlooking the pool. It is where our guests connect and often start friendships which see them return to holiday here at the same time.

“The Brigadier’s Bar is the essence of The Reef House. It’s not like the corporate lounge you will find in hotels, it’s a place to meet new friends and swap stories in a relaxed beach atmosphere.”

Ondrej Urbanovsky | Head Chef

Ondrej Urbanovsky has been promoted to Head Chef after two and a half years in The Reef House kitchen working as the Sous Chef. At school, Ondrej was interested in running a restaurant so undertook a Masters in Gastronomy and Hotel Management in the Czech Republic.

He advanced his career in Sydney working as a chef de partie and learning English on the job before joining The Reef House. Ondrej is very respectful of the menu created by the previous French-trained chef and is looking forward to using local produce to add his flair to the seasonal dishes.

“I like to work with the beautiful seafood and fish in this region. It goes so well with so many of the local ingredients like kaffir lime and tropical fruits. I’m also interested in Indigenous flavours like lemon myrtle and want to learn more about them.”

Karolina Kowalska | Assistant General Manger

Assistant General Manager Karolina Kowalska has been instrumental in the evolution of The Reef House for many years after working in several roles and departments throughout the property.

She started her career in food and beverage in Poland before moving to Australia 16 years ago and training as a chef. As Chef De Partie at Spicers Peak Lodge Maryvale, Karolina was part of the team responsible for obtaining two Chef Hats.

Karolina joined The Reef House in 2016 as Restaurant Supervisor and became House Manager in 2019, taking ownership of Housekeeping and the Maintenance Department. This new role ensured the two departments worked together as a team to keep ahead of the needs of guests.

Her expertise in creating a stable team led to Karolina’s promotion to Front Office in 2022 as Rooms Division Manager ensuring all hotel departments worked together as a team and overseeing the successful delivery of The Reef House’s 21+ Signature Inclusions and Experiences.

Karolina loves working at the Reef House because it feels like family. “I’m working with happy people who are doing what they love also. That passion for customer service is what makes The Reef House stand out from other properties.”

Jessica Suwita | Sous Chef

While she was at school in Indonesia, Jessica Suwita decided a career in hospitality would
suit her creative side. She took the brave step to move to Australia by herself a decade ago
and undertook hospitality studies to become a chef in Adelaide.

While holidaying with her partner, Jessica discovered Palm Cove and they loved the warmth of the tropics so moved north. She joined The Reef House as Chef De Partie notching up one and a half years before being promoted to Sous Chef.

“I like creating dishes of all kinds and could not name my favourite food as I just love food.
The only food I don’t like is bananas – I had way too many in Indonesia! I especially love the view from the kitchen at The Reef House where you often see beautiful sunrises or the
moon rising over the water while you are working.”

Kenny Hillier | Sommelier

Sommelier Kenny Hillier’s extraordinary knowledge about wine was honed at an early age when he used to spend his Sunday afternoons driving around South Australia’s premier wine districts with his father gathering the latest vintages in the back of an Austin A50.

Kenny did an economics and hotel management degree but quickly realised that life was not for him and travelled the world working in hospitality before becoming the sommelier at some of the Australia’s and London’s top restaurants. His nose for wine was further enhanced at Michael Caine’s trendy Langan’s Brasserie in Mayfair.

“Later I worked with Philippe Mouchel at Paul Bocuse in Melbourne which was like a journey to France without the ticket. I joined him again at Langton’s Restaurant and Wine Bar at Flinders Lane where there were 1600 wines on the list.”

Locally, he has also worked at Nautilus in Port Douglas where former US President Bill Clinton dined with his wife Hillary. Kenny’s plan for The Reef House is to have every wine district in Australia represented along with a curated international selection.

“I want to offer the right wines at the right price to the right people. Wine should be fun. It’s a drink. Our customers are not scared to drink good wine they just need to be educated about what they will enjoy.”

Kenny also gives guests wine appreciation classes in the new wine room as part of The Reef House’s 21 Signature Inclusions.

“It’s about giving people an insight into the world of wine with three selected wines. We start by talking about what is not in the glass – if it hasn’t got white and black pepper then it’s not shiraz. For instance, is it new world or old world? I also give them tips such as using Winesave, which preserves wine with food-grade argon gas and how the diamond shaped Zerrutti decanter is, in my opinion, the most effective.”

Purchasing James Halliday’s Wine Companion is a must for wine lovers according to Kenny, and he even offers a few tips about which wines to purchase at Dan Murphy’s

Jean Henry | Assistant Housekeeping Manager

Born and raised in Rabaul Papua New Guinea, Jean is the Assistant Housekeeping Manager at The Reef House and has lived in Palm Cove for 21 years.

Jean is known for her smiling face and takes a lot of pride in remembering the little things that ensure guests have a memorable stay and keep returning year after year. Things like what tea they enjoy drinking and the type of furniture they like in their room.

Jean loves the green season and her top tips for the region are to visit Kuranda, the Daintree and Port Douglas. 

Ondrej Hrasna | Bartender & Barista

Ondrej Hrasna is possibly the most popular staff member at The Reef House thanks to his fun cocktail classes which are among the favourite Signature Inclusion activities for guests.

Ondrej moved to Australia from Slovakia in 2019 and after two years of limited job opportunities during the pandemic, the former head waiter found his niche at The Reef House in December 2021.

In the morning Ondrej is a barista and morphs into a bartender at lunch time, with three afternoons a week devoted to cocktail classes. There is nothing he enjoys more than experimenting with the taste of drinks and many of The Reef House guests feel the same way!

Ondrej brews a batch of sugar syrup every day and experiments with tropical flavours such as lemongrass to create popular cocktails like the Lemongrass-infused Sling which features locally blended Blackbooks Tea. This cocktail might be the second of the two cocktails guests learn to make, while the first is kept simple with no more than four ingredients. Guests get to keep the recipes so they can recreate the drinks at home.

Norm | Brigadier Extraordinaire – Vale May 2024

The Reef House guests love to have a drink with Norm – the friendly local serving complimentary punch and canapés at the Brigadier’s Bar each evening. His suspenders, bright coloured shirts and bar yarns are well remembered by guests who return over the years and greet him with a hug or a new pair of suspenders.
At 80 years of age, Norm has decided it’s last drinks for him at the Brigadier’s Bar and will finally hang up his suspenders to retire. Norm has tried to do retire a few times over the past decade. The first time was at the age of 70 when he stepped down as night auditor only to be brought back one day later to help at the front desk. He left that role only to be asked to work each evening at the Brigadier’s Bar.
“I’ve enjoyed meeting so many people from all over the world and sharing my knowledge about what to see around Cairns. I would get guests mingling by introducing them to people who had done the tour they were interested in. They would get talking, greet each other in the morning at breakfast and many would keep in contact over the years. When they returned it was like catching up with old friends.”
Norm’s legacy as the bartender who brings people together will be continued by The Reef House staff, while the many guests who shared a yarn with him will reflect on those stories when they meet for a game of chess in the Brigadier’s lounge. The large wooden set was carved by Norm over six months and consists of 550 pieces. The Reef House has dedicated Norm’s Corner to their popular staff member with a sign hanging over a photo of Brigadier David Thomson, after whom the bar was named. Farewell Norm and thanks for the memories!