It's all very well foraging for your food.
But what's a chef to do when the wild pikopiko is as popular with the deer roaming free across the property as it is with the guests?
At Rotorua's Treetops Lodge, guests eat local - really local. It is set on grounds of more than 1000ha and almost everything you will eat at Treetops has come from the grounds. Here the philosophy of "estate to plate" is taken very seriously indeed.
Getting to the lodge is an adventure in itself. Guests drive west of Rotorua, and past the immaculate Horohoro marae and school. A gravel road runs past the towering Horohoro Bluffs, and finally a grand stone gate lets you know you have arrived at the edge of the property. But this tree-lined avenue is just the beginning. From here the road snakes its way through a series of avenues, gates and finally a winding bush-lined road - tawa, miro, mamaku, rimu, punga and cabbage trees all knot together to form a thick canopy above it.
At the end of this drive, the lodge appears - it is hidden until the very last moment. Its hunting focus is apparent from the moment you arrive - two life-sized trout handles are attached to the huge entryway doors.
Hidden in plain sight
The Treetops estate sits in a huge natural amphitheatre, sheltered by the bluffs, and criss-crossed by seven streams and hundreds of kilometres of paths. The lodge is on a plateau overlooking the valley, and faces north to capture the winter sun, and the nature that surrounds it has been brought into the design of the building - a shallow river runs directly past, and there are giant stepping stones leading across it. Inside, the roof trusses are ancient rimu found on the property, and the chandeliers are made from some of the antlers shed by the estate deer each year. From the lodge library, guests have a view of the rata and rimu outside, or the trout swimming past.
Property manager Dave Goodman has been at Treetops for almost a decade. New Zealand-born, he honed his hunting and baiting skills on lodge estates in the UK, before settling back into life here.
Goodman manages the gardens and animals that live on the estate. He keeps an eye on the pigs, the deer, the partridges and the pear trees. In the orchard he manages plums, feijoas and sweet and sour cherries, and in the garden beds, we see kale, fennel, artichokes, rhubarb and herbs.
He also looks over the elk, fallow, red deer and sika that roam free across the estate, hunting and culling them as needed. All are wild, none are farmed. A fence surrounds the property, but during the roar, the wild elk are big enough to leap over and find their way in. He keeps an eye on the trout in the streams, and the Arapawa sheep. He even caught a wild boar piglet to mate with the estate's saddleback. ("How did you catch that, then?" I ask. "I jumped on it," he shrugs). And he feeds those pigs with scraps straight from the lodge ("So it's five-star dining for them, as well as the guests.").
Basically, Goodman digs, sows, reaps and hunts everything.
Then in the kitchen, chef Felipe Ponce turns that everything into something else.
A banquet at every meal
Venison bresaola, smoked duck, and horopito chorizo; fruit sorbets and candied nuts, flavoured salts, fig chutney, and kamo kamo soup … he offers us samples of his latest experiments (orange and smoked salts, infused vodkas, pickled cucumbers in huge jars), and when we leave for a walk in the grounds, he wanders outside with us to show us where he picks the fresh watercress from, and we nibble some straight from the stream.
Ponce was born on Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, off the coast of Chile - one of the world's most isolated places. He grew up speaking the language Rapa Nui, which is closely related to Māori. While working in the Cook Islands, he met his wife, and together they returned to her hometown of Rotorua.
Here at Treetops, he runs interactive food experiences for guests, such as foraging trails and wild food workshops. Or you can join him at the chef's table on quieter nights, where he feeds guests morsels straight from the kitchen as he prepares multi-course banquets for the rest of the lodge.
When we arrive at our villa room, a platter awaits - home-pickled vegetables, venison salami from the estate, fig jam from the garden. One guest reported that after arriving hungry to Treetops, they requested some cookies to nibble on. Confused by the wait of 20 minutes, they phoned reception, only to be told that the chef was baking them fresh.
Every night before dinner, guests gather in the great hall for shared canapes and drinks - it is an opportunity to meet and socialise before peeling off for private dinners. Throughout the lodge, there are trout and the deer to be seen in statues, lamps and motifs; in the billiards room, the busts of beasts hunted from the estate adorn the walls. The following day, guests can join Goodman hunting or fishing, or follow the chefs on a food tour around the grounds, gathering native produce as they go to be used in their next meal.
Which brings us back to those gardens and that pikopiko. Pikopiko - young fern fronds - is a favourite of the deer. They love to nibble on the tender young shoots (which can be treated similarly to asparagus). So at Treetops, this wild plant, instead of being foraged as per the fashion, is farmed - locked away behind a garden fence, to protect it from the wild raiders. That is, until dinner is served.
How to make the most of a weekend at Treetops
The estate is littered with 70km of pathways - from 10-minute bush wanders, to more elaborate tramps that will take half a day or more. The most spectacular is Bridal Veil Falls - a clearly marked 35-minute mossy bush walk will lead you to a magnificent 50m waterfall, so hidden by forest, it took years for estate owner John Sax to find it. If you're taking a longer hike, Felipe will pack you a picnic of sandwiches, fruit, salads, fresh-baked cookies and a couple of beers if you fancy.
Try the spa
Outdoor hot tubs hidden in a native forest setting - but only metres from the lodge itself. Book a private soak, and have canapes and champagne there waiting for you.
Practise your shot
Guests who sign on for archery will be led by the estate manager to the archery trail - a series of targets hidden along a short bush track. Warm up on the "Thanksgiving dinner" (a model turkey) then move on to a model of a pig, which comes shooting out of the bush on a pulley.
Make use of the space
There's a library to explore, reading nooks to curl up in, an original Goldie to ponder while you pore over a book. Play billiards, or giant Jenga, or have a drink by the hearth that takes up an entire wall of the hall. Whichever is your cup of tea, make use of the facilities.