Kiwi opens Chile's first container hotel

Kiwi opens Chile's first container hotel

A New Zealand winemaker is using his skills of transformation to help put sea cargo containers at Chile's main port to good use. He's making an environmentally-friendly hotel out of them.

The Wine Box opens for business very soon. It will have smart accommodations and, naturally, feature local Chilean wine, and maybe a few New Zealand creations as well.

At Chile's main port in Valparaiso, you see discarded sea containers everywhere, all across the shoreline. It's a frankly ugly site in a beautiful country.

A New Zealander living in Chile didn't just see ugly; he saw an opportunity.

"You look toward over the port and you see tens of thousands of containers either on the ships or stacked on the wharfs," says hotel owner Grant Phelps.

You could say Mr Phelps has lived most of his life harvesting raw material to make something amazing; he's been living as a winemaker in South America for the past 15 years. So when he saw all those big metal boxes lying around, something clicked.

"I thought, 'How is it that no one has done anything with containers in Valparaiso?' It's a port.  It's the main port in Chile. It's architecturally the most eclectic city probably in South America, and yet nothing has been done with containers."

Mr Phelps and his partners put together plans and are now building Chile's first eco-hotel, made up entirely of shipping containers.

The idea itself is not new. US-based architect Travis Price recently took 18 sea cargo containers from the Port of Baltimore in Washington state, and turned them into low-cost housing for tertiary students.

"Some people might say it's fantastic; some might say it's an eyesore," says Mr Price. "I always feel that the eye of the beholder is what makes something good or bad, but once they understand it and touch it and feel it, it will get better."

Back in Valparaiso, Mr Phelps is breaking new ground. This is something that's never been done in Chile. He says the containers make for one great hotel, especially in an area prone to earthquakes.

"If you think, containers are seven [feet] high in a ship, so the guy at the bottom [container] has to take 180 tonnes on top of it. So they're designed to take a tremendous amount of load and heavy and serious conditions in the high seas -- a big storm. So in an earthquake, they are going to handle it perfectly."

The hotel is going up in an area called in Cerro Mariposa, or Butterfly Hill. It's not a tourist destination, but Mr Phelps hopes he can help change that.

In part, he'll do that by bringing his other passion into the hotel -- wine. It's even in the name of his place. It's called the Wine Box, and it'll serve up some of his company's signature wines.

They'll start welcoming guests beginning in May.