Usually thought the realm of couples, a modern-day castle has benefits for families, writes Maggie Wicks
It had been a trying few hours. Setting out from Auckland on a long weekend, our planned three-hour drive had stretched to four, thanks to the usual Takanini snarl-up in the traffic and our family's unstoppable ability to miss turnings (Waikato Expressway? Who needs it. Ohaupō, Kihikihi and Maihiihi, here we come!). But after countless podcasts, Spotify playlists, and almost the entire Hamilton soundtrack, we pulled up to Kinloch, on the shores of Lake Taupō.
Stepping out of our car on a crispy afternoon, there's a sulphuric smell in the air, a reminder of the violent history of the place. Less known for the volcanic activity underfoot than the huge lake it left behind, Taupō and the tiny town of Kinloch have become weekend playgrounds, centres of biking, fly fishing and walking – plus the award-winning golf course. This is a place where Kiwis flock when their schedules allow a little downtime. We arrive to clear sunny skies for our efforts, getting lucky on a long weekend that was forecast to be awful.
In my memory, Kinloch is all light. Golden winter sun hitting the tawny grass, golden couches and animal skins in the living areas, warm woods, bold brass and soft leather. There's a blanket over the back of every armchair, and every hearth burns brightly.
And yet nothing feels too delicate. Each room feels like the kind of place a child could run through without their parent having apoplexy as they step too close to the ornaments. The kind of living room where a discarded pair of red gumboots fit right in with the sheepskin throws and the copper side tables.
Visiting a lodge is the opposite of a big-box hotel experience. Although each has a few important things in common – beautiful views, exceptional food, a seamless sense of being looked after – each also has its own distinct personality, with differences in tone, decor and focus – whether that's food, sports, landscapes or activities.
Kinloch is a modern interpretation of a castle, inspired by Kinloch Castle itself in Scotland. With its high angled ceilings, and incredible aspect over the award-winning Kinloch golf course, the tussocked surroundings, and down to the shores of Lake Taupō, the pale stone lodge undoubtedly carries a regal air.
Taking kids to a luxury hotel/But should kids go?
If you have children, you may think that the best time to visit such a place is on a rare kid-free weekend. But I would argue that travelling with children to a property like this is like carrying a key to secret doorways you would never otherwise have known existed.
After dinner, the chef may stop you at the galley and pass you marshmallows and the branch of a young sapling, and invite you to open the fire coverings and toast the marshmallows in the flames.
At breakfast, you'll count the pīwakawaka darting about in the tussock grass just outside the restaurant window, and the ducks as they dive into the lakes on the golf course below.
At the driving range, a porter might lend you his kids' clubs, and your child will discover the absolute joy of steering a golf cart from tee to tee. At dinner, you'll learn not just the names of the staff, but about their families and kids too.
And yes, it changes your experience of a luxury lodge. You'll find drawings of AT-ATs and Kylo Ren scribbled all over the hotel note pads. You'll be taking splashy baths instead of relaxing bubble baths. You'll have to finish six mini pastries from the breakfast breadbasket because someone took a nibble out of each one.
You'll be simultaneously appreciating the food and listening to a sommelier, while also typing in iPad passcodes and urgently mouthing "say thank you!" across the table.
Without any doubt, travelling with kids comes with its challenges. You're still, after all, managing a restless minor (or two). This is going to be a different experience from that of your friends, who have arranged a child-free weekend, or a child-free life.
There will be early mornings, no luxurious long weekend sleep-ins, long difficult drives, and perhaps a broken glass or two (in our case, a smashed glass dome that someone may or may not have knocked to the ground when he discovered that chocolate had been left in our bedrooms during the turndown service. Shame-faced, we reported the accident to reception together.)
But the beds are made for you. The glass is discreetly swept away. You get home after a day out and the shades are drawn, the toilet paper has been folded at the corners and life feels just that much easier.
In short, a luxury lodge with children is still the mind-boggling multi-tasking juggling act that is parenthood. But with crisp sheets, hot breakfasts and no dishes. Little joyful moments of family life, with a royal touch of luxury.
Tips for a family weekend at Kinloch
Head down to the lake
There are paths along the rocky shore of Taupō, perfect for a stroll and some stone-skimming practice. There's also a playground right on the beach for the younger ones.
Taupō's Great Lake Trails - cross through Kinloch. Borrow bikes from the lodge, or bring your own to ride to Kawakawa one day and follow the W2K trail to Whakaipo Bay the next.
Toy and book library
Right on Kinloch's beach, you'll find a tiny wooden shed. In it is a fine selection of holiday reading, coffee table books, chick lit, kids' readers and more. Borrow one and return it, or swap one out.
With their fully stocked and spacious kitchens, Kinloch's villas are perfect for catering. Supplies can be picked up at the Kinloch Store, where you'll find fresh vegetables, meat, a good selection of deli produce such as cheese, crackers and dips, and drinks including wine and beer. For lunches, pop next door to the Tipsy Trout for generous meals and locally produced Lakeman craft beer on tap.
Eat, eat, eat
Kinloch's new chef, Norka Mella Munoz, refers to herself as a "Chiwi" - Chilean Kiwi, and her food brings the flavours of both these heritages. She's as likely to serve empanadas (crispy and light and loaded with local veal) as corn fritters, and didn't even blink when our son requested vegetarian versions of everything. She spoils both adults and kids rotten.