HOTEL REVIEW: WHAREKAUHAU COUNTRY ESTATE

Sheep farms abound in New Zealand. In fact, sheep outnumber humans in the country at a ratio of 7 to 1. So for a truly authentic New Zealand experience, I love the idea of spending a few days on an actual working sheep farm and Wharekauhau Country Estate is the perfect place to do just that. This Relais & Chateaux property has operated as a sheep station since the 1840s and guests are offered the unique opportunity to see what this means first-hand through the lodge’s farm tour.

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GETTING THERE

Wharekauhau is located in the Wairarapa Valley on the North Island of New Zealand, about a 2 hours’ drive from the capital city of Wellington. The lodge can arrange for vehicle transfers for those who do not want to rent a car, or, you can opt to arrive by helicopter in just about 15 minutes’ time!

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THE ACCOMMODATIONS

The oceanside property is sprinkled with one-bedroom cottage suites, most of which offer interconnecting options to allow for families or larger groups to stay together. All of the suites overlook stunning vistas of Palliser Bay, and feature gas fireplaces, super King-sized four poster beds, plush couches, and of course – a jar of homemade cookies. The large walk-in wardrobe leads into a small wet bar area and then on to the bathroom where guests will find heated marble floors and large soaking tubs with views over the front lawn.

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DINING

Breakfast is served in the kitchen of the main lodge – a continental buffet of breads, pastries, fruit, fresh jam and honey, plus a menu of hot selections available for order. Pre-dinner drinks and canapés are served in the living room and offer guests the opportunity to mingle and discuss the day’s activities by the fire. Dinner is then presented in the formal dining room – a delicious 4-course menu (changing daily) with an optional wine pairing. Many of the wines are from local Martinborough vineyards or produced by the lodge owner’s vineyards around the world.

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Room rates are inclusive of daily breakfast, pre-dinner drinks and canapés and 4-course dinner. Guests can opt for lunch at an additional fee, but given all the food, you may want to skip it as we did, and just grab a pastry from the cloche in the kitchen to tide you over.

ACTIVITIES

There are so many fun and unique activities to do at Wharekauhau! We partook in the following:

  • Martinborough Wine Tour – the Martinborough region is known for fabulous Pinot Noirs. Just about an hour from Wharekauhau you’ll be in wine country with easy access to multiple different vineyards. Wharekauhau arranged a private guided tour for us that included tastings at four different wineries. Moy Hall was one of my favorites due to the design of the building. And we loved the lunch spread at Poppies – a platter of cheeses, meats, breads and spreads is always perfect for wine tasting. If you’d like to ship a case of wines home from a variety of the vineyards you visited, don’t forget to stop at the Martinborough Wine Merchants store in town before you leave and assemble your box. IMG_2671IMG_5116
  • Farm Tour – As I mentioned above, the Farm Tour is an absolute must for all guests experiencing Wharekauhau as it gives you the opportunity to really understand what goes into operating a sheep farm – from training sheep dogs to shearing the wool. The day we participated, everyone else staying at the lodge was also on the tour and it was a great way to connect with our fellow travelers.DSC02594DSC02609
  • Archery – With the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, archery has become a popular activity for New Zealand visitors. Wharekauhau offers an incredible archery experience with a seasoned guide.

These were just a few of the activities we enjoyed, but there are many more options available!

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WHY VISIT

Each place we stayed in New Zealand was completely unique and Wharekauhau did not disappoint. I loved being near the ocean, gazing past herds of sheep to the bluffs of Palliser Bay. The property is stunning and the warmth and hospitality you’ll feel at this estate is palpable. ATLAS + VALISE clients also receive special Virtuoso amenities, including a $100 resort credit and early check-in!

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HOTEL REVIEW: AZUR LODGE

Nestled among soaring mountains at the foot of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand and is a must-see for anyone visiting the country.

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Just a 5-minute drive from this bustling downtown, you’ll find the perfect hideaway for honeymooners and couples – Azur Lodge. This boutique luxury property is incredibly private – it has 9 identical villas perched hillside, with breathtaking views over the lake and surrounding mountains.

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ACCOMMODATION

Villas at Azur Lodge are spacious – from the L-shaped couch set in front of the gas fireplace, to the private patio and the indoor dining table set in a bay of floor-to-ceiling windows – there are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the view. A small kitchenette provides guests with complimentary soft drinks, beer and wine, as well as local snacks, tea and coffee. The villas are arranged such that each is completely private (once you’re in your villa – you won’t see anyone else in theirs!) and have unobstructed views from the King-sized bed to the oversized soaking tub.

