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New Zealand Luxury Hotels — north island

New Zealand Luxury Hotels — north island

Old Jun 6, 19, 7:31 pm
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New Zealand Luxury Hotels — north island

I've recently returned from a 10 night Virtuoso study tour to New Zealand during which I was kept quite busy. We stayed in ten hotels in ten nights, often leaving before 9 a.m. to catch a flight or begin our land transfer to a new destination with planned activities en route. Between early mornings and late nights, my fellow participants and I did not have much of a chance to actually enjoy our rooms ... but I do want to share my impressions.

This is my second trip to New Zealand. I first visited a decade ago and filed this trip report in which I provided a list of questions to ask before planning your trip to this most beautiful of destinations. My takeaway: New Zealand is full of absolutely wonderful five star luxury lodges, and you really can't go wrong. Plan your trip primarily around the experiences you want to enjoy (alpine scenery, fjords, wine, golf, culture, shopping, thrill-seeking, etc.), then choose your accommodations accordingly.

Kauri Cliffs

We began our trip by connecting from our international Air New Zealand flights (mine was from SFO) onto a short domestic flight to the Bay of Islands airport (Kerikeri, KKE). A note about Air New Zealand's domestic service. It is generally on propeller planes with 2x2 seating and is pretty comfortable. What's nice is that there is literally no security to get onto these flights. Enter the domestic terminal, check in by scanning your printed boarding pass or swiping your passport, and get on the plane when the flight is called. Bear in mind that the overhead compartments are tight; I put my carry-on under the seat and my backpack in the overhead compartment. They do weigh checked baggage but with one exception never weighed my carryon. Quick, convenient, and great except when airports are fogged in.

Upon landing at Bay of Islands, our hosts (Southern World) planned for a three hour cruise on the 54-foot Cool Change Catamaran. In retrospect, this was the perfect way to begin our experiences. I thought it would be boring, but — no — we cruised among the craggy islands, watched dolphins swimming right alongside our boat at one point, docked at a beach on Waewatorea Island and climbed a steep hill to take in a spectacular view, then enjoyed lunch (and wine) onboard. This experience gave us a sense of place.

Once our cruise ended, our driver began the trip to Kauri Cliffs in the first of the many Mercedes vans we would use, but our Southern World leader added an impromptu stop along the way to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. An historic site, this is where the Maori signed their treaty with the British, and we learned how the Maori and English translations differed in some significant respects, setting up future conflict. This historical context helped us understand much of what we would see and experience later on in the trip.

We arrived at Kauri Cliffs in the late afternoon, received a tour of the property including the 700-900 year old Tepene Kauri tree on the grounds of the resort. (The road to Pink Beach was closed, but we did go there the next morning before our departure, a great beach for swimming, fishing, or picnicking). I loved my room, decorated in the blond and gold color scheme you'll see in much of Virginia Fischer's interior design work. The Deluxe Suite is worth the upgrade from the lead-in Suite — even larger. It offered everything you could want from a comfortable bed, living area with fireplace, large dressing area, to a bathroom that provided dual vanities, tub with a view, step-in shower, and WC.

Kauri Cliffs is one of three current Robertson Lodges in New Zealand (the others are Cape Kidnappers and Matakauri Lodge). All three lodges currently include Half Board (including drinks and canapés before dinner), but they will convert to Full Board on December 15th. Our meals at each Robertson Lodge were plentiful and excellent!

The Lodge at Cape Kidnappers

After a very early breakfast (do try the Egg White Omelette at any of the Robertson Lodges), we had a quick trip down to Pink Beach ... then left for the airport to fly to Auckland where we connected to Napier (the only two-leg transfer of our trip). Upon landing in Napier, our driver gave an informative tour of the historic Art Deco section of Napier; after the town had been leveled in a 1931 earthquake, it was reconstructed in the then current art deco style. We continued to the Elephant Hill winery for [the first of many] wine tastings, this one featuring wines from the Hawkes Bay region.

On arrival at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, we did a quick site inspection of the owner's villa, then were bundled into 4x4's to drive to the coast where we saw the reddish light of the setting sun reflecting on the Shark Tooth Cliffs (see in the second picture below) as well as the colony of Gannet (birds). We finally were taken to our rooms, spacious Virginia Fischer suites designed with a "farm/barn" theme in mind (which you can see in the sliding door to the bathroom resembling a barn door).

Huka Lodge

We left the next morning at 8:30 for a long drive to Huka Lodge where we had a site inspection (we did not stay) and lunch (I recommend the quinoa salad). With a picturesque setting on the Waikato River just above the Huka Falls, Huka Lodge was the first Virginia Fischer's lodges ... in fact, her initial foray designing the interiors of luxury lodges. Huka has a more traditional "country club" style with plaid green carpet in the public areas and smaller suites than the other lodges we visited. The setting is gorgeous, however, and especially if you enjoy fly fishing (or would enjoy just relaxing on the lawn watching the river flow by), you'll enjoy your stay.

Kinloch Manor

After lunch, we again boarded our van and drove to the Lake Taupo Marina where we boarded a Chris Jolly cruise. We cruised by the famous Maori rock carvings, then fished for trout. We caught several and kept two trout which were prepared for us for dinner that night (one done as sashimi, the other baked). After disembarking, we had a short drive to Kinloch Manor overlooking Lake Taupo and featuring a Jack Nicklaus-designed links style golf course. One of the hotel's managers told me that Nicklaus must have been mad when he designed the course as he described it as extremely challenging.

