Shandelle Battersby sees how the other half live during a luxury stay in the Wairarapa
Location: This expansive country estate — part of the Relais & Chateau stable of luxury properties — is a couple of minutes from Ocean Beach at Palliser Bay, on the southeastern tip of the North Island. It is a ruggedly beautiful spot; the black sand beach is at the foot of a dramatic ridgeline of cliffs and it is surrounded by mountains. Wharekauhau ("place of knowledge", pronounced "whare-ko-ho"), established in the 1840s, was the second romney sheep stud in New Zealand and is still a working sheep and cattle farm — this heritage is paid homage to throughout, especially with the "rowlock" symbol used on its branding and as decor.
Getting there: Either a 10-minute helicopter ride from Wellington or a 1 hour, 40-minute drive. To get there you turn off at Featherston and head for the coast, or we'd recommend a stop at the pretty town of Martinborough 15 minutes up the road for a wine tasting, some shopping and a bite to eat.
Check-in experience: The first thing we noticed was the line-up of gumboots (Hunter and Red Band, of course), in all sizes, next to baskets holding umbrellas and gnarled walking sticks. After we were greeted and an order for coffee and tea taken, our car and bags were whisked away quick as a flash, and we were led to our cottage, about a minute's walk away.
A bit about the history: In the early 80s, station owners Bill and Annette Shaw began offering lodge accommodation, one of the first places in New Zealand to do so. In 2010 the property was bought by billionaire Bill Foley and his wife Carol, an American couple who had fallen in love with the property and the area during a previous stay, and they carried out a refurb a year later.
Wharekauhau hit the headlines in 2014 when William, Kate and George stayed during their royal visit to New Zealand on their royal visit, as did the Dutch king and queen last year, and model Jessica Gomes was shot for Elle magazine there in November.
Interesting facts: Foley hit the headlines in the US a year ago after he paid US$500 million ($691m) to get the National Hockey League to Las Vegas for the first time for the 2017-18 season. He also has vineyard interests in California in Sonoma and the Napa Valley, and owns Te Kairanga and Martinborough vineyards and Lighthouse Gin in the Wairarapa under the company Foley Family Wines. The estate's next-door neighbour is Titanic and Avatar director James Cameron.
Room: One of the property's 13 Cottage Suites — three more are in the works, meaning capacity will rise from 32 guests to 38. This includes two three-bedroom options — the opulent Owner's Cottage and Wharepapa Cottage. You can also interconnect to the Cottage Suite next door.
Our suite's farm-chic decor was elegant and relaxing — it was 8C out, and the gas fireplace and underfloor heating is a welcome respite from the chill. It had a large walk-in closet/dressing room, and the small kitchenette was well equipped with teas, coffee and a jar of rowlock-branded shortbread cookies. It had a small mini-bar too. The beds (twin) were surrounded by a net curtain, and we had Sky TV and unlimited Wi-Fi.
The idea here is that it's a jeans 'n' boots sort of place — welcoming, comfortable and, of course, top-of-the-line luxurious, but at the same time casual and homely. Guests are encouraged to treat the lodge as a home-away-from-home.
A room with a view? All the cottages are private and face the ocean, overlooking manicured, vibrant green grass and a small pond. As the sun sets, light hits the hills, giving off a pretty, golden glow. You really feel like you're a million miles from anywhere.
What's in the neighbourhood? The charming townships of the Wairarapa (and the area's wineries and artisan food producers) are within driving distance, and tours can be arranged from the lodge for you (there are 29 wineries nearby). You can also do heli-fishing and take a ride to the seal colony and lighthouse at Lake Ferry. The property's 2230ha offers horse-riding, ATV quad-bike adventures or shooting/archery/fishing, or you could take in a cooking class or farm tour.
Food and drink: Foley's connections to the wine world have led to an increasing emphasis on Wharekauhau's food and beverage offerings, and the world-class wine cellar, which you can have small wine tastings in with French sommelier Nicolas, reflects this. The estate's kitchen is helmed by award-winning chef Marc Soper, who serves up a contemporary menu of seasonal farm-to-table New Zealand classics, such as beef fillet, mussels and salmon.
The main dining room is lively and friendly, and there are private dining options in the plush surrounds of the upstairs Palliser Room (inspired by Dante's Inferno) or the lighter area that houses the library and artefacts from the lodge's past. Breakfast is served in a farmhouse kitchen-style area of the lodge, which has a sunny cafe-style dining area where you can either help yourself to homemade bread and preserves, fresh fruit and cereal, or order a cooked breakfast from the a la carte menu.
The kitchen is as self-sustainable as possible and foraging is a common practice for the kitchen staff who will gather wild fennel, kelp from the beach, and kawakawa leaves for tea. Manuka honey comes from Cameron's farm next door and there is an onsite vege garden and many different varieties of fruit trees.
Toiletries: A good selection from premium New Zealand natural skincare line Nellie Tier.
The bathroom: Has a luxurious tub with spectacular views of the grounds, and is set up with a jar of bath salts and a tealight candle for maximum relaxation. There is a menu of bath treatments that you can arrange to be set up in your room, think the romantic soak (candlelit, lavender strewn bath, a bottle of Louis Roederer Rosé Champagne and a fresh fruit platter) or the classic bubble bath for kids (with a rubber duck, chocolate brownie and glass of milk).
Noise: As 11m waves pounded Wellington's south coast, we could hear the effects at Palliser Bay too, with the ocean emitting a constant roar.
Facilities: As well as the 24-hour indoor lap pool (heated to 28C), there is a small gym and plenty of hiking trails around the property, and mountain bikes you can borrow. The on-site spa has a range of beauty and wellness treatments available, and there's a large games room with pool and gaming tables, an astroturf tennis court, a croquet lawn and a petanque court.
Perfect for: A weekend escape or even a midweek getaway — especially for a special occasion. Families are also well catered for and it's ideal for groups too.
Wharekauhau Country Estate is on Western Lake Road, Palliser Bay, Wairarapa. Phone: (06) 307 7581.