My 48 hours of living in luxury

By Greg Bruce

Greg Bruce and his wife Zanna spend 48 hours in the lap of luxury to ponder the power of money.
Greg Bruce and his wife Zanna toss up between the Heletranz chopper and the Rolls-Royce Ghost.
Greg Bruce and his wife Zanna toss up between the Heletranz chopper and the Rolls-Royce Ghost.

Over my plain blue undies, which I think are from Farmers, although only my wife could say for sure, I slid on a pair of low-cost chinos, and on to my feet I pulled mismatched black socks from discount retailer unknown. I point out these quite personal details only to illustrate how, from humble beginnings, I was about to unleash hell.

On to my soft, white, upper body, I slid a $325 fitted, long-sleeved midnight blue polo top from Crane Brothers. On top of that, I pulled on a $1390 black leather motorcycle jacket from Working Style. Over my mismatched socks I laced a pair of $710 black trainers from Prada. Finally, around my neck I hung a $295 cashmere scarf.

I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and again in the bedroom mirror. I felt good, although the scarf seemed deliberately ostentatious on what was a mild morning and neither my wife nor I knew the appropriate way to fasten it so I folded it softly and put it into an $899 M.J. Bale overnight bag alongside another very similar, in fact almost identical, $295 cashmere scarf. I never took them out again.

My wife said: "God, you look like a wanker."

I laughed.

"You do," she went on. "You look like a real arsehole."

It was 5.15 on an autumn morning and my wife, 9-month-old daughter and I were getting ready to walk out of our 100sq m three-bedroom home at the Glendene end of Glen Eden. We were headed for Auckland Airport, where we would park our 2006 Ford Mondeo in the expensive short-term parking lot, $72 for 35 hours, and board a flight to Wellington. We were en route to the $4000-$8000 a night, 418sq m owner's cottage at Wharekauhau Lodge, on the wild edge of the North Island's southern coast. We were flying Jetstar.

Wharekauhau lodge, Wairarapa. Photo / Geoff Walker
Wharekauhau lodge, Wairarapa. Photo / Geoff Walker

The master bathroom was the size of a generous city apartment and had six light switches, a cloakroom, indoor and outdoor showers, and a toilet that had almost certainly been sat on by Prince William and Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - who stayed in this very "cottage" two years earlier - and subsequently by both myself and my wife, of Glen Eden.

Zanna and I each had hour-long massages in the cottage's massage room, I had a bath in my favourite of the cottage's three baths, each of which had clear-windowed views out across Palliser Bay. We were given a Land Rover Discovery 4 with which to explore the 202ha estate at our leisure, but we couldn't be bothered. I considered - and also spurned - a swim in the infinity pool and a dip in the outdoor hot tub.

In the late afternoon, there was a knock at our front door and executive chef Marc Soper entered. He had brought with him several large, green baskets swollen with premium ingredients, many of them sourced from the farm on which Wharekauhau is set. He was there to cook dinner in our kitchen.

Zanna and I milled around the living room with Champagne while Soper prepared and presented several canapes to us, swiping his little finger over the top and around the side of the tiny miracles to indicate their exact provenance.

Dinner's first course was a soup featuring thickly layered savoury flavours of mushroom, chicken and duck, set off by manuka honey from Wharekauhau's farm and thyme from Wharekauhau's garden.

It hit me hard, that first dish, with its grand flavour contrasts, but the impact was partly the shock of having a world-class chef and waiter working in the kitchen of the most exclusive accommodation at one of New Zealand's most exclusive lodges, exclusively for me and my wife who, as I have already mentioned, are from Glen Eden.

Outside, it was almost completely dark, the rain was coming down and the wind was picking up. Inside, the heated floors and the air conditioning meant that I had long ago been forced to shed the $2190 Working Style cashmere blazer I had picked out for dinner. The night dissolved into a blur of meat and light-to-moderate inebriation.

At 8am, another chef arrived to cook us breakfast. The smell of bacon and caramelising onions filled the enormous living room. Zanna and I sat on one of the deep couches, looking out of the cottage's grand glass front across the rain-swept Palliser Bay, toward the Kaikoura Ranges.

The house was warm. Our 9-month-old was asleep somewhere in the gigantic chasm of the master bedroom and our 2-and-a-half-year-old was at her grandparents' house. Zanna and I conversed aimlessly, in a way we never have time for at home. Before we left the lodge and headed back to Wellington airport, I cleaned the place out of soap, shampoo and body wash.

