Sleep­ing with the fishes

$73k a night for Kiwi’s un­der­wa­ter ho­tel

Herald on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Lee Um­bers

Michael Mur­phy is help­ing lux­ury tourists sleep with the fishes.

The Auck­land en­gi­neer, who has cre­ated aquar­i­ums and un­der­wa­ter restau­rants around the world, has now helped de­sign the world’s first un­der­wa­ter ho­tel villa.

The two-level Mu­raka, which cost $22 mil­lion to make and is part of the Con­rad Mal­dives Ran­gali Is­land re­sort, sleeps up to six adults and three chil­dren and costs from $73,000 a night.

Oc­cu­pants can gaze out at sharks and manta rays as they re­cline in bed five me­tres be­low sea-level. The bed­room, liv­ing room and bath­room have 180-de­gree views of the

In­dian Ocean through curved acrylic win­dows.

Mur­phy, 70, was the struc­tural en­gi­neer and in­volved in the con­cept de­sign.

“It’s one of the most chal­leng­ing projects I’ve had. And su­per ex­cit­ing at the same time,” Mur­phy told the Her­ald on Sun­day.

Mur­phy has his “fin­gers crossed” he may one day spend a night there.

With the un­der­sea bath­room hav­ing full-length win­dows, he jokes he “might shock the fishes”. Hu­man pri­vacy is as­sured, how­ever, with the res­i­dence set apart from the rest of the re­sort.

Guests get ex­clu­sive use of the re­sort’s yachts and speed­boats, 24-hour ac­cess to a but­ler, house­keeper, se­cu­rity team and per­sonal chef; re­turn flights by sea­plane from the cap­i­tal Male; end­less al­co­holic and non-al­co­holic bev­er­ages and daily spa treat­ments.

The top floor above the sea in­cludes two bed­rooms, but­ler’s quar­ters, bar and din­ing area, liv­ing room and an in­fin­ity edge pool.

Guests can de­scend to the un­der­wa­ter level down a spi­ral stair­case or an el­e­va­tor.

Cre­at­ing the un­der­wa­ter quar­ters was an en­gi­neer­ing feat. The 610-tonne struc­ture was built in three pieces in Sin­ga­pore and taken by barge on a four-hour jour­ney to

meet a crane ship which took it to Ran­gali Is­land. Two cranes low­ered the villa on to steel piles driven into the sea floor.

“That’s the most frag­ile time, be­fore you con­crete them in. It’s sit­ting there ex­posed,” says Mur­phy, who helped over­see the op­er­a­tion.

Divers with mi­cro­phones and un­der­wa­ter cam­eras li­aised with the ship’s cap­tain, giv­ing in­struc­tions to the crane driv­ers. The two-year ven­ture is not the first project Mur­phy has helped de­sign for the re­sort from his Manukau of­fice. Its un­der­wa­ter Ithaa restau­rant, which opened in 2005, is 5m be­low sea level has been voted by many pub­li­ca­tions as the most beau­ti­ful restau­rant in the world. Other projects by Mur­phy in­clude a shark tank at Palma Aquar­ium in Mal­lorca, Spain, a 5m-wide acrylic tun­nel at Malaysia’s Na­tional Sci­ence Cen­tre aquar­ium and a 10m un­der­wa­ter tun­nel at Spain’s San Se­bas­tian Aquar­ium.

Mur­phy also helped de­sign un­der­wa­ter view­ing win­dows for the pen­guin dis­play tank at Christchurch’s In­ter­na­tional Antarc­tic Cen­tre, Auck­land Zoo’s sea lion pool, and the set of ac­tion TV se­ries Her­cules and Xena: War­rior Princess.

An Auck­land Uni­ver­sity civil en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ate, Mur­phy worked on roads, bridges and in­dus­trial build­ings be­fore set­ting up MJ Mur­phy Ltd in 1982. He spe­cialised in de­sign in the cool­store/food pro­cess­ing in­dus­try. In 1984, he was in­volved with con­struc­tion of a 730-berth float­ing ma­rina at Auck­land’s Westhaven Ma­rina which led him to con­cept plans for Kelly Tarl­ton’s.

Pho­tos / Sup­plied

Left and above, the Mu­raka, de­signed by Kiwi Michael Mur­phy. Be­low, his ear­lier-de­signed un­der­wa­ter restau­rant, the Ithaa.

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