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AMENITIES

In addition to the 9 villas, the property has a main reception area with a lounge, dining room and library. At breakfast time, guests can opt to join others in the main dining room, where a delicious buffet spread is laid out, or have breakfast delivered to their villa at no extra charge. In addition to the traditional continental fare, guests can also order a variety of hot items – anything egg-based, pancakes, or french toast.

In the afternoons, pop up to the main lodge for a cup of tea and the pastry of the day, or stop by in the evenings for a cocktail and some canapés (or both – hey, you’re on vacation!). While dinner isn’t included at this property, a full bar is set up in the evenings and you can request pretty much any cocktail or glass of wine that you’d like. The hotel also offers a complimentary shuttle to and from town and the concierge is available to assist with dinner reservations at the top spots in Queenstown (of which there are many!). But, one of the more genius offerings at Azur Lodge is their take on in-room dining. For lunch and dinner, the lodge provides an extensive portfolio of take-out menus in your room – from Asian food to pizza and burgers. Just pick out what you’re in the mood for and the staff will place the order for you, pick it up downtown, and set it up in your room with white linen and silverware. This is the best table in town so don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy it!

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ACTIVITIES

There is SO much to do in Queenstown! As I mentioned, this is the adventure capital of New Zealand and it is also the birthplace of bungee. If you’re up for a major adrenaline rush then this is a great place to skydive or bungee jump. But for the slightly less adventurous out there, I recommend the Shotover Jet, the Luge, e-biking through wine country, and of course, a trip to Milford Sound. Read my full New Zealand post for a recap of everything we did in Queenstown and contact me today to start planning your stay at the beautiful Azur Lodge!

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HOTEL REVIEW: OTAHUNA LODGE

We arrived at Otahuna Lodge late our first evening, after a long day of travel from Kokomo to the main island of Fiji then on to Auckland and finally to Christchurch. Despite the late hour, we were still greeted in the front drive by several staff who helped us with our luggage, gave us a quick tour of the property, showed us to our upgraded Master Suite, and then served us a 3-course dinner at 10 pm. I immediately felt as if I had stepped back in time, to the world of Downton Abbey – we were the Lord & Lady of the Manor here. Words can hardly describe how incredible this hotel was – it was more than a hotel – it was an experience, one that we felt so grateful to have on our Honeymoon and one that left us counting the days until we can return.

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THE HISTORY

Otahuna was built in 1895 for Sir Heaton Rhodes, a Victorian country gentleman, and his wife, Jessie. Sir Heaton lived in the home for 60 years until he passed away at the age of 95, leaving Otahuna (which means “little hill among the hills” in Maori) as his greatest legacy. Though the home has been through several incarnations over the past few decades, it has operated as a hotel since 2007. While privately owned and operated, the property is part of the Relais & Chateaux portfolio and lives up to the brand’s extremely high standards of service, luxury and cuisine.

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THE ROOMS

The property has just 7 rooms, each one of them completely unique in style. We were lucky enough to be upgraded to the Rhodes Suite – 1 of the 2 Master Suites. This series of four rooms was originally the master bedroom for Sir Heaton Rhodes himself – complete with a private verandah, octagonal turret room, a study/foyer and an ensuite bathroom. The accommodation also features beautifully carved woodwork, an operational fireplace and stained glass windows.

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THE CUISINE

Food lovers rejoice at Otahuna! I honestly have probably never had better food in my life. At breakfast, guests are greeted warmly in the country-style kitchen with a slew of freshly baked breads, homemade jams, butter and honey, as well as homemade buffalo yogurt, fresh berries, melon, and of course kiwi! Each day, there will undoubtedly also be a fresh (literally right out of the oven) baked good – perhaps some blueberry muffins or maybe banana chocolate chip. The juicer is also out on the counter, ready to serve up the lodge’s signature Orange-Ginger-Carrot concoction. And a chef in the kitchen can cook up eggs, bacon, sausage to order – or probably any hot breakfast you have in mind. While lunch isn’t included in the rate, ATLAS + VALISE clients receive a complimentary Virtuoso picnic lunch for one day during their stay. We enjoyed this on the back patio – a delicious salad with smoked chicken and vegetables cut from the garden, freshly baked focaccia bread with local olive oil, and a work of art otherwise known as panna cotta with freshly picked berries. Of course there was wine too – whatever wine we wanted! – but I can’t resist a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

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I dare you to go hungry at Otahuna, but if you do, there is a pantry of snacks stocked on the upstairs landing, as well as hot and cold beverages – so help yourself! At dinner time, guests meet in the drawing room for cocktails and canapés before entering the communal dining room for the lodge’s signature 5-course dinner. (Guests can also opt for one of a few private dining locations if they prefer not to eat with the group). Each course is paired with a local New Zealand wine selected by the highly trained server/sommelier. But if you don’t like any of the choices, don’t be shy – just ask for something else.

