Most people associate New Zealand with natural wonders such as Milford Sound, Mount Cook and the Franz Josef Glacier, or perhaps with the world-class wine regions of Marlborough and Hawkeís Bay.
But to get to those places, chances are youíll have to pass through at least one of New Zealandís major cities. It would be a shame to rush, though, when there are such fabulous designer hotel accommodations in each.
For those who think Relais & Chateaux properties are fusty French country inns, think again. This boutique property in the heart of Aucklandís tony St. Maryís Bay neighborhood (a short walk or drive from the Central Business District and the harbor) has all the charms of an urban retreat, and is just steps from the fashionable boutiques and foodie-friendly bistros of Ponsonby Road.
The 13-suite property got a breath of fresh air when new owner, designer Nicola Guinness, took over. The rooms now feature an eclectic mix of designer and antique pieces that give each an individual flair. Junior and Villa suites have small living rooms and spacious master bedrooms and private balconies overlooking the gardens while the Premier Suites have larger lounge areas, fireplaces, and even pianos in a few of them.
In addition to the guest accommodations, the hotel also has a cozy drawing room and a library where visitors can meet for drinks from the cocktail bar, a few meeting suites, and an idyllic Cottage Garden where guests relax at the end of a long day exploring the city or enjoy a gourmet dinner from the Dining Room Restaurant. Thereís an onsite day spa that uses upscale Australian Sodashi beauty products, a small fitness center, plus free WiFi. The hotel also has Mollies Restaurant on property where lauded Chef Lance Tripp serves candlelit degustation dinners (in addition to the dayís other meals).
Rates in March start at NZ $1,035. Mollies, 6 Tweed St., St. Maryís Bay, Auckland. +64 9 376 3489; Mollies.co.nz
Wellington: Museum Hotel
What it lacks in boutique-style understatement, the quirky Museum Hotel makes up for with a wildly imaginative decorative aesthetic and charming rooms overlooking New Zealandís capital and the surrounding hills and harbor. This art hotel gets its name from the fact that it is across from the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand history and culture, and contains 160 rooms, suites and serviced apartments. Its lobby is decorated with an eccentric mix of curios, international art, and indigenous New Zealand crafts, giving visitors an eyeful around every corner.
Rooms are simply furnished but very comfortable, and many contain amenities like dishwashers, ovens and washer-dryers that can make an extended stay here that much easier. Standard amenities include queen, king or double beds, a small work desk, a chaise lounge or armchair, 42-inch flat-screens with satellite and cable, iPod docks, minibars, high-speed Internet, a pillow menu, and enormous bathrooms with separate tubs and open showers supplied with local Natural Earth bath products made from manuka honey.
Beyond the rooms, the hotel has a small fitness center onsite with an indoor pool, a Cathy Davys day spa, and one of the cityís best-reviewed restaurants, Hippopotamus, where Chef Laurent Loudeac treats guests to a gourmet, French-inspired menu. All daily meals are available here along with high tea.
The hotel is centrally located within walking distance of the cityís major sights (Wellington is not, after all, a huge metropolis), as well as the trendy bars and restaurants of Cuba Street.
Rates in March start at NZ $215. Museum Hotel, 90 Cable St., Wellington. +64 4 802 8900; MuseumHotel.co.nz
Christchurch: The George
Though much of central Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealandís South Island, is still recovering from last yearís devastating earthquakes, The George has remained open nearly the entire time (except for a brief period of minor repairs), and welcoming guests to the city. This chic 53-room property, which is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, lies on the edge of picturesque Hagley Park and the Avon river, and boasts a 1:1 staff-to-guest ratio, so service is paramount.
The sophisticated, minimalist-style rooms and suites (think a palette of white, taupe and black) are equipped with flat-screen LCD televisions, personal safes and fully stocked minibars, evening turndown service, executive desks, high-speed Internet access, and large bathrooms hidden behind enormous frosted-glass doors.
Besides the casual 50 on the Park restaurant, the hotel is also home to Pescatore, an exclusive dining room where Chef Reon Hobson treats guests to a menu of molecular gastronomy delights that changes daily. In addition to being close to the cityís still damaged CBD, the hotel is also easily accessible from the airport, and a good jumping-off point to explore the nearby sights of the larger Canterbury region such as the dramatic harbor and historic village in Akaroa, and the up-and-coming wine region of Waipara, both about an hour away by car.
Rates at The George start at NZ $481 in March. 50 Park Terrace, Christchurch. +64 3 371 0257; TheGeorge.com
Queenstown: The Spire
Queenstown might be the adventure capital of New Zealand, where people who are wallflowers in normal life come to bungee, zipline, heli-ski and whitewater raft, but this small town of thrill seekers is also home to one of the countryís highest-end hotel experiences: The Spire. The hotel is located on a little pedestrian street a block back from the lake shore in the central town, and has just 10 huge rooms that you never want to leave thanks to features like oversize king or twin beds with eye-catching red-and-black headboards, sizeable work desks by the wall of sliding glass doors that serve as windows looking out over the city and Lake Wakatipu, and stone fireplaces.
There are also chaise lounges and Eames armchairs for enjoying the high-tech multimedia entertainment system that includes a wall-mounted flat-screen TV, DVD player, satellite television, iPod docking and free WiFi, plus all the space of a separate walk-in closet wardrobe area and enormous bathrooms with peekaboo shutters looking onto enormous tubs, separate showers, and his-and-hers vanities stocked with LíOccitaine products.
Whatís more, this hip city hotel hearkens back to traditional hospitality with a staff that greets each guest by name and has a slate of suggested activities prepared for them, and rates that include perks like private airport transfer, a welcome amenity of champagne and handmade chocolates, full a la carte breakfast in the small lobby restaurant or your room daily, maid and turndown service, fresh flowers and seasonal fruit, valet car parking, access to a nearby gym.
The hotelís bar is also one of the most sophisticated watering holes in town with a menu of handcrafted cocktails that changes seasonally (or depending on the barmenís whims), while in the back of the ground floor, the hotelís No. 5 Church Lane restaurant serves a Thai-inspired menu that utilizes fresh New Zealand ingredients. The hotelís central location makes it easy to take advantage of all the activities and tour operators that are based in town, as well as to head half an hour away to explore the wineries of Central Otago.
Rates in April-June run $1,035 double occupancy. 3/5 Church St., Queenstown. +64 3 441 0004; TheSpireHotel.com