A country estate with class
On the driveway flanked by pohutukawa trees, the wooden shingle roof and chimneys poke through a frame of leaves. We’ve arrived at Wharekauhau Country Estate (pronounced forry-ko-ho) by Palliser Bay at the base of New Zealand’s North Island.
Driving to the lodge through green valleys conjures the English countryside, were it not for the rugged New Zealand volcanic rock boulders covered in moss. James Cameron’s movie Avatar was filmed in this Wairarapa area where the Hollywood director now owns a home.
Hearing our car approach, we are met at the Wharekauhau entrance by Sophie, who takes our keys and attends to our car and luggage. Stepping through large doors with cow-head handles, we pass an antique bread oven, hanging tapestries, glazed ceramic urns and a marble bust, before taking coffee in the courtyard by the petanque lawn, aromatic lavender and peppermint bushes, and mandarin and fig trees.
Our accommodation is along Stormwatch Cottages path. There are 13 cottages on the property, with three more scheduled for completion by June next year. General manager Richard leads us through patio doors to a grassy verge with sheep grazing a short distance away, cabbage trees and views overlooking Palliser Bay’s black sand.
The cottage has a soothing colour scheme of creams and caramels with wicker chairs, a linen ottoman, cream fabric sofas, white floors with underground heating, a large woollen floor rug and floaty calico curtains around the bed. There’s an element of chic country stable style created by copper lighting, gable-style shutters and robe hooks in the shape of the Wharekauhau rowlock symbol dating back to the 1880s.
A minimum of four guests can follow in the grand footsteps of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and occupy the owner’s residence, Chateaux Wellington. This two-storey, three-bedroom property, located away from the main lodge, also has a private pool.
I relish the time before pre-dinner drinks to soak in a bath sprinkled with New Zealand’s Nellie Tier rose and pink grapefruit bath salts. Reading the bath menu, I learn that staff can set up experiences including a romance soak (with rose petals, vintage Louis Roederer rose champagne and chocolate fondue). With the shutters thrown open under the assumption of privacy, I drink tea and munch a house-made shortbread biscuit to the sound of sheep bleating in the distance.
Wharekauhau Country Estate has recently become part of the worldwide Relais & Chateaux group, the newest member alongside only five other New Zealand lodges. Properties must offer the highest quality cuisine, wine and service to be accepted into the prestigious fold. Gregarious assistant lodge manager Nicolas wears his polished gold Relais & Chateaux lapel pin on a sharply tailored jacket with, as he might say in his native French tongue, savoir faire. “It’s all about quality, like Michelin, you know this?” he asks. It’s true that Wharekauhau has established an excellent reputation for fine dining. Executive chef Marc Soper, winner of this year’s Chef of the Year and also Chef of the Capital awards, as decided by the New Zealand Chefs Association, lives locally with his children and treats farm foraging as a way of life, regularly taking them out to collect pine cones and produce from the abundant grounds.
Meeting other guests, we hear some have splashed in the indoor heated pool, others have indulged in a massage or taken walking tracks outlined in the estate map. A group of Melbourne friends are enthused about their tastings at premium Martinborough region cellar doors, which produce some of New Zealand’s most prized
Western Lake Road, Palliser Bay, RD3 Featherstone; +64 6 307 7581; wharekauhau.co.nz; relaischateaux.com.
TARIFF: Valid December 1-April 1: $NZ980 ($920) a person a night twin-share plus 15 per cent GST. From April 1-December 1, $NZ525. All include pre-dinner drinks and canapes, five-course dinner and breakfast.
GETTING THERE: The closest airport is Wellington. By car, it takes about two hours. Guests can self-drive using Wharekauhau’s instructions or the lodge can arrange car transfers ($NZ660 each way). The fastest transfer is by helicopter, which takes 10 minutes ($NZ2500).
Couples, families and children. WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Limited; one cottage equipped.
BEDSIDE READING: Moon over Martinborough by Jared Gulian (2013) is an amusing tale of two American city boys becoming olive farmers in the Wairarapa.
STEPPING OUT: Visit the local seal colony and Cape Palliser Lighthouse, Martinborough wineries or play nearby golf courses.
BRICKBATS: Potpourri in our cottage is tired and fragrance-free. Driving instructions provided by the lodge should be updated as they lack detail.
BOUQUETS: Ample-sized bathroom with his-and-hers vanity basins. Personalised service makes guests feel at home. Top marks for the exceptional cuisine.
Katrina Holden was a guest of Relais & Chateaux.
Wharekauhau Country Estate, top; comfortable main lodge, above; cottage bedroom, left; inquisitive farm residents, below