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THE ACTIVITIES

At the Lodge

  • Tour the Gardens and Visit “Oinkahuna” – Otahuna is home to spectacular gardens, from its massive front lawn and daffodil field, to the vegetable gardens and fruit orchards. You’ll also find some secret garden paths in the woods – leading to hidden clearings and frog ponds. And don’t miss “Oinkahuna” – home to the Lodge’s two pigs. IMG_2298IMG_2296
  • Learn to Cook from a Master – Any visit to Otahuna must include a cooking class. These hands-on lessons are offered in one or three hour formats. We opted for the shorter one, but still learned to make so many different things – from brioche to homemade sorbet, and handmade tortellinis. IMG_2243
  • Bike Ride – The Lodge has bikes on hand if you’re hoping to stretch your legs through the Canterbury countryside. IMG_2231

Nearby

  • Visit Banks Peninsula & Akaroa – One of the main attractions of this area is the historic town of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. You can also take a cruise through the Akaroa harbor and see the world’s rarest and smallest dolphins, the Hector’s Dolphins.
  • Take the Tranzalpine railway to Arthur’s Pass National Park – We did this full day trip one of the days at Otahuna. The lodge can arrange a guided tour for you with Canterbury Guiding Co. You’ll be picked up early from the Lodge and driven to a nearby train station to board the Tranzalpine Railway – one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world. You’ll follow a river as you climb up into the Southern Alps and Arthur’s Pass National Park. You’ll disembark the train there and meet up again with your guide who will take you on some beautiful hikes before returning back to Christchurch by car. LRG_DSC02445LRG_DSC02449LRG_DSC02476
  • Fly Fishing & More

Rates are inclusive of breakfast and dinner (beverages too). Contact me to book your visit to this amazing property today and receive your exclusive amenity of a complimentary picnic lunch and bottle of wine!

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HONEYMOONIN’ THROUGH NEW ZEALAND

When my (now) husband and I got engaged last spring, we immediately started planning for an epic honeymoon – even before we sorted out the details of our wedding! New Zealand seemed like a perfect choice – neither of us had been before and it offered the ideal combination of luxury and adventure that we were both looking for in a honeymoon locale. Plus, as we were married at the end of March, New Zealand would be entering autumn – our favorite season.

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Getting There

As destinations go, New Zealand isn’t necessarily close, but this makes it perfect for a longer trip like a honeymoon. However, flying from the West Coast of the US is actually easier than you might think. From LAX, Air New Zealand has daily direct flights to Auckland – New Zealand’s largest city (about an 11.5-12 hour flight). And from Auckland, it is very easy to connect to all other cities in the country on shorter domestic flights. Since we first spent 5 days enjoying the beaches of Fiji at Kokomo Private Island, our flight to New Zealand was only about 2.5 hours from Nadi – the main international airport in Fiji. Air New Zealand also offers direct flights from the US out of Hawaii, San Francisco, Houston and now, Chicago.

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Planning Your Trip 

New Zealand is comprised of two main islands – North and South. Despite being a relatively small country – less than 5 million people and about the landmass of Colorado – there are so many different areas worth exploring. I definitely recommend visiting about 3 different areas for a 10 day trip – and likely by the last day you’ll be planning for your return trip to explore the rest of this amazing country. For our honeymoon, we chose to visit the Christchurch / Canterbury area and Queenstown on the South Island and the Wairarapa Valley on the North Island.

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Getting Around

New Zealand is a driver-friendly country and many people choose to explore it that way. There is even a ferry service between the two main landmasses that makes it easy to travel between them without flying. However, with a shorter itinerary, I do recommend maximizing your time in each place by flying short hops on Air New Zealand. Flights are only about an hour or so depending where you are traveling between. The airport environment is also much more relaxed than most of the US – no need to arrive at the terminal hours and hours prior to your domestic flights.

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First Stop: Christchurch

Our first stop in New Zealand was Christchurch where we stayed at the incredible Otahuna Lodge, just 25 minutes outside the city center. This Relais & Chateaux property was once New Zealand’s largest private residence, built by Sir Heaton Rhodes in 1895. A stunning Victorian mansion with just 7 rooms and exquisite cuisine, guests truly feel transported back in time.

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On our first full day in Christchurch, we had absolutely perfect weather. So after a delicious breakfast of freshly baked breads and homemade yogurt, we set off on a bike ride through the countryside to enjoy the scenery and stretch our legs from the long travel the day before. That afternoon, we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the garden and a cooking class in the Otahuna kitchen before settling in to a delicious 5-course meal (with local NZ wine pairings!) in the dining room.

