A luxury escape thrills the senses, writes Annemarie Quill.

Toying with a dirty martini in front of a roaring log fire surrounded by stag heads and other hunting trophies, I could get used to life in a luxury lodge.

I am in the aptly named Great Room with its huge raked ceiling, volcanic stone heated floor and furniture carved from native wood. A five-course dinner awaits in the library, which is adorned with timber panelling, leather seating and Goldies.

It's hard to believe I am only a short drive from the busy tourist hub of Rotorua.


Treetops Lodge and Estate is a luxurious sanctuary of the best of what New Zealand has to offer: 1000ha of 800-year-old native forest and valleys, with waterfalls, rivers, lakes and trout streams. There are more than 70km of hiking, mountain biking and horse-riding trails.

A hunter's playground of fish, game birds, deer, buffalo and boar, it was lodge owner John Sax's dream to create an eco-paradise for others to share and appreciate.

Getting back to nature at Treetops Lodge.
Getting back to nature at Treetops Lodge.

Lodge Experiences

Stays are tailored to whatever guests want, whether a hunting trip, a family adventure, a spa getaway with the girls, or a romantic weekend away.

With teenagers and a tween in tow, romance isn't top of the list, although we do arrive just a week after All Black Sam Cane got down on one knee to propose to girlfriend Harriet over a champagne picnic lunch at the lodge's Bridal Veil Falls.

Lodge managers Sandra and Andrew help us choose from a vast range of experiences including horse trekking, mountain biking, fishing, hunting, archery, geocaching, cooking classes, guided safaris, and Māori cultural experiences.

Or there's the option to simply relax in the opulent setting or the peaceful solitude of the ancient forest.



We stay in two adjoining villas nestled in the forest and overlooking the valley. Each has its own luxurious lounge with an open fire and sliding doors leading to a deck with an admirable view.

Bedrooms are equally palatial, with walk-in wardrobes and huge marble en suites with a spa bath and pampering treats.

Treetops spa

I start the weekend with a visit to the lodge's Wilderness Spa. It is a separate building with a relaxation "healing" lounge area and therapy rooms that look out to the trees. There's a sauna and wooden outdoor Jacuzzis to relax in under the stars.

The spa offers Māori and healing treatments using natural ingredients such as essential oils made from local plants and estate-sourced mānuka honey.

My mirimiri massage begins with a karakia, then therapist Debra works on the body to alleviate areas of tension — with the theory that knotted up body parts are caused by past negative experiences or blocked emotions that have to be set free and replaced with positive energy.

It is an invigorating experience leaving me feeling relaxed and lighter, in both body and mind.

Food: Estate to Plate

Dinner preparations at Treetops Lodge.
Dinner preparations at Treetops Lodge.

Sandra and Andrew host pre-dinner aperitifs and canapes each evening, where you can share hunting yarns and mingle with other guests, or simply kick back before dinner.

Menus are based on an "estate to plate" philosophy, using ingredients that are reared and produced at Treetops. Seasonal fish and game are selected by the resident gamekeeper.

The estate grows pesticide-free organic seasonal vegetables including native spinach, kūmara, fresh turmeric, wasabi, native cress, as well as indigenous herbs such as tangy kawakawa and peppery horopito.

You can dine in various locations — choosing the romance and intimacy of the library or in the formal restaurant.

Breakfasts are served in the sunny conservatory, with an extensive menu, again all sourced from the estate.

We devour fresh juices, chia pudding, french toast with rhubarb and mascarpone, eggs benedict and delicious wild boar and venison sausages.

Bush walk to Bridal Veil Falls

The forest is just a few steps from the lodge and there are many trails to suit all levels.

We take the two-hour round trip to Bridal Veil Falls, armed with a packed lunch from the chef. To give an idea of the size of the estate, it was three years before the owners discovered the falls. We tuck into our venison sandwiches and muffins in front of its spectacular waters.

Estate tour

One of the estate rangers takes our family on his jeep to get close to the animals. Driving through the valleys with the deer running alongside, it feels as if we are in the New Zealand Jurassic World. The guide helps us discover different varieties of wide deer — there are also water buffalo, wild pig, sheep, rabbit, pheasant, partridge, geese, duck and rainbow and brown trout.

Archery and shooting

A real highlight is the chance to channel The Hunger Games and practise archery in the forest with fabricated targets of deer, boar and even a moving target of a flying pig. Our guide is very helpful, teaching us tricks of the trade and it brings out the competitive spirit in all of us. Although not quite Katniss Everdeen standard, I manage to slay a few targets.

Horse safari

A two-hour trip on horseback through the native bush and open grasslands offers a different perspective to the estate and the children enjoy hunting for discarded antlers, which they keep as trophies.

The verdict

The combined offering of the pampering spa, the many activities and delicious food leaves us rejuvenated and refreshed.

We enjoy reconnecting as a family without the distraction of Wi-Fi, which was the intention of John Sax in creating Treetops. "The real delight to me," he once said, "is not just that you have discovered Treetops, but that you might discover yourself".


Treetops Lodge's Winter Escape packages offer hugely discounted rates, available until October 31. Choose from a Fireside Love Menu, Twonight Luxury Wilderness Adventure, Family Wilderness Adventures, orthe Ultimate Hobbiton & Treetops Middle Earth Adventure.

Plus, in October, the lodge is holding a Health and Wellbeing Retreat weekend hosted by Jason Shon Bennett, who is a renowned health researcher, coach, and author, along with his wife Tracey, a passionate wholefood chef. The retreat includes meditation, yoga, cooking and health seminars, two nights at the lodge, gourmet plant-based meals and a luxury goody bag. For more information, see treetops.co.nz