Auckland's latest hotel — with 16 levels, 130 rooms and a five-star rating — opens on Monday.
The SO/Auckland hotel is in the refurbished and expanded former Reserve Bank building on the corner of Gore St and Customs St East, opposite Britomart and a block back from the water.
The C.P. Group spent $91 million on the refurbishment and fitout, equivalent to $700,000 a room.
Stephen Gould, a Kiwi and ex-Sofitel Wellington general manager, is the new GM of the Auckland property, owned by local Pandey family interests, who added two floors to create the HI-SO bar with an east-facing outdoor terrace on level 16, overlooking the waterfront.
"The hotel will be alive with avant-garde design elements using Auckland's volcanic origin as inspiration from our signature designer Benny Castles of WORLD," Gould said.
Rooms had one of three interior design themes, he said: liquid; vapour; or solid.
The volcanic theme runs through the hotel's design: custom-made carpets have a fiery, lava-like look; walls are clad in South American volcanic blue stone tiles; and the top floor bar's open deck faces Devonport's two remaining maunga and Rangitoto Island.
Prakash Pandey, son of Charles Pandey, who founded the low-profile C.P. Group, New Zealand's biggest hotel-owning chain, was on-site this week.
Head chef is Cameroon-born, Michelin-starred Marc de Passorio who in 2013 owned the restaurant L'Esprit Culinaire par Marc de Passorio in Chateaurenard and in 2014 owned L'Esprit de la Violette, Aix en Provence. His crayfish poached in vodka served with caviar-topped tiny marshmallow blocks was on display.
The former office block's conversion ran late and stopped part-way through. In 2015, a Korean contractor left the site and scaffolding was dismantled. The original plan was to open it in 2013, then last year, but Gould said there were issues.
"It was complicated, being a former vault with the thickness of the concrete.
"It was an arduous task and far more complex than a normal building."
Gould said room rates start at $469 a night and hit $4500 a night for a 110sq m, level-14 VIP suite with outdoor balcony.
• Four $23,000/each Charleston black leather couches permanently tipped on one end, to provide what Gould calls "a throne for one". These are by Marcel Wanders for Dutch designer Moooi;
• An imposing mega-chandelier by Moooi Works with 68 individual lamps, just above the floor at touching height in the Mixo Bar/ground-level entry foyer;
• No lobby: instead of walking up to a bank teller-like check in desk, guests in lounge chairs and European designer couches meet staff with laptops;
• Triple sheets in rooms: no duvet covers;
• Baths in suites, not separate, some in prominent corner areas flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows. Basins take centre-stage in rooms;
• Frosted floor-to-ceiling glass conceals toilets and rain showers;
• 49" Samsung LED TVs broadcasting SKY TV and "hundreds" of films via Tripleplay which provides many airlines with their film, Gould said.
• 20m glass-sided indoor lap pool on the basement level 2 alongside gym, sauna room, spa pool and four treatment rooms;
• Original Reserve Bank gold vault door retained in the basement, between new staff toilets and new staff canteen;
• Free non-alcoholic in-room mini bar with Whittaker's chocolate, L&P and East Imperial tonic waters;
• The Vault gold-themed basement meeting room for 250 people standing and 150 seated. Names include 9-carat, 18-carat, 24-carat.
Level 15's Harbour Society restaurant seats 100 people, has "monster chairs" and dishes range from $6 to around $42, Gould said. Its visual centre-piece is an open kitchen, where some food preparation and cooking functions are displayed, behind a deep marble counter.
Level 16's HI-SO bar features a floor-to-ceiling central sloping wall clad in volcanic rock tiles, divided by brass rods. Castles has also designed Neon Map of Auckland, a volcanic-style pink, blue and red light installation for the bar's wall.
"We're trying to reinvent what a hotel is," Gould said. "Rather than being soulless, this is a bold hotel, rebellious."
Dean Humphries, national New Zealand and South Pacific hotels director for Colliers International, said SO/Auckland was the first in a group of new five-star Auckland hotels.
The $300m five-star Park Hyatt on Halsey St, opposite ASB North Wharf, is due to open next winter and the new five-star Horizon Hotel at SkyCity's NZ International Convention Centre could open in early 2020.
Humphries said SO/Auckland was much-needed. "The luxury hotel sector has been under-represented in Auckland. Less than 15 per cent of the stock is in that category. This needs to change so we attract those visitors who might also stay at Huka Lodge, Blanket Bay or Matakauri Lodge."
Visitors were often disappointed at the CBD's lack of luxury options so they went elsewhere, he said.