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The Northland luxury lodge that's an 'Airbnb for billionaires'

NZ Herald
By: Kendall Hill
Not for sale

The transfer from Kerikeri airport by chauffeur-driven Range Rover feels luxuriously on point until my driver, The Landing's glamorous guest services manager Laura Moreno, casually mentions that most guests arrive by helicopter.

Her tone's not sniffy; it's just an observation. As I'm about to find out, they don't do sniffy at The Landing. I'll be treated just as royally as any actual royal. Or ex-president, for that matter.

This 400-hectare private estate in the Bay of Islands was – and remains – a working sheep-and-cattle farm. But today it also operates as a sort of Airbnb for billionaires, with award-winning on-site winery and a world of water sports waiting by the jetty.

The Landing looks good from all angles. Photo / Supplied
The Landing looks good from all angles. Photo / Supplied

The Kiwi-American investor and property developer Peter Cooper bought this waterfront slice of the Purerua Peninsula in 1999 and opened the site to select friends to build their fantasy coastal getaways.

Currently there are four properties for holiday rental. The centrepiece is Cooper's six-bedroom citadel, perfumed by gardenias and adorned with his unsurpassed private collection of Māori art and artefacts ("It's magical here!" former US president Barack Obama gushed in the guestbook after his stay in March 2018).

The four-bedroom Gabriel Residence occupies a neighbouring hillside. There is also The Boathouse, a breezy two-bedroomed villa beside Wairoa Bay with a carved mahogany bath which, I'm reliably informed, cost $30,000.

The Boathouse is breezy two-bedroomed villa beside Wairoa Bay. Photo / Kieran Scott
The Boathouse is breezy two-bedroomed villa beside Wairoa Bay. Photo / Kieran Scott

And lastly, there's the strikingly modernist, three-bedroom Vineyard Villa, where I'm staying. Cradled in a trim valley of vines and meadows, its glass walls slide away to immerse guests in the dazzling beauty of their surroundings.

All the accommodation is surrounded by immaculately landscaped grounds. Soft rolling hills upholstered in velvet lawns or stitched with grapevines ease gracefully into the ocean. Norfolk pines and Pōhutukawa, hand-sculpted by grounds staff, punctuate the property. Wetlands of waving grasses and corridors of endemic forest harbour a rich array of birdlife including a flourishing kiwi colony (more on which later).

Moreno welcomes me to the Vineyard Villa with a glass of estate rosé and an overview of house rules. "You can do whatever you like at The Landing," she assures me. "The guests make the rules. They tell us what time they want dinner and what time they want breakfast and how much input they want from us."

'Magical': Former US president Obama left with fond memories of the peninsula. Photo / Kendall Hill
'Magical': Former US president Obama left with fond memories of the peninsula. Photo / Kendall Hill

The property attracts a particular type of person, says Moreno, a former private-jet stewardess who's served British royals including Princess Diana and William, the future king. "If guests want privacy and want to stay off the radar, it's a no-brainer. They stay here."

Other residences might be grander or closer to the sea but, for me, the Vineyard Villa is the Goldilocks option. Dramatically anchored to the earth by a monumental wall of stones, it is a striking building of timber, glass and light. The three bedrooms are tucked downstairs in a garden bunker of rosemary hedges, olive and citrus trees. Interiors are equipped with everything from a coffee machine to a full catering kitchen, which is academic because I will never lift a finger.

Executive chef Jacqueline Smith prepares all my meals, though she seems to be under the impression she is catering for a family of four rather than a man of one. Using The Landing's own organic produce and olive oil, she unveils a banquet across the kitchen bench of horopito-seasoned beef, line-caught bluenose hooked straight from the bay and a medley of attractive vegetables and salads.

The Landing's strikingly modernist, three-bedroom Vineyard Villa. Photo / Supplied
The Landing's strikingly modernist, three-bedroom Vineyard Villa. Photo / Supplied

Next morning she greets me with a beautiful bowl of granola, fresh fruits and local Greek yoghurt, and later delivers sesame-speckled eggs with pot hash and Mahoe feta, showered in petals. All of which I happily consume on the sun-drenched deck while gazing across chardonnay vines to the twinkling sea.

All the accommodation captures sweeping views of the peninsula and, in the centre of the bay, Motuapo Island, where the Māori chief Te Pahi erected the first European-style house in New Zealand. Beside it lies Roimata (Tears) Island, once used as a prison.

Maori bloodlines run indelibly deep and powerful here. Skipper Brett Michalick fills in the site's history while we're out cruising aboard The Landing's charter vessel, Iti Rangi.

The hill just beyond my villa was once home to the prosperous Te Puna settlement, "the first unofficial capital of New Zealand". Around 1000 Māori lived here and, in the early 19th century, Te Puna became a major trading post between Māori and British visitors.
He stops beside Rangihoua Bay to point out the site of New Zealand's first European settlement. Europeans and Māori gathered here for the country's first church service in 1814.

"This is the landing place for both of the races, Māori and Pakeha, who called New Zealand home," Michalick says.

Paradise found: Peter Cooper's six-bedroom citadel is the centrepiece of The Landing luxury lodge. Photo / Supplied
Paradise found: Peter Cooper's six-bedroom citadel is the centrepiece of The Landing luxury lodge. Photo / Supplied

The Iti Rangi outing is included for all guests, as is a quaffing session with wine manager Keith Barker. The Landing's 9.5 hectares of vines produce elegant chardonnays and syrahs, as well as pinot gris and a crisp, wild-ferment rosé. The tasting takes place in my villa but a new $3 million winery and cellar door has just opened to offer more structured wine appreciations.

Much as I love wine, the highlight of my in-house experiences is a torch-lit kiwi hunt at night, when the grounds come alive with New Zealand's national bird. There are no predators on the peninsula so the birds thrive and sightings are guaranteed, according to lawns master and kiwi guide Dane Hawker. "I've never gone out with guests and not seen one."

In two hours we spot eight kiwis, often loping into the undergrowth like cartoon villains. Hawker's underwhelmed by the tally but I'm stoked. I thought it was near-impossible to see kiwis in the wild but here they run amok. At night, lovesick males cry into the darkness outside my windows.

Developer Peter Cooper bought this Purerua Peninsula view in 1999. Photo / Kendall Hill
Developer Peter Cooper bought this Purerua Peninsula view in 1999. Photo / Kendall Hill

Elsewhere on the property there are biking and tramping trails, kayaking and swimming spots, and six empty beaches all your own. There's deep-sea and big-game fishing aboard The Landing's luxury fishing yacht Ata Rangi, or guests might pop into Paihia or Russell for lunch. Or do anything else that takes their fancy.

But honestly, when you've arrived at The Landing, there's very little desire to go anywhere else. Paradise found.

CHECKLIST: THE LANDING

DETAILS
From $4,500 a night (for Vineyard Villa and Boathouse) to $14,500 a night for the Cooper Residence. Tariffs include wine cellar, kiwi tours, vineyard tour, historical tour, sightseeing by boat, gym, tennis etc.
luxurylodgesofnz.co.nz
thelandingnz.com

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