n e w Z e a L a n d
Luxury and oLd worLd charm meLd in the restored 114-year-oLd
new ZeaLand manor house known as otahuna Lodge.
words isaac wiLson
The room pulses as globes in The
ornate antique fitting above flare and dim
in response to the storm-induced electrical
surges. i'm reaching across glistening
silverware for my glass of slightly-warmed
amisfield pinot noir when a falling tree
several kilometres down the road takes down
a powerline and removes us from the grid
for several hours.
While my hosts seem slightly anxious by the
inconvenience, i couldn't be happier.
under the flicker of candlelight, with a
roaring fire at my back and in these exquisite
surrounds i am treated to an evening at new
Zealand's luxurious otahuna lodge, as it
might have been 114 years ago.
steeped in history, the splendid formal
dining room is both spectacular and yet
intimate. We are halfway through otahuna's
legendary five-course degustation menu
(perfectly matched to a flight of new Zealand's
best wines), which celebrates the best of the
region's produce, and, as luck would have it,
the last of the courses requiring the assistance
The Canterbury duck leg braised with
onions and cranberries teamed with celeriac
puree, slow-cooked fennel and chopped olives
offers a wonderful play with its sweet and salty
tastes. paired with the warmed velvety pinot,
releasing a heady bouquet and delightful berry
characteristics, it provides the perfect evening's
as chilling Canterbury winds drive icy
rain against leadlight windows, wine and
conversation flows as the change in lighting
breathes an ever-changing ambience into
n e w Z e a L a n d
Previous spread: otahuna Lodge offers a warm welcome.
From far left: the lavish rhodes suite; and the Verandah
suite's private balcony. Below: the dining room takes fine
dining to the next level. Fol owing page: a grand entrance.
the lodge's magnificent formal dining room.
of Queen anne architecture, but also a
that Cannon and refo were not as similarly
shadows dance across the 18-seat dining table
spectacularly warm and inviting home.
impressed when they first saw the property.
and blend into the rich dark native-wood
glimpsed through a well-manicured
"You have to understand," says Cannon
panelling as the pressed and gilded original
garden, the three-storey white mansion cuts
earlier that evening, from the comfort of a
wallpaper undulates under the ebb and flow
an imposing presence as you wind your way
perfectly stuffed armchair in the drawing
of the candlelight.
under the gnarled branches of one-hundred-
room, enjoying what is known at otahuna
it's the kind of setting that wouldn't be
year-old oaks lining its driveway, passing lush
as pre-dinner `cocktails and canapes' "that
out of place in a bram stoker novel - stormy
rolling green fields (come spring the lower
otahuna didn't look like it does today."
weather, an exclusive and exquisite remote
field will be ablaze with thousands of daffodils
The lodge, home to rhodes for more than
setting, the lone traveller and a sprawling
in bloom) and a sizeable pond.
60 years, had been somewhat neglected over
candlelit dinner table. and while it's every bit
perched atop a small hill among the
the years during its incarnations as a Catholic
as thrilling, and my hosts every bit as charming picturesque rocky outcrops of banks peninsula
monastery, a commune and a guesthouse,
as stoker's most famous character, there's also
in Christchurch, the lodge's exotic name is no
before emerging in 2007 as one of the
a genuine welcome behind their smiles.
longer a mystery when you learn otahuna is
country's, and world's, top luxury lodges.
often when you're told to `make yourself
the maori word for `little hill among the hills'.
"it really was quite a `project', and much
at home' the sincerity behind the remark
as the lodge reveals itself on my approach,
bigger than anything we were interested in
doesn't quite ring true or, try as you might,
it's easy to see why otahuna is considered an
the destination is just that little bit too sterile,
iconic new Zealand property and one of a
however, with the shine waning on their
stuffy or fussy to allow it.
handful of residences to receive a Category 1
adopted big apple home, a second visit, after
not so otahuna lodge. The four-month-
listing with the new Zealand historic places
much arm twisting, sealed their fate.
long, nZ$10 million (approx a$8 million),
Trust. grand in scale and vision, and set
"We both took a lot of convincing," says
restoration at the hands of americans, hall
on a 12-hectare property, this sweeping
proud rX 350 owner refo. "but on the second
Cannon and miles refo, has recaptured and
architectural accomplishment reflecting the
visit we started to see the potential and what a
revitalised the heart and soul of this stunning
finest Victorian elements is a beacon of luxury
wonderful opportunity this really was."