Back in Auckland, I dressed in a $295 Crane Brothers purple skivvy, a $1795 Crane Brothers jacket and $500 boots from R.M. Williams, then I slipped into the back seat of a $688,000 Rolls-Royce Ghost.

I played haphazardly with the endless array of buttons. The seat moved back and forth and up and down. The seat got hot, the seat got cold, the seat massaged my back. The excellent chauffeur, Laura, of NZ Chauffeur, figured out how to play Spotify through the bespoke Rolls-Royce audio system.

Laura drove me to Starkwhite gallery on Karangahape Rd. I went there to think about what sort of art I might buy if I were really rich, to feel what it might be like to drop into a gallery and drop a casual $100K on something that took my fancy. I found it depressing.

Live in the moment, everyone advises. But, when Starkwhite director Dominic Feuchs told me about a primary schoolteacher who recently sold a good chunk of an extraordinarily valuable collection he had built up over many years, and the teacher had commented that the collection had been a better investment than the Ponsonby villa he had bought in the 1970s, I was living both in the past - in which I hadn't made sound investments in either art or real estate - and the future - in which I would reap the negative financial and aesthetic rewards of those decisions.

"Buy what you love," Feuchs advised me. "That is by 10 times the most important thing." But he was not right about that. The most important thing is to buy what you can afford.

When I left Starkwhite, Laura drove me up Great North Rd, through Avondale and New Lynn, to my place. We debated whether money could buy you happiness. I took the negative. I said that I thought money could buy you freedom, but that freedom could be its own burden - some ethereal, half-thought-out crap like that.

I noticed four guys in the car next to us laughing and pointing joyfully at the $688,000 car next to them - my $688,000 car. It was confusing because there was no doubt that in that moment, admired by my peers, with a seat simultaneously warming my bottom and massaging my back, with my favourite indie pop choruses soaring from the bespoke Rolls-Royce audio system, I felt happy.

Greg and Zanna Bruce lounge at the Langham.
Greg and Zanna Bruce lounge at the Langham.

We collected Zanna and arrived at The Langham to check in to the $2419 a night Royal Suite. The porters didn't ask whether I wanted help with my bags. My clothes, my car, my ever-increasing demeanour of entitlement, all spoke plainly of the fact that not only would I never touch my own luggage, but I probably didn't even know where it was.

I took my ease at the front desk, leaned casually on one elbow, and listened to the lilting check-in patter of the smooth-faced young man whose name may have been, but almost certainly wasn't, Brian.

"Where have you come from today, Mr Bruce?" Brian asked.

"Glen Eden," I said.

He smiled - sadly, I thought - and said something along the lines of that not being a long trip. He couldn't have been more wrong.

There was a lot to get through and limited time to do it. High tea arrived in the Royal Suite just minutes after us. It was served on Wedgwood china, with an accompanying bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne on ice, and a three-tiered collection of tea treats.

By the time my personal trainer Peter Rana, owner of Bodytech, arrived 45 minutes later, I had eaten quite well and drunk some booze. "Maybe I'll just have a little tea before we get started," I said.

"I wouldn't," he replied.

He gave me a brief rundown of his training techniques. It was quite detailed and I was a little heady from the Champagne but the broad idea was that cardio work is completely unnecessary and that I could do a solid workout in 12 minutes, three times a week, that would turn me into a lean, muscled god surprisingly quickly. That was an equation I could work with.

I got down to work as an earthy mix of booze, pastry and small sandwiches sloshed inside me, and I attempted to do a workout of steadily increasing intensity, culminating in Rana pushing hard against my lightweight spatula of an arm while I attempted to do bicep curls.

Personal trainer Peter Rana puts Greg through his paces.
Personal trainer Peter Rana puts Greg through his paces.

"Fight it! Fight it! Fight it!" he implored me as I yanked pathetically against his arm.
"I'm weak as a kitten!" I mewled back at him.

At 7.50pm, we left our suite, en route to our 8pm dinner at Clooney. We eased through the $688,000 Rolls-Royce Ghost's backward-facing rear doors, which had already been opened for us so we wouldn't be reduced to anything so pathetic as doing stuff for ourselves.

We sank into the soft, natural grain red leather and thrilled to the rich sounds of My Way: The Very Best of Frank Sinatra, which Laura had thoughtfully pre-programmed into the bespoke Rolls-Royce audio system.

