Five Lodges in New Zealand

Old Feb 24, 19, 4:11 pm
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Five Lodges in New Zealand -Huka, Kauri, Cape Kidnappers, Otahuna,Matakauri

We just returned from a trip to New Zealand, running the table on all Robertson Lodges (Kauri Cliffs, Matakauri and Farm at Cape Kidnappers) plus Otahuna and
Huka. This was our second trip to NZ, but it has been many years. We had planned four stops, but NZ canceled our flight to the Cook Islands, so we added a fifth, which might have been one too many in 13 days.

A few tips I would give people planning a similar trip include:
-Pick the sights/activities of interest first and then pick the most convenient lodge…some of these are remote and that must be considered.
-The old chestnut is to avoid NZ and Australia school holidays. To that I’d add avoiding Chinese New Year’s and similar heavy travel times, confirming no wedding will be in house and watching cruise ship schedules. Thousands of cruise ship passengers can easily overwhelm a small town.
-Getting around NZ is delightful - we didn’t have a car (only occasionally wish we had) but were well served by commercial and private flights, helicopters, taxi, private drivers and uber.



We did not come back with a “favorite,” as all of the lodges had different settings and strengths and weaknesses, but there was a commonality to the routine everywhere: buffet breakfast with cooked options, lunch optional, cocktail hours and a five course/tasting menu. All rooms had coffee/tea making and snacks. Some of these lodges depend on seasonal help, so perfect standards might be difficult to maintain, however everyone will be delightful! Herewith are some thoughts, with apologies for no photographs.



1) KAURI CLIFFS - This was the dressiest, most “golf resort” of the group. The jacket requirement certainly comes from golf culture and it felt a bit odd in a relaxed country like NZ, in addition to being a nuisance, as frequently discussed on FT. I will also note upfront that there is no A/C in the rooms here, which should be considered by those who are not comfortable without it. The setting is spectacular, with cliffs and water everywhere. There are many hikes, a pool and property tour to keep non-golfers busy and we had an excellent massage. That said, our goal was to spend time in the Bay of Islands, which was at least 45 minutes away. As such, we might have preferred one of the new properties there. For a golfer, however, this place is fantastic.



The breakfasts and lunches here were our favorites, with the chef not afraid to use bright, assertive flavors. Service was warm, but not always timely – on two mornings, our breakfast dishes kept piling up and coffee wasn’t refilled, etc. I got the sense that there might be staff shortages at times. Kauri did the best job of cocktail hour, with seating conducive to talking with others and even having a Maori performance one evening.

We stayed in the Owner’s Cottage, which has two bedrooms, small kitchen, library, pool and 2-1/2 baths. For the high four-figure price point, it wasn’t at the level it should have been, both in terms of the room and, particularly, the service. The large common room did not have a TV, which might matter to some groups. The bedrooms were comfortable, though a bit warm without A/C. There was an annoying motion sensor that clicked every time we went near the closet or bathroom. There were piles and piles of the owner’s belongings, old VHS tapes, etc. To some it might be charming; to others (hand is up) it might be time to cull.

The Housekeeping here rankled and was the biggest service fail of our trip. Upon arrival, there was a dead fly obviously in the middle of the floor on the path to the bedroom, and it remained there during our entire stay. On our last night we got NO turn down service (it had been perfunctory at first.) We called at 9:15 and were told, “they didn’t get around to it.” I confirmed that they HAD done turn down for other rooms, but apparently felt like skipping the most expensive (by many multiples) accommodation on the property. She asked, “is there anything you want?” Well, I’d prefer clean towels, no trash, clean cups and not to have to close every shutter and curtain in this large room, so yeah. I told her it was very unimpressive and that was the end of that. We chose not to escalate it but my TA was not pleased and reached out to the manager, who comped a lunch and massages and sent candy to the next property with a note of apology.

We didn’t see other rooms, but they seemed to be two by two and quite tightly packed. One guest told me that the people in the adjoining room were quite noisy, which seems a shame in this atmosphere, but that might have been bad luck. Overall, we truly loved the views and environment but it was not a good fit for us.



2) MATAKAURI – the setting here is so magnificent that it can hurt the eyes, featuring a world-class view of lake and mountains. We struggled with where to stay in the Queenstown area, as we feared that Eichardt’s would be noisy (it was bustling there!) and Blanket Bay seemed too far outside of town. This was a brilliant choice as we were able to get into Queenstown in 10 minutes, but have peace otherwise. We also visited Arrowtown and took a Dart River Boat Ride in Glenorchy so, while there isn’t much to do on the property, there is access to many activities nearby. The hotel does have a pool, gym and spa, however.

