God bless New Zealand. In an act of divine, if delayed, intervention, the trans-Tasman bubble has inflated and we can all feel a little less cloistered. I've reserved three nights at The Convent Hotel, a 22-room boutique hotel in inner-city Auckland, on the first day of quarantine-free flights from Australia where, as it transpires, I'm the first Australian guest since its opening late last year.
The Convent is a visual highlight on what is an otherwise prosaic section of the Great North Road which runs through Grey Lynn, an emerging trendy inner-city suburb of New Zealand's largest city. It's not far from the much more posh and established Ponsonby with its lively, restaurant and cafe-filled main street. The small and less remarkable Grey Lynn shopping centre is short walk away with central Auckland an easy Uber or bus ride (take a mask) away.
Built in 1922, the white-washed hotel is designed in Spanish mission-style. In recent years, after the last of the sisters departed (and then there were nun) the building fell into some considerable disrepair and even disrepute. In the building's painstaking resurrection, the architects and interior designers have had a lot of fun (perhaps too much) with the convent's religious pedigree with more crosses than an animal shelter decorating the walls of the public spaces and the rooms.
As a Catholic, more collapsed than even lapsed, the idea of setting foot in the convent attached to my primary school was never countenanced. It therefore feels a little unsettling to not only find myself inside one but sleeping in a room where a nun once resided.
On booking, all of the larger, more luxuriuoiusly-appointed suites have been snapped up, including the 50 square-metre, inevitably named-mother superior suite. Suitably spartan, my much smaller, 19-square-metre room has no television, no espresso machine and no bathrobes. In place of the TV I'm offered a tablet (an iPad, that is, not a pill) but I've brought my own.
In the absence of a mini-bar, there a few freebie Whittaker's chocolate bars (New Zealand's favourite block) and some designer popcorn. It all seems a bit austere, right to the distressed walls that reveal the original paintwork.
Maybe it's Catholic guilt, but I'm strangely content in what is an otherwise beautifully decorated and furnished room complete with chaise lounge. Note: since my visit a redemptive management has decided to install TVs in the smaller rooms.
One of the hotel's main strength's is Ada, its superior Italian restaurant based on the de rigueur sharing plates principle. Reserve a table as this appears to be one of Auckland's hottest restaurants and is fully booked on a Tuesday night during my stay, though fortunately I manage to score a spot in the separate bar.
An in-house breakfast (sans espresso coffee) is served in the restaurant but if you like the idea of mixing with the locals and want an espresso, head down the street to the Postal Service Cafe, which, you guessed it, is set inside a former post office. The top-notch coffee is served double-shotted, as per the standard Kiwi practice, and is complemented by an equally appealing vegetarian menu.
As a food capital, Auckland compares more than favourably to any Australian city so it's no surprise that much of the fun to be had here is to be found through dining and imbibing. Andy Davies, an Auckland developer and proprietor of The Convent, also owns and operates Ponsonby Central, an upmarket food court-cum-restaurant complex. Built in a former printing factory, two of the best choices are Tokyo Club, a terrific Japanese eatery and the popular Chop Chop Noodle House.
Nunnery life wasn't never meant to be this chic and commodious. This enjoyable and affordable boutique hotel proves a godsend for launching yourself back into overseas travel and Auckland itself is more than worthy of a short break across the ditch.
Parts of Grey Lynn can be a little grey but it's a good spot to obtain a sense of the vibrant Auckland inner-city lifestyle.
Despite the inner-city setting, some may find the location to be still a little removed from the action of central Auckland, including its buzzy waterfront.
Anthony Dennis stayed at his own expense and travelled to Auckland as a guest of Jetstar. See jetstar.com