Quirky rooms are the icing on the cake on Rebecca Kamm's trip to Kerikeri, with its kauri forests, gourmet eats and stunning vistas.
Not much in the world can match the coolness of a tree-house. I thought it 20 years ago, and I think it now; always wanted one, never got one. So when I caught sight of such a comparison while scouring online reviews of accommodation in the Bay of Islands, that settled it - Stone Store Lodge was the place, and Kerikeri the town.
About three and a bit hours' drive from Auckland, Kerikeri's wealth of accommodation options can be overwhelming. Depending on the experience you're after, of course, the trick is to find somewhere offering more than simply access to the main attractions. A place that - for a similar price to chain motels and beige bed and breakfasts - provides something special by way of its set-up.
Stone Store Lodge is not just high above your run-of-the-mill accommodation or motel - it's also high above (but very close to) the town, on a hill that slopes gently up from the Kerikeri Inlet. Soothingly ensconced rooms are nestled right among native flora and fauna - hence the tree-house effect. What's more, the interiors actually demonstrate taste, and its prices don't break the bank. (There's a pretty decent breakfast thrown in, too - Richard is famed for his french toast.)
An absolutely unmissable stop in town when hunger calls is the award-winning Food at Wharepuke, set in a subtropical garden and serving European and Thai inspired food that is at once delicate, intelligent and satisying.
Accomplished chef Colin Ashton prepares meals that leave a permanent stamp on your culinary memory, and it's the kind of place you'd love to pick up and carry with you back to the city.
Another, perhaps better known, foodie destination in the area is the Pear Tree Restaurant. Right beside the KeriKeri River and its quaint Stone Store Basin, it serves imaginative but unpretentious meals and is a good all-weather option. We didn't have reason to use it sadly, but they also offer a "courtesy vehicle" for when things get really merry.
Eats and sleeps sorted, there's plenty to poke a stick at in KeriKeri. Kerikeri Mission Station, which includes the famous old Stone Store, is a good starting point: New Zealand's oldest (1832-36) stone building. The Store was meant to house mission supplies and large quantities of wheat, but when the wheat failed it was leased as a kauri gum trading store. Following its subsequent history as a general store, it now contains artefacts and displays of its history.
A more outdoorsy attraction is Rainbow Falls, easily accessed via a 10-minute walk along the Kerikeri riverbank. Water tumbles into a pool surrounded by native bush, tuis call, and elegant fantails flit about, making the visit a gentle, scroggin-free experience. The Kerikeri River Track in its entirety offers 3.5km of young kauri, totara and associated native vegetation, and only takes 1.5 hours.
Nearby Puketi Kauri Forest will also astound nature lovers with its ancient old kauris. And Rewa's Village, a full-scale reconstruction of a Maori village, is perfect for overseas visitors.
Just don't neglect your tree-house while you've got it; those things are rare.
* Stone Store Lodge, 201 Kerikeri Rd, Kerikeri, ph (09) 407 6693.
* Food at Wharepuke, 190 Kerikeri Rd, Kerikeri 0230, ph (09) 407 8936.
* The Pear Tree, 215 Kerikeri Rd, Stone Store Basin, Kerikeri, ph (09) 407 8479.
* The Stone Store, 246 Kerikeri Rd, ph (09) 407 9236.
* Puketi Kauri Forest, Department of Conservation office in Kerikeri, ph (09) 407 8474.