A night at the mu­seum

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - CHRIS­TINE McCABE

I’m ex­pect­ing good cof­fee and plenty of wind — this is Welling­ton af­ter all — but not a life-size bull, fash­ioned from corn-beef cans, loi­ter­ing in the lobby of my down­town digs.

A work by New Zealand artist Michael Tuf­fery, the mus­cu­lar crea­ture nat­tily dou­bles as a bar­be­cue and is part of a large col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary art amassed over a quar­ter of a cen­tury by Welling­ton busi­ness iden­tity Chris Parkin, who’s crammed the lot — lim­ited edi­tion mo­tor­bikes, a gun in resin, vast can­vases — into a pop­u­lar ho­tel near the city’s wa­ter­front.

A Jan­uary re­brand­ing as the QT Mu­seum Welling­ton is just the lat­est in­stal­ment in a lively story that be­gan with Parkin mov­ing the en­tire build­ing on rails to its pre­sent Ca­ble Street lo­cale, “set­ting a land speed record for ho­tels”. Evolv­ing from bud­get digs to in­for­mal art gallery and five-star hide­away, the for­mer Mu­seum Art Ho­tel was a well-loved in­sti­tu­tion pop­u­lar with film di­rec­tor Peter Jack­son’s “Wel­ly­wood” cronies. The moody bil­liard room with opium-den vibe and res­i­dent French restau­rant Hip­popota­mus re­main firm fixtures on the city’s so­cial scene.

Parkin is the first to ad­mit his ec­cen­tric art col­lec­tion was dis­played in a slightly hig­gledy-pig­gledy fash­ion. En­ter QT Ho­tels and Re­sorts’ ex­pert cu­ra­to­rial team.

The now beau­ti­fully hung, dark and moody gallery/ lobby forms part of a $12 mil­lion makeover by QT fol­low­ing the pur­chase of the ho­tel a cou­ple of years ago. Staff uni­forms have been jet­ti­soned in favour of “cos­tumes” by Broadway de­signer Janet Hine and all 63 gue­strooms have had the QT treat­ment, decked out with groovy light fit­tings, su­per-comfy sig­na­ture gel beds, cof­fee machines and quirky mini­bars stocked with lo­cal good­ies.

It was no ac­ci­dent QT chose this par­tic­u­lar ho­tel to launch its in­ter­na­tional port­fo­lio. Parkin, who still lives in an apart­ment in the ho­tel, en­thu­si­as­ti­cally courted the group, go­ing so far as to be­gin re­dec­o­rat­ing in QT style. “We iden­ti­fied QT very early on as the only brand that fit­ted with what were do­ing,” he says.

Pick of the gue­strooms are the “har­bour view” rooms with good size bal­conies cuffed with liv­ing walls of green and views across the wa­ter to dis­tant forested hill­sides. In­side, grey-flecked car­pet echoes the steely skies; su­per­s­mart, grey-tiled bath­rooms fea­ture dou­ble show­ers (some with tubs) kit­ted out with Evo unguents.

But this moody, ur­ban pal­ette gets short shrift in Hip- popota­mus, the un­changed third-floor bar and restau­rant headed by French-born chef Lau­rent Loudeac. A lush, salon-style room with stuffed pea­cocks and chairs in myr­iad colours and tex­tures from trippy 70s vel­vet to sparkly leather, the look is best de­scribed as French baroque meets 60s lounge. There’s a great cock­tail list, crepes suzette made at the ta­ble with at­ten­dant flame and the­atri­cal­ity and an award-win­ning af­ter­noon tea served in dainty Royal Al­bert.

The French-in­flu­enced menu fea­tures the best New Zealand pro­duce; try the plump oys­ters, sig­na­ture sal­mon sashimi and wild veni­son.

As an al­ter­na­tive to this fancy fine din­ing, QT is build­ing an out­post of its re­cently opened Mel­bourne based Hot Sauce, a Korean/Japanese street food mashup.

Lo­cated across the road from the Mu­seum of New Zealand Te Papa Ton­garewa, the ho­tel has forged strong links with this na­tional in­sti­tu­tion and makes avail­able a truly mar­vel­lous be­hind-the-scenes tour. Our small group is guided deep into the vaults to view a se­lec­tion of the thou­sands of Maori trea­sures housed here in­clud­ing feath­ered cloaks, weaponry and rare mu­si­cal in­stru-

ments. These vaults are not just a stor­age fa­cil­ity, rather a spir­i­tual repos­i­tory and gen­er­ally the ex­clu­sive pre­serve of cu­ra­tors and el­ders, so it’s a rare priv­i­lege to be here and ev­ery tour begins and ends with a bless­ing. (Book through the ho­tel.)

For fur­ther sight­see­ing op­tions I’m tak­ing my cue from the zany mini­bar where I’ve just scoffed an en­tire block of salted brit­tle caramel cho­co­late hand­crafted at the nearby Welling­ton Cho­co­late Fac­tory.

A 10-minute stroll and I’m perched at a high ta­ble in HQ down­ing a su­pe­rior hot cho­co­late while en­joy­ing a mini mas­ter class led by a hand­some young cho­co­latier. This is a fair-trade, hip­ster kind of joint where the la­bels are by lo­cal artists, dis­carded ca­cao bean husks are mulched by the Botanic Gar­dens and the tiny fac­tory’s crew is so com­mit­ted to be­ing car­bon neu­tral they sailed to Bougainville and back to col­lect the beans, be­fore cy­cling them to the fac­tory from the wharf.

How very Welling­ton, a city cus­tom-made for the fash­ion-for­ward QT.

Chris­tine McCabe was a guest of QT Mu­seum Welling­ton.

Art adorns the walls of QT Mu­seum Welling­ton, top; groovy Hip­popota­mus restau­rant, cen­tre; com­fort­able gue­stroom, above left; ho­tel ex­te­rior, above right

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