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A bright entrance, high ceilings, pot plants and a warm "hello" from the receptionist - it feels like you've just walked into a hotel.

That is, until you see the barbed wire out the back.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins yesterday officially opened the new-look Mt Eden prison, which is to be incorporated with the neighbouring Auckland Central Remand Prison and will be known as the Mt Eden Corrections Facility.

It replaces the existing 123-year-old Mt Eden Prison.

At a cost of about $218 million, the new prison faced heated debate and controversy last year when it was revealed that it would tower over the Southern Motorway and overlook nearby Auckland Grammar School.

Then-mayor John Banks called it "an architectural monstrosity".

Yesterday, the media were given a tour of the prison.

It's not until we see the barbed wire outside and have to walk through a metal detector that we feel we are in a prison.

There are bright feature walls in almost every area we're escorted to - every one splashed out in an almost nauseating fluorescent orange, which we are told is among the colours - another being lime green - specified for use throughout the prison as it is not affiliated with any gang colours.

We are shown the family room - where visiting family members will meet prisoners.

Groups of tables and chairs, bolted to the ground, are arranged around the room. Each table has two or more seats attached to it, as well as a sole grey seat for the prisoner.

Cameras are aimed at those seats the whole time.

Walking down the long corridor known as the link, which connects the prisoners' area to the public area, it starts to really look like a prison.

It is made from recycled shipping containers, and the corridor is a murky grey with cameras fixed to the ceiling every 20 metres or so.

Every footstep echoes loudly and there is just enough room for someone a little taller than 1.8m to walk through.

When we reach the prison accommodation area - the cells - it is almost exactly what you see in the movies. I can't help but stare at the feature wall in here - blue - which I'm pretty sure is a gang colour.

There are rooms upstairs and downstairs and the exercise yards show no sign of the outside but for a sliver of sky and ground and the sound of birds.

It is completely shut off from the world.

The cells are ordinary. A bed, shower head, toilet and a bedside light - the basics.

The mirror is a piece of polished polished stainless steel nailed over the toilet bowl.

The windows are blurred save for a small panel at the top.

For one side of the cell blocks, there is no view. The other side have a view of the Sky Tower - not bad come the Christmas and New Year fireworks.