I never thought an Auckland balcony could remind me of the time I stayed on the 22nd floor of a hotel overlooking Madison Square Garden in New York, but then again, I never counted on The Hotel Britomart. New Zealand’s first ‘5 Green Star’ certified hotel is simultaneously the most Manhattan-recalling property in Auckland, as well as having nods to the best laneways in places like Melbourne and Rome. All the while being proudly Kiwi.
Less than a year old, the ultra-stylish, 99-room The Hotel Britomart has come into existence at a time of historic turmoil in the tourism industry, and yet has still managed to generate some serious buzz both here and abroad. In short, get in quick before the borders fully reopen because I’m picking this as one of the most in-demand urban hotels in Aotearoa post-Covid.
Another way to sum this up is that in my dream world, I’m hosting my upcoming 40th birthday celebrations on one of the rooftop balconies that adorn three of The Hotel Britomart’s five top suites. If you can’t go to New York, then bring New York to you! And that really is exactly how it feels.
From the new hand-made bricks that echo the old bricks of the surrounding heritage buildings, to the jumble of skyscrapers that incase the property, Auckland somehow takes on the mantle of a much bigger, more global metropolis when viewed from the top of The Hotel Britomart. This is both a historic neighbourhood as well as one that’s been gentrifying and modernising for some years now.
It’s also the Auckland CBD at its most forward-thinking and its most revenant. “Vibrant” is a cliche when talking cities, but with the Britomart precinct’s notable architecture, its restaurants, its clothing stores and now, its hotels, it’s the vibrant blueprint for which the rest of the central city is trying to follow.
To think this area of some nine city blocks dating back to the 1800s faced the wrecking ball in the late 20th Century is scarcely believable. And given how seamlessly The Hotel Britomart now blends in to that neighbourhood, it’s also hard to believe it hasn’t always been there.
During our recent stay, my wife and I checked out two of those premier rooms, or “Landing Suites”, starting with the 60-sqm Hohi Suite that sits almost in secret above the 4-storey, 1890s-built Buckland Building. Open plan and – again with the New York references – feeling like a Manhattan loft, this high-windowed room has you looking out to the bustle of Takutai Square where you could people-watch for hours.
As for the 10th floor Wairoa Suite in the hotel’s new wing, it boasts that 27-sqm fireplace-adorned balcony that really had me thinking of the Big Apple, to go with its 59-sqm interior. With a kitchenette and separate living room, it all adds to the sense this is more high-end apartment than mere hotel room.
If the weather permits, you’ll want to spend as much time as you can on that balcony, but if the rain is falling, don’t neglect what’s inside. Indeed, the attention to detail when it comes to all of The Hotel Britomart’s interior design is a big part of why this place is turning heads. As Jin Jeong from Cheshire architects says on the property’s website:
“With this project, we wanted to rewrite the idea of five-star luxury. We started from the position, ‘Here’s a handle. Would I like to touch this handle if I were a guest in this room? Does it feel special – not because it’s blingy or made of marble or gold – but because it breaks your expectation of what you will find in a hotel?’”
Also from The Hotel Britomart’s website:
That desire to surprise and delight guests led the Cheshire team to create little jewels of discovery within each room. When describing the mini-bar, for example, Jin lingers over details of the cabinetry texture, the commissioning of a custom artwork that is revealed when the door is opened, how the glassware is lit on the shelves, and the jigsaw of designing the drawers. “I don’t know how many days we spent thinking about the mini-bar compartments and where to put the chocolates, where to put the teas,” she admits.
Beyond that, Jin Jeong is quoted as saying, “Every room is like a private timber cabin in the sky, where you can come back after a day out and about in the city, climb into your bed and fall right asleep.”
The website then also goes on to talk about, “Hand-made vases commissioned from local ceramic artists, soft lighting that automatically adjusts according to the time of day, and linens in muted, earthy tones are organic details designed to give each space the feel of a private guesthouse”.
Condensed, all of this means that whether you’re splashing out on a Landing Suite or spending a more modest amount on a Waitemata View Room, City View Room, Takutai View Room, Laneway Room or a Galway Room, you’ll be getting a standard of presentation that doesn’t waver.
Unlike so many hotels around the world that are close to a body of water, The Hotel Britomart isn’t a place where you’ve either got a great view or a nothing view. Sure, you may prefer to see the glittering Waitemata Harbour and who could blame you? But from vistas of sparkling city lights to fully realised cobblestoned laneways, there’s no booby prize at The Hotel Britomart.
It’s also a place where everything is just so understatedly cool. Cool in a way that feels like it won’t date. There are modernist clean lines aplenty, just as there are kaleidoscopic light installations and the glorious imperfections of the wooden and marble tables of the ground floor restaurant Kingi.
From lobby to restaurant to bedroom, The Hotel Britomart never looks anything less than chic, and chic in a way that I wouldn’t be surprised predicts the future in terms of design.
Speaking of the future, time will also show that The Hotel Britomart was on the right track when it came to being environmentally sustainable. Click here to read a fascinating interview with Hayley Koerbin, the ‘New Zealand sustainability lead’ at engineering consultancy Norman Disney Young. From recycled materials during the hotel’s construction to innovative ways of being energy efficient, the ‘5 Green Star’ rating isn’t PR, it’s hard-earned and deserved.
There are several touches that really impress; things like the books in each room that are for sale should you get attached (I was very tempted with a book on the best architecture in Auckland). Then there’s the climate control that was so blessedly user-friendly, as well as the push-button electronic window blinds.
And all throughout there’s the clever use of space, perhaps best summed up by a sliding door in our Waitemata View Room that both disappears into the wall as well as lodging itself into a barely noticeable opening in a desk. The result of which is a much bigger seeming room because until you’ve visited the bathroom, you’re unaware that some of that living room doubles as the bathroom. Ingenious!
40th birthday celebrations or not, we’ll definitely be back at The Hotel Britomart and hopefully before too long. And just in case you were wondering what that place in New York looked like, here I am on the balcony of the Stewart Hotel in Midtown Manhattan back in November of 2019. It was just before Covid hit and the world became a very different place.