Saturday, March 29, 2008

Homestead History

I gave in to my passion for grand old mansions again yesterday and visited Okuku Country Estate, which is tucked into a tight fist of huge trees – including two massive redwoods – 30 minutes from the country town of Rangiora. Much has changed in the fifteen years since I last visited; for a start, there are new owners – Robert and Lorraine Smith – who have turned it into a gorgeous retreat for visiting guests. And what an idyllic hideaway. Built in 1920 (after the original 1860 homestead burnt down in 1917) and inspired by Italian Renaissance style, it oozes character and ‘friendliness.’ Dark downstairs panelling, a huge entry hall, big social spaces, six big guest bedrooms, an indoor swimming pool and 30 acres of beautiful gardens to wander in make it a very tempting weekend getaway. Back in the old days the Ensor family lived a grand old life hosting parties and hunts – with the aid of Chinese servants, who lived in the west wing of the house. It’s one of those lovely old places that seems to have sealed its history into every corner; it’s almost tangible. Gorgeous!

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