The artful lodgings
A Wellington hotel with a singular sense of style
WHILE film director Peter Jackson may have put Wellington on the international movie map, the New Zealand capital is also a magnet for artists. And its premier hotel celebrates art of all forms in exuberant fashion.
The Museum Art Hotel has been a popular bolthole for A-list actors in Wellington to work on The Hobbit or Avatar. Ideally located, opposite the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa and a 10-minute walk from cafe-lined Cuba Street, the hotel is the vision of Chris Parkin, a former investment banker and property developer and an avid collector of contemporary (mostly local) art.
The theatrical lobby is lined with sheer, voluminous curtains and hung with large canvases; the long, moody room is dotted with contemporary sculpture (think handguns in resin) and limited-edition motorcycles.
‘‘I buy what I like,’’ Parkin says. ‘‘I’ve never acquired a piece because I thought it would appreciate in value. And when I briefed a set designer to do the lobby I wanted to provoke people. I didn’t care if they loved it or hated it.’’
It’s a bold and subjective approach for — I can just see the host of television’s The Hotel Inspector tearing her hair out. However, it’s a gambit Parkin has pulled off.
The theatrical mood extends from the lobby cum gallery and a highly decorated billiards and conference space to the sumptuous Hippopotamus restaurant, located on level three with great harbour views.
Chef Laurent Loudeac is French, the food is French, the floor staff are French and the gilt-edged, Versaceinspired furnishings are so ooh la la. The menu, however, is a celebration of the best New Zealand ingredients — North Island Angus beef, wriggling fresh salmon and the signature Kapiti Kikorangi (a blue cheese) tortellini with walnut froth. Aslightly surreal atmosphere — all smooth French accents and fussing over bottles of chablis — seems appropriate for a hotel tinged with eccentricity.
The original building had been marked for demolition in 1993 to make way for Te Papa. But Parkin moved it lock, stock and barrel across the road on purpose-built rails, drawing tens of thousands of spectators and setting what he guesses is still the world speed record for hotels.
In 2006, he added a $NZ29 million ($22.6m), ninestorey accommodation tower where theatricality gives way to low-key luxe and more practical considerations such as comfy king-sized beds, enormous tubs, velvet chaises longues, large flatscreen TVs and handy kitchens (with microwave, stove top, well-stocked mini bar and a fire engine-red espresso machine).
The harbour-facing rooms and apartments are the pick of the bunch and many rooms in the old wing have balconies or patios. Downstairs, you’ll find a lobby cafe, bar and a stylish Cathy Davys day spa and concept store.
The hotel is eminently comfortable, even cosy, but it is Parkin’s irreverent sense of fun that most endears it to a loyal clientele. He began collecting art in earnest after purchasing the property, but started talking about it as a collection only three or four years ago.
With more than 80 pieces, the hotel has become an important forum for artists, and guests can pick up an illustrated catalogue at reception before taking a selfguided tour. The collection ranges from a guitar signed by the Rolling Stones to a commissioned mural by Justin Smith, Henri Rousseau Triptych Tribute, which celebrates Parkin’s favourite artist.
Another mural, by Wellington-based, French-born Gabriel Heimler, adorns the hotel’s facade. Heimler rose to fame in Europe for his Wall Jumper mural painted on to the Berlin Wall immediately after it fell in 1989 and now integrated into a historical monument.
A philanthropist and passionate advocate for the establishment of a national art gallery in Wellington, Parkin loves this urbane city and it’s easy to see why. An aboveaverage quota of bookshops, galleries and cafes is evident the moment you arrive. It may have something to do with the weather driving people indoors to grab a quick espresso — you’re never more than about 10m from a barista.
Grab a brolly and strike out towards Civic Square, where arresting stylised nikau palm sculptures set an arty tone. Even the manhole covers are etched with Maori designs and an anonymous artist is leaving little bronze hands around the city to hold flowers or messages.
The light-filled City Gallery shows contemporary Maori and Pacific art as well as Wellington artists and designers and has a very good on-site cafe (try the kedgeree.) Then allow an entire afternoon for the wonderful Te Papa.
At the top of Cuba Street, the Kiwi Art House Gallery run by the knowledgeable Alan Aldridge is a good first port of call for art lovers (pick up a copy of Artzone). His collection demonstrates how many international artists are based here, including Heimler, the Lebanese realist Zad Jabbour, who neatly captures life on Cuba Street, and Dutch-born Escha van den Bogerd. Kura Gallery
top Wellington’s chic Museum Art Hotel above The property is hung with local artworks above right The Hippopotamus restaurant and bar has great harbour views below right The theatrical mood extends from the lobby