Huka Lodge embodies the effortless perfection expected by its well-heeled clientele, writes Winston Aldworth.
Today, everything is perfect at Huka Lodge. Guests relax, dine, fish or merely wander in five-star luxury.
It wasn't always this way. When wandering angler Allan Pye first established the lodge on the banks of the Waikato River in the 1920s, guests slept under canvas tents. It was the trout that brought them in — the hospitality grew around the fish.
Pye's humble trout-fishing camp became something remarkable. Huka Lodge was this month named the Best Resort Hotel in Australia and New Zealand, by Travel + Leisure magazine. (Southern Ocean Lodge, on Kangaroo Island ranked second, while Qualia, on Queensland's Hamilton Island, and the Farm at Cape Kidnappers, in Hawke's Bay, were tied for third.)
At Huka Lodge today, everything is perfect. Take the grass. Like most Kiwi men, I'm mildly lawn-obsessive. But the grass at Huka Lodge seems maintained by a legion of obsessive-compulsive gardeners. Acres of it, at a perfect length (35mm-40mm depending on the time of year — "to stop it drying out," I'm told). I looked (casually) for weeds; there are none. These lawns are the king of lawns. They're edged by the heavy verdant greens of the gardens, the immaculate stylings of the rooms and lodge and the fabulous menu produced by executive chef Paul Froggatt.
Every single thing seems to be in its perfect place, and in a perfect condition for that place.
So, who comes here? The Queen's Room gets its name because it's where the Queen dines when she's staying. Beyond Liz, the guest list over the years is a who's who list of who's who lists — billionaires and boffins and heads of state nodding to one another over canapes.
And yet at no point does Huka Lodge feel stuffy or over-done. The service, the food and the surroundings give the impression of effortlessness that are the hallmark of seriously high-end places around the world. The kind of places frequented by the seriously rich. And the kind of places that win seriously big accolades.
There is a lot of very good accommodation in New Zealand, but Huka Lodge is what well-travelled, well-moneyed people expect.
After a spot of tennis on the perfect grass court, and a dip in the perfect spa pool, we head for the main lodge for a lunch (that will turn out to be, unsurprisingly, perfect).
There's a little rain as we walk to the lodge and, like us, the American couple walking just ahead of us have an umbrella up. We reach the lodge and my wife lowers the brolly.
"Say," says the friendly American fellow as he tries to figure out how to put the umbrella down. "Do you know how this works?"
At lunch, as at dinner later, tables are dotted around the main lodge — get in early and you might be able to book a table in the wine cellar, surrounded by 5500 bottles of excellent wine, including one that will set you back $16,120.
We eat lunch on the deck, looking out at New Zealand's greatest river.
Beyond it all, running powerfully at the edge of the grounds, the Waikato boils its way to the sea. Some things never change.
One night in a Junior Lodge suite over the winter period starts from $890pp excl GST. Rates include use of all lodge amenities, pre-dinner drinks and canapes, a five-course gourmet dinner, and full country breakfast, plus complimentary return Taupo Airport transfers if required. hukalodge.co.nz