Central North Island: Top notch amid the trees

By Miriyana Alexander

Miriyana Alexander gets a taste of luxury and finds it's for kids as well as adults.

Treetops Lodge & Estate.
Treetops Lodge & Estate.

It was always going to be a different kind of experience. We'd last been to Treetops, a luxury central North Island hideaway, a lifetime ago. I had wonderful memories of late nights dawdling over a gorgeous dinner, long lie-ins and spa treatments. This time a boisterous small person was in tow. What could possibly go wrong?

The road trip started with Spike Milligan. Badjelly the Witch and On The Ning Nang Nong (where the cows go bong!). "Did you know," came from the back seat, "that Bad Jelly likes to chop up all the little children into boy girl soup. But only 2-year-olds." We warned that misbehaving 3-year-olds had better watch out.

The threats proved unnecessary. From the moment we stepped out of the car and he was invited to feed the trout in the pond by the lodge Harry was enthralled - and spoiled rotten. The grown-ups were treated fairly well, too.

Treetops Lodge is a 1012ha working estate and wilderness park about 15 minutes' drive from Rotorua. There is all manner of wildlife to entertain small faces on the driveway to the lodge, where even more wildlife, this time stuffed and mounted, adorn the walls of the Great Room.

The website describes the design as rustic but this is like no Kiwi bach you've ever visited. Think giant stone fireplace, high ceilings, luxurious leather armchairs and couches, zebra-patterned cushions . . . this is more rich-lister than rustic.

Treetops has undergone an extensive refurbishment — and was named in Conde Naste Traveller's top 100 hotels in the world last year for its troubles.

Guests have the run of the main lodge — the Great Room, the library, the games room — and are welcome in the kitchen and conservatory any time. Accommodation is in the form of rooms in the lodge and the stunning luxury villas hidden in the surrounding native forest.

The wealthy come to relax, hunt, fish and explore New Zealand. They might catch a chopper to White Island to see a live volcano, go heli-fishing or pop over to sister lodge Kinloch Club to play a round of golf on its internationally-acclaimed, Jack Nicklaus-designed course.

But you don't need to leave the property — or shell out extra for those undoubtedly amazing airborne adventures — to experience how the other half live.

The estate has 35km of walking, hiking and cycle trails — and the not-to-be-missed bridal veil waterfalls. Then there's horse riding, archery and clay pigeon-shooting, or foraging for native herbs on the wild food cooking trail or the 4WD safari. More on that later.

It might have once been a place where children were not seen, let alone heard, but Treetops is now, smartly, catering to the family demographic.

Harry made himself right at home, raiding the fruit bowl as soon as we stepped through the door to our villa, suggesting the fire go on, and making a beeline for the giant Jacuzzi in the gigantic bathroom. Then his bags were unpacked and Thomas the Tank Engine and friends were being whizzed around the floor as they, too, became acquainted with our luxurious surroundings.

Then it was down to the kitchen, via the pond for a bit of trout-feeding, where the youngest guest was asked about his favourite foods. He watched while his pasta and fish were cooked, and we were impressed that an early dinner was no problem so we could go on safari.

In-house guide Ed loaded us into the 4WD and we spent a fabulous hour bouncing around the estate. You name it, we saw it. There were alpaca, ducks, pheasant, quail, sheep, goats and horses. But the awe on the little face came when we encountered a massive, roaring stag - "it's Rudolph!" — and a herd of water buffalo. The giggles came at the huge piles of their poo.

Harry went quiet when we skirted a dense part of the forest. Then: "We didn't see Badjelly . . . or the trouser robbers."

Back at the villa and our turn for a treat with the arrival of babysitter Lana. Harry long ago cottoned on to the fact babysitter equals undivided attention, so we were out the door without delay.

Down at the lodge, it was time for pre-dinner drinks by the fire while chefs Jason and Eru put the finishing touches to the artwork that is a five-course Estate-to-Plate gourmet dinner, created from the game, wild produce and organic gardens at Treetops.

Chef Eru conducts a wild food cooking class in the open air.
Chef Eru conducts a wild food cooking class in the open air.

We dined on eel, beetroot and goat curd, and estate red deer. There was pickled pikopiko, cabbage tree-inspired dashi, and garden artichoke and fennel. No mouthful was a dud and, stuffed to the gunnels, we decided to walk off our greediness by getting back to the villa under our own steam.

But the stunningly dark night and the forest canopy (and maybe the Neudorf chardonnay and Rock Ferry tempronella, both excellent) conspired against us. We couldn't see a thing and stumbled back to the main lodge where we were kindly deposited to our room in the lodge Range Rover.

A woodland adventure for kids.
A woodland adventure for kids.

Next morning, after yet more stunning food, the boys hit the Jacuzzi while I was put in the hands of the wonderful Vivienne in the spa. But not just any spa.

Nestled in the native forest, there's an outdoor hot tub and when it's warmer your treatment table can be set up outside.

My ageing skin almost sobbed in gratitude at the healing mud facial that was bettered only by an amazing scalp massage.

The city could not have been further from my mind, but sadly it was time to return. But not before those trout got one last feed.

Treetops. Definitely not too good for kids.

- Spy.co.nz

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