Sleeping with the fishes… Kiwi’s $73,000 a night underwater hotel

Michael Murphy is helping luxury tourists sleep with the fishes.

The Auckland structural engineer, who has created world-famous public aquariums and underwater restaurants, has now designed the world’s first underwater hotel villa, in the Maldives.

The two-level Muraka, which cost $22 million to make and is part of the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island resort, sleeps up to six adults and three children and can be hired from $73,000 a night.

The price gets you exclusive use of the resort’s fleet of yachts and boats, 24-hour access to your own personal butler, housekeeper, security team and personal chef; seaplane return flights from from Malé, the capital; endless alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and daily spa and aromatherapy treatments.

Guests can exchange glances with marine life including sharks and manta rays as they recline in bed five metres below the sea.

On the bottom floor, the king-sized bedroom, living room and bathroom have 180-degree views of the Indian Ocean through curved dome acrylic glass windows.

The top floor above the sea includes two bedrooms, butler’s quarters, private security quarters, bar and dining area, living room and an infinity-edge pool.

Guests can descend to the underwater level down a spiral staircase or an elevator.

Murphy, whose global aquarium-design career began with Auckland’s iconic Kelly Tarlton’s, was the structural engineer and involved in the concept design.

“It’s one of the most challenging projects I’ve had. And super exciting at the same time,” Murphy said.

“Before the diners go down to the restaurant, staff have a chat with them on the history of the place.

“On the occasions I’ve been there, they’ve introduced me to all the diners and said, we’ve got the actual designer here and talked about how it was built… it brings a tear to your eye.”

Guests at the 5.8 (it sits 5.8m below sea level) are also told by staff of its New Zealand design and build team.

The 410-tonne Hurawalhi 5.8 restaurant was built in New Plymouth by Fitzroy Engineering and sailed to the Maldives on a 19-day journey.

Through his aquarium projects, Murphy has also been sought after to design life support systems for their marine occupants, from tropical fish to giant sharks.

“Probably one of the most complicated ones are jellyfish tanks, because jellyfish are so fragile.

“We design them with a circular motion in the tank to keep the jellyfish off the walls.”

Designing the giant aquariums and underwater buildings requires a myriad of calculations.

Murphy says his life-long stuttering has motivated him “to prove yourself perhaps more than normally, because people might have a preconception”.

But it also may have improved his mental arithmetic.

“Anyone with stuttering has a mental gymnastics going on in the back of the head. You say to yourself, I’m going to stutter on that word – what’s another word that’s similar that I can use as a subsitute.”

He did see a funny side during the Manly Underwater World project when “three of the main players were on site one day and we all had stuttering problems”.

“We were in a meeting with other staff there and we were all stuttering together and it was quite amusing.”

At 70, Murphy is “hanging up my calculator”, glad to “go out on a high” with The Muraka.

Although he is planning to watch movie Aquaman when it comes out in December.

A city under the sea, “that’d be a hell of a project!”.

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