Museum Hotel, Wellington

Carol West

What is it? It could be an art gallery but the arrival of a bellboy assures us that it's definitely a hotel. Owner Chris Parkin wanted to share his love of New Zealand art with visitors, something he's achieved with theatrical flair at his hotel, on Wellington's waterfront. An eclectic collection of masks, sculptures, oil paintings, mixed media and imaginatively designed furniture crowd the interior (right) and surprise installations lurk around corners, between billowing curtains. Interpretative, impressionistic and realistic, the exhibits even include a gleaming red motorcycle designed by Massimo Tamburini. From a Parisian belle epoque-style lobby, ornately framed mirrors lure guests down censor-lit corridors carpeted in mesmerisingly wavy lines to a variety of rooms, studios and suites designed for short or long stays.

What makes the rooms special? Spread across two wings, the Museum has classic hotel rooms and urban suites popular with the production crews of Wellington-based film director Sir Peter Jackson's Weta workshop. Harbour-facing rooms have balconies and large televisions. Spacious suites include compact kitchen and laundry amenities. The luxe touches come in the form of rich bronze curtains, a gold crushed-velvet daybed, a home-theatre system, Wi-fi and deep leather chairs.

What about food? The quirky decor continues in the Hippopotamus restaurant and bar, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with afternoon tea sandwiched in between 2pm and 4.30pm. Dinner menus focus on seasonal New Zealand produce, including oysters fried in red-wine vinegar, pea risotto with parsley foam and an exotic ostrich steak from the rotisseur. Late-night in-room dining is available from 10pm to 6am and after a night checking out Wellington's nightlife, who wouldn't feel like a plate of beef bourguignon with creamed potato, lasagne or that Kiwi classic, macaroni cheese?

Any other surprises? You can get physical in the boutique gym, tone-up in a 25-metre lap pool (left), marinate in a jacuzzi, get steamed-up in the sauna or study the art gallery foyer as staff, sharply outfitted by Wellington designer Alexandra Owen, hand you a glass of Martinborough chardonnay.

What's the bottom line? Harbour-view rooms start at NZ$212 (HK$1,166), premier studios at NZ$235 and the bedroom suite at NZ$268.

Museum Hotel is at 90 Cable Street, Wellington, New Zealand, tel: 64 4 802 8900; www.museumhotel.