A coun­try es­tate with class

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - KA­T­RINA HOLDEN

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

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