Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rural Luxury - Wharekauhau

Years (and years) ago, when I was working as a journalist for the Wairarapa Times Age in Masterton, I had a huge rural beat that covered every corner of the Wairarapa province. One of my early jobs there, was to travel down to Wharekauhau Lodge and interview the Shaw family who established it. That was way back before it became what it is today. The lodge was then located in the family homestead and still had a number of years to run before it brought in partners and developed into the luxury retreat (above) it is now.
I stayed at Wharekauhau in July (this was my room, photographed before I messed it up) during my Frommer's travel guide road trip and, coming at the tail end of my journey, it was a very welcome slump into total indolence and self-indulgence. Quite apart from the oh-so comfortable suites and the on-call treats, the landscape lends itself to rest and recuperation.
Wharekauhau nestles into a sheltered spot on a grassy plateau above the pounding seas of Palliser Bay, at the bottom of the North Island. When you travel down Western Lake Road passed Lake Wairarapa, it feels like you're heading for the bottom of the world - that's as it should be for a retreat but I often wonder what foreign guests think as the roads get skinnier and the landscape wilder the further south they go. It's part of a 5,500 acre working farm - one of the oldest Romney studs in New Zealand in fact, dating back to the mid-1800s; and guests willing to pay a bit extra, can get a guided tour of the property - that's especially popular in spring when 16,000-20,000 new lambs appear in the pastures, or in autumn, when the entire flock is mustered in for shearing.
The lodge itself is a sublime spot. There's the main lodge building, built along the lines of a fine Edwardian country mansion, where you can dine in style and throw yourself down into mountains of cushions in the grand living rooms. There's a stunning heated pool complex, tennis courts and clusters of 'cottages' set apart from the central building, giving guests fabulous views over the bay - and privacy from each other.
Wharepapa Cottage is further away - a private three bedroom holiday house; and Chateau Wellington sits just above the main lodge - a sumptuous 4,500 square foot, 3-bedroomed retreat that offers the ultimate in privacy and luxury for those who crave an escape with benefits. It was occupied by a group from Wellington when I was there - they'd all come over for a friend's 60th birthday party, hosted in the main dining room of the lodge and they all slipped quietly into the rural silence in the late afternoon, never to be seen again by other guests.
I'm often asked (in my travel guide writer capacity) what my favourite place to stay in New Zealand is. That's a tough question and one I always find extremely difficult to answer. New Zealand's top lodges at this uppermost level of accommodation are all outstanding. They're all located in spectacular landscapes and each one has a distinct character as a result of that and if I was forced to choose, I'd be hard-pressed to come to a decision. That said, I have always had a soft spot for the Wairarapa. It's vast spread of diverse landscapes is always an attraction - nowhere more so that at this southern tip around Cape Palliser. And Wharekauhau hospitality has an easy warmth to it, a quiet, assurance that's very easy to embrace. Set your foot across the threshold and you very quickly realise you don't have to worry about a thing. www.wharekauhau.co.nz

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