Our Deluxe Suite had a sitting area, small outdoor seating area and a separate area for the bed upstairs. There were steps down into the room and then back up to the bedroom, which might not be ideal for everyone. Housekeeping was prompt and they quickly brought extra pillows, as only two were on offer.

The food was good but the dining room and kitchen staff gets a big shout out for going above and beyond in providing surprises that were not requested. On one night, they brought a great broccoli side dish that wasn’t on the menu because they noted that I liked it so much. But the highlight was having peach pie made for us….I had mentioned that pie was a favorite trip treat but that in NZ, pies are savory. It was the service peak of our trip.



3) OTAHUNA – I was really apprehensive about an 1895 restored mansion as a NZ venue but boy, was I mistaken. Five minutes after our arrival I said, to no one in particular, that “nothing will go wrong here.” And that proved accurate. This beautiful mansion was lovingly restored by two gents from the US and it is absolutely magical, the perfect palate cleanser between the more traditional lodges. The staff is well trained and professional, but also warm and fun – the pride they have working at Otahuna is palpable.

Otahuna is set on maybe 30 acres with beautiful gardens. The food is lawn to table and lambs and pigs are also raised here. Just walking around is a delight. The rooms are all different, so I’d consider among the options. We were in the Rhodes Suite, which was a warren of rooms – large bedroom, porch, room with a desk and room with a table plus a lovely bathroom. It sounds odd, but it works well.

The chef, Jimmy McIntrye, is a legend in NZ and deserves to be. Dinners here were among the best we have had in other hotels anywhere in the world. The tasting menu has a wine pairing of local wines and everything is served and explained without a bit of pomp. And no jackets required.
We came here wanting to revisit Christchurch, which is nearby, but most of the other guests we coming and going in helicopters to wineries and places like Akaroa.



4) THE FARM AT CAPE KIDNAPPERS – this is another Robertson golf resort (think jacket for dinner) but has a lower key, more rustic vibe than CK. The golf course is set apart, so it isn’t in your face, but golfers we met said it was a better course than the one at CK. There are many activities at the Farm (for $$) that we enjoyed: a delightful 3 hour Can Am trip around the property including the gannet colony, a walk to see a kiwi and learn about conservation and a visit with the shepherds.

We prefer rooms that have separate sitting and sleeping areas, but that wasn’t available here, so we had a Ridge Suite which is a large room and walk in closet and
a beautiful outdoor sitting area. Once again, beautiful views were everywhere. Some of the suites are quite a hike from the lodge, although they will certainly transport you in a golf cart.

As with KC, this is a remote location, so I’d be sure the activities here appeal – we enjoyed it very much. The art deco town of Napier is 45 minutes away and we wish we had visited but, when we passed it, two cruise ships had dispatched thousands so we didn’t stop.


5) HUKA LODGE – A good drinking game would be to take note of how many times Queen Elizabeth’s name is invoked here. This is very much a property trading on its past and, while we liked it very much, it probably doesn’t quite live up to its self regard. We found the setting on the river very relaxing and a nice change from other scenery on the trip. As well, the tropical plantings were almost Disney-esque in being perfectly on point.

We stayed in a Lodge Suite, which is a bedroom and separate Living Room connected by a common entry. The bedroom was comfortable and the housekeeping perfectly timed and completed. The bathrooms however, were a design fail. Although spacious with two sinks and a large tub, someone thought it was a good idea to tuck the shower and WC behind separate glass doors at angles. The WC was so small that the door had to be kept open when in use and the shower was so small that the water hit the wall, it was dark and there was barely room to turn around.

The food was maybe our least favorite, but it was still very good. A bit precious and there wasn’t the flexibility found at other places. They have 15-20 separate venues for private dining for dinner and it was amusing to watch the charming wait staff run all around. The effort that took was appreciated. And book ahead for the better venues. We took a boat on Taupo Lake for fishing, walked to Huka Falls and went to Rotorua (45 minute drive) to see the thermal features and learn more about Maori culture.

