Stephanie Holmes stays at Te Whau Lodge, a luxurious boutique property with fine dining and great hospitality as standard
Location: About 20 minutes drive from Matiatia ferry terminal, the lodge sits on Te Whau Point in Ōmiha on the island's southern side.
Style: A blend of cosy log cabin with modern luxe, and views to marvel at.
Perfect for: A romantic getaway where you will be very well taken care of.
First impressions: Leaving work late on a Friday meant we were on the ferry as the sun was setting over the Waitematā harbour, a glorious way to shift our mindsets from work to holiday mode. This was helped further by lodge manager Chris Walker meeting us at the ferry in his slick black VW SUV to transfer us to the lodge in comfort and style.
Chris and his wife Teara are a Canadian couple who were previously managing a luxury lodge on Great Barrier Island and came to Te Whau before lockdown last year. Teara met us at the lodge and gave another warm welcome before heading back to the kitchen to continue preparing our four-course fine-dining dinner - she is the lodge's private chef, and a very good one, too.
Perched on a hill and at the end of a long driveway, the lodge is secluded and exclusive, with only four guest suites, so it felt like arriving at a very lovely private home for the weekend.
It was dark when we arrived so we couldn't get the full impact of the view but in the morning we were wowed - the lodge looks out to Kennedy Point and surrounding bays (Anzac, Pūtiki, Okoka, Wharetana, Ōakura, Putaki), and beyond to Rangitoto, the North Shore and back to the city. It's an absolutely stunning outlook.
Rooms: Suites are away from the main building and feel incredibly private. All have sea views and balconies, along with a comfortable window seat, luxurious linens on the king-sized bed, fridge stocked with local wines, beer and complimentary snacks, and a spacious bathroom. The pine walls and high sloping ceiling give a Scandinavian feel.
Bathroom: Cream corrugated iron walls, a pine ceiling and large skylight. Delicious-smelling Ashley and Co toiletries are provided in wall-mounted dispensers, and toilet paper and tissues are from local brand Smart Ass, who donate a percentage of their profits to the Million Miles project.
Food & drink: Teara's chef skills are worth a visit to the lodge in their own right. Formerly a banker, Teara quit to become a classically trained chef, and banking's loss is Te Whau's gain, as her food is excellent. As well as a private four-course dinner, we also enjoyed four-course breakfasts every morning of our stay, and complimentary canapes and a glass of wine each evening. And before bed, a decanter of port was delivered to our room at turndown service - a lovely touch to top off each wonderful Waiheke day.
Facilities: There is parking available if you've brought your own car or a rental. Wi-fi is complimentary - speed was fine in the main lodge but we found it a little slow in our room. Games and books are provided in the lounge, and make good use of the super-strength binoculars to get a better view of the boats bobbing in the bays below and the surrounding fancy houses. We used them at night to gaze at the moon and stars on a clear night - the views are just as enticing when the sun goes down.
In the neighbourhood: Waiheke has so much to offer - wineries, beaches, food, nature, walks, boutique shopping - and it's easily navigable if you have a car. But, to really enjoy the wineries without having to worry about how much you're imbibing, take a tour with Ananda who will pick you up from Te Whau and take you to some of the island's highlights. You can opt for a bespoke, private tour, or join one of their group tours - either way, you'll be well looked after and uncover some lesser-known gems.
Jenny, Ananda's founder, picked us up on a sunny Saturday morning and we had the most wonderful day. Not only did we enjoy wine-tastings at Stonyridge and Awaroa, complete with expert guidance from the winemakers, we also visited Rangihoua Estate to find out how they make their internationally award-winning olive oils (and then taste the goods). For lunch, Jenny took us to the island's latest hot spot - Waiheke Distilling Co. The latter is way out on the eastern side of the island, above Cowes Bay, with a stunning outlook to Ponui/Chamberlins, Rotoroa and Pakatoa Islands, and is an idyllic spot for a platter and a few gin and tonics on a sunny afternoon.
We also visited the gallery and home of artist Gabriella Lewenz - a beautiful Mediterranean-style home with yet more incredible views. Gabriella will let you browse her studio and talk you through her work (handmade oils on canvas and wood, incorporating other natural elements like clay, ash and charcoal), and may even offer a glimpse inside her home. You'll wish you could stay for longer.
Family friendly: The website states the lodge is not recommended for young children and older children are welcome, provided "you reserve all four suites. In this case, you agree to take full responsibility for the safety and behaviour of any children, either directly or through a nanny". Probably best to leave the kids at home and enjoy some peace and romance.
To win a weekend on Waiheke, staying at Te Whau Lodge, go to nzherald.co.nz/win