Jane Phare stays at the Ascot Park Hotel in Invercargill
Location: A five-minute drive from the CBD and 10 minutes from the airport, it's only a short walk to Ascot Park Raceway.
Style: An 80s exterior with a refurbished, modern interior.
Perfect for: A weekend club event, convention, family getaway or a business trip
Price: Between $160 and $212. The hotel has 116 rooms, including suites and 23 motel units.
First impressions: The sprawling gardens were a good start - the 80s pitched roofs, brown brick and matching aluminium joinery, not so much. But if you can get past that, the interior is comfortable and stylish, with an abundance of cheerfully friendly staff.
Rooms: Built before land values went through the roof, the rooms are large with bathrooms to match. Room 47, in a recently refurbished east wing, was spotlessly clean with tasteful décor, comfy armchairs, a writing desk and a Queen-size bed made up with crisp sheets and soft pillows. It was one of the quietest hotel rooms I've ever been in; the sprawling gardens create an excellent buffer against any city or road noise.
There was plenty of room to store suitcases, and a good-sized wardrobe with an iron, ironing board and extra pillows inside but no safe (Hey, this is Invercargill). The mini fridge included a bottle of fresh milk (not those dreaded long-life capsules) to go with the range of teas, coffee and hot chocolate. A second bin for recyclable waste was a welcome addition.
Invercargill was in a middle of a cold snap but the large wall radiator made the room toasty within minutes, and there was another heater in the bathroom.
Bathroom: Again, spotlessly clean with a large walk-in shower, with both a rainfall and normal nozzle, a heated towel rail, great lighting over the mirror, the usual toiletries including extra cakes of soap, and a decent-sized vanity and drawers for toilet bags. And, bliss, a separate toilet.
Facilities: Free Wi-Fi, good heating throughout, complimentary filtered water stations dotted around the hotel, a heated swimming pool, spa pool, gym and two saunas, an ATM and snack/drink vending machine in the foyer, a conference centre and plenty of extra parking.
Food and drink: I normally avoid hotel dining rooms, preferring local cafes and restaurants. But the food at Emberz at Ascot was so delicious we ate there two nights in a row. There's a line at the top of the menu - "We hunt, we gather, we grow, we cook" - which sums up the ethos. Ingredients, including meat and fish, are sourced locally including free-range meat supplied by a company of Southland hunters. The Ascot's head gardener and his team supply the hotel with organically grown vegetables and salad ingredients year-round.
Best of all, hot plates both at dinner and for the buffet breakfast. See-through filmy black curtains are drawn to create more intimate dining spaces in the evening, and opened for an airier look in the mornings.
The buffet breakfast offering was vast and immaculately presented.
In the neighbourhood: The hotel grounds are directly opposite The Eastern Cemetery – lovely old historic gravestones and, most importantly for the World's Fastest Indian fans, Burt Munro's grave. It's a short drive to beautiful Queens Park, set in 81 hectares which includes botanical and themed gardens, an 18-hole golf course, sports fields, the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, and the Southland Astronomical Society Observatory. And, of course, the Burt Munro Memorial Sculpture.
Accessibility: The Ascot is built on one level so access is easy. The corridors are wide, the foyer spacious. Accessible bathrooms and ramps for easier access are available on request.