Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city offers breathtaking scenery, beautiful beaches, outstanding food and wine, great shopping, exciting nightlife and lots of action and adventure. Located in the North Island of New Zealand, Auckland is home to art and culture, trendy cafes, eateries, food festivals, world stage concerts and theatrical productions, art museums and many more. Auckland is ranked third in the 2019 Quality of Living Survey conducted annually by Mercer and has held that slot since 2012.
No wonder 41,696 Singaporeans have visited New Zealand in the year ending June 2019 according to Tourism New Zealand’s statistics. The majority of Singaporean visitors prefer free independent travel over group tours.
Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines offer three services between Singapore and Auckland. Air New Zealand operates two 9 1/2 hour flights with the Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner while Singapore Airlines operates a daily service with the Boeing 777-300ER.
AccorHotels in Auckland
Auckland is home to 13 properties under the Accor’s brand of hotels. Five are located within walking distance of each other in Auckland City Centre – SO/ Auckland, Grand Mercure Auckland, Hotel Grand Windsor, Pullman Auckland, and The Sebel Quay West Auckland. Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour is slightly further away and is located close to the harbour and many beautiful yachts.
Checking Into SO/ Auckland
I was hosted by SO/ Auckland for a few nights in May this year. The 130-room hotel occupies the former Reserve Bank is located in the heart of the city. It opened on 19 November 2018 and is one of eight SO lifestyle hotels around the world in locations such as Mauritius, Bangkok, Berlin, Singapore,
The hotel’s central location makes it accessible on foot to the shopping and dining paradise at Britomart Place, Queen Elizabeth Square.
And the famous Giapo ice creamery is located just across the road from the hotel. First-timers to Auckland should visit Giapo and have a go at the deliciously instagrammable desserts.
Get picked up in the hotel’s flashy orange Bentley with a license plate ‘SO AKL’ from the airport and then whisk away to the hotel. And if you are lucky, you may just meet Neil Hemraj. He is the Just Say So Manager, the hotel’s guest relations manager and also the friendliest person in the hotel, in my opinion. Ask Neil anything and he tries his best to make miracles happen to get you what you need. His mission is to make sure everyone who walks into the hotel is walking into a magical wonderland. He ensures guests feel special and pampered at home. Neil is not difficult to spot. He spots a beautifully combed up grey hair dressed in a smart red jacket.
If you arrive at night, you step into a classy all-black lobby. All eyes will be on the 64-piece Mega Chandelier designed by Dutch design house Moooi. The iconic Charleston classic sofa by Marcel Wanders for Moooi has been shifted into a vertical posture where the armrest becomes the seat. This statement piece is a popular spot for photography. Another popular photography spot is the O Concrete ‘Rocking Chair’ by Moooi.
Amidst the visual happiness, you will be served with a signature chilled tea called SO/ Heart as a welcome drink when you first check in to the hotel. The tea has a blend of kawakawa leaf that promotes health.
Other sculptural pieces by Moooi can be found at MIXO, the intimate lobby bar where you can stop by for a drink as you check-in. Moooi furniture and lighting pieces can also be found at the 15th floor Harbour Society restaurant.
Get Pampered and Sleep Well
You know you will be pampered and taken good care of if you are celebrating a special occasion. Surprise gifts in the room, bath oils and flower petals for a hot bath and macaroons & bottled water by the bed to help tuck you in.
The 38 sqm SO CLUB I stayed in (Room 1101) comes with a private balcony with harbour views, a separate lounge from the bedroom, complimentary non-alcoholic minibar, a very comfortable Sofitel MyBed, 49″ TV, a Nespresso machine and a separate rain shower and bath.
Volcanic shaped artworks in many of the guest rooms are influenced by WORLD’s design ethos. A blue volcanic artwork was in my separate lounge and another in the bedroom. I did mistake them for blue roses at first.
The bedroom is spacious. The wardrobes had ample hangars, enough for me to hang up my jackets and clothes for the four nights. And after a hot shower, I had a good night’s sleep on the comfortable Sofitel MyBed mattress. Getting out of bed the next morning was always challenging.
Enjoy a Bath
You will appreciate the high-pressure showers or the bathtub that comes with a wooden plank for you to place your wine glass as you indulge as you relax your muscles in a nice hot bath.
