Wellington: Travelling first class

By Amanda Linnell

Viva experiences the very best of Wellington in the VIP style we could easily become accustomed to.

The penthouse apartment at The Bolton. Photo / Supplied
The penthouse apartment at The Bolton. Photo / Supplied

The difference between first class and economy is not just the comfort, it's the ease ... When you're a VIP, everywhere you go is easy. There are no anxious moments or struggles, everything is sorted for you. Someone else has taken on board the stresses and strains of daily life and smoothed the path in front of you.

How heavenly this is. I know. I had a taste of it, for three glorious days when I was a VIP around the clock, thanks to a fabulous new initiative created by Wellington boutique hotel The Bolton.

Whatever your whim, they will customise a VIP experience for you. Again, this is the pleasure of having people who will drop everything in order to make sure your wants and needs are met. It's frightfully indulgent, but heck, a few days of living like a demanding rock star ... I'll give it a go.

Ben, our chauffeur for the weekend, is waiting at the airport and sweeps us through the crowd to our waiting car complete with chilled champagne in the back seat.

As we cut through the Wellington traffic, we giggle about being mistaken for international diplomats (the flags on the front of the car actually represent "B" for Bolton, but who is to know?) and what mischief our "immunity" would allow us to get up to.

Ben is a fountain of knowledge. There's no scrambling through travel guides or looking up apps on our phones to quell our curiosity about the capital; Ben - as we discover over the weekend - has an answer for everything, from historical facts to the latest cricket score.

The Bolton Hotel, situated in the centre of the city, is dedicated to making you feel special. We are greeted by the manager - we are VIP guests after all - and taken to the penthouse apartment on the top floor where we gasp at the extensive views across the city and marvel at all the mod cons and luxurious details.

There is a menu of suggested VIP experiences that the hotel will organise for you or, if you have your own idea, they can help you make it happen.

We're keen to shake off the stresses of the working week and Ben guides us to the nearby Asianic Day Spa where our Balinese masseuses, Linda and Rai, use a mixture of deep tissue massage and reflexology to ensure there's not a knot of tension in our bodies.

We glide back to the hotel to find a bottle of champagne and canapes have mysteriously appeared and we toast the good life as the sun goes down and the city's lights sparkle in the evening glow.

Despite a recommended list of hip bars and restaurants to check out, we're loath to leave our haven of luxury and instead, for pure indulgence, have arranged for the hotel's executive chef Steve Morris to come and prepare dinner in our room. There's a fully functional kitchen (bigger than mine at home) so why not?

The wine flows and Steve tantalises our tastebuds with lobster bisque, mouth-watering duck and to finish, a strawberry and shortcake tower. We love that we're also getting a cooking lesson at the same time as Steve shares his story and techniques.

It's hardly been a strenuous start to this VIP lifestyle, but we're so relaxed it's a joy to have to only walk a few feet to our kingsized bed.

Saturday morning and we're keen to explore the city. The joy of being a VIP means you don't have to traipse around the obvious tourist routes when you have arranged a guide to take you shopping.

After breakfast in The Bolton's Bisque restaurant, the gorgeous Gabby Stephenson arrives. She is going to be my personal shopper for the morning. A costume designer for film and television, Gabby is also a personal stylist with a love of textiles and all things exotic.

I know Wellington is renowned for its quirky boutiques and vintage stores - and these are the ones she takes me to as part of her "Boho Bijoux" tour "for the woman who does not let trends dictate, who appreciates the uniqueness of vintage and the quality and sustainability of pieces that transcends all eras".

There is also the "Fast & Fierce" tour which takes in top designer labels such as Kate Sylvester and Karen Walker, and the "Luxe & Languid" which includes the likes of Alexandra Owen and contemporary applied art and jewellery store Avid.

Our trip takes us to the fabulous Minerva bookshop full of art, craft and textile books, and the likes of Ziggurat, Miss Wong, The Guava Tree and the Asia Gallery where I pick up all sorts of one-off and unique pieces.

