Silence is golden and costs almost as much. Kim Knight revels in the solitude (and stunning sea views) on the luxuriously refurbished top floor of Auckland's Hilton Hotel.
There were 17 patches of mould on the bathroom ceiling the day I ran away from home. Smudged, spidery lines tracked the roof above the shower. Squint and read your fortune in those slatternly patterns. The future smells like bleach and exhaustion.
On the internet, there is a checklist for everything. Under "how to run away from home" it says:
Break up with your girl/boyfriend.
Write a letter to your family.
You could do this. If your situation is truly dire, you should do this. But what if your life is mostly great? What if all you are craving is 24 hours of space so shiny-new that the mould has not had time to grow?
Dear Mum and Dad. If anybody needs me, I'm at The Hilton.
My most enduring fantasy is waking alone in a white-walled room. Keep your firefighters and your frankly unfathomable objectification of Ryan Gosling and give me swipe-card access to a bed someone else has made.
I checked in to The Hilton, Auckland, at 2pm. The hotel pokes 300m out to sea and its brand new level 8 "bow suite" is designed in the shape of a luxury cruise liner. It has a 270-degree view of the Hauraki Gulf and the Auckland Harbour Bridge. No woman is an island, unless she is standing on the balcony of room 804.
This entire floor used to be one man's penthouse apartment. In 2011, the space was valued at nearly $6 million. In 2014, the New Zealand Herald reported on the mortgagee sale of the 911sq m pad (nearly five times the size of the average New Zealand home). It fetched $900,000. Now, it is 21 just-opened hotel rooms, designed by high-end hospitality experts, Chada.
To borrow from the press release, "A custom carpet mimics a gently rolling sea." Each room features "a striking art panel headboard". The first thing I notice when I step out of the elevator is that I am literally on the path less trod. That carpet is so frickin' new and springy, I imagined unicorns gambolling at sunset.
Psychologists make a clear distinction between being alone and being lonely. One is a positive, creative state. The other, negative and destructive. My aim, in Room 804, is to creatively contemplate the nature of solitude for a full 24 hours or, at least, until my midday check-out.
2.30pm: I take out my sketch pad and pencils, position myself in front of the floor to ceiling windows and draw what I can see - a bottle of Moet and a platter of complimentary macarons. Back in the real world, Foodstuffs is recalling all batches of its Value brand spaghetti and scientists have discovered that 1.6m tall penguins used to roam New Zealand. I eat a complimentary macaron and it dissolves, like my resolve to eat only one complimentary macaron.
There was a double rainbow over downtown Auckland the day I ran away from home. The sea was silver and jade and infinitely more interesting than the Sky movie channel. I turned an armchair towards the clouds and the other Cloud, the multi-purpose event venue built for the 2011 Rugby World Cup and recently torn asunder by a violent storm. Later, at dinner, the maitre d' would tell me that when the weather hit, they moved guests away from the windows. His main thought, as he saw the waterfront take sail, was how small we are compared to nature. After service, he said, he rang his wife to tell her he loved her.
My phone is locked in a safe. My body is soaking in a deep, deep tub (Crabtree & Evelyn, verbena and lavender, thanks for asking). The bathroom walls are marble, a rock that forms when limestone succumbs to heat and pressure. Geologists call this metamorphism. Caterpillar to butterfly. Reality television host to President. In the streaky, swirling marble, I can see Edvard Munch's The Scream, the hand of God and a loggerhead turtle. I have been in this bath so long my cuticles have receded of their own accord.
While I wallow, the sky turns the colour of a bellini. This is, coincidentally, the name of The Hilton's ground floor bar. I'm reluctant to put on shoes or a bra but I can't lie on this full-length couch forever. I bookmark the 11th floor sex orgy in Arthur Hailey's 1965 classic of the genre (Hotel), head downstairs and drink glamorously alone.
I have decided to eat at the hotel restaurant, Fish, without the distraction of my phone or my book. Halfway through a course of raw Te Kouma Bay oysters, I realise I am not so much experiencing solitude as performing it. Every sense is heightened. I mentally deconstruct an apple-green gel to find the deft heft of its celery heart. Cubes of mango are staccato notes against smooth, cool, kingfish.
Anyone who travels for work has eaten a million hotel breakfasts on their own. Most of us do lunch on the run, our only company the "to do" lists in our head. But a fine dining room is a different and deliberate beast. Nobody orders a $27 entree of pāua, gratin taro, vermicelli and ginger without thinking about it first.
I chew slowly, the only person here without a companion. Am I waiting for someone? Have I been stood up by someone? Would you be wondering this if I was a man? That pāua dish, by the way, was so clever. I feared the ginger would overpower it but it was great against the coconutty-stodge of the taro gratin. Truthfully, I wanted to tell someone about this contemporary twist on a Pacific Rim plate.
Solitude is, on the face of it, simple.
If you were lucky, you had a few good years of "me time" before the fear kicked in. You're 14 and you smoke cigarettes and read Janet Frame novels alone in the sand dunes. You're 14 and you walk miles up a river gorge to sit on a rock and write bad poetry. Then there is that day at the beach when a man pulls down his pants and exposes his penis. You don't go back to the sand dunes on your own for a very long time after that.
There are too many empty platforms, too few street lights in this world. Night time is just science. It is never just the dark we are afraid of.
We make do. The safest solitude, it often turns out, is in company. Once, a girlfriend and I tramped into a hut on Stewart Island. Unexpectedly, every other resident hiker was female. In the kitchen, we set up our little gas stoves, mostly minding only our own business. Worker bees, not queens. Ten pair of boots dried by the fire and the light was fading when the sliding door opened. "Hello ladies," said the man who had seen the room, but not yet read it. "What's for dinner?"
Every woman looked at him, silently. "I've got wine," he said. Every woman ignored him, silently. We were separately together and it was glorious. But, also, imagine moving through the world feeling so safe that you demand to be seen in your aloneness?
According to Statistics NZ, in 2018 around 24 per cent of all New Zealand households had single occupants. Some 439,000 of us lived alone. I used to be one of them. I remember complaining to a boss about work stress, about not coping. "You need some quiet time," she instructed. "Take a holiday by yourself." Solo dwellers are an increasing force - but our default is to assume that people live with other people. That's what makes us human, right?
Back in Room 804 I can see a luxury apartment. Its curtains stay open all night, and I spy on a trio of children, eating dinner and watching television on their twin island. We are parallel container ships, stuffed with expensive soft furnishings. I wonder who you grow up to become when this is your normal?
A soft knock on the door. Dessert has arrived discreetly. So much chocolate. In bed, I hug a pillow the size of a small boyfriend and watch three movies simultaneously. On screen, an actor is saying, "The time we have to be single is the time we get to be good alone." Sometimes, I meet people I think might have married because they simply can't stand themselves. Company dilutes us. Mostly, it makes the best bits float to the top. Personally, I need these white-walled interludes to distill me; to remember who I am.
Gustavo remembers. He's the head concierge who has been here 18 years, who tells me that William, the doorman, has been here 15 years. William's party trick is to remember every guest's name, even if it has been years between visits. In a hotel, you are probably never as anonymous as you think you are but this (almost) 24-hour break proves that with enough cash, you can buy a little peace and mould-free quiet.
I actually don't sleep that well. The moon is very full and distracting. In the morning I count the ships that have passed in the night. Two new containers have berthed. At that ubiquitous international hotel breakfast (hash browns, camembert and congee), a gaggle of sales reps compare notes: "5am?! Whose room?"
Kim Knight stayed courtesy of The Hilton. Rates for the King Hilton Bow Suite currently range from $798-$998.