A top Bay wedding venue has passionate new owners more opportunities to enjoy this spectacular country estate, writes Jo-Marie Baker

Standing on the immaculate front lawn of the lodge formally known as Bella Vista Estate in 2006, Nigel and Deborah Herbert promised themselves the property would one day be theirs. They even planted a coin in the soil knowing they would be back to collect it one day.

A decade on they have fulfilled their dream, purchasing the property a few months ago and renaming it Eagle Ridge Estate.

Nigel says the name Eagle Ridge was a fitting description for this magnificent hill-side property with its breathtaking panoramic views across the city and port to beyond the Mount and surrounding ocean.

The first thing the proud new owners did was secure a stunning 350kg, 1.2m high corten steel replica of the ancient hokioi (New Zealand eagle) which greets people on arrival.
Produced by Glenorchy sculpture artist Dan Kelly, the sculpture features a wingspan of 5.5m and took four days to install.

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"There is something special about this property; we feel Eagle Ridge captures the spirit of the incredible bird it's named after," he says.

"Anyone having visited Eagle Ridge will understand what we mean. We view ourselves more as guardians (kaitiaki) than owners and we want it to be savoured by all - not just us."

Nigel grew up in Mt Maunganui and Tauranga and is an experienced international airline pilot, having flown for Air New Zealand, United Nations, Air Mauritius, Emirates and Korean Air during his 30-year career. Deborah is originally from the Hawke's Bay and trained as a dental therapist and hygienist.

They have visited and lived in almost every corner of the globe but they say nothing compares to this hidden gem set on 15 secluded acres in the hills of Ohauiti.

An American entrepreneur who wanted to create an unforgettable venue for couples to get married originally built the lodge and function centre in 2001.

On a tour through the estate with Nigel and Deborah you get a sense of warm and welcoming hospitality. American heritage features characterise the elegant and rustic four-bedroom country 579sq m lodge which is surrounded by decks and paved patios.

When you walk through the front doors, you can't possibly miss the sweeping solid rimu staircase separating two formal lounges. The lodge has a massive front lounge, which can accommodate functions of up to 50 people and is adorned with a large brick fireplace, grand piano next to a dining area, impressive fully equipped kitchen and butler's pantry.

An antique 1860s snooker table, imported from the UK is the textbook distraction for a nervous groom. Large leather sofas enrich the second lounge and face another beautiful open fire - perfect for relaxing with a glass of red wine on a cold winter's night. Upstairs, the master bedroom and ensuite both feature awe-inspiring rural and ocean vistas to Mt Maunganui, the Bay of Plenty and surrounding country-side.

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Unless you're invited to a wedding at Eagle Ridge, it's highly likely that as a local you haven't really had an opportunity to experience the venue

A picturesque walkway leads from the lodge up to the purpose-built 493sqm secure and private function centre which hosts events for up to 250 guests. The spacious venue features natural timber floors, chapel ceilings, bar, state-of-the-art sound system and another trademark Eagle Ridge fireplace. On this crisp and clear winter's day, the same signature views witnessed from the lodge take your breath away.

Nigel says the stunning cuisine and outstanding service is another hallmark feature of Eagle Ridge.

"We are proud to be partnered with leading caterers Kerr & Ladbrook's highly skilled and professional team."

In July, Bay born-and-bred and highly experienced events expert Briana Clarke joined as the new business development manager.

The 29-year-old has helped stage a huge range of events at Baypark over the past four and a half years, including gala dinners, concerts, trade shows, exhibitions, Magic netball games and Jet Sprints. She's also helped run events for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Waikato Chamber of Commerce and Tauranga City Council in the past.

"Eagle Ridge is a stunning venue," Briana says. "You can't beat its location, facilities and those jaw-dropping views anywhere in Tauranga. I think this venue has definitely been under-exposed and under-utilised in the past, so I'm excited to help it reach its full potential."

Together the trio plan to widen the range of events staged year-round with the aim of doubling event bookings within the next three years.

We are proud to be partnered with leading caterers Kerr & Ladbrook's highly skilled and professional team

Briana will also be working alongside event co-ordinator Nicole Kettle, who has already spent three busy wedding seasons at the lodge, has built a reputation for ensuring brides, grooms and clients are looked after.

"Unless you're invited to a wedding at Eagle Ridge, it's highly likely that as a local you haven't really had an opportunity to experience the venue," Briana says. "Weddings will always be a core part of our business, but there is so much scope to attract more special events such as corporate gala dinners, product launches and milestone celebrations.

"Our focus is to expand and create as many opportunities as possible for residents and companies to experience Eagle Ridge Estate for themselves. We want to create new reasons to visit and showcase our gorgeous venue, exquisite food and high-level service.
Until you get up here, you don't know what you're missing out on."

Margaret Cowey-Rodger and Ian Rodger recently held their wedding celebration at the estate and say "It is a fabulous venue for any special occasion or conference, very well organised and run by people with heart and a passion for the business. As friends said of our wedding celebration - 'it was inspiring, romantic, relaxed yet classy and fun'!"

Just a short scenic drive from Tauranga's CBD, Briana explains that guests enjoy the rural vistas while still taking in the bright lights and buzz of the city harbour. "We can also organise transport requirements so clients can focus on more important business."

Eagle Ridge Estate is a popular wedding venue. Photo/Shutterstock
Eagle Ridge Estate is a popular wedding venue. Photo/Shutterstock

A new, pristine white six-seater golf cart is available to transfer guests around the carefully manicured park-like grounds and the property even boasts its own private helicopter pad.

"Guests who want complete anonymity have access to an onsite helicopter pad, and in future we will be complementing the function centre with the addition of a huge outdoor loggia [fire] for our guests' enjoyment," says Briana. "We have also recently brought in a giant Haast eagle, with 5m wingspan, from a well-known southern sculptor, which has become the focus of our event centre turning circle."

Briana is recently engaged herself and was so in love with the venue she booked Eagle Ridge for her own wedding in 2017.

"There's no other setting I can picture getting married in," she says.