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The next day, we set off on a full day adventure with Canterbury Guiding Co. We took the Tranzalpine Railway across the Canterbury Plain and up into the Southern Alps. In Arthur’s Pass National Park, we disembarked the train and met our guide for some hiking and exploration. The weather was really crazy this day – pouring rain one minute, then sunny and rainbows the next! But we made the most of it. And as we drove back to Christchurch, we stopped at Castle Hill Rock – a filming site for Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia – for another hike and photo op.

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Second Stop: Queenstown

Reluctantly, we bid farewell to Otahuna and flew to Queenstown. Our good luck with the weather followed us and we had a beautiful few days in this city. Queenstown is truly a jewel of New Zealand. While a smaller city, it is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand and full of fun activities. Our home base in Queenstown was Azur Lodge – a gorgeous boutique property with only 9 villas set atop a hillside just 5 minutes’ drive from the center of town. While I loved the design and decor at this property, it was the jaw-dropping views that really stole the show.

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What to do in Queenstown:

  • Onsen hot pools – An instagram moment if I’ve ever seen one! This day spa offers private hot tubs overlooking the Shotover River Canyon IMG_2425
  • Shotover Jet – As I said Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand, this is a must do for an adrenaline rush. For about 25 minutes, you’ll be driven through a narrow canyon – dodging rocks and spinning 360s.
  • Skyline Luge – Everyone told us to do the luge in Queenstown. My initial impression was that it would be a bit corny, but we went for it anyways and I could not have been more wrong. Get ready for a real life game of Mario Kart – this is pure fun!IMG_2622
  • Milford Sound Tour – Milford Sound is a stunning fjord in Fjordland National Park in the Southwestern portion of the South Island. You can drive there from Queenstown, but it takes hours so most folks will plan a half day or full day trip by helicopter or fixed wing aircraft. We chose the latter as it is about half the price, but I’d recommend the helicopter for anyone that has issues with motion sickness or a fear of flying and/or heights (I hear the helicopter is smoother)! After a scenic flight over the mountains, you’ll arrive in Milford Sound for a cruise through the fjord – admiring the many waterfalls – before your return flight to Queenstown via a different route. IMG_2545IMG_2520DSC02538DSC02559
  • Better by Bike – This is an amazing way to get out of the city and explore the countryside! Better by Bike will pick you up at your hotel in Queenstown and drive you 30 minutes to Arrowtown and the lake district. From there, they will suit you up with a mountain bike or e-bike (definitely recommend the e-bike!) and a trail map and send you on your way. We spent a beautiful morning biking along the river, crossing bridges, watching bungy jumpers and stopping along the way for tastings at a cheesery and local wineries! IMG_2586IMG_2598IMG_2607

Where to Eat in Queenstown:

  • Rata – Modern New Zealand cuisine; Upscale for a nice dinner, or go for a late lunch as we did and enjoy the pre-set menu at a lower price point IMG_2407
  • White & Wong’s – Eats meets West cuisine inspired by street food from Southeast Asia
  • Botswana Butchery – Upscale dining with a broad selection of high quality meats
  • Madame Woo – Inspired by Malaysian hawker food IMG_2640
  • Mrs. Ferg Gelateria – While all the tourists are lined up at Fergberger next door, stop in for some delicious gelato IMG_2643
  • Azur Delivery – Not an actual restaurant, but one of my favorite things about our hotel in Queenstown. While the property serves breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails + amuses bouches, there is no onsite restaurant for dinner. Instead, they offer you take-out menus from the many restaurants in town and will pick up whatever you like and set it up in your room. This is the best view in town! And you can wear your pajamas. 15A10100-53C8-4A9D-B4D7-B02597FBD149

Last Stop: Wairarapa Valley

For our last stop in New Zealand, we flew up to Wellington and then drove two hours into the Wairarapa Valley where we spent three nights at the beautiful Wharekauhau Country Estate – another Relais & Chateau property, but with a totally different flavor. This estate began in the 1840s as a sheep station and remains a working sheep farm to this day. Guests can stay in one of 16 different cottage suites spread across the property and experience rural New Zealand life – where sheep outnumber humans 7 to 1.

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Our first full day at Wharekauhau, we took a guided wine tour of the Martinborough region – famous for its Pinot Noirs. The wineries are centrally located around the town of Martinborough so it’s easy to visit a few for tastings. On our last full day in New Zealand, we enjoyed the hotel’s famous farm tour – learning about sheep shearing, sheep dogs and sheep herding, and meeting the resident eels – before trying our hand at archery in true LOTR style.

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New Zealand was an incredible honeymoon destination and combined perfectly with Fiji for a blend of relaxation and adventure. I cannot wait to go back and explore more of this gorgeous country.

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