Five-star luxury and sustainability can be a winning mix, writes Sarah Daniell
I really want to see the bees. But the bees are on the rooftop and there are no barriers and it's just not safe. I'm stung. No one is allowed to see the bees. Instead, there is a small jar of golden honey in the room, from the hives at one of Auckland's most luxurious — and now most sustainable — hotels.
From our 9th floor executive suite, the traffic on the wet roads below looks like shiny metal toys going to war, and people are tiny, with tiny umbrellas turned inside out, battling the storm. The motorways and the streets and the onramps that feed the motorways, are jammed with peak-hour traffic. That is nowhere I want to be. But it almost looks pretty this far up.
From the 9th floor of the 30-year-old — and now Australasia's most sustainable — hotel, it's warm, the Champagne is cold, sandwiches are ordered and the PGA Golf tournament is on Sky.
There is something magnificently indulgent about checking into a hotel mid-week.
"Where have you come from today?" the concierge asks. I feel I may disappoint them by saying "Western Springs" so I say, "From work."
We have approximately 20 hours of floating around in luxury, before we have to check out at 11am the next day and return to work and the non-cocooned world, where, if someone were to be watching from the 9th floor of somewhere more exotic, I too, will be just a struggling toy person battling the winter.
Right now I have zero imposter syndrome. Where have we come from? More importantly, where are we going ...
4pm: Chuan Spa
Forget everything you think you know about hotel spas. Chuan is another level. Level 2, actually. There is a swimming pool (heated to 27C), a Jacuzzi, showers, mountains of perfectly rolled towels, and a gym. I pad down the silent corridor in my white hotel slippers and Susanna guides me into the massage room. She starts with my head and face then kneads all the lumps from my shoulders and neck. Afterwards, there is camomile tea, water, a bowl of nuts ("to help raise your sugar levels"), and a pile of magazines in a little curtained-off room.
Meanwhile my partner has been doing underwater lengths in the pool and soaking in the Jacuzzi. We return to the room, pull the curtains open to watch the storm and the lights.
We have ordered sandwiches because we feel like sticking around in this room for as long as possible. Because we have heard about the buffet dinner and that will require a significant investment of time. So we pour more Champagne and eat small club sandwiches. I sit in a wing chair and look out of the window and could sustain this position for a very long time.
7pm: Dinner at eight
I'll start at the end: course number 4 and there are five things on my plate: two profiteroles filled with caramel, one bowl of creme brulee, one cheesecake (rhubarb). This is an exercise in restraint. My plate represents nothing like the number of options on offer — including fruit platters, chocolate fountain, a separate cheese station. The brulee is golden and silky perfection.
Before that we decided to start raw, and keep it classy, with sashimi and Coromandel oysters piled in a heap on ice. We ordered a bottle of Kerpen 2014 riesling, from Germany. It works beautifully with every course. We go back for shellfish and a selection of fish including flounder and john dory — cooked on a hotplate.
The kitchen specialises in sustainably sourced meat, such as alpaca and kangaroo. I order a piece of roo cooked on the grill. Chris has a pretty pile of fresh beetroot linguine cooked just for him in a pesto sauce. He follows with charcuterie, a seafood platter, and tuatua cooked on the grill. This sort of dining is epic and delicious, but is not, I suspect, a sustainable lifestyle.
10pm: Nightcap and movie
The ice cube in the glass for the Thomson's whisky is enormous. It might be a sin to have ice with such great whisky but they're not judgy here. We retire to our room and turn on the movie channel. There is chocolate on the bedside table and the curtains have been pulled. We pull them open again. The city looks much the same, but with fewer cars. The bed is enormous and lush. I fall into a deep sustainable sleep.
I have never before gone to a hotel gym. It is out-of -kilter with relaxing and having a good time. But this morning I depart from my usual practice. It's packed with scarily focused, quiet people. I leap on a cycle machine as if I do this in hotels all the time. The view isn't much — a frosted glass window — but who cares - at least there's no chance of being seen by the outside world. Whatever that is. There is an enormous bowl of apples and bottles of water and soft towels to wipe away the pain. There is also a sauna and a herbal steam room. Ten minutes in there is like being rebirthed. But possibly not sustainable for long on account of the intense heat.
We are anointed Club Members, so swan upstairs to where fellow club-ites are foraging on free-range eggs and bacon. The sun is pouring in, the city is laid out below — a different vision from the night before. It's calm from the 10th floor, and quiet. It almost looks like you could go outside and continue on with your ordinary, marginally sustainable life.
Sustainable luxury is my kind of sustainability. The last thing I feel like doing while staying in a lovely hotel room for one single glorious night is taking to my bed with melancholia over whether the plastics have been separated from the glass. Or whether the kitchen hand has remembered to take out the compost. I have enough of that at home. It's all about the guest enjoying the benefits of the hotel's research and work behind the scenes, says manager Michael Shah.
They won't hit you over the head with a gilt chandelier about the planet. It's more subtle and meaningful.
Head chef Volker Marecek says "luxury" means "local" — 90 per cent local and 10 per cent imported produce, seafood and meat, from Fair Trade, ethically sound sources.
The Langham Auckland has this month been awarded platinum status for its progressive, innovative practices for the environment, from EarthCheck, the global sustainability certification programme for the tourism industry. It's the only luxury hotel in Australasia and the only company in NZ to be awarded this status. Sustainability isn't "greenwash" or a marketing exercise. It forms the foundation of the hotel's entire business philosophy.
Here's what they've done:
- Rooftop beehives to pollinate the city's flora.
- Saved 25,673,024 MJ in energy consumption, which is enough to power 1078 typical four-person households in New Zealand for a year. Or $613,144 in financial savings in energy consumption. *
- Minimised 2,061,842 kg CO2-e saved in greenhouse gas emissions — equivalent to taking 692 cars off the road a year.
- Saved 20,493,755 litres of potable water, which is equivalent to eight standard Olympic-sized swimming pools. Or $82,025 in financial savings in water consumption.
- The waste lemons used in the bars and restaurants are turned into EcoSoap, which is distilled and produced on Waiheke Island.
- Minimised 331,823 litres of landfilled waste, which is equivalent to 10 standard 20-foot shipping containers. Or $78,055 in financial savings in waste sent to landfill.*
- Asked all suppliers to use only recyclable containers — no more polystyrene. The seafood, for example, from sustainable providers such as Moana and Sanford, which use the precision seafood harvesting technique, is now packed in cardboard.
- The 480 hotel employees clocked up 615 volunteer hours working in the hotel's nominated charities.
* Based on per guest per night.
The Langham Auckland
83 Symonds Street, Grafton
Phone: (09) 379 5132