---------------------------

We feel very fortunate to have been able to experience so many beautiful settings and lodges in one shot. While we had no favorites, the one to which we would return is Matakauri, primarily because of the access to Queenstown and its stunning beauty. We enjoyed the activities at Cape Kidnappers and the service and dinner at Otahuna the most. Huka and Otahuna provided a pleasant contrast to the Robertson Lodge formula.



It must also be noted that the food everywhere was superb – some was just more to our taste than others, although I imagine that most would agree with Otahuna being in a class by itself.



While we visited cities, a trip to NZ should really be about nature and being outside.

There is no place we have ever visited that has more natural beauty so consistently.

Our trip also allowed us a chance to see different types of scenery, from the Bay of Islands to mountains and lakes and cliffs and gardens. It’s one of the most bulletproof destinations on offer and the development of so many beautiful lodges is icing on the cake.

Last edited by Mickidon; Feb 26, 19 at 7:22 am Reason: to eliminate duplication and list properties
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Old Feb 27, 19, 2:45 am
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Thank you for your wonderful review!
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Old Feb 27, 19, 7:07 pm
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How was the fishing at Huka?
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Old Feb 27, 19, 7:29 pm
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Originally Posted by LinLant View Post
How was the fishing at Huka?
We had a boat charter on Taupo Lake and really enjoyed the scenery and fishing. It's idiot-proof and we caught our dinner in about 3 minutes. For those who don't know,
trout cannot be bought or sold in New Zealand. We actually had to show our fishing license to the chef so that he was able to prepare it for dinner.
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Old Feb 27, 19, 7:43 pm
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Originally Posted by Mickidon View Post
We had a boat charter on Taupo Lake and really enjoyed the scenery and fishing. It's idiot-proof and we caught our dinner in about 3 minutes. For those who don't know,
trout cannot be bought or sold in New Zealand. We actually had to show our fishing license to the chef so that he was able to prepare it for dinner.
Husband is an avid fly fisherman. When we went to NZ it was a tossup between Huka and Poronui. Husband picked Poronui as Huka had jacket at dinner suggestions, and Husband is not into that. Was curious if the flyfishing was the same or better.
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Old Feb 28, 19, 7:09 am
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Originally Posted by LinLant View Post

Husband is an avid fly fisherman. When we went to NZ it was a tossup between Huka and Poronui. Husband picked Poronui as Huka had jacket at dinner suggestions, and Husband is not into that. Was curious if the flyfishing was the same or better.
Can't help on fishing comparison, but Huka no longer requires jackets at dinner. The only two properties holding on to this seem to be Kauri Cliffs and Farm at
Cape Kidnappers.
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Old Feb 28, 19, 8:51 pm
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While we visited cities, a trip to NZ should really be about nature and being outside.

There is no place we have ever visited that has more natural beauty so consistently.

I really enjoyed reading your review on the lodges. We have been to NZ about 10 times in the last 20 years and I've thought on and off about staying in the lodges but never did. Your post convinced me we have made the right decision and focused on the real best NZ has to offer, its natural beauty, national parks where the water can be drunk from streams, geothermal activity, penguins, fur seals and other animals, glaciers, mountains, sounds, stargazing etc. We had lunch at Huka Lodge couple of years ago which was nice enough and were able to get to see Cape Kidnappers while at the Gannet colony nearby. Wearing a jacket to dinner is kind of incongruous at many levels for Nz and having to have all Your meals at the same place kind of limits Your ability to get the feel of a destination but maybe that is what is appealing to some. Your comments about looking at the activities is also spot on since that what makes a great NZ vacation. I realize this is the luxury hotels forum and people are looking for the best but not sure that NZ square peg fits into the round hole..
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Old Mar 2, 19, 12:47 am
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Huka is beautiful but if you're a fisherman/outdoorsie person, Poronui beats it hands down.
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Old Mar 2, 19, 7:00 am
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Originally Posted by Fliar View Post
Huka is beautiful but if you're a fisherman/outdoorsie person, Poronui beats it hands down.
Thank you! We enjoyed Poronui very much, but I was curious about Huka. Huka’s pictures were lovely, and I was wondering if we should try it next time.
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Old Mar 2, 19, 5:38 pm
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Originally Posted by LinLant View Post

Thank you! We enjoyed Poronui very much, but I was curious about Huka. Huka’s pictures were lovely, and I was wondering if we should try it next time.
We enjoyed Huka Lodge and her surroundings tremendously last year . Easy walk to Huka Falls too . You should stay , right on the river .
Did a TR .
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