Britomart LanewaysBritomart Laneways

Upmarket Auckland is Waiting to be Rediscovered

Image: The Hotel Britomart

Not that many years ago, downtown Auckland was little more than a forced stopover on the way to somewhere else. International travellers might stop for a day in the city to rest up before heading south to Rotorua or Queenstown, and leave unimpressed. The best eating, drinking and shopping was mostly confined to the suburbs surrounding the city centre; downtown itself had little to recommend it. For vistors, the city felt complicated and hard to navigate – an urban experience that fell far short of the promise of its beautiful natural setting.

Nowadays, things are different.

The Hotel Britomart – a brand-new, beautifully designed, brick-clad building in the heart of downtown waterfront Auckland – opens in October and offers a central city experience that those disappointed visitors of a few years ago wouldn’t recognise. Britomart, the historic nine-block district above Auckland’s main railway station, has gone from being a place best avoided at night to a lively area of lushly planted pedestrianised streets, a sunny public square, and some of the city’s best boutiques, bars and restaurants.

Britomart’s regeneration has invited the rest of the central city to follow suit, with dramatic results. Just a block away, a shiny new development named Commercial Bay has brought more than 120 new stores and eateries to the central city. Across the street, ferries whisk visitors to nearby Waiheke Island and the other jewels of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. A few steps further west, past the bars and restaurants of Viaduct Harbour, a redevelopment of the city’s North Wharf has opened up a bustling car-free harbourside promenade offering craft beer, gelato, gourmet fast food at the city’s fish market, and free gawping at super yachts.

All of this within walking distance? Suddenly, downtown Auckland is a destination in its own right – and a remarkably easy one at that.

The Hotel Britomart (which also happens to be New Zealand’s first 5 Green Star hotel) is a gateway that allows guests to discover the pleasures of downtown Auckland for themselves. No wonder it fits in so well: the 99-room hotel (which also boasts five luxurious suites) was created by the same team behind Britomart’s reinvention. It’s specifically designed for the enjoyment of the Britomart precinct and the city around it.

The Hotel Britomart project hasn’t just involved a sleek new building, but the rejuvenation of yet another city block. An intimate new laneway slips around the side of the hotel and through the heritage Masonic Building, a former warehouse whose raw brick walls will soon house Kingi (short for kingfish), a new all-day restaurant by Tom Hishon and Josh Helm of the hit Ponsonby eatery, Orphans Kitchen.

Immediately opposite the hotel’s entance, yet another beautiful former warehouse will be a new home for eternal favourite, Cafe Hanoi, a restaurant that marries contemporary Vietnamese cuisine with New Zealand’s extraordinary fresh produce. And only a few steps down Galway Street, chef Michael Meredith is opening a highly anticipated dining destination that will mix New Zealand flavours with those of his own Pacific heritage.

All this ground-floor excitement means it’s easy to forget just how good the hotel itself is. A 10-floor marvel designed by the team at Cheshire Architects (who were also behind the master-planning of Britomart itself), its handsome exterior features 150,000 handmade bricks punctuated by a constellation of windows as smooth as iPhone screens. Inside, the rooms are like cocoons, with timber-lined walls, ceramics by local artisans, organic hair and skincare products, beautifully tiled bathrooms and thoughful selections of New Zealand books.

It would be easy enough to spend a day doing nothing but luxuriating in your room. But the temptations of Britomart are too great to warrant staying inside for long. You can shop at Tiffany & Co across the street, or celebrate local fashion at the flagship stores of Karen Walker, Kate Sylvester, Zambesi, Deadly Ponies, Trelise Cooper, Juliette Hogan, Taylor, WORLD and Kathryn Wilson. You can drink cocktails at Caretaker, a secret basement speakeasy, or coffee in the conservatory-style cafe called Ortolana. You can enjoy an easy-going Italian meal in one of the city’s most beautiful rooms at Amano (recently named the city’s best restaurant by the New Zealand Herald), or a harbour view and food by chef Josh Emmet upstairs at Ostro.

For the actively inclined, or those just wanting to walk off some of that beautiful food, there’s a Les Mills gym at Britomart, and it’s an easy (and eye-poppingly gorgeous) pedal around the city’s waterfront to Mission Bay. Or you might be keen on a run (or leisurely stroll) up the hill through the Domain, the city’s largest park, to the Auckland Museum. Even closer – a 15-minute stroll through the charming Victorian laneways surrounding nearby High Street – is Auckland’s remarkable Art Gallery, which won World Building of the Year in 2013 and has an awards-worthy collection on its walls inside.

Now you know all this, you’ll probably agree that Auckland should have been discovered as a destination in its own right a while ago. The city sure took its time getting ready for its close up, but you have to admit that it isn’t easy competing with New Zealand’s mountains, glaciers, and promises of solitude. The good thing is, the way The Hotel Britomart introduces people to Auckland makes it clear that this city has just as much to offer. Auckland also offers New Zealand’s famed easy-going lifestyle – just in its own urbane way. <u5:p></u5:p>

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