When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, along with Prince George, touched down in New Zealand this year, the trio was whisked to a spectacular hideaway near Wellington. Wharekauhau Lodge is 150 kilometres by one very winding road from the Kiwi capital – or a 15-minute helicopter flight that skirts the rugged Rimutaka Range separating the metropolis from the Martinborough wine region to trace the black-sand coast.
The lodge’s name might be tricky to pronounce (try Forry-ko-ho) but it’s an unforgettable introduction to the country’s luxury lodges. Still a working sheep and cattle farm, the 5,000-acre property offers dramatic views across Palliser Bay to Cape Palliser – the North Island’s southernmost point. The green, rolling countryside also caught the eye of Hollywood heavyweight James Cameron several years ago – the newly vegan director grows organic walnuts and industrial hemp on neighbouring Pouinui Station. The royals stayed in a self-contained cottage – where the Duchess reportedly helped dry the dishes – but the cottage suites are all within a minute’s walk of the main lodge.
The vibe inside the suites is breezy and coastal: white, cream and sand tones are used from the New Zealand wool carpets underfoot through to the hemp curtains and exposed rafters overhead. With American billionaire Bill Foley as the lodge owner, perhaps it’s no surprise to find little luxuries in unexpected places. In the kitchenette there are loose-leaf teas, a teapot and Royal Doulton china teacups – a high-end match for light-as-air shortbread from the lodge chefs. Foley is also a winemaker and, with one call up to the lodge, you can order a bottle of his local Te Kairanga pinot noir or a little something from his efforts in Napa Valley or Sonoma County. In between eating and drinking, guests can watch the farm dogs round up the sheep, feed the resident eels and perhaps even spot a hedgehog scurrying through the pastures.
Tracing the east coast northwards, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers overlooking Hawke’s Bay near Napier is also part of the luxury lodge circuit. Set on close to 6,000 acres of rolling farmland, the property includes a spectacular cliff-top golf course from golf architect Tom Doak. It also provides sanctuary for more than 40 North Island brown kiwis – one of five species of the endangered native bird. Cape Kidnappers is also home to the world’s largest and most accessible mainland colony of gannets, which belong to the booby family. If inclement weather strikes, guests can trip around local wineries such as Craggy Range or stay close to home and browse the walls of the lodge.
Among the sheep knickknacks and vintage farm implements is a striking art collection that includes two works by the late Colin McCahon, considered New Zealand’s greatest artist. A pop-art painting in cheerful yellow from Hawke’s Bay artist Dick Frizzell overlooks the breakfast tables.
The Thermal Explorer Highway connects Napier to the scenic playground of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake. A few minutes’ drive from town, nestled on the banks of the fast-flowing Waikato River, is Huka Lodge. The Duke of Cambridge’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, is among notable past guests. Unlike the two farm lodges where there’s plenty of room to play, most activities here are off-property. Huka Falls is a 10-minute stroll down the road. From the falls, it’s a 2.8-kilometre hike along the opposite bank to reach Spa Park, where visitors sit under a thermally heated cascade of water flowing into the Waikato River. The vigorous walk helps work off multi-course lodge dinners such as heirloom tomatoes with cabernet sauvignon sorbet, black olive and vanilla, followed by roasted squid with black garlic, purple potatoes and chorizo, then Taupo beef with onions, capers and mustard, before finishing with a lemony dessert. A glass of Two Paddocks riesling – from actor Sam Neill’s Central Otago vineyard – provides a celebrity touch.
But perhaps nothing brings a visitor closer to the essence of New Zealand than being welcomed onto a marae – or Maori meeting house – in the traditional way. Takurua Mutu, of Multi-Day Adventures, brings us to Taheke Marae near Rotorua. “You can’t just wander on to a marae – you have to be welcomed,” he says, explaining how the welcoming ceremony will unfold as we enter through the gate, shuck our shoes at the door and settle into our seats – men in front, women behind – before the speeches unfold. Then we press noses – the custom here is to do it twice – to show that we’re coming together in friendship. If we ever return, “just say you were welcomed on here by Tak and they’ll say, “Sweet as, bro” and throw you a dishcloth”, Mutu says with a laugh.
– KATRINA LOBLEY
The third of New Zealand’s luxury lodges to be visited by the Cambridges on this trip was Matakauri Lodge. One of the three New Zealand lodges owned by US hedge fund billionaire Julian Robertson, Matakauri is a short drive out of Queenstown, New Zealand’s most cosmopolitan city. The lodge and its 12 luxury villas and suites are nestled into a hillside on the banks of Lake Wakatipu with views from each lodging across to jaw-dropping snow capped mountains. Each suite and villa has an open fireplace, a private porch, oversized bathtub and spectacular lake and mountain views from enormous almost floor-to-ceiling windows.
Since it reopened in 2010, following a head-to-toe makeover by renowned New Zealand lodge interiors designer Virginia Fisher, Matakauri has garnered a swathe of accolades. Kate and William stayed in Matakauri’s newly opened NZ$12,750 (about A$11,612) per night, 463 square metre, four-bedroom Owner’s Cottage where even the bathtub has ludicrously gorgeous views. The cottage has a huge living area, a kitchen and barbecue for private chef catering, a dining room, outdoor Jacuzzi and private outdoor spaces off bedrooms with fireplaces. For breakfast and dinner, guests who can wrench themselves away from their lodgings choose from half a dozen fireside dining locations throughout the lodge, one being in the library at the top of stairs which is entirely private and somewhat romantic. For those who prefer to stay huddled and enjoy ultimate privacy dinner can be delivered. But then they miss out on the full service of the lodge’s expert sommelier who guides guests through an extensive wine list that includes the region’s finest pinots. Reason enough in itself to stay there.
Matakauri is one of New Zealand’s six Relais & Châteaux properties and so diners expect nothing less than the best from head chef Jonathan Rogers who draws upon his extensive sources for the finest produce in the country. One afternoon during an idle chat with a member of staff I mentioned in passing a desire to taste a New Zealand Bluff oyster, a prized delicacy from the South Island. The following evening at pre-dinner drinks I was presented with a plate of them. The unintended message had found its way to the kitchen where the chef had called upon his contacts to have them delivered in time for my last meal at Matakauri. Perhaps everyone gets to be a princess at this lodge.
– SUSAN BORHAM