Most don’t consider Auckland a destination to stay at so much as a landing point from which to begin a tour through all the scenic deliciousness that lies south of it. But the sleepy city is starting to rouse, driven by construction demand from all sectors. As of September last year, there were 140 cranes at work in New Zealand, and Auckland was home to 90 of them. Malls, residences and office buildings are preparing for the anticipated 3.8 million arrivals expected to come by 2025, based on a Euromonitor International survey.
And really, there’s little not to like about Auckland. Just like the demeanours of Aucklanders, the weather and wine is somehow always pleasing, and the city’s compact size makes getting around a breeze. Accor Hotels has picked up on this, which is why they chose to open their first Pacific SO hotel in Auckland, instead of Sydney or Melbourne.
The proof is in the 16-floor building. It’s a Tuesday evening but the SO Auckland’s Hi-So Rooftop bar is full of energetic tipplers — many of whom aren’t even hotel guests. And one of the reasons locals and tourists alike flock to this watering hole is a man more colourful than the neon interiors. Benny Castles, director and designer of zany New Zealand fashion label World is behind the distinctive aesthetic at the SO Auckland. And just as Christian Lacroix and Karl Lagerfeld did at the Bangkok and Singapore properties respectively, he has turned the hotel into a design- forward wonderland stamped with World’s signature style.
That style is unapologetically lively. It takes a good amount of confidence (or insouciance) to pull off a leopard print jacket, black and white striped shirt, sparkly blue tie and blue sneakers, and top it all off with a hot pink beanie, but people who meet Castles will quickly realise the clothes are merely playing catchup to his gleeful temperament. And it is this reckless charm and style that give the SO Auckland what so many luxury establishments — even the boutique ones — often lack: a personality.
The bright orange Bentley parked out front should be the first clue that the luxury here is not of the subtle, understated type. The lobby is terribly Instagrammable thanks to a medley of eye-catching Moooi pieces that include Marcel Wanders’ famous Mega Chandelier, a vertically postured Charleston sofa and the irresistible O. Rocking Chair.
The ground floor is anchored by the Mixo Bar so one can imagine the check-in process, facilitated by brightly uniformed staff ers bringing welcome drinks, has the potential to be a bit of a party.
It took Castles over three years to conceptualise the hotel’s emblem, artwork, wallpaper designs, car cushions and staff attire. And while it does speak (loudly) to his design philosophy, the Kiwi has also made sure that his city is front and centre of his inspirations. The emblem is a stylised topographical map of Auckland, meant to evoke the feeling of staring into the eye of a volcano. All 130 rooms follow the volcanic theme, divided into “Vapour”, “Liquid” and “Solid” design styles for four of its room categories, with two separate designs for its SO Lofty and SO VIP suites.
The service epitomises the warm and relaxed hospitality of New Zealanders, but the SO Auckland team also endeavours to make its guests feel special. When some of its guests were in town to see Pink in concert last year, their rooms were accessorised with amenities in pink. Another VIP was thrilled to find a framed photo of herself and her daughter (who couldn’t make it on the trip) in her room, alongside a Maori stone that was meant to be gifted to a loved one. One avid gamer found that her masseuse had snuck a Pokeball (from the Pokemon series) into her bathrobe after the treatment.
SO Auckland’s Customs Street East address sits on the plot of the former Reserve Bank, home of the country’s gold reserves, and thus places it within walking distance of several trendy shopping streets including Britomart, Queens Street and the Viaduct Harbour. If Auckland is on the rise, then – make no mistake – the SO Auckland is its sparkly, blaring welcome wagon.
Benny Castles shares his favourite haunts in the City of Sails.