The artful lodg­ings

A Welling­ton ho­tel with a sin­gu­lar sense of style

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CHRIS­TINE MCCABE

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

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