At this New Zealand lodge, food is the main event

At this New Zealand lodge, food is the main event

The world-class wineries nearby are the opening act.

Words by Ute Junker

Photos supplied


Just 90 minutes from Wellington – 10 minutes if you opt for the scenic helicopter transfer – Wharekauhau Lodge has one of the loveliest locations of any of New Zealand’s luxury lodges. The 2000 hectare estate has its own geography, which includes beaches and rivers, lakes and wetlands, as well as the lush pastures that sustain almost 5,000 sheep as well as number of cattle. Wharekauhau is a genuine working farm: when I pull back the curtains of my cottage suite in the morning, there are sheep grazing on the slopes that tumble down towards the blue waters of Palliser Bay.

Some of my fellow guests enjoy exploring the property on foot, choosing a different walking trail every day. (For those who like a challenge, one three-hour trek will take you to the top of the property’s highest peak, Mount Wharekauhau and back down again.) I prefer to do my sightseeing from the comfort of a four-wheel drive, alighting occasionally for a scenic stroll along the coast or a quick hike through the native forest that covers part of the estate.

There are plenty of other activities on offer. You can go horse riding; visit the seal colony at Cape Palliser; hike through The Pinnacles, a striking limestone formation that resembles a petrified city; or explore the pretty town of Greytown, filled with boutique and cafes. My favourite excursion, however, involves a wine glass instead of walking shoes.

The wine region of Martinborough, just 30 minutes down the road, produces some of New Zealand’s most acclaimed wines. We work our way through several wineries, sampling superb pinot noirs, chardonnays and pinot gris. My favourites include Poppie’s, where we enjoy a lovely lunch, and Martinborough Vineyards. The latter is owned by American businessman Bill Foley, who also owns Wharekauhau Estate.

My very favourite thing to do at Wharekauhau, however, turns out to be lazing around the lodge. The oversized cottage suites, with heated floors, canopied beds and sun-drenched sitting areas – not to mention a bathtub with a view – are designed to hole up in. However, I find myself gravitating to the homestead. Sometimes I take a stroll through the grounds: past the croquet and petanque lawns, through the kitchen gardens surrounded by bay hedges, past the tennis court and the blossoming fruit trees, all the way to the gym and indoor swimming pool.

At other times, I relax in the homestead itself, a sprawling, Edwardian-style building house filled with a warren of inviting rooms, from the library to the drawing room to the spectacular Palliser Room, with its red walls and velvet sofas. During the day, they provide cosy places to curl up; in the evening, they are lovely places to enjoy a tête-à-tête dinner.

I have to confess that my happiest hours at Wharekauhau are spent at the dinner table. The property is proudly locavore: the superb wine cellar focuses on New Zealand wines, and around 80 percent of the produce used is sourced from the property. Everything in the kitchen is made from scratch, from breads to relishes.

Every evening kicks off with pre-dinner drinks in the drawing room, accompanied by mouth-watering canapes such as crisp chorizo with tomato and beetroot relish, or honey-roasted kumera with aubergine caviar and toasted quinoa. Remember to pace yourself: there is a lot more to come.

The four course dinners start gently –  perhaps a vine tomato consommé teamed with chili, lime leaf, radish and cucumber – and unroll inexorably to the dessert finale: perhaps a bitter chocolate art with a vanilla coconut pannacotta and marinated new season strawberries.  Nicolas, the superb sommelier, provides clever pairings for each course.

It is Nicolas who also encourages me to order up big at breakfast. My morning meals are usually pared back, but Nicolas insists I try something from the cooked menu of hot options. I am toying with the idea of the smoked Ora king salmon teamed with a potato crepe but when I ask Nicolas for his recommendation, his answer is definitive.

“You must have the corned beef hash – the chef makes the Worcestershire sauce himself!” he enthuses. Nicolas has not steered me wrong yet, so I order duly order a serve, which comes with a formidable set of sides: poached egg, fried potatoes, onion soubise and double smoked bacon. It lives up to its billing. The beef is fall-apart tender, the potatoes are perfectly crunchy, the Worcestershire sauce is lick-your-plate-clean delicious. If only I were staying one more day, I’d do it all again tomorrow.

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