Ben waits in the car on every corner so we don't have to walk further than necessary, and when we're all shopped out we head to the funky Beach Babylon cafe for lunch before I meet up with my V-I-Partner in crime at the Wellington City Gallery for a personal tour of the Roundabout exhibition.

Our guide, Thomasin Sleigh, talks us through the works of art, which range from pieces by Michael Parekowhai to Fiona Pardington, along with artists from Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand, China, the Middle East, the US, Europe and Australia. This has to be one of the highlights of the trip transforming the visit to the gallery into a truly informative and inspiring experience.

Looking at the world from a new perspective is what this being a VIP is all about, so we head around the waterfront and find ourselves dashing in true superstar style across the runway, under whirring blades and into a Helipro helicopter, which whisks us up over the city, over the hills and around the bay. We gasp at the thrill of it, and delight at the views across to the top of the South Island.

The experience is short but fabulous and the adrenalin is still pumping when we get back to our hotel where this time a bottle of red wine and canapes await us. Buzzing, we dance and laugh about this fabulous life ... which is about to step up another notch with an exclusive degustation dinner at the Matterhorn. Recently voted one of the top bars in the world, this hip and funky joint is also highly respected for its food.

Our waiter Leigh, from Arizona, leads us brilliantly through chef David Verheul's degustation dinner, which includes an entree of baked goat's cheese with candied tomato, courgette flower, pine nut praline, olive crumbs, smoked aubergine and young herbs. The young razorback pig "head to tail" is delectable with buttered cabbage, parsnip puree, sweet and sour toffee apples and calvados sauce. And the decadent raspberry souffle, with dark cocoa sorbet, fresh raspberries and liquorice caramel is the ultimate way to finish a meal that is matched perfectly with a selection of interesting wines.

The ambience is dark and moody, and as the night rolls on tables are pushed back and the band takes centre stage. With a mix of members from the likes of the Phoenix Foundation and the Black Seeds, we're truly getting a taste of the best of Wellington.

The VIP options organised by The Bolton also include the chance to play golf, learn to fly or surf, or come face to face with a panda.

By Sunday morning we're taking the pace a bit slower with breakfast in bed before Ben picks us up for a trip to explore nearby Martinborough.

We read the papers in the back of the car as we cruise over the hills and into the quaint town of Featherston where, at Ben's suggestion, we stop off for coffee at the Cornucopia Foodstore and Cafe.

Doors open when you're travelling first class and owner Tony Austin is soon wowing us with his range of pastries - all made on site - and dainty canapes. Why did we have such a big breakfast? We stock up on Tony's homemade jams and relishes which are so popular, he tells me, he sends them all over the country to fans. I take his card because I know I'm going to want to order more of the pomegranate balsamic vinegar I've just tasted. It's so good you could drink it.

Leaving behind Tony and all his culinary treats, we head through the countryside to the serene Olivo olive grove. Owners Helen and John Meehan gave up their careers in the corporate world in 2003 to take over what is the oldest commercial olive grove in Wairarapa, the first trees having been planted in 1991.

Helen walks us around the trees pointing out the different varieties and what is required to get a maximum harvest each year. We're then led through a tasting of the oils which have won awards and sell around the country. It seems an idyllic lifestyle but is one that faces constant challenges in a highly competitive market.

Martinborough is, of course, a leading wine region and we're keen to visit the Murdoch James Vineyard, which is carving a name out for itself thanks to its pinot noirs and syrahs. The Bolton has organised for owner Roger Fraser to give us a guided tour and soon we are off-roading across the hilly terrain and through the vines in Roger's Land Rover.

We learn about the history of the valley, and Roger explains the effect of the terroir's lime-based soils and unique elevated position on their product. It's a family affair here where everyone pitches in and works hard to keep the vineyard, cellar door and restaurant running smoothly. A tour of the winery and a tasting gives us a renewed respect for the vintner's life.

We feel privileged to have been shown behind the scenes and - with a few bottles tucked under the seat of the car - we head back to Wellington and the airport to arrive perfectly in time for our flight back to home and reality.

* To find out more about the Be A VIP Bolton Hotel experience, ph (04) 472 9966 or email info@boltonhotel.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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