Kinloch Manor is the value-leader among the Virtuoso-member luxury lodges, with a price 30% below the rest, but my "Junior Suite" was huge ... a large bedroom; dressing area; bathroom; living room with kitchen, dining table, and washer/dryer (a welcome surprise as I left the next morning with a suitcase of entirely clean clothes); and a study that could serve as a second bedroom. You could easily accommodate 4 guests in the room.


We were again reminded the next morning of the value of booking travel through an on-site such as Southern World. During our drive from Lake Taupo to Rotorua, our leader received a text message that our flight to Wellington had been delayed 30 minutes due to fog. Rather than spend an extra thirty minutes in the airport, he maximized our time by phoning the sales manager at Te Puia who, on our arrival gave us a very quick but personalized tour of this center for Maori culture and site of a geothermal geyser. There is a school passing along Maori craft traditions, and we witnessed students engaged in carving wood figures and weaving bamboo designs... and also a gallery with original art for sale, though we did not have time to shop.

On our arrival in Wellington, we once again boarded a Mercedes van to Wharekauhau (pronounced Far-He-Ko-Ho). We decided to skip our planned (i.e., long and fancy) lunch and chose instead to eat in a casual local eatery along the way. Our driver made some calls, and we stopped at Everest Cafe in Featherston — good call! On arrival at Wharekauhau, we were bundled into a 4x4 where we were given a quick tour of the farm. Yet another Virginia Fischer-designed lodge, you'll recognize the color scheme from Kauri Cliffs. The room was large with a large dressing area and a bathroom that provided everything you could hope for ... including a bathtub with a view.

onto the South Island...

The next morning, we headed back to the Wellington airport to continue our journey to the South Island, but I will save that trip report for a second post... but skipping ahead, here is a report on the last two nights of our trip.


The largest city in New Zealand, we returned to Auckland for the last two nights of our tour where our visit was sponsored by Auckland Tourism. What to do in Auckland? We enjoyed a day on Waiheke Island and a morning at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Do get tickets for the Cultural Show. It's just long enough but not too long, and the show featured dramatic Maori costumes, music, and dancing. It held my interest (and I have a low boredom threshold).

Sofitel Auckland

The Sofitel is a nice high four-star hotel near Auckland's marina. Not a member of Virtuoso, but you will receive STEP amenities (breakfast, free Wifi, upgrade if available, late check-out if available) when booking through a STEP-affiliated agency. My room was perfectly comfortable, though nowhere near the luxurious standards we had experienced in the lodges.

We were also given a tour of SO Auckland — Accor's attempt to create a glitzy, contemporary luxury brand in the spirit of Marriott's W and Edition or Hyatt's Andaz. I was distinctly unimpressed by the room product at SO. Its regular rooms were tiny. Suites seemed the size of a typical Superior room ... but that small space was futher split into a tiny bedroom and a separate and tiny sitting area. The hotel's two Signature Suites were large and quite impressive.

Hilton Auckland

Right on the harbor in Auckland, the Hilton resembles a cruise ship ... and you have a great view of the harbor unless a cruise ship docks right next to the hotel. Not much to say about this property. It's not a luxury hotel; it is exactly what you'd expect from a Hilton. If you do book this property, include your Hilton Honors number on the reservation for the free WiFi.

Park Hyatt Auckland

The hotel excitement in Auckland is all about the Park Hyatt. Located right on Waitematā Harbor, its exterior appears complete but interior construction continues. The hotel is not yet accepting reservations. Park Hyatt Auckland has applied for Virtuoso membership and it should offer Hyatt Privé amenities from the beginning.

Stay tuned for my next installment on the Luxury Hotels of the South Island.

Last edited by DavidO; Jun 6, 19 at 8:56 pm
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Old Jun 6, 19, 10:12 pm
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Not sure if they are Virtuoso, but I loved Helena Bay on our last trip.
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Old Jun 7, 19, 8:05 am
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Originally Posted by busy View Post
Not sure if they are Virtuoso, but I loved Helena Bay on our last trip.
Helena Bay is Virtuoso — here's the page on Virtuoso.com showing their amenities and promotions (3rd night free). Only 5 rooms...
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Old Jun 7, 19, 11:01 am
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Nice enough lodge rooms but it's their context that makes them luxurious, i.e.-the resort itself and surroundings. About which more information would be appreciated.
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Old Jun 7, 19, 11:24 pm
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My husband and I stayed at Helena Bay January of 2018. We loved it. Only 3 of the 5 rooms were occupied and the service was stellar. We stayed in a luxury suite which I suggest. This room category is larger and has terrific ocean views with a nice sized patio. The rooms themselves has every amenity you would want, but I didn’t care for the decor. We also found the bathroom fairly small given the large size of the suite. Only some rooms have bath tubs ( they are separate from shower) so be sure to ask. Otherwise you have a larger walk in shower.

The location is beautiful. You are really close to the sea - it’s a 3 min walk across the lawn. The food was terrific and with 24 hours notice they will make you anything you want if they have the ingredients. The chef is from Don Alfonso in southern Italy which is a Michelin Star restaurant so he’s good.

We enjoyed it and I would recommend for a few nights if you can fit it into your trip schedule. We were there 3 nights which we thought was just right as we were traveling to other resorts on the same trip - Kauri Cliffs, Huka Lodge and Cape Kidnappers.

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Old Jun 8, 19, 8:02 pm
Join Date: Mar 2016
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In the same vicinity of Huka Lodge is Poronui. They do cater mainly to anglers, but also offer horseback riding, hiking and red stag hunting for those that don’t fish.
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