In the 1920s Alan Pye discovered that the Waikato River on New Zealand’s North Island had excellent fly-fishing and an abundance of trout, and opened a modest fishing lodge on its banks, at which guests would stay in canvas tents. Over time Huka Lodge has grown to establish itself as a leader in hospitality and is now a long-time member of luxury boutique property collection Relais & Chateaux. The property itself is subtly luxurious, retaining the spirit of its humble beginnings while providing indulgent amenities and exemplary service.
I recently visited the retreat for the second time, accompanied by family and friends. After being picked up from the airport, we were driven through the verdant and well-kept grounds before reaching the main lodge, which overlooks the clear Waikato River.
The property has a number of suites and cottages that overlook a stretch of lawn dotted with weeping willows. Junior Lodge suites are comfortably appointed, with the highlight being the extravagant bathroom featuring a deep bath and heated floors, accessed through a generous dressing room. The Lodge Suite is similarly designed with the addition of an extra room with a lounge and dining area as well as its own fireplace and ensuite.
Bathroom in Junior Lodge Suite
The mini bar includes house-made treats such as vanilla and chocolate cookies. My sister had a particular affinity for the chocolate cookies, and the staff, seeing that she had cheekily eaten only these, re-filled the jar the next morning with only chocolate cookies. I loved this attention to detail from the staff.
Larger groups should consider the Owner’s Cottage and the Alan Pye Cottage. The four-bedroom Owner’s Cottage is the larger of the two, while the newer Alan Pye Cottage comprises two bedrooms with fireplaces, ensuites, and dressing rooms, a kitchen, study, an outdoor pavilion in a private courtyard garden, heated infinity pool and separate spa pool, and an integrated living and dining area. Personal chef and butler services are available for cottage residents if required.
Available to all guests is the swimming pool and spa pools, as well as the tennis and croquet courts which are flanked by towering hedges.
We particularly enjoyed lingering over the five-course dinners, which are included in the room rates and are each set in different picturesque locations. Guests can book rooms for breakfast, lunch and dinner ahead of time if they desire a private dining experience. There are over 20 locations available, including the property’s spacious wine cellar; the River Terrace, which overlooks the Waikato and is warmed by its own fireplace; the Green Room, an outdoor location enclosed by impeccably clipped hedges; and the Jetty Pavilion, which sits over the riverbank illuminated by candles.
Each of the rooms are kitted out with warm blankets, some with fireplaces, chimneys or heaters to keep guests toasty during New Zealand’s cooler months.
The custom dinner menu changes each night and is pre-empted by drinks and canapés in the Main Lodge’s cosy living room, where post-dinner petit four, a cheese selection and dried fruits await guests to eat at their leisure. Executive chef Paul Froggatt has worked at numerous Michelin-starred restaurants such as Bernard Loiseau en Bourgogne. His highlight dish for me was the Hawke’s Bay Leigh snapper pan fried in seaweed butter with cauliflower preparations, watercress and condiments à la grenobloise. Each course can be paired on request with wines chosen by the in-house sommelier.
A short 15-minute stroll away are Huka Falls, which claim the title of New Zealand’s highest volume waterfall. The trip is well worth it to see the fast moving Waikato River forced through a narrow channel before bursting forth spectacularly over an 11-metre drop.
My sister and I journeyed upriver from here on foot, enjoying the lush scenery, to the nearby hot springs. We took along a picnic backpack provided by the lodge that neatly stored a waterproof picnic rug, all necessary cutlery and crockery, juice, water, a thermos of hot chocolate, cookies, a selection of cheeses and accompanying biscuits and dried fruit, a muesli bar, cookies, nuts and a sandwich with fillings we had chosen the previous day. Needless to say, we were almost too full to walk back!
About an hour’s drive away is the beginning of the Tongariro Crossing, a daylong walk known for its dramatic volcanic scenery. Huka Lodge can provide transfers between the lodge and the start and end points of the walk for an additional fee.
The lodge also offers a range of activities including helicopter rides, farm trips, kayaking, white water rafting, boat cruises, golfing, quad biking, cycling, horse riding, and of course, fishing. Trout fishing is allowed outside the lodge, however all catches in this area must be released. Trout caught during the day in surrounding areas, such as on Lake Taupo, will be given to the chef who will prepare it for your dinner.