Our first pubs were rough 'n' ready affairs, offering guests little more than a lumpy mattress – possibly shared with passing strangers, and not in a good way – mutton stew and a bottle of home-brewed hooch for the night.
Thankfully, we've moved on. And up: the country can now lay claim to a bevvy of upmarket urban hotels with premier chefs in their restaurants, stylish bars with accomplished mixologists, quirky takes on high tea, dreamy day spas or rooftop bars with magical views.
Best thing about them? You don't have to stay the night. Or the weekend. Here's a selection of some beautiful urban hotels around the country that will be only too happy to see you for dinner, a Manhattan or a massage.
Escape to the Mediterranean at Esther restaurant in QT Hotel, where Sean Connolly brings flavours of the French Riviera, Morocco and Sicily to Auckland. Continue at the hotel's Rooftop bar with classic snacks, contemporary cocktails or a never-ending wine list.
At the Park Hyatt, indulge at the signature restaurant, Onemata, where produce is locally sourced using seasonal ingredients from farmers and fishers; at the Living Room, unwind with a light meal or indulge in the afternoon tea blend of nostalgic and modern tastes. The Pantry is an all-day pit stop for coffee or to unwind with a craft beer or wine; settle in for an afternoon or evening with sweeping harbour views at Captain's Bar. The Spa curates a selection of treatments.
For Hotel Britomart, Orphan's Kitchen founders Tom Hishon and Josh Helm have created kingi, using sustainably and locally caught seafood, amid unique decor.
Honourable mentions to more mature favourites: watching the sunset at Bellini bar in the Hilton Auckland, cocktail, craft beer or wine in hand; the secret corners and grown-up treats of DeBretts' first-floor bar, bathed in light from its glass-roofed atrium. Feel like escaping the city? Bersantai Day Spa at Castaways Resort in Karioitahi promises Balinese-style treatments – and a soak, surrounded by nature, in outdoor stone bathtubs.
Cambridge's beautiful Henley Hotel reopened late last year with a new tennis court, dining options, chef's orchard and sustainable herb and vegetable gardens. The boutique 5-star hotel has an indoor swimming pool and day spa. Henley Social is open for breakfast, lunch, high tea and dinner and a new dining experience, Arbory Terrace, will launch soon.
Formerly the Days Hotel and Suites by Wyndham, the Hamilton CBD hotel has undergone a significant redevelopment and has been rebranded to Ramada Hamilton. The restaurant, cafe and bar has been fully refurbished and renamed Sisterfields.
Kiwis are rediscovering the lakes and geysers, culture and adventure opportunities here. The Regent of Rotorua's Regent Room is one of the city's best restaurants whether your taste is full-service, white-tablecloth style or dinner and a cocktail beside the pool.
Barrel & Co. brasserie at the new Pullman Rotorua offers all-day dining, farm-to-table cooking centred around an open kitchen.
Return to bygone eras at two of the city's finest establishments: Peppers on the Point is a 1930s mansion beside Lake Rotorua that is now an exclusive retreat. Treat yourself to lunch or their daily four-course dinner, accompanied by NZ wines from the lodge's cellar, in the glamorous dining room or outside overlooking the lake.
Prince's Gate Hotel is celebrating its centenary – it was originally a Waihī tavern, dismantled and railed to Rotorua and reopened next to the Government Gardens in 1921. Duke's Bar & Restaurant feels like a London gentleman's club (without the snob factor) where Digraj Singh serves an inspired mix of modern dishes and classic favourites.
The art deco city's iconic Masonic Hotel houses Emporium, a collection of distinct spaces. The vibrant Eatery & Bar offers menus to suit the time of day; the Cocktail Lounge is dressed in rich furnishings, a relaxed place for a light bite, craft cocktail or Hawke's Bay vintage; and the Emporium Lounge captures an era of elegance and grace for intimate dining.
