This review of Huka Lodge in Lake Taupo is taken from our guidebook Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection Australia/New Zealand.
In New Zealand you can channel Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It by going fly-fishing. At Huka Lodge, though, you might just run into him – and his mates. This is a playground for celebrities. Mr Smith and I had done our research so – excuse us for name-dropping– we knew Barbra Streisand, Bill Gates and Kate Winslet had all holidayed here.
Determined to fit in, I had a pre-arrival blow-dry. I might not be rich and famous, but if I happened to find myself standing near George Clooney at least I’d have fabulous hair. As soon as Mr Smith and I drove into the manicured estate, our host appeared with a warm greeting. When you’re staying at a place this luxurious there is no checking in; there’s simply a welcoming champagne by the fire and a tour with the convivial Louis, who could have been showing off his home rather than pointing out facilities.
When he showed us to our Double Lodge Suite I came over all Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. This place is breathtaking. An entrance hall divided off to two rooms. The first housed a chaise longue, two armchairs and a king-size bed, complete with mosquito net (even in winter it adds a touch of romance; I’m not going to mention getting trapped in it when I went to the loo in the middle of the night – it ruins the image). Through the walk-in wardrobe and minibar area was the magnificent bathroom. The carpet was so thick you didn’t walk on it so much as pad across it. ‘We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto,’ I whispered to Mr Smith before even laying eyes on room two. It was the same size as the bedroom with couches, armchairs, a dining table, fireplace and a mirror-image walk-in robe and bathroom. Every chair had a cashmere throw draped over it, complementing the soft green and cream decor. A veranda ran the length of the suite. Its reclining chairs looked over the perfect grass to the mesmerising, fast-flowing river. Mr Smith and I had planned to explore the grounds, but I’m not sure if it was the ultimate luxury, the complimentary bottle of wine or if they hide kryptonite around the room – somehow we didn’t have the power to leave.
We dressed for dinner and gathered with the other guests around the fire for cocktails and canapés. There were only 12 others in attendance, none of them famous. Oh, but there were tales of them. Director Peter Jackson was there just the week before; not to mention the Queen of freaking England having stayed three times. Apparently she loves the place. We, however, think that snipers in the woods, SAS troops in zodiacs upstream and helicopters hovering above might kind of spoil the serenity.
Mr Smith and I are pondering this as we’re taken to our private table in the wine cellar for a five-course meal. Flatteringly lit by candles and surrounded by wine worth more than our car, we felt like the VIPs in residence.
The next day we decided to try fly-fishing. Our guide, David, was a Kiwi version of Steve Irwin: knowledgeable and passionate. Decked out in waders, we instantly felt the part. Now, my dad taught me to fish off the beach when I was just a fingerling, so I was excited and confident. Mr Smith, on the other hand, had never fished in his life. Within an hour he’d landed a handsome two-kilo rainbow jack. After the compulsory photo, he released his prize back into the wild. Four hours later I still had nothing. I was happy for Mr Smith though. So damned happy, and determined not to be out-fished, I immediately booked David for the next day.
There are plenty of other activities on offer at Huka if you’re made of money: hunting, helicopter tours and bungy jumping just a one-hour hike away, for example. Or you could follow Mr Smith and my lead and opt for delicious afternoon naps – the sound of the water approaching nearby Huka Falls was a lullaby all of its own.
That night, Mr Smith regaled other guests with fishy tales. The more wine he had, the bigger the fish got. This time dinner was on the terrace outside, with a raging fire and Burberry blankets over our knees keeping the chill at bay. When Mr Smith couldn’t decide between two options for his main course, the kitchen simply presented him with both. But the winning dish was an Oreo cheesecake for dessert. ‘That’s just plain rude to all other cheesecakes in the world,’ said Mr Smith. ‘They can’t compare and it knows it.’
The next morning I woke early for revenge fly-fishing. This time things were serious: we plunged through rivers in a four-wheel drive with water washing over the bonnet. But as soon as I was in my waders, calmness swept over me. Fly-fishing is like meditating – deadlines, office politics and pressures all fade away as you focus on landing the fly in exactly the right spot to tempt a trout. It was this Zen approach that rewarded me with my own rainbow jack. As I posed for the photo, I beamed: ‘That’s going straight to Facebook.’ After all, I’m sure that’s exactly what Brad would do.
Back at the room, I went to show my pic to Mr Smith but found him in his own meditative state, staring at the moss-covered trees, turquoise river and glossy ducks feeding on the manicured lawn. ‘It seems a tad Truman Show,’ I joked. ‘I half expect to spot a stagehand spray-painting the bushes the exact right shade of Huka Lodge green.’ Mr Smith rolled his eyes: ‘Really, Mrs Smith, should you doubt perfection or just enjoy it?’ He had a point.