On the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, Wharekauhau Lodge sits on a 5,000-acre working farm in the tucked-away rural region of Wairarapa, which translates to “land of glistening waters” in the native Maori tongue. Here, groups will be embraced by peace and tranquility. We felt like rock stars as we arrived by helicopter from Wellington right onto the hotel’s front lawn. (Your groups can arrive that way too!) Lodge manager Richard Rooney came out to greet us and made sure we felt right at home.
“We offer a true New Zealand experience, with warm and friendly people,” Rooney explains. “Our lodge is meant to feel like an English country house, and groups will feel like they are staying at someone’s home versus a hotel.”
The main lodge is cozy with lots of areas to socialize. The 15 cottage suites are spacious and all come with private porches that are made for relaxation.
The gourmet dinners at the lodge are mouthwatering with farm-fresh products. The sommelier goes to great lengths to pick local wines, such as an Alexander Pinot 2008, pairing them perfectly with the courses prepared by the chef. One night, we had Ora king salmon tartar with capers, lemon horseradish and salmon pears as a starter, with a Black Angus scotch fillet entree.
There are plenty of activities for groups, but the nice thing is that doing very little is an experience in itself, because taking in the surroundings is a true delight. We were driven around in the most up-to-date Range Rovers and given a Romney and Texel sheep shearing demonstration. Groups should also go off-site to nearby Martinborough, home to lots of wineries or for lunch at Poppies with a glass of Pinot Gris.
Also worth visiting is Olivio, the oldest commercial olive grove in the region. The owner is passionate about her olive oils, offering groups olive tastings and a tour of 1,200 different types of olive trees.
Any program you book will be handled flawlessly when New Zealand destination expert Keri Davis, managing director of ICEworks, the luxury DMC, is there to customize the itinerary. “We work with planners from the U.S. to customize itineraries for any size groups,” says Davis.
Buyouts of 30 to 50 people fall into Davis’ sweet spot, opening the door for phenomenal luxury retreats across multiple lodges, and experiences that he says cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world. “I am always thrilled to see our groups’ reactions to our lodges as they are astounded by the beautiful locations that put them in touch with the ‘real’ New Zealand.”