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Is this New Zealand’s best lodge?

Is this New Zealand’s best luxury lodge? Conde Nast Traveler Magazine says so. They voted it #1 luxury lodge in Australia and the Pacific – so I popped in for a night to see for myself.

Wharekauhau Country Estate, on the wind-swept coastline of the Wairarapa, has played host to pretty much every Hollywood big wig who’s ever visited Wellington, not to mention Wills and Kate when the royal couple came here with little Prince George.

On Sunday night it was me and my cousin Kate. We were invited to come down here for a night and check it out for ourselves! So we packed our finest lodge wear and set off in the Toyota to stay in one of the top 50 resorts on the planet, as seen in the Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards 2023!

Kate and I before hors deuvres in the lodge!

We drove here from Hawkes Bay, via a lunch stop and wine and gin tasting at The Runholder in Martinborough. All up it was a journey of about four hours.

But it’s only about 45 minutes drive from Wellington. Or you could helicopter in, like some do. And some (looking at you, Hollywood director James Cameron) just whiz overhead to their property next door.

Buzzed in at the Wharekauhau gate
Buzzed in at the Wharekauhau gate
Wharekauhau Country Estate main building
Wharekauhau Country Estate, main building with drive through reception parking

In 2010 American billionaire Bill Foley and his wife Carol bought the already existing lodge from Kiwi owners. The couple had previously stayed here and loved it so much they bought it. That old chestnut!

Foley made his money in insurance and also owns Te Kairanga Winery (TK), Martinborough Vineyard and the Distillery, up the road in Martinborough. We stopped there too, so I will come back to that in another post.

The Foley Group also own the Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey team and he recently was the successful bidder to launch a new Auckland soccer team, the Black Knights.

In New Zealand we love to name all our national teams either black or white… hence the All Blacks rugby team (with their famous haka), All Whites soccer, Black Caps cricket and on it goes!

Oar holders are now hooks all around the property

It’s still a 3,200 acre working sheep and cattle station and the oar holder motifs you see are from the orginal wool bale branding marks from the 1880s, on the front gate and now cast as hooks in the rooms.

The sheep were being shorn when we stayed and had obviousy been separated from their lambs. We could hear the commotion, but didn’t get over to the yards – although we could have. Intead we wandered around the property and taking lots of pics.

Come have a peek through Wharekauhau Country Estate with me, and pretend (as I did) that you are Wills and Kate, who stayed here with baby George in 2014.

Megan with bubbles at Wharekauhau
Starting our lodge tour with a glass of bubbles!
Croquet on the lawn at Wharekauhau
A spot of croquet on the lawn?
The pool is heated and the spa and gym are located in this building
Wharekauhau main lodge and cottages
Wharekauhau main lodge and cottage suites. We have the one on the far right.
Megan on Wharekauhau cottage patio
A glass of bubbles on my patio!

There are 17 independent cottage suites, some are adjoining for larger groups. The interiors are designed by iconic Kiwi interior designer Virginia Fisher, who has also designed New Zealand’s most fabulous lodges like Huka Lodge, Kauri Cliffs, Cape Kidnappers, Kinloch Manor, Eichardt’s and more.

Wharekauhau cottage
We had this cottage on the end with views across to Palliser Bay
lounge area in our cottage suite
The lounge area in our suite with a gas fire if we needed it
twin beds in our Wharekauhau cottage suite
They made our beds into twins, but normally it’d be king sized bed
Fresh fruit in room at Wharekauhau
Fresh fruit in our room – with that view
The famous Wharekauhau shortbread
The famous Wharekauhau shortbread, dusted in sugar, was in a jar in our room. We ate a piece each and took the other pieces home to our mums!
Wharekauhau paddock with sheep
Walk through the paddock to the new lookout hut
Bill Foley owner's cottage at Wharekauhau
On the way you’ll stroll past Bill Foley’s owner’s cottage, which you could rent for a cool NZ$40K
Wharekauhau means place of knowledge, or also place of great wind, located on the windswept Palliser Bay of the Wairarapa coast.
Hut being built at look out
The new look out hut was being built at the top of the cliff. Think private dining with a chef, a proposal…
Don’t be fooled, the beach is down a cliff! See below…
beach houses at the bottom of the cliff on Palliser Bay
The rundown, but lived in, beach houses at the bottom of the cliff on Palliser Bay
Sheep detail on the main front door
Back to the main lodge for meals and I loved the ram detail on the main front door
Gumboots at lodge for guests
No need to bring your gumboots!
Red Band gumboots at the door
Red Bands in all sizes for farm exploring
The main reception room where drinks and canapes are served each evening for guests to mingle, then go to their separate dining rooms
Red room dining at Wharekauhau
You could dine upstairs in this red room which has a wine cellar and fire place
Whitebait on a cracker
How cute (and delicious) is this teeny tiny whitebait fritter on a cracker!
scallop entree served in shell
Our scallop entree with finely sliced and crisped kumara (sweet potato) chips
Venison rack for dinner at Wharekauhau
I had the venison rack with a crispy onion and thyme gel
Fish dinner
Spear-fished Butterfish from the Nelson region. Caught sustainably and to order.
Wharekauhau Restaurant manager Nicolas
Restaurant manager Nicolas Simonucci, from Cannes France, shows us around the kitchen and breakfast dining room
whitebait fritter - with bacon on the side
Executive chef Norka Mella Munoz, from Santiago Chile, serves me a whitebait fritter – with bacon on the side – for breakfast
Hauora Spa at Wharekauhau
Then it was off the spa for a massage with the amazing Amalaini Lusio from Nadi, Fiji
Megan at Wharekauhau Country Estate through bathroom window
The loo with a view!

Then it was time to leave, back down the coastal road past wind-blown trees and back to Hawkes Bay for one more night.

If I’ve whet your appetite to come and visit yourself, even if just for a decadent lunch, then visit their website

The wind blown trees of Wairarapa's coast bid us farewell
The wind blown trees of Wairarapa’s coast bid us farewell

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!