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From Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands, an easy drive will take you past the Rangihoua Heritage Park towards Purerua Peninsula and eventually to a discreet gated property known as the The Landing.
The thousand-acre property developed over 20 years is dedicated to protecting native bush and wildlife. A long driveway meanders around extensive wetlands and The Landing vineyard with direct views over Wairoa Bay.
The first grapes were planted in 2007 and Chardonnay is king in this part of Northland. I’m treated to an informative vineyard tour with wine tasting at the newly built Cellar Door.
“Our chardonnay is fruit-driven but not in the usual fruit way. It has more of an acid-mineral character,” says The Landing’s wine connoisseur, Keith Barker.
In an attempt to walk off the alcohol, I gingerly follow a pathway creatively landscaped in native and sub-tropical plantings and large limestone boulders. At dusk, I spot a small kiwi scurrying across the driveway. Some of them inhabit the surrounding bush, their squeal unmistakable in the distance.
Owner and developer Peter Cooper grew up in Kaitaia and his family have a long history with Northland Maori. He left New Zealand to study law in the US and is known for his property development projects in several large cities. More recently he was instrumental in the development of Auckland’s waterfront precinct, Britomart.
He views his role at The Landing as predominantly kaitiaki (caretaker) of the land.
“We are guided by the principles of whakaute (respect), kumanu (care) and tautinei (support),” says Cooper, emphasising that sustainability is at the core of their business.
There are four villas, each with privacy and uninterrupted views of the ocean. Footsteps from the water, The Boathouse is a spacious two-bedroom villa with extensive outdoor dining and an open fireplace. The five-bedroom luxurious Cooper residence has a collection of artefacts that together with black & white photographs of early Maori from Rangihoua Bay and selected works from prominent New Zealand artists bring the expansive interior to life. The Landing’s unique combination of luxury and relaxed comfort is a place even Barak Obama felt at home in during a visit in 2018.
Architect Pip Cheshire drew on the classic mid-century barn and gables design to replicate the original shearing shed, combined with solid stone that would ground the dwelling to the land.
Outdoor lounging areas complete with fireplace, fish smoker, barbecue and teppanyaki grill, lend themselves to being as lazy or productive as you’d like.
The Landing’s 8m boat Iti Rangi is available any time for guests to enjoy scenic tours or dedicated fishing trips. I’d recommend a history tour with Brett Michalick, he’s a wealth of knowledge and the stories are relayed with vibrancy and high drama.
General manager Garth Solly has managed hotels in Asia for a decade and says owner Peter Cooper subscribes to the Maori philosophy of guardianship, having a 100-year plan for the property.
“There’s a sense of custodianship and respect for the land, the place and the people. That’s what really drew me to this part of the world. The concept of having an important and special part of New Zealand to show to people is paramount here.”
For those interested in history, there’s plenty to explore. It’s a short walk to the top of Rore Kahu, with dramatic views across the valley and an easy walking track that takes you past the Pa site to Rangihoua Bay and the Marsden Cross memorial.
Donkey Bay Inn
A short ride on the iconic Opua ferry will bring you to Russell and heading in the direction of Long Beach.
Veering off the main road and down a driveway I encounter a fuchsia pink wall and a random red telephone box. Uncertain if I’m in the right place, I abandon the car and meander through a canary yellow tunnel feeling a little like Alice in Wonderland. A landscaped courtyard with a vivid turquoise wall leads me to large entrance doors that open to reveal nothing short of an artistic masterpiece.
Shaped like an amphitheatre, Donkey Bay Inn is surrounded by cliffs protecting it from the westerlies.
The peninsula, which isn’t fully appreciated until you’re on the deck, comprises rugged cliffs and a private beach framed by extensive native bush.
It’s possible to spend hours admiring the view, if it weren’t for the interior that screams out for attention.
Hotel manager Amelia indicates the bay immediately below and says despite the winter chill, the nudist beach is great for swimming. But for those who prefer the security of a swimsuit, Long Beach is just a five-minute walk away.
I sink into the deep crimson Victorian sofa to learn more about Italian-born owner Antonio Pasquale. Arriving in New Zealand 25 years ago, he travelled the country before purchasing a property and establishing the Pasquale vineyard in Kurow.
But it was on a trip north that the self-described naturist fell in love, saying the Donkey Bay property “spoke to him”.
“There are lots of rocks in the area and I’m quite sensitive to magnetic energy. I really wanted to find materials that would fit this landscape.”
Curves are at the core of the building and maritime architect Gary Underwood reinforced the obvious eco-conscious elements of the property. The commitment to being sustainable is obvious. The house is powered by solar energy, water is sourced from a local spring and extensive vegetable gardens and native bush surround the property.
Wharf beams made from Greenheart gum form the core structure of the house, supporting half a metre of dense soil and plants on the living roof.
Across the way, an iridescent blue peacock holds court by the fireplace, while a life-size photograph of Princess Margaret water-skiing, suspends overhead.
