On a luxury farm escape even the only other residents are hiding, writes Jesse Mulligan.
On our final morning at Annandale I found myself standing shin-deep in the icy September ocean, trying to avoid slipping off a submerged boulder as a howling southerly blew me hither and thither. This scene may not scream "luxury" to you but of course that word means different things to different people.
It wasn't a compulsory or even suggested activity, this scrambling over wet rocks, but the previous evening our private chef had told me in passing about the hefty pāua that clump just offshore on our private beach and reveal themselves for plucking at low tide. It would have been mere trivia to North American guests (who make up the bulk of Annandale's business) but to a Kiwi, the idea of collecting big pāua at a beach that no other human had access to was too tempting to ignore.
To be fair, I hadn't been very active for the rest of the holiday. Annandale is a working sheep and beef farm with four luxury villas, three of which aren't accessible by rental car. The farm manager meets you at reception, transfers you to a 4WD ute and drives you to your accommodation — in our case a James Bond-style apartment of glass and rock called Seascape, built into the side of a hill and looking out over that private bay.
It was designed by award-winning architect Andrew Patterson and is a breathtaking building from inside and out. Patterson also designed Scrubby Bay, a larger building with a swimming pool and room for at least two families, just over the hill from Seascape. Both are accessible by helicopter in 11 minutes from Christchurch Airport if the two-hour drive doesn't appeal, but this was our first visit to Banks Peninsula and we were happy to take in the scenery by road.
Each villa is stocked with food, wine and all the mod cons necessary for a few days with little human contact. The "we create, you serve" dining programme means you always have your next two meals ready to go in the fridge — designed and pre-cooked by the resident chef, these dishes at most require you to fry your own eggs, but usually involve simply heating the components briefly in the oven then assembling them on the plate. It works beautifully but if even that sounds like too much work you can pay extra to have the chef turn up at dinner time and cook you a tasting menu based on the local produce — pāua, crayfish, merino lamb and salmon the night we were there.
In between meals you can read in front of the fire, soak in the spa pool or take a walk over farmland for an even better view of the Pacific Ocean. The days manage to be both slow yet over too quickly, and a brisk hike is recommended at some point to get the lungs going — the villas are serviced daily at 11am, which is a good time to wander.
Like much of Banks Peninsula the farm has plenty of history — the homestead provided accommodation to passing ships in the 19th century and although ownership of the property has since changed, it feels appropriate that hospitality is again part of the business. That homestead overlooks Pigeon Bay and is available for rent too — it comes with a gym and a massive swimming pool, and unlike the other villas guests can come and go as they please, perhaps driving in for lunch at Akaroa or over to a vineyard for a midday tasting.
The final accommodation option is the Shepherd's Cottage, a refurbished farm building that nonetheless stays true to its roots — no internet or television here. Many tourists stop at Annandale on the way into or out of New Zealand, and a day or two reading a book by that cottage fire while the lambs play outside would be just the thing to get on top of the jetlag.
For a New Zealander, the coastal properties probably have more appeal — particularly if the dolphins or seals are visiting as they do from time to time. Sipping a glass of chardonnay by the outdoor fireplace while the sun sets over your private beach may be as good as luxury accommodation gets in this country — surprising then that Annandale isn't better known among locals. Certainly the price would take some getting your head around for most Kiwis — although off-peak is cheaper and they have recently begun to flirt with discounts and deals aimed at the local market.
I didn't manage to find those pāua — our host was waiting to take us back to civilisation and I hadn't really thought through what I was going to do with my fantasy sack of kaimoana anyway. We wended back along the farm track to the homestead — a 40-minute drive allowing us to decompress in a way that I imagine would be difficult to achieve in a helicopter. This must be one of the world's greatest coastal escapes — it's no wonder the Americans are keen to keep it to themselves.
Air New Zealand flies daily from Auckland to Christchurch, with one-way fares starting at $66.