hotel lodge building along a calm water edge with green hills behind it

Wharekauhau Country Estate

In 2010, U.S.-based couple Bill and Carol Foley purchased a working sheep station in one of the North Island’s most scenic corners: the Wairarapa region. One imagines that driving towards the glorious country estate for the first time, they were enchanted by the same scenic that guests experience today. The drive from Wellington may just take one-and-a-half hours, but it is one of such dramatic landscapes that by the time you arrive at Wharekauhau – which is actually pronounced Foray-ko-ho– you feel transported into a different world.

The bucolic pastures are dotted with sheep and cattle; the cliffs ahead of you drop sharply down to a black sand beach; and the wild Pacific stretches as far as the eye can see. And just as your mind tries to compute the sheer natural beauty of this countryside retreat, you arrive at the main lodge and are bowled over yet again – this time by the stylish interiors of New Zealand designer Virginia Fischer.

Banish all thoughts of a rustic farming lodge with dark wood and checkered throws. Fischer, who has also designed Queenstown's Matakauri Lodge and Eichardt’s Private Hotel, is a master of airy, soaring spaces, and at Wharekauhau’s main lodge, one room is more beautiful than the next, from a blue-and-white day room with whicker chairs and framed botanical drawings to a fantastic open kitchen area, whose selves are lined with potted herbs and brass kitchen utensils. Views throughout are focused on the sea in the distance or the lodge’s surrounding gardens.

The same great mix of style and comfort continues in the 13 guest cottages, which are clustered in two groups beside the main lodge, making it easy for guests to walk to and from meals and activities (instead of getting lost on this rather massive property). The spacious living/bedrooms have high ceilings with white-painted beams, large gas fireplaces and comfortable couches and chairs. The walk-n closet is the size of some Manhattan apartments and the bathroom has deep soaking tubs and separate showers. The cluster of Stormwatch Cottages is closer to the bluff that overlooks the ocean, while the Wetland Cottages are closer to the main lodge – but every room has wonderful views and a sense of space and privacy. There are patios for evening cocktails, even though most guests choose to mingle at the main lodge pre-dinner, chatting with the charming lodge manager and comparing the days’ activities.

And unlike at some other remote country retreats, activities at Wharekauhau abound. The property itself has several hiking and walking paths, and guests can take one of the mountain bikes for a ride, or practice their clay target shooting or archery skills. The Farm Tour is a popular option, which is a two-plus-hour exploration of the property and includes a sheep shearing demonstration and a short walk through a beautiful forest of ferns and native trees. Acclaimed New Zealand wine region Martinborough is a 35-minute drive away, and guests can go on a behind-the-scenes wine tour through some of the area’s best wineries. Even on rainy days, there’s an indoor pool, a pool table, board games, a well-stocked library and in-room spa treatments that can be arranged.

You will need to be really active during the day in order to feel deserving of the bountiful meals at Wharekauhau. Suffice it to say that the breakfast buffet includes five types of homemade bread and that the wonderful, friendly staff will not let you get away with ordering just coffee (and they will be spot-on that the eggs and bacon on sourdough they bring you will indeed be the best of your trip). In the evening, the indulgent cuisine, paired with local wines, is a showstopper. Lamb and beef figure prominently, but this being the coast, there are also wonderful seafood dishes and much of the produce and fruit is grown right on property.

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