Rebecca Kamm heads to Cambridge for some eco-friendly R&R, topped up with gourmet eats.
There are few things lovelier than than waking up with a start, convinced you've slept in, then realising the day is actually yours. One of them is waking up with a start, convinced you've slept in, realising the day is actually yours — and you're in a luxury eco-lodge with heated flooring, fresh laid eggs and the biggest bed in the history of beds.
More specifically, you're at Earthstead Villas in Cambridge for the weekend, just two hours away from Auckland. Run — and built — by Suzie and Alistair Osmond, this luxurious B&B-type accommodation is situated on seven acres of farmland and offers two fully self-contained (to put it mildly) lodges.
Our home for the weekend is the Earthhouse, in which we're greeted with wine, cheese, fresh bread, brownies, homemade yoghurt, mint for tea infusions, and juice from Earthstead's orchard.
The furnishings are equally as welcoming; a plush master bedroom, cosy spare room, practical dining area, modern bathroom and kitchen, and an ultra comfortable living room with large TV and fireplace.
The entire place is made of adobe brick (read: sand, clay, water, and other organic material) and wood, with sustainability a key principle in its construction. As Susie and Alistair explain, their mission has been to create a dwelling that's considerate to both the earth and humankind.
It's certainly considerate — you will want for absolutely nothing here. If work's a must, there's wireless, and should the desire to cook take you then the kitchen is a dream to prepare food in. The shower is large and spa-like, lovely scented things included, and the bed — as mentioned — was specially designed so that bedfellows must be texted from the other side. A joy that's not to be underestimated if, like many, you share sheets with a squirmer. All in all, it means you're refreshed enough to rise early and see what Cambridge has to offer.
Firstly, if you think you'll be hard-pressed to find decent food in this town of 16,000, you're mistaken. Arriving on the Friday night, we grab a quick curry at Hello India, whose prawn malabi would certainly be worth returning for.
The morning after, it's Red Cherry cafe for breakfast, a large, barn-like cafe and coffee roastery 4km out of Cambridge. The eggs benedict — with its home-made hollandaise sauce — puts most Auckland versions to shame, and the coffee is excellent.
Lunch is a bite to eat at Lilipad Cafe, 10 minutes out of the town centre and home to good sweet slices and incredibly helpful staff. It also backs on to the Garden Art Studio, should you feel the need to pick up some crafty indoor or outdoor art.
For dinner, we drive to The Woodbox, situated on Mystery Creek vineyard and also just 10 minutes out of Cambridge. The restaurant comes highly recommended by the locals and doesn't disappoint. The food is creative (duck pate, pedro ximenez foam, fig and elderflower, brioche); delicious (pan roasted free range boneless chicken leg, wrapped in pancetta, zucchini and sage souffle, cauliflower beignets, hazelnut cream); and guilt-inducing (sticky date brioche pudding, medjool date puree, liquorice poached pear, jasmine tea custard, walnut praline mascarpone).
But it's not all eating. On Saturday morning we head to the farmers' market, which offers fresh produce, meats and seafood, cupcakes, cornish pasties, cheeses and preserves — you could easily return home with baskets full of good things.
Our favourite stall though is Mac Snack. The selection of macadamia products — including peanut-butter style spreads — is a real discovery, and we've been kicking ourselves ever since for not stocking up.
On Sunday we visit Le Papillon Day Spa, 15 minutes outside the town centre. Beauty therapist and ex-nurse Yolanda offers beauty treatments in combination with spa and sauna facilities, and her quiet oasis is ideal for fast-tracking relaxation.
We choose a "Duo Package", which includes a massage and a half-hour treatment each. In between our selected treatments (we go with a facial and manicure, respectively) there's time to laze around the outdoor area. The sumptuous furnishings, glossy magazines, and large spa bath perched high above a tranquil paddock, are effective medicine for city stress.
Alongside meals, walks around the town centre and Yolanda's tranquil surrounds, we make the most of our ridiculously comfortable base back at Earthstead Villas. Until Sunday afternoon and it's time to go.
If there's one downside to this country escape, it's that home — in comparison — just doesn't cut it. No more fresh bread delivered first thing in the morning; no more deep, candelit bathtubs; no more biologically farmed pastures, native trees and organic vegetable gardens to ease our eco-guilt. A sad departure, but ultimately proof they've hit the nail on the head.
Earthstead Villas: 3635 Cambridge Rd, Monavale. Ph (07) 827 3771.
Le Papillon Day Spa: 535 Aspin Rd, RD4. Ph (07) 823 3435.
The Woodbox: Cnr Mystery Creek and Angus Rd, Kaipaki. Ph (07) 823 6411.
Red Cherry cafe: Cnr Forrest Rd and State Highway 1. Ph (07) 823 1515.
Rebecca Kamm was a guest of Earthstead Villas, Le Papillon Day Spa, Red Cherry, Lilipad Cafe, Hello India and The Woodbox.