An hour and a half's drive from Wellington, boutique hotel and spa Wharekauhau Country Estate is the real deal: a 3,500-acre working sheep and cattle farm set on dramatic coastline in the Wairarapa wine-growing region.
11am, flexible subject to availability for no extra cost. Check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £867.75 (NZ$1,668), including tax at 15 per cent.
Rates include breakfast, pre-dinner drinks and canapés, and a four-course dinner (without wine). Meals are not included at Wharepapa Cottage.
At the hotel
CD, DVD and book library, free WiFi in the cottages and main lodge, gym, spa, tennis-court, games room, gardens. In rooms: flatscreen satellite TV, iPod dock, minibar, free bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
Set a little way from the lodge with views out over sheep-dotted pastures and sea, the 13 Guest Cottages are all similar (give or take minor size and layout tweaks), although we were partial to numbers 6 and 8. All sport sitting areas (inside and out on verandas), gas fireplaces, walk-in wardrobes and ensuite bathrooms with marble floors and double spa baths. If you like squashy sofas and huge four-poster beds, you’ll be in heaven. If you’re in a posse, opt for the three-bedroom Owner Cottage, a kilometre away, which includes a horizon pool and the choice of your own chef.
There's a 24-metre indoor heated swimming pool if you can't face the pounding ocean surf. Find it in the recreation centre, alongside a gym, all-weather tennis court and spa treatment room.
Hauora Spa takes its name from a Maori philosophy for wellbeing – one that takes into account physical, social, mental and spiritual health. At Wharekauhau, the spa process begins before you’ve even set through the door, as you unwind to the sound of the crashing surf and sight of the black-sand beaches. Try the warm bamboo massage, where the sticks are rolled across knotted muscles, or the signature body wrap, which includes a full body sea-salt exfoliation and a silky-smooth Manuka honey body wrap. A range of facials, manicures, pedicures and scalp treatments are also available.
A swimsuit for dips in the spa pool; Orla Kiely Wellies for rambling; a dash of Ralph Lauren for nailing the country casual look.
Borrow a guest pushbike to explore the hotel’s rugged 3,500-acre grounds, which include gorgeous forests, rivers, rolling pasture and striking coastline.
The hotel can supply free baby cots and extra beds for older children for NZ$325, plus tax, a night. Babysitting with staff can be arranged for NZ$30 an hour (plus NZ$10 for each extra child) and the restaurant offers a kid-friendly menu.
All guest cottages can interconnect so families and friends travelling together can link up if they wish.
Children will love the lodge's working farm, featuring sheep and cattle, with thousands of new baby lambs born in spring and sheep-shearing to watch in autumn.
Children are allowed in the hotel restaurant at any time that suits their parents. There's a kids menu, and high chairs and packed lunches can be provided. Staff are also happy to heat up baby food or milk.
Available with hotel staff, for NZ$25 an hour, with at least five hours' notice.
No need to pack
Infant cots, high chairs and basic toiletries for children are all available but need to be booked in advance.
Wharekauhau uses water from a natural spring; grows its own Romney lamb, Angus beef, vegetables, honey, fruit and herbs; sources local wine and produce; and maximises natural light in rooms with skylights and East-West-facing windows, as well as recycling.
Sturdy jacket and boots for farm strolls by day; smarter get-up for evenings for glam communal dining.
Evenings kick off with drinks and canapés in the lounge or courtyard, when you can hobnob with fellow guests, followed by fine feasting in the dining room, where grand shared tables create a dinner-party mood. Chef Marc Soper uses local produce to whip up dishes including lamb with Mediterranean vegetables, polenta, peas, lamb jus and yoghurt. Breakfast is served in the rustic Country Kitchen, and lunch either there or outdoors.
The hotel bar is open all day offering spirits and fine local wines, including rare vintages. As the Estate's owner is in the wine game, you can rest assured that the cellar is always well stocked. Book a wine tasting with the hotel's sommelier to try the best the cellar has to offer.