Victorian manor house.
and privacy from a bygone era.
returning the lodge to its former glory,
built in 1895 by renowned new Zealand
indeed, given its privacy and the addition
the pair enlisted auckland interior designer
parliamentarian, philanthropist and
of helicopter landing capabilities on the front
and historic property specialist stephen
horticulturalist, sir heaton rhodes, for his
lawn, it's very likely otahuna lodge tops
Cashmore to work his magic and the results
young wife Jessie; rhodes succeeded in not
many a celebrity list as the ultimate getaway.
are spectacular. entering the lodge is like
only creating australasia's finest example
awestruck as i am, i'm surprised to learn
walking in the footsteps of sir heaton rhodes
n e w Z e a L a n d
himself. immediately, i want to touch every
wonderfully tactile surface, from the delicate
raised wallpapers, well-oiled rimu-panelled
walls and highly polished surfaces of the
sweeping kauri staircase, to the soft leathers
and woollen fabrics covering the period
presided over by the stern eye of legendary
maori war hero rewi maniapoto, one of
the 28 pieces of new Zealand art specially
commissioned to grace otahuna's walls, the
expansive green-toned entrance blends a
classic atmosphere with opulent contemporary
luxury. it also sets an exquisite standard that
is maintained throughout the lodge's seven
themed suites, drawing room, voluminous
library, ballroom, and dining room.
Taking up residence in the master suite,
named after rhodes, i'm expecting to be
suitably impressed. however, i'm not quite
prepared for what's on the other side of the
door. spread over four rooms and the size of a
large apartment, this spectacular 100-square-
metre-plus palatial suite features a grand
ensuite boasting a twin shower and large spa
among his greatest legacies. a constant work-
i take with sous-chef Jeremy scheiblauer to
tub offering views of the native woodlands. in
in-progress, Cannon and refo have returned
collect carrots, broad beans and rocket for that
addition there is an office, enormous bedroom
order to the once overgrown rambling
complete with Victorian-detailed fireplace
woodlands where an inquisitive fantail darts
scheiblauer brings new meaning to the slow
(one of 15 in the lodge) and inglenook seating,
about our feet, eager to collect any insects
Food movement, often dropping the oven's
expansive bed, octagonal sitting room, and
we disturb, as we make our way through the
temperature and increasing a dish's cooking
private balcony offering stunning vistas of
carpet of fallen leaves. similarly the old-world
time - with delicious results.
otahuna's gardens and beyond to the south
charm of the rose garden and meandering
"i think the flavours really come into
island's majestic southern alps.
Dutch garden are proudly displayed.
their own when you slow down the cooking
little touches, such as the bedside jar of
but it's the ample orchard and stone-walled
process," he says. having sampled his previous
delicious freshly-baked cookies restocked daily,
0.2 hectare potager, once housing rhodes'
night's creations, i'm happy to agree.
pristine billowy sheepskin rugs on either side
prized stallions, that really connects the lodge
While a visit to otahuna lodge in spring
of the bed to cushion your first steps of the
to the land. much of what comes out of the
or summer would not be without its obvious
morning, and the nightly stories of the house
otahuna kitchen is grown in the restored
charms and delights, during this wilder
placed on the pillows at turn down make the
19th century organic vegetable garden and
autumnal weather, seated rather grandly in the
visit even more memorable.
bountiful orchards producing 95 different
imposing candle-lit dining room with a puree
Those having trouble sleeping can leaf
vegetables (many of which are heirloom), 25
of otahuna garden carrot soup and salted
through a copy of a short history of sheep in
types of fruit, 20 herbs, and three nut varieties.
groper tortellini before me, a chilled glass
new Zealand, thoughtfully left by the bedside,
and it's not just the gardens and lodge being
of pegasus bay riesling in hand, there's no
and count the flocks within.
revived and reused. small bricked storerooms,
place i'd rather be.
i'm greeted the next morning by blackbirds
dotted around the grounds, house porcini
and thrushes, no doubt at home in the
and other mushroom variety trials bound for
Victorian garden, hopping around under
the kitchen, while the old game house has
a concrete-coloured sky, while the calls of
been converted into a cellar harbouring an
Otahuna Lodge www.otahuna.co.nz
some of the more timid native birds fill the
extensive selection of some of new Zealand's
Air New Zealand flies daily services from
surrounding woodlands, as i venture out for a
finest wines and, in warmer weather, is
Sydney to Christchurch. Fares start from
tour of the gardens with Cannon.
available for those seeking a more intimate
$219 one way, including taxes.
once in excess of 2,000 hectares, otahuna's
For more information please visit
grounds have since been trimmed back; but
at otahuna, the journey from garden to
even so, rhodes' 110-year-old gardens are still
plate is less than a two-minute walk, a walk