If you're keen for a spot of luxury and pampering, Rotorua's Peppers on the Point may be just the place, says Diana Balham.

Ripeka would be a great gal to have around in a tight spot. She must have the strongest fingers in the world: ask her to change a tyre, open a stuck lid or tear down a door and she'll do it before you can say "help!"

Today, Ripeka is applying her dextrous digits to my body, manipulating my muscles and effortlessly squeezing away my aches and pains. I go into her treatment room stiff and tired and come out an hour later ready to ... lie down again.

Contrary to popular belief, a massage doesn't give you the energy of 10 men: it makes you feel as if you've been run over by the same truck over and over again - but in a nice way.

I'm so relaxed that when I slip into a white bathrobe I seemingly flow back to my cottage like a small, sweet-scented avalanche and plop down on a sofa to reassemble my bendy atoms around a cup of tea. I dimly remember Ripeka telling me that an hour with her is the equivalent of running 3km, which is great because I've got a four-course dinner to look forward to.


But right now, all I can do is sip on this cuppa and gaze out of the window. A pampering weekend at Peppers on the Point is as much about the glorious, absolute waterfront views of Lake Rotorua as it is about spa treatments and hot tubs.

Peppers is a five-star retreat that doesn't scream its presence or dominate the landscape in any way: its heart is a delightful two-storey mansion built in the 1930s that was a treasured family home until 2004.

The lodge sits four-square and solid on a point jutting into the lake amid 2.8ha of gardens, mature trees and paths that wind down to the water's edge. But, unlike many high-end places, Peppers welcomes families with small children.

Friendly alpacas, donkeys, sheep and miniature horses potter about the grounds and there's a playhouse with tiny doors to keep big people out.

The DVD collection includes lots of kids' movies and you can even arrange an onsite babysitter for your little darlings so you can enjoy dining in peace or venture further afield. (Rotorua is a 10-minute drive away.)

This weekend, I am childless and ready for relaxation. The complete absence of anything that I have to do - other than dress for dinner - has lured me into a bubble of luxury and I go into a sort of comfy trance as I look out at the lake and Mokoia Island at its centre.

Squalls pass over the water and add drama to a view that is effortlessly benign; a flock of eight tui flap crazily overhead before settling in a tree nearby. We are in a self-contained cottage with everything we could possibly need, and quite a few things we don't.

We wander down the paved paths to the lake, past a miniature horse wearing a zebra-striped coat.


It's a hobbity sort of setting - several caves with ancient pohutukawa entwined around their entrances are tucked under mossy banks - but its history is local. The property is on a Maori pa site and Ripeka told me a story about the chief, Tunohopu, whose oldest son was stolen by a rival tribe. He was broken-hearted and eventually went to bring the boy home, which would normally have ended very badly for the chief, but he so impressed the enemy tribe with his diplomatic qualities that they let both go free. One of the caves is named after him.

Today, our life is definitely easier - all we have to do to get fed is show up at the dining room about 20 steps from our cottage and a four-course table d'hote feast magically appears.

Tonight there's broccoli and courgette soup, an entree of roast duck breast and a mains choice of Angus beef tenderloin or salmon fillet, followed by dark chocolate tart or fresh fruit sorbet. It is, as you might expect, all excellent and I'm feeling rather full by the time we stroll back to our cottage. As luck would have it, chocolates have sprung up on our pillows and the spa pool on the deck is just the right temperature so we end a perfect day with a hot soak. We're not exactly winding down: if I were any more relaxed I'd probably drown.

What to do: Facilities include a gym and sauna, therapeutic massage and beauty treatments, tennis court and library. Fishing trips, floatplane excursions and a wide range of other day trips can be organised at the lodge.

Accommodation: Lodge suites, he main suite (as enjoyed by Prince Andrew), lake cottage suites and the lake villa and two-bedroom apartment.

Rates are per room per night and include breakfast for two people. Packages include the "Luxurious Escape", which covers one night's accommodation for two, full breakfast, pre-dinner drinks and canapes, a four-course gourmet dinner and a half-hour massage a person (minimum stay of two nights), and starts from $750. The "Golfer's Dream" package is the same as above, but with a round of golf at Arikikapakapa Golf Course instead of a massage.