Breakfast is served from 7.30am to 11am; lunch from noon to 4pm; and dinner anytime after lunch until late. The bar is open 24 hours a day.
Available all day on request, with a full menu service. In-room minibars are also well-stocked and includes the Estate's own wine and gin selection.
4132 Wharekauhau Road, Palliser Bay, RD3, Featherston,
Wharekauhau Country Estate is an hour and a half’s drive from Wellington City on New Zealand’s North Island.
Wellington International Airport is about 150km (one and a half hours drive) from Wharekauhau Lodge. From the UK and Europe, fly via Melbourne or Dubai. Our Smith24 team are on hand round the clock to organise your flights, if needed.
Featherston Train Station is 40km from the Estate. Trains from Wellington to Featherston run daily. See Tranzmetro for services and times.
You can hire a car at one of the airport’s major car hire company desks.
The Estate has some impressive transport options on offer (at a cost). A personal driver can pick you up from anywhere in New Zealand and take you anywhere you want to go. Private helicopter flights from Wellington to the Estate via Palliser Bay can also be arranged, as can private charter jet flights from anywhere in Australasia to Wellington. Wharekauhau also has a private airstrip suitable for light aircraft. Talk to the staff at the Lodge to tee up your stylish arrival.
Worth getting out of bed for
With a mind-boggling 10,000 lambs born in spring, and sheep-shearing in autumn, it's worth taking a 4WD tour of the hotel's own farm. Historical local breeds include Romney sheep, mixed with Angus cattle, plus you'll see sheep dogs in action. The hotel's 3,200-acre grounds include a gorgeous mix of forests, lakes, rivers, rolling pasture and striking coastline, ideal for hiking or mountain biking (the hotel provides push bikes for guests). The lodge can also arrange a bunch of more full-on activities: ATV quad biking, clay target shooting, archery, and surfcasting (a kind of fishing apparently; no surf board needed). If you're feeling a tad lazy, you can just slope off for a game of petanque or croquet in the hotel's gardens, with a nice glass of white in hand. Or make a beeline for the swimming pool or spa. Fancy exploring further afield? To eyeball black-sand beaches and pounding surf near Wharekauhau, drive the old 1844 stock route along the nearby coastline, originally used to transport sheep and cattle. It's a rugged, other-worldly landscape of cliffs, rocks and mountains, taking in curving Palliser Bay. Further south, take a trip to local landmark the Cape Palliser lighthouse and its neighbouring seal colony, where brown seals bask. If you're in need of refreshment after all that worthy sightseeing, there are 29 boutique wineries around the rural village of Martinborough, a hot spot for wine in the region.
For a vineyard, cellar door, tasting room and restaurant in one, make for Tirohana Estate, a boutique winery in Martinborough. Tirohana Cellars serves up casual and fine dining, with a cosy indoor space and outdoor terraces overlooking the vines. It's open on Saturdays only in winter, when the NZ$55 three-course set menu includes comfort food such as salmon fish cakes, oven-poached fish and apple strudel. At Martinborough's Alana Estate, choose to eat in its dining room, courtyard or barrel room, where you can team four wine varietals (pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling and sauvignon blanc) with tasty matching dishes. Two other rated local wineries in town are Palliser Estateand Ata Rangi.
On the shores of Lake Onoke, the Lake Ferry Hotel offers casual lunches and dinners, as well as all-day snacks, at its restaurant with a view. Strong on seafood, such as whitebait fritters, and local Martinborough beer and wine.
Blue lake on one side, rolling green farmland on the other – this was all the proof Mr Smith and I needed that we weren’t in the city any more… ‘We’re in the Wopwops,’ exclaimed Mr Smith (rural suburbs, for all you non-Kiwis). His boyish enthusiasm suggested that he too could feel the stresses of urban life ebbing away: fast work indeed for two die-hard townies from Auckland, who hadn’t breathed so much as a lungful of country air in six months. But our drive over the Rimutaka Ranges was to prove only the start of our rustic detox.
