One of Auckland's first hotels, the Commercial, originally occupied this corner block in the city centre in 1841. Two fires and two rebuilds later, the current building opened in 1925, then fell into disrepair. In 2007, it was converted into a 25-room boutique hotel by investment banker and interior designer duo John Courtney and Michelle Deery, who gave it a quirky, contemporary character that distinguishes it from more business-like hotels in the city and renamed it after the famous British etiquette guide as a witty ode to manners and hospitality.
Whatever you do, don't wear stripes: they'll clash with the funky striped New Zealand wool carpet in most of the common areas and all the rooms. First impressions are of a rambling manor (complete with creaking staircase and antique elevator) furnished by an art-loving eccentric; think lime-green velvet couches rubbing shoulders with mid-century sideboards and modern art under chandeliers of vintage light fittings.
The retro guests-only "drawing room" is a book and movie-lover's delight with reading material and DVDs to borrow, including Kiwi classics such as The Piano and The Whale Rider. There's also a Spencer Tracy-esque house bar, with a long timber counter and high stools, and a street-level Corner Bar.
A spiral staircase, with striped carpet, of course, is the centrepiece of my Loft Suite, although its balustrade dominates the bedroom upstairs, like a giant white hot tub at the end of my bed, which has a brown tombstone-like headboard and is flanked by glary transparent orange lamps. The black-and-white tiled bathroom is more inviting; it has a deep bath, dual shower heads in the separate shower, underfloor heating for chilly New Zealand winters, EcoStore toiletries and red velvet bathrobes (very Hugh Hefner).
Downstairs there's a smaller bathroom off the cosy lounge-dining area and high sash windows with double-glazing to minimise traffic noise. There are also two televisions with DVD players, and there's fast and free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel.
Dining in is a highlight at DeBretts, from the "Kiwi continental" breakfast and high tea on weekend afternoons, to complimentary pre-dinner drinks in the drawing room and fine dining with NZ wines at DeBretts Kitchen.
This airy open-plan restaurant is in a glass-roofed atrium/courtyard, with couches around a fireplace at one end and banquette seating next to the kitchen at the other. Because it's on the first floor, it's quiet even when busy, the only soundtrack a trickling fountain, some classical music or, on Sunday evenings, a jazz trio.
Straddling a strip of land between two oceans, Auckland prides itself on having the best of both worlds: cosmopolitan living and access to nature. Less than 10 minutes' walk from High Street's boutiques and cafes is Queens Wharf, Auckland's Circular Quay, from where you can catch ferries to Waiheke Island and wildlife sanctuaries, such as Rotoroa Island, and access water adventures, such as sunset kayaking to volcanic Rangitoto Island (aucklandseakayaks.co.nz), sailing an America's Cup yacht (exploregroup.co.nz) and whale and dolphin safaris (awads.co.nz). See aucklandnz.com/au.
Hotel DeBrett has wit and style in equal measure and makes an ideal base from which to explore this harbour city and its natural surroundings.
HIGHLIGHT: Great location, witty decor and excellent, friendly service.
LOWLIGHT: The striped carpet might not be to everyone's taste.
Rooms from $NZ330 ($306), suites from $NZ440 ($408) a night including breakfast, pre-dinner drinks, Wi-Fi and local calls. See hoteldebrett.com.
Louise Southerden was a guest of Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development.