What does it feel like to sit in this luxury next to your wife who, for most of the past three years you have known primarily as a baby milk station, and to appreciate that you will soon be sitting next to her in one of Auckland's sexiest, most thrillingly decadent city restaurants, after not having to pay for a carpark? It feels exactly like money might be able to buy you happiness.

Clooney was like a dark, string-curtained dream of the opiate-laden late-70s. I wore a crisp and unpretentious $345 Crane Brothers button-down white shirt. Our waiter was a French man-boy, sophisticated and unobtrusive. If we edged out of the overhead spot, we were basically in the dark in a private corner. The small red swoosh of banquette on which we sat forced Zanna and I to nestle together. If I closed my eyes tight and thought hard, I could imagine this being reality.

We ordered a la carte but, because Clooney's menu provides lists of ingredients rather than descriptions, the plates of rare artistry and audacity arrived into our dark, decadent corner as wonderful surprises.

We had told Laura to meet us outside Clooney at 10pm, but we were three-quarters of an hour late. When we finally came out, she was trying to get rid of a taxi driver who was demanding she take pictures of him next to the Rolls.

At 11.15am the next day, Pete from Heletranz lifted our helicopter into the pale blue sky above Albany, then tracked thrillingly out over the water, straight over the green scrub of Rangitoto and on to Waiheke. I was wearing a $2295 tuxedo and a pair of black shoes I had bought in 2010 for $70.

I had asked for the shoes to be shined that morning at The Langham, when our personal wake-up call had arrived at 7am with tea and orange juice and a knock at the door.

"Is it okay if we have them back to you at 10?" the nice man at the door had asked, taking the shoes from me.

"Not really," I had said.

"How about 15 minutes?" he had asked.

"Perfect," I had said.

We flew the length of Waiheke: Oneroa, Little Oneroa, some other places. From a couple of hundred metres up, Zanna and I could see O'Connell Street Bistro's proprietor Chris Upton and head chef Mark Southon waving up at us like we were gods. In many ways, as we hovered up there, it felt like we were.

They took us to a cottage on a verdant lawn alongside Man O'War vineyard. In a spot shaded by native trees, looking out to the smooth waters of the Hauraki Gulf, a white tableclothed table had been set for us and only for us.

Southon stepped up on the front porch of the cottage, behind an upturned wine barrel, and began shucking seemingly unlimited fresh Te Matuku oysters. At The Langham the previous night we had eaten Bluff oysters that had been flown in directly from Barnes Oysters and delivered to our room. The previous week, neither Zanna nor I had cared for oysters. Now we ate them like popcorn.

The couple’s world is their oyster at Man O’ War vineyard.
The couple’s world is their oyster at Man O’ War vineyard.

Just a few kilometres away, across this increasingly wealth-choked island, across the smooth stretch of the clear and windless Hauraki Gulf, across the gleaming riches of Auckland's CBD and the multimillion villas of the inner suburbs, across the traffic-choked motorway to the deep western suburbs, our tiny home awaited our return.

But that was the future. In the present, we ate roasted crayfish on basil mousse, with bits of chicken skin. We followed it with roasted lamb rack, shoulder and sweetbreads. With it all came an endless supply of superb Man O'War wines. We finished with three cheeses.

We were running late. The chopper had to go. We didn't have the money to prevent it. We were frauds. We flew down Waiheke's golden coast, over a sprawling selection of homes worth many millions of dollars each. The sky remained perfectly blue as we approached Auckland, which spread out below, as if offering itself to us in a final act of supplication.

We were at the end. Laura drove us back through the city and down on to Quay St. We purred along the waterfront, wistful and content. The Rolls-Royce bespoke audio was playing something quiet and brooding. It was just minutes before we would be plunged back into the full catastrophe of family life. I missed my children.

"What should we play for our last hurrah?" I asked Zanna. Outside, the sun shone endlessly on.

"How about Happy?" she said.

"Pharrell Williams?" I asked.

"Great choice!" said Laura.

I dialled it up. We rolled down the windows and turned up the music. We were the ostentatious rich, half-drunk, dressed for dinner in the middle of the day. Pharrell blew through to the chorus.

"Clap along if you know what happiness is to you," he implored us. "Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do."

We clapped along. We danced in our seats. Laura danced too. The Rolls shook with the physical manifestation of our joy. We were on our way home to our two small children and our real lives. We weren't there yet.

- Canvas

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