There are four luxurious suites, each with a sense of artistic opulence. On the top floor, Skyfall has expansive views across the bay. The colourful four-poster bed sits centre stage to an oversized bathroom with an absurdly large bath. The DB5 suite appeals to Aston Martin fans, with its low slung ceiling, pintucked yellow leather headboard and door, art deco furniture and vintage Moulin Rouge posters.
Quirkiness, kitsch and absurdity is evident in every room, with old-school English bathroom scales, an original telephone exchange and a hair drying lamp salvaged from the ’60s.
Two freestanding baths are perfectly positioned a little distance away on a private deck overlooking the bay. The bath is put to good use at dusk, stargazing in what has to be one of the best locations for it.
According to Antonio, Interior designer, Patrick Crawshaw was integral to the fit-out.
“Patrick was fundamental to the design. If it was up to me, it would have looked like a bordello.”
The hotel is definitely bohemian in nature, which is perhaps what drew me there in the first place.
The wetland area below the house has an olive grove, extensive vegetable gardens, a chicken coop, and beehives. Despite the hotel’s name, I hadn’t counted on several donkeys actually grazing in the yard.
“I want guests to have a unique experience at the Inn — they’re not coming to a chain hotel,” Antonio says, picking handfuls of kale to feed them.
His boutique vineyard produces wine for guests as well as a small supply for the Duke of Marlborough hotel. There’s enormous scope for history buffs in the area with the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, The Russell Museum, The Pompallier Mission and the R Tucker Thompson Tall Ship trip.
But if your stay is more about relaxation and being in touch with nature, then you needn’t move a muscle.
Gibbston Valley Lodge and Spa
The South Island has long been recognised as an ideal grape growing region and in 1983 wine pioneer and Gibbston Valley founder Alan Brady, saw the potential for starting a vineyard in central Otago.
He purchased a site and set about creating their Home Block vineyard, a family restaurant and wine tasting room. Although the pinot noir and riesling grapes were planted in 1983, the label first gained international attention when the Gibbston Reserve 2000 pinot noir won gold at the London International Wine Challenge in 2001.
The 50ha vineyard property was on-sold to American developer Phil Griffith who had a vision to create upmarket lodge accommodation, a wine cave and a boutique spa that overlooked Le Maitre vineyard and Gibbston below.
Lodge manager Andrew Fontein explains that the impressive 80m-long wine cave was carved from solid rock and houses 400 oak barrels of pinot noir, in addition to a tasting room to sample Whitestone cheese.
The newly opened lodge includes 24 villas in natural timber tones with a small stream constructed from schist that mitigates any road noise below. The villas have a private courtyard, comfortable lounge with gas fire and a spacious tiled bathroom.
Bikes are available at the lodge so I took the opportunity to cycle the Gibbston River Trail, fortunately managing to stumble on Peregrine, Coal Pit and Kinross. Luckily the pannier holds several bottles if you stop to shop along the way. The cycle track also runs along the Kawarau River with an option to continue to Arrowtown for more of an excursion.
Positioned at the top of the hill and perfect after a day of activity, the boutique Gibbston Spa is an ideal respite.
As part of the Wine Cave experience, visitors can tour the Gibbston vineyard, explore the wine cave and sample wine and cheese in the tasting room.
Gibbston is a year-round adventure destination, but be warned, you’ll need more than a weekend.
Located on the shores of Lake Hayes, Stoneridge Estate fits seamlessly into the landscape as though it’s been there forever. A long driveway cuts into the hill curving past sprawling vines and landscaped gardens to arrive at the impressive alpine lodge.
The idea for the 13ha property came about by chance when artist Da’Vella Gore happened to notice an old Catholic church being demolished. After successfully persuading the priest to put the bulldozers on hold, she arranged for specific items to be moved six hundred kilometres across the mountain pass to the magical site at Lake Hayes.
Largely built from recycled timbers, slate and schist, Da’Vella’s vision of a classic English-style country house became a reality in the mid ’80s.
An original altar rail forms the top of the mezzanine floor, stained glass windows procured from Winton Church feature in the dining room and exposed carved beams and timber trusses rescued from Hokitika’s St Mary’s Church are a feature of the lounge, together with marble benches from the church altar. There’s a sense of peaceful respite inside the lodge, that incorporates three tastefully furnished suites with private balconies and stunning views across Lake Hayes.
The latest addition to Stoneridge is the impressive architectural "Retreat". Six modern, luxurious rooms have panoramic views that would persuade you to stare out the window the entire day. A terrace with infinity pool and hot tub completes the outdoor setting.
A reception venue is positioned far enough away from the lodge not to impinge on privacy and the substantial ballroom that resembles a Scottish castle, can cater for weddings and other celebrations.
According to Da’Vella, every castle should have a chapel and hers sits pride of place on the hill. There’s also a self-contained cottage for couples on honeymoon.
It’s the sort of place that combines wellbeing with total luxury, and once you get there you’ll likely want to stay forever.
Lindy Davis was hosted at The Landing and Donkey Bay Inn.