New Plymouth's historic White Hart Hotel has had an … um, interesting past but it's been wonderfully restored as the heart of the West End Precinct. Inside are the Snug Lounge, Public Catering and Ms White eateries and drinkeries, as well as the sumptuous King and Queen Boutique Hotel. The Nice Hotel has a relaxed cocktail bar, award-winning Table restaurant and an expansive deck surrounded by tropical plants in summer. Top of the town is the Good Home's new rooftop bar with sea views.
If we can only choose one … QT Wellington's Hippopotamus is not only one of the country's best hotel restaurants, it's one of New Zealand's best dining experiences. Can't do justice to the decor in words, so we'll steal theirs: "the eclectic world of a fabby French grandma who knows how to drink. Pops of colour on plush textures and a bevvy of bedazzled chandeliers." Jiwon Do's degustation menus marry French techniques to local produce; the results are extravagant and unexpected. The cocktail bar is superb but we'd better go somewhere else: the Copthorne Hotel's One80 is a fine eatery and its lounge bar is just the spot to watch the sun go down on Oriental Bay.
Nelson's most prominent hotel, the Rutherford is in a prime spot only minutes' walk from the CBD; its Port o' Call Bar and highly-regarded Oceano Panorama Restaurant repay a visit. Eat dinner by the water at the Trailways Hotel's The Tides restaurant, multi-award-winning fine-dining with Maitai River views from the balcony.
Not only is The George one of the country's most-awarded boutique hotels, its 50-Bistro is one of the city's best restaurants, modern NZ cuisine served in three rooms, including outdoor dining in a conservatory with a living wall and a stylish indoor "neo-bistro". We're going to stretch a point and recommend the OGB bar because it's in the same site as the Heritage Hotel, the gloriously restored Old Government Building on the Square. Voted the city's best bar for the past four years, it has a Chicago speakeasy feel, staff in white shirts, black trousers, braces and caps. Ladies (and invited gentlemen) may venture into Parlour, its opulent cocktail lounge.
The Criterion re-opened in November just in time for the town's Victorian Heritage Celebrations, inviting visitors for lunch, a drink or dinner. Elegantly refurbished, the hotel includes a Gentleman's Lounge and a Temperance Room where one may partake of non-alcoholic drinks. A hotel since the 1800s, guests have reputedly heard mysterious footsteps when alone on the premises and felt pushes while standing on the top of the stairs. Definitely worth a visit even if you're wary of staying overnight.
Where to start? On the way into town from the airport, the Sherwood is the spot for a yoga class, a meal using produce from the onsite garden or one of the many events, gigs or workshops.
At QT Queenstown, visit Reds Bar for a cocktail class or drink with spectacular views, then enjoy dinner at Bazaar, a marketplace experience that takes "exploring the menu" to a new plateau.
Kamana Lakehouse's Nest Restaurant is the highest alfresco lounge and eatery in town, with a Mediterranean-inspired sharing menu.
On the lakefront, the legendary Eichardt's Private Hotel has a new spa, The Vault, and (at least) one drink at Eichardt's Bar is a must-do.
Out of town, enjoy a massage, practise yoga or join a wellness retreat at Camp Glenorchy, built from recycled and high-quality materials and a work of art in itself.
Because it's Central Otago take a vinotherapy treatment at luxurious Gibbston Valley Spa, voted New Zealand's Best Resort Spa in the 2020 World Spa Awards.
If there's a New Zealand city better than Dunedin at saving, re-engineering and repurposing its wonderful collection of heritage buildings, we'd be gobsmacked. The Distinction is a prime example: the 1937 Chief Post Office has been transformed into an elegant luxury establishment in the vibrant, rejuvenated Warehouse Precinct. You can drop in for drinks in stylish Post Bar or eat at Parcels Restaurant but we recommend dinner with a unique twist; the original vaults have been converted into stately private dining rooms.
Much the same goes for Fable Dunedin, built as Wains Hotel in 1862 and relaunched as a modern five-star boutique hotel. The Press Club restaurant and bar is a tribute to the 1870s club where poet Thomas Bracken (he wrote something called God Defend New Zealand) hosted debates. It's a modern, intimate dining room where the menu leans heavily on Otago produce; or sip and nibble high tea on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.