Sarah Daniell checks into the Mercure Dunedin Leisure Lodge.
A super-pleasant half-hour shuttle ride from the airport gets you to the grand entrance of the Mercure Dunedin Leisure Lodge on the corner of Cumberland and Duke Streets. The journey, taking in fantastic Otago sights, is the polar opposite of the commute from Auckland Airport to the city; it's worth heading south for that experience alone.
What this hotel isn't close to isn't worth mentioning: The Mercure is just 1km from Forsyth Barr Stadium, less than 1km from Otago Museum (a must) and a stone's throw from Otago University and the hospital — which hopefully you won't need — but far, far from the din of industry or the caterwauling of late-night revellers at the Octagon. That is if you even want to leave your room, surrounded by zen gardens. The hotel was built on the Dunedin Botanic Gardens — New Zealand's first — but when the loop road was built, it cut through and now you have to pop across the road to see the gardens.
The building: It feels more like a really cool motel. More familiar and personal than your average hotel. It was built in the late 70s, on the site of one of Dunedin's original breweries. The stone Oast House (a malting kiln) has been converted into a conference room. During our stay, there is a wedding party here, but there is plenty of space and the sound-buffer of that glorious green belt.
Check-in experience: Sunny, smooth, efficient. Off the chart hospitable and generous.
There's a bottle of Triplebank pinot gris chilling in our room on arrival. We dump our bags, grab glasses and sit in the garden to watch the wedding party hang bunting and lanterns in the trees and make swan napkins.
Room: There are 76 well-appointed and recently renovated rooms and ours — both at ground level — have lovely timber french doors that open on to private balconies, looking out over perfect lawns. There are three of us in two rooms, but we mostly hang out in mine — there is plenty of space for a pre-concert drink or a late, late post-concert debrief.
Price: From about $160 for a standard, share twin, to $260 for a Corporate King. Check out dunedinleisurelodge.co.nz for special deals.
What's so good about this place: It's the people and the setting here that make this place unique. It's finely turned out, in a pretty setting, but unpretentious and comfortable.
And the bad: Nothing to do with the hotel. On the first Saturday morning, my dear, dear friend left her lovely cellphone in my room and her lovely ling-ling-ling alarm went off at 6am. The next morning, my lovely well-meaning friend had "inadvertently" hung the sign on my door saying "please clean my room" instead of "please do not disturb". Apologies to the shocked cleaner, when she opened the door at 9am to disarray and confusion.
Decor: Clean, cool colours. Won't frighten the herd.
Wi-Fi: Free broadband.
Bed: Big enough to get lost in and have a long sleep, dreaming about being on the stage doing backing harmony with Stevie Nicks and Chrissie Hynde. After which we reconvene in my room to drink JDs and talk about the industry and old times.
Bathroom: Not massive but there's a really serious shower, spacious vanity area for all your potions and stuff. Standard shampoo, conditioner, body lotion supplied.
Food and beverage: There is a large restaurant and bar, McGavins, but we ate out, sampling all the fine Dunedin restaurants and cafes. We had room service breakfast on the final day. Crying over perfectly cooked eggs benedict, with hash browns and all the extras, that this was our last day here.
Perfect for: You are going to a concert at the nearby stadium and you want to take advantage of all the must-do things without spending all your time getting to and from.
But if you do need to get a cab at 10pm to Baldwin St — the steepest street in the world/universe — it's cheap as. But mostly you want to feel as though you've had a glorious, serene break without paying an arm and a leg. In a nutshell: It's a hotel in the middle of a main city, and there are tui, bellbirds and kereru singing outside our windows. It's an oasis.