Catherine Smith swaps the suburbs for the city and enjoys a foretaste of her dream future.
People can be so cruel about Auckland city: ask Aucklanders to list their favourite weekend thing and most people will burble about their favourite beaches, or Rangitoto or the Waitakeres or the Matakana markets. Apart from the latest cool restaurant, the inner city hardly rates a mention.
I confess I'm a bit the same, scooting out of the city as soon as the work day is finished, but have always harboured a dream to eventually retire back into the city to re-live those groovy pre-kid days.
When I had the chance to grab a city-based weekender at Sky City Grand, I was enchanted with the idea of testing out my next inner-city life - well, as close to inner city life as the 21st floor of a luxury hotel can be.
Even checking into the Grand is a treat - the doormen in their smart suits, the acres of marble, the foreign accents of fellow guests. I am always tempted to pocket one of the Karl Maughan hyper-real paintings of lush flower gardens on my way past the lobby bar, but as the husband and I were whisked up to our top floor room, there was more art to grab my heart. Clearly I should have brought a bigger suitcase.
Below us stretches the western city - Victoria Park up to Ponsonby rise, the distant Waitakeres and, to the north, the Harbour Bridge. If it weren't for the needle of the Sky Tower, we could practically see our house. It's a damn pretty city, and a very tree-y one from this perspective.
The 24-hour escape routine is pretty much how I hope my retirement will pan out: spending an hour or so in the late afternoon in the East Day Spa while skilled Thai women massage out our knots and pains in a Staying In Touch couple massage with fragrant oils.
Champagne and chocolates and the Sunday newspapers in our room while we watch the sun set on the hills.
And the highlight - dinner at The Grill by Sean Connolly. Even the meat-loving foodie husband says he would be challenged by the size of some of the steak dishes - as he copes with the 380gm, we watch in awe as a bloke at a neighbouring table demolishes 550g - while I settle for Mr Connolly's famous Sunday roast (rib of beef, and the best Yorkshire puddings outside of my Lincolnshire mum's).
There's room for his equally famous duck fat chips, and a teeny tiny corner left for pudding. We can always skip breakfast.
The morning routine is equally indulgent. For recent old time's sake, we walk a part of the Fan Trail from the Rugby World Cup, through the pretty forgotten Myers Park, have coffee and a window-shop in St Kevin's Arcade, a march along K Rd and P Rd and back through Victoria Park. I spot a couple of un-gentrified warehouses behind K Rd and begin to firm up housing options for the retirement.
We challenge ourselves to recite the whakapapa of the various restaurants on Ponsonby Rd from our 80s dining days (Prego was Toad Hall, The Crib was Dallows; what on earth became of Bistro 260?).
The finish to the weekend is a satisfying yum cha at the Jade Dragon: fine, fine dumplings, fun staff and none of that terrifying sense of being rushed out of the place.
Yip, I could do this inner city thing for the rest of my life.
Staying in town: Sky City Hotel and Sky City Grand have winter packages until September 12 giving you one night's accommodation, a $50 voucher for any restaurant or bar (including dine by Peter Gordon, Sean Connolly's The Grill or Depot), a $20 casino bonus play chip and a two-for-one Sky Tower experience. Prices are from $199 for Sky City Hotel and from $249 for Sky City Grand. See skycityauckland.co.nz for more details.
Where to eat:
The Grill: Sky City Grand, Federal Street. Dinner daily 5.30pm-10.30pm; lunch Monday-Friday 12pm-2.30pm. Phone 09 363 7067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Try the "Grilled For Time" menu (lunch, early dinner until 6.30pm); two course $35, three course $45.
Jade Dragon: Sky City Casino. Yum cha Monday-Saturday 11.30am-2pm, Sunday 11am-2.30pm; dinner 5.30pm-9.30pm. Items from $3.90 to $9.90 per plate.