Auckland at sunset

This is a tale of one city and two great hideaways - just five kilometres apart.

Auckland has the best of everything. It's the gateway to the Pacific and the biggest island city in the South Pacific.

According to Wikipedia, the Auckland region covers 6059 square kilometers, while greater London rams 11 million people inside 1570km2.

Auckland has more volcanoes - 48 - than any city of its size in the world. Luckily they are extinct!


Looking out on to the peaceful Auckland harbour

They have at least three times as many high-rise building than any other city in New Zealand. Their harbour bridge stretches longer than the Sydney's vaunted flyover. They have more boats and yachts in the harbour than any other city of its size. 'The Round the Bays' annual jog has grown to be one of the world's largest fun-runs with nearly 70,000 taking part in the race.

So it's not surprising that Auckland has some of the best luxurious accommodation of its kind in the world. Being the year of the recession - which doesn't seem half as bad as it did 3-4 months ago - I wanted to taste two luxury retreats - one top end and one, middle of the road.

I started with the best by booking in The Westin, a harbour view room costing about $420 for the night. David Beckham, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Rihanna and Chris Brown and John Travolta paid a little more for their grand suites. Nevertheless, the room was a haven and just as impressive.


Cricket on the beach

The hotel was opened two years ago and has already won the latest New Zealand's Best City Hotel Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards and the 2009 Top 100 World's Best Hotel Expedia Insiders List.

I ambled around the refreshing Viaduct Harbour marina in the downtown heart of the city, then on through 100 year-old oak-lined parks and the historic warehouses around Victoria Park and Westhaven marina.

Happy but exhausted, I sauntered back into the hotel after two hours gliding through the grand entrance, like a king in an oasis. The lobby was gorgeous, with water features, Maori carvings and intimate bar and relaxing areas.

Before long, I was soaking in a huge spa tub in my room sipping award-winning Spy Valley sauvignon blanc. I visualised climbing to the top of Rangitoto island volcano, doing a bungy-leap off the Skytower (taller than Sydney's highest tower at 328 metres) and sailing out to the harbour like a real yachtie. Dizzy at the thoughts, I slowly dressed for dinner.

The Q restaurant had an excellent food (and brilliant service). I gazed out on to the shimmering Waitemata Harbour, as the setting sun played golden images on the glass tower skyscrapers. I washed down my crayfish (lobster) with a glass of superb Echelon bubbly (sparkling wine). Overall this was among the best relaxing, top of the range, new luxury hotels to enjoy anywhere in the world.

The thickly carpeted guest room corridors offer a general air of peace and calm; everything felt top quality.

Auckland, New Zealand's biggest metropolis by far and home to 1.4 million of the country's four million people, is known as the 'City of Sails', though my wife clearly thought it was 'City of Sales' as she hit the shops and the bargains the next day.

So to cater for her shopping budget we scoot over in my rental car the next night to The Cornwall Park, which was more like an upmarket apartments than a motor inn. Cat lovers Nigel and Diane Davidson have transformed the place from mid-range motels to the top end, with some apartments going for $280 a night - the highest in Auckland but worth every cent. They couldn't do enough for us; really lovely people and great hosts.

They were great hosts with perfect location - right next to Cornwall Park and No Tree Hill ,a location which is perfect for families or for corporates, keen to keep fit among the lush grass and pohutukawa trees between meetings.

Our apartment had a generous cosy lounge, big flat screen tv; our own kitchen and also a large quiet double bedroom, with a tv.

With tight schedule and budget, the Cornwall was ideal to enjoy luxury. For some glam and excitement , the 172-room Westin, is definitely the best new hotel in New Zealand. We were floating on air breezing back into Air NZ's Koru lounge the next day. Auckland served us well.