The WC is separated from the shower room and both have privacy doors so you and your partner can use the bathroom at the same time. Two washbasins in the bathroom also mean that you and your partner can wash up at the same time. The vanity kit is separated by his and hers with different thoughtful amenities provided. The women get a Good Night Recovery and Repair Sleep Mask from Verité and the guys get a Calendula & Lavender After Shave Balm
Verité Spa Organics skincare amenities are provided by the hotel so that your skin gets pampered during your stay. The Kiwi skincare brand is 100% true to nature and its handmade organic products nourish and rejuvenate skin and restore radiance. The environmentally conscious company plants a tree for every order they receive – working with the communities in India to restore their forests and herbal gardens.
The hotel got wind of my fetish for skincare and aromatherapy products and surprised me with a welcome amenity of a variety of Verité’s products for which I am grateful. The SO/ Well Team left a handwritten note with the gift inviting me to spoil myself with a good night facial with five simple steps to cleanse, spritz, mask, sleep and then wake up happy. And then I was invited to apply the perfect moisturiser and Eye & Lip serum as part of my daily routine. That’s too thoughtful.
One of the things I liked about my room was the beautiful sunset view in the background of Auckland’s downtown. I went out to my private balcony one evening and caught a panoramic view of the sunset amidst the high rise buildings including those of two banks I used to work for back home in Singapore – Citibank and HSBC, reminiscent of the good old days.
Here is a tip. Leave your smartphone on the balcony. Turn on the phone’s camera and look for the hyper-lapse or timelapse function and leave it there to shoot for at least half an hour. You may just be able to capture the movement of clouds, the cars and a gorgeous sunset.
Breakfast with a View
Harbour Society on the fifteenth floor offers breakfast in the morning and ala carte dining by night. This space is illuminated by glass windows. Whilst there is a private room for SO CLUB guests, I prefer open brighter spaces with a view.
A healthy selection of salads, fruits as well as hot food is available on the breakfast buffet spread. And you can also order from a menu of freshly prepared items from the kitchen including eggs.
Order a cup of hot coffee and check out what latte art you would get for the morning. And the very friendly staff in make great conversations if you are travelling alone.
Wine & Dine at Harbour Society
The kitchen at Harbour Society is helmed by French chef Marc de Passorio who owned the now-closed Michelin-starred restaurant L’Esprit de la Violette in France.
We had dinner in the private ‘wine cellar’ room. Chef cooked up a five-course dinner using local ingredients. The Alaskan King Crab amuse-bouche with Sturia Vintage Caviar, beetroot confit and balsamic vinegar paired was a perfect pairing with the 2016 Domaine Alain Gras ‘Saint-Roamin’, Chardonnay from Burgundy France. For the entrée, Chef prepared a lobster ‘Milleśime 2019’ with Scapegrace Goldilocks gin, chantilly of lemon and pepper, beurre noisette with vanilla. It was paired with the 2017 Dry River ‘Craighall’ Riesling from Martinborough in New Zealand. For the mains, it was a Silere Merino lamb rack from the charcoal grill with hummus and raspberry harissa, lamb jus with rosemary. Hawke’s Bay 2016 Craggy Range ‘Le Sol’ Syrah complemented the lamb.
Then a Sturia Caviar tin was presented. I opened it up revealing an illusion of caviar. A sweet pre-dessert dish. The dessert was a pretty Baileys parfait, brownie and grue de cacao aired with the Domaine du Mas Blanc ‘Cuvée Dr Parce’ from Banyuls in France.
SO Social and SO Thirsty at MIXO
I spent some time getting to know what was available a MIXO. Besides a selection of the hotel’s special brew of teas, a couple of Kiwi spirits ranging from Thomson Whisky, Stolen rum to Scapegrace Gin are also available to be drunk on its own or mixed in with the cocktails in the menu.
Meet Vetida Namprasert (affectionately known as Som) from Thailand at MIXO Bar. She is the tea sommelier at SO/ Auckland. Som is an expert in the tasting notes, smell and how tea is drunk. She helps guests discover a speciality tea that works for their preference and palate. Som has completed her training in New Zealand and developed a 45 tea menu at a hotel prior to joining SO/ Auckland.