Arriving at Wharekauhau Country Estate (pronounced ‘forry-coe-hoe’ – whodathunkit?), we were greeted by the friendly staff all too keen to show us around the property. For us – fresh off the plane at Wellington – its lakeside lawns and surrounding forested foothills were the city-addict equivalent of going cold turkey. Too overwhelmed to fully appreciate the wine-label-worthy countryside just yet, we retreated to our cottage. The Palliser Bay views would wait.
Away from the grandeur of the main lodge, our stand-alone cabin was pure modern farmhouse in style: high ceilings with exposed beams, a canopied bed and a romantic gas open fire. There was nothing for it but to run a hot bath for two. I’ll spare you the details of our ablutions, but the private view from the bathroom window cannot go undescribed. (Well, when I say private, I’m not counting the countless sheep in the neighbouring meadows, who have a disconcerting tendency to stare.) From my soapy look-out point, I could see over the pea-green pastures down to the mirror-calm Lake Ferry. The only thing that could improve the vista would have been a glass of champagne – cue Mr Smith’s arrival with cups of peppermint tea. OK, it’s not quite Krug, but it still hit the spot.
Before we could say ‘More tea, vicar?’, it was time to dress for dinner in the lodge. The idea of communal dining can seem strange to the uninitiated, including Mr Smith and me. We felt glad rags would help (in my case, any excuse to go glam is a welcome treat), as did the fireside cocktails and canapés. Introductions made and our trepidation overcome (at one point Mr Smith had to slap my hand away from the moreish salmon with a stern reminder that other guests might also like to sample the hors d’oeuvres), the mood lightened considerably as we adjourned to the dining room and conversation turned to more important matters: such as when, exactly, we were going to be able to sample the pinot noir.
The estate at Wharekauhau is also a working farm – raising sheep and beef cattle – and, beyond its boundaries, the wineries of Martinborough await. As a result, the set menu at the lodge is a food-mile-friendly fantasy of farm-sourced produce and equally
local vintages. For me, the eye fillet of the estate’s own Texel lamb was the standout – its flavourful tenderness rendering the proffered steak knife redundant. I had to remind myself to leave room for dessert – a tangily divine citrus tart that had as much bite as the banter now in full flow around the table. Mr Smith and I smiled in mute agreement across our espressos, two evangelical converts to communal dining.
It wasn’t until 10am the following day that we finally managed to drag ourselves from the super king-size bed, after an indulgent lie-in, the views out of the window once more transfixing us. We struggled to make breakfast on time, but a welcoming waft of the smell of baking bread from the lodge kitchen reassured us we weren’t too late. There was no need to leave this 2,200-hectare playground, where we could have taken a tour of the farm, ridden horses or borrowed quad bikes, but Mr Smith and I had viticulture on our minds – it was time to head out to sample the grapes of Martinborough.
We’d been told that many of the 29 boutique vintners in the area were within walking distance of each other, but it wasn’t until we rolled up to Martinborough town square that we understood how close they really were – some actually side by side. The area is known for its cracking pinot noirs, and we found a couple of favourites at Palliser Estate and Ata Rangi (Wharekauhau Lodge staff had kindly offered to pick us up later if we were enjoying ourselves a little too much to drive back). On the return journey, we decided the perfect tonic, post wine tasting, would be a windswept stroll beside the sea, so we continued past Wharekauhau to shack-scattered Ocean Beach. The weather was wild – windy and wet – but we emerged from the car anyway to stare at the rugged beauty of the black-sand shoreline.
Our dinner à deux was booked for a romantically lit, private room in the main lodge, before an open fire. Scallops served in a delicate coconut broth, followed by tender pork fillet, were both perfection to our palates. Before our medley of pannacotta, sorbet and crumble arrived, I had no idea something as humble as rhubarb could be worked into such a tremendous tasting plate of a dessert. Relaxed, sated and pleasingly Buddha-bellied, we ambled back to our cottage, gumboots on and takeaway cheese selection in hand. Too happy for sleep just yet, we settled upon the idea of an after-dinner soak in the alfresco hot tub. Wharekauhau: in our case pronounced ‘pure heaven’.