Visitors pay up to $1250 a night to stay at Taiharuru's Ara Roa Villa and Boutique Lodgings run by Paul and Susanne Olsen, offering spectacular coastal estates and secluded mountainside luxury retreats starting from $325 a night (low season couple rate).

The Olsen's philosophy is to provide guests with accommodation and services that exceed their expectations while always practising sustainable tourism.

Paul and Susanne Olsen met in Greece in the 1990s while working on different super yachts. In 1993 Paul took over a yacht as the captain and Susanne joined the crew as cook. The rest is history.
Paul and Susanne Olsen met in Greece in the 1990s while working on different super yachts. In 1993 Paul took over a yacht as the captain and Susanne joined the crew as cook. The rest is history.

Around 70 per cent of their guests are international, with the largest markets being Europe (UK, France, Germany, Holland), North America (Canada, USA) and Australia.

"We are very fortunate to have met lots of incredible people.

"When we have repeat visitors coming back for the 8th visit, as they just can't let go, we know we're doing something right," Mr Olsen said.

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"Holiday time is very precious so it is important we deliver 110 per cent to our guests.

Some visitors to the more expensive destinations in Northland include a stop at Ara Roa, often travelling to or coming from Kauri Cliffs and Eagles Nest.
Some visitors to the more expensive destinations in Northland include a stop at Ara Roa, often travelling to or coming from Kauri Cliffs and Eagles Nest.

"One of the main benefits of this industry is that by and large you are selling "enjoyment" - people are on holiday, so generally they are happy and relaxed, and once you deliver more than they were expecting, even better."

The Olsen's tourism hosting adventure began in 2001 with The Retreat @ Ara Roa which is now known as Te Huia.

Mr Olsen's family was from Pataua South and while growing up in Auckland, all family holiday time was spent at Taiharuru.

After 12 years travelling the world in the "highly charged" super yacht industry it seemed like a dream for the couple to retreat to Taiharuru to raise a family.

Ara Roa is all about slowing people down.
Ara Roa is all about slowing people down.

They bought a 40ha block and instantly placed a chunk of it in a conservation covenant.

Of the 20ha left only 6ha are still available for grazing so their conservation efforts have been significant.

"We now have resident kiwi by all our facilities," Mr Olsen said.

Mr and Mrs Olsen run the bulk of the operation. On contract they have a chef, masseuse/beautician, cleaners and groundwork (landscaping) staff when required which is especially during the peak season, December-March.

The bedroom in the Glasshouse. Air Canada's in-flight magazine placed The Glasshouse in a group of eight of the top rentals for design lovers.
The bedroom in the Glasshouse. Air Canada's in-flight magazine placed The Glasshouse in a group of eight of the top rentals for design lovers.

During the winter they contract in local builders, painters, plumbers as the five stand alone properties are all kept to a very high standard.

The Olsens own Te Huia and manage the rest of the properties which were part of an original subdivision in 1997.

They started with their own place and slowly took on the neighbouring properties as they became available to manage.

"We run the business side of things and have a great relationship with the property owners.

The Cliff House, with four bedrooms, sleeps 8-10 people.
The Cliff House, with four bedrooms, sleeps 8-10 people.

Mr Olsen said the tourism industry is definitely growing, especially at the upper (international) end of the market.

"In the past two years our top tier and larger properties have been more popular than their smaller siblings.

"These same visitors are also more inclined to indulge on our chef/catering options, some opting for the "fully catered" option with chef on site preparing and serving dinner.

"It is not uncommon now to find an Auckland couple spending $3000 on a fully catered weekend away," he said.

The two bedroom Aria apartment includes a heated lap pool.
The two bedroom Aria apartment includes a heated lap pool.

Mr Olsen said their guests have a significant impact on the local economy - cafes, shops, supermarkets etc all benefit.

"They have a lot of spending clout and as they are on holiday they are even more inclined to splurge," he said.

"Over the peak season our local wine shop struggles to keep up with the top shelf wines going out the door, and we know our clients love what they offer.

"We also cater to the eco conscious traveller with fully solar powered Aria which includes a 15m solar heated lap pool and electric car charger onsite.

Te Whara is all about family with a large flat lawn area, and located on a private gated peninsula.
Te Whara is all about family with a large flat lawn area, and located on a private gated peninsula.

"Zero emission cars fit perfectly with our tourism clean green image and even though EVs are only a small part of the NZ rental car scene, things are rapidly changing.

"A great way to offset the carbon footprint created on the flight here."

Mr Olsen said some visitors to the more expensive destinations in Northland include a stop at Ara Roa, often travelling to or coming from Kauri Cliffs and Eagles Nest.

Most guests are self driving and on a pre arranged itinerary through an ITO (Inbound Tour Operators). ITOs in general deal with the premium end of the tourism market and a number of their clients do get around by helicopter.

"We had a family arrive by chopper last summer and this is a market that seems to be growing."

The Olsens believe Ara Roa is all about "slowing people down" to ensure they get the most out of visiting Whangarei Heads and the amazing area it is.

"In the early days we saw guests driving huge distances in short periods whereas now, we try to encourage longer stay as there's so many wonderful areas and activities in the Whangarei district.

"The Hundertwasser Art Centre will be a huge drawcard for both national and international visitors so we're looking forward to that."

The Olsens said they have never been 9-5 people so the setup works well.

"We work hard when we need to and can take a breather during the quieter months.

"Susanne is from Denmark and regularly heads back for family visits during the winter," he said.

Sixteen years on, Ara Roa has grown into an offering of spectacular coastal estates and secluded mountainside retreats.

And although still a relative backwater - a growing number of local and international visitors are discovering that Northland has far more to offer than just "The Bay of Islands".

"Our ever growing loyal client base [domestic and international] have always inspired us to keep improving the facilities and services on offer.

"In true Ara Roa style, we have remained a somewhat low profile, and even with a number of high profile guests and international names, discretion always comes first," Mr Olsen said.