Auckland: Home sweet home

Penny Lewis gets a taste of the sort of luxury usually reserved for tourists.

The Hilton Hotel, left, has a prime spot on the harbour.
The Hilton Hotel, left, has a prime spot on the harbour.

There's nothing in the world more exciting than arriving in a new city and setting off from your hotel in the morning, ready for a day of exploring and all the possibilities it offers.

But sometimes it's not practical to get away if you just want a little time out. A stay-cation - holidaying at home - has its drawbacks, too. If you're relaxing at home the usual chores won't go away - that washing won't do itself and rubbish day is still rubbish day.

A good alternative is to play tourist in your own town. If you're an Aucklander, take that harbour cruise in the weekend and gain a new perspective of the City of Sails. Or, if you want to really treat yourself, stay at a city hotel for a night or two. You really do get a new appreciation of your town.

Of course, if you don't live in Auckland it's still fun to travel to the city for a break, but your travel times will be longer and you can't pop home to put the bins out if you forget.

The Hilton Auckland
Princes Wharf, 147 Quay St, Auckland
Phone: (09) 978 2000.

There's not a lot of foot traffic past The Hilton Auckland, and that's the beauty of its location. It's a city hotel, close to the action, but it feels far removed from the bedlam of Queen St. Perched 300m out from land on the eastern flank of Princes Wharf, the Hilton has a ringside view of the Waitemata Harbour's comings and goings. I bustled up to the hotel on foot after a day in the office. After checking in, I caught the lift with an American tourist laden with recent wine purchases and headed for room 404 - one of the hotel's five amazing Bow suites.

I am sure more than one person has stood in the apex of the room and done a Rose arms-in-the-air Titanic manoeuvre, but I was happy taking off my shoes and flopping on to a sofa to admire the view.

I watched ferry-load after ferry-load of commuters catch their lift home across the Waitemata - it looks like a great way to travel. Room 404's balcony faces west so it was a great spot to see the sun sink lower in the sky, until it was time to press a switch to bring down the room's motorised blinds.

Soon my husband Michael arrived from his Viaduct Harbour office and we freshened up for a pre-dinner drink downstairs at the hotel's Bellini Bar. Settling into the bar's armchairs, we were greeted by charming barman Arthur, who brought us our drinks - two feijoa and pear-flavoured Moscow mules, followed by a Mac's beer for Michael. Judging by his accent, Arthur wasn't born in New Zealand, but he played the Kiwi ambassador and consummate host, telling us about the Mac's brewery in Nelson and its new flavours. The wine-purchasing American and his wife were sitting near us. Arthur answered their questions about The Cloud, regaling them with its origins for the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

Later upstairs at Fish restaurant, Oskar the maitre d' from Croatia took excellent care of us. He'd been at Nourish Group-operated Fish for seven weeks, following a lengthy stint at the group's fellow establishment on Princes Wharf, Euro.

Fish executive chef Shane Yardley's food was delicious. We started with a chef's selection of salami, followed by delectable oysters. For my main I enjoyed a boar fish fillet. I had never heard of this species, but Oliver our waiter informed us it was from Canterbury and had been freighted up that day.

Because I have a sweet tooth the highlight was dessert - a Classic Nitro Bellini. Ben the young Kiwi chef wheeled a trolley to our table where magical alchemy took place - something involving liquid nitrogen, white peach gel and Prosecco mousse.

I may have the details wrong here, but it was a theatrical way to round things off - or so we thought, until we greedily ordered the cheese platter, which we devoured, too.

To compensate for all this gluttony, we could have worked out in the hotel gym, which is open 24 hours, but our visit to the gym was merely a quick walk-around to satisfy our curiosity. "It's not often a gym has views like this - amazing views of the city," Michael said of the vista which takes in the Sky Tower and over the Viaduct to St Marys Bay.

The outdoor pool is a feat of engineering. With harbour views and positioned between the hotel and apartments on Princes Wharf's western flank, the pool is open from 6am until 10pm. Any wallflowers would need to bear in mind there is limited privacy for swimmers.

I am not much of a swimmer, especially in an outdoor pool in the dead of winter, so would probably have preferred a spa pool even though the pool is heated, but this is a minor quibble.

Back in our room, Michael marvelled at the city views from the bathroom. I was enamoured with the bathroom's marble-lined walls and two sets of everything - even toothbrushes and paste, essential items usually missing from hotel rooms. There were also more towels than we needed - another sign of luxury.

We had enjoyed watching the sunset the evening before but the morning's sunrise was a delight to see from our harbourside bathroom. We could even spy an early-morning yoga class taking place on the wharf next to The Cloud.

Breakfast was downstairs at Fish - the space cleverly transformed from its night-time incarnation. Watching the harbour traffic and seagulls was relaxing and the hotel's breakfast buffet was one of the best I have encountered. It certainly beats the microwave porridge I have been gulping most mornings at home, only 5km away from the Hilton Auckland, but which might as well be a half a world away.

After checking out, it was a quick walk to work in Albert St. The night away from home was such a treat - and there couldn't have been less travelling time.

Penny Lewis and Michael dined and stayed overnight courtesy of Hilton Auckland. They used their own wallets at Bellini.

SkyCity Grand Hotel
90 Federal St, Auckland
Phone: 0800 skycity (0800 759 2489).

Making the most of a night when our children were staying at their grandparents' during the last school holidays, I checked into the SkyCity Grand Hotel on a weekday evening, again enjoying minimal travel time after walking there from the office.

SkyCity has two hotels in its city block, which is bordered by Auckland central's Victoria, Albert, Wellesley and Hobson Sts - SkyCity Hotel and its more upmarket sibling, SkyCity Grand Hotel. I didn't realise SkyCity's patch was so enormous until I was ensconced in one of The Grand's Premium Luxury King Suites, room 1810, where I gazed out at the view. Looking out from the large windows of our suite I realised the casino is well-removed from the Grand Hotel - a visit to SkyCity does not need to include gambling unless you want it to.

SkyCity Grand has recently refurbished its premium rooms, designed by renowned Auckland architects Fearon Hay. Our suite was all sleek, dark tones and sophistication, with a separate powder room, a kitchenette with a cantilevered stone bench, a full-size dining table and an enormous en suite with separate toilet and shower compartments.

Online addicts will rejoice at the fact the hotel offers easily accessible, free wifi with no data cap or time limit.

Michael and I had made a booking at The Grill downstairs, where the shared seafood dish defeated me, so large were the servings. Once again, there was no question of working out in the hotel's gym or indoor pool, both of which looked lovely from the 30-second visit I made to them.

In our suite's soothing surroundings I had an excellent night's sleep before breakfast at Gusto in the morning and then a walk down the road to work and normal life. It was hard to say goodbye.

Penny Lewis and Michael stayed overnight courtesy of SkyCity Grand Hotel, but dined at The Grill at their own expense.

Other Auckland hotels to escape to:

Heritage Auckland
Hotel DeBrett
The Langham
Rendezvous Grand Hotel Auckland
Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour
Stamford Plaza
The Pullman Auckland

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