Som has created four speciality blends. The Morning After is a full-bodied black tea. Som’s Special Grey is a smooth black tea blend with citrus, lemongrass, bergamot, cornflowers and jasmine. The Big Smoke Chinese tea has strong, smoky flavours. So Spicy is a blend of South African red bush tea with cocoa, orange peel, cocoa bean, cinnamon, chocolate stars, jatoba, raspberry flakes, sandalwood and beetroot pieces.
Relax and Spa
Located in the basement just above what used to be the gold vaults, away from the crowd and busy streets are So Spa, the indoor pool and gym. The private sanctuary is perfect for people who just want to relax, tone up or just soak in the pool during the cool, wintry months.
Innovative treatments are available including the Himalayan detox therapy, Tibetan sound healing, chakra balancing and peeling Chlorella masks. Packages for every type of spa-goer has been created here.
A Bath Butler will help hotel guests choose an in-room aromatherapy package which includes a specialised drink and Verité Spa Organics products.
Meet Benny Castles, the Designer and Director for WORLD, a renowned fashion innovator. SO/ Auckland picked Benny to collaborate. The signature design partner has brought a new level of audacity and boldness to the Auckland hotel scene, as the hotel GM Stephen Gould puts it.
Each SO/ hotel’s artistic vision is a collaboration with celebrated names from the world of fashion and design. In Mauritius there is Kenzo Takada; in Bangkok Christian Lacroix; renowned duo Viktor&Rolf in Berlin; and in Singapore, Karl Lagerfeld the emblem creator.
Benny spent over three years with the SO/ Auckland team to create an emblem, a signature design print, artwork, wallpaper designs for the signature suites, cushions for the chauffeur cars and attire for the staff that encourages individual expressionism.
We created a stylised topographical map of Auckland and over-inflated the role of volcanoes. The emblem needed to be both nostalgic and futuristic, appealing to Auckland’s mythical past but setting itself in the future of what this city will become. The swirling, hypnotic effect feels as though you’re looking directly into the eye of a volcano, reflecting that feeling of stepping into a boutique hotel; a hypnotic experience where the outside world is left behind and a new experience begins.Benny Castles, Designer and Director for WORLD
The neighbourhood is perfect. Whilst it is in close proximity to high rise offices, the mix of two-storey retail, restaurants and bars and also the bigger shopping area is all within walking distance.
WORLD Beauty Store in Britomart
You have to visit Benny Castle’s WORLD boutique in Britomart when you stay at the SO/ Auckland. You take no more than 5 minutes to walk there. The eclectic mix of merchandise here will make it hard for you to walk out of the store empty-handed.
From the extensive collection of luxurious perfumes, soaps and candles, to accessories including beautiful feather hats for women, the WORLD boutique will kinda blow your mind. It will also blow a hole in your wallet.
The taxidermied heads of many animals and birds fill the store as clothing pieces are displayed by colour schemes.
When To Visit Auckland
Lonely Planet recommends visiting Auckland and Northland New Zealand in the quiet and warming months of September to November because the school holidays in New Zealand only starts in mid-December. It gets warm and busy from December to February, cooler from March to May, cold and wet from June to August.
So if you’re planning a trip to Auckland, we have picked some dates so you can coincide your trip.
- 4 December 2019 – Carl Rae Jepsen will perform for the first time in New Zealand at Auckland Town Hall.
- 20 December 2019 – Liam Gallagher returns to New Zealand to celebrate the release of his massively anticipated second solo record Why Me, Why Not?
- 27 Jan 2020 – St Jerome’s Laneway Festival returns to Albert Park. Line up announced to date include The 1975, Rüfüs Du Sol, Charli XCX, Ruel, Earl Sweatshirt, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Benee, J.I.D., Mahalia, BBNO$, The Chats, Hockey Dad, Julia Jacklin, Col3trane, Fontaines D.C., Stella Donnelly, Omar Appolo, Kaiit, Soaked Oats, Eleven7four and Mermaidens.
- 6 to 15 March 2020 – Broadway smash hit musical The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez
New Zealand has introduced the New Zealand Electronic Authority for visa-waiver countries including Singapore since 1 October 2019. Remember to apply for your NZeTA even if you are just passing through on the way to another country. Visit www.immigration.govt.nz/nzeta for more information.