There’s nothing fresher than food grown on the doorstep – for New Zealand’s luxury lodges, it’s all part of the experience.
New Zealand’s green hills are dotted with sheep and cows, its valleys furrowed by rows of grapevines. It makes little sense to look beyond our borders for produce – and for some lodges, it doesn’t even make sense to look beyond the borders of the property.
The Garden of Edenhouse
For Bobbie Martin, co-owner of Edenhouse, a “six-star” luxury lodge in the stunning Nelson / Abel Tasman region, recreating the experience of her childhood – “all the wonderful fresh produce we grew up with and took for granted” – lies at the heart of the food experience her guests can expect. “Every weekend we’d go to my grandparents. They both had beautiful gardens and you’d anticipate your grandmother’s freshly baked Granny Smith apple pie, or the other grandmother’s raspberry jam. What I wanted to do here was just create the same thing for our guests.”
Doing so involves harnessing the produce from Edenhouse’s own extensive gardens and other delicacies from local artisan producers to create daily-changing menus that burst with freshness and deliciousness. “A lot of it comes from our garden, a lot of it comes from specialists who grow things just for us, like delicious beans or blueberries or strawberries or persimmons or the saffron milk-cap mushrooms and the truffles we get – you know, we’ve built up a lot of contacts over the years.”
Her guests, largely from North America, can taste the care with which the lodge selects its produce, be it local beef fillets or watercress from the creek or tomatoes from the garden. “They’ll say, ‘Gosh, our food never tastes like this.’ That’s because it’s straight from the garden to the table, whereas in America you’ll have huge growers, and they never quite taste like proper tomatoes. It’s just the flavours here, the flavours are so rich.”
Nestled in the verdant Orinoco Valley, Edenhouse is 60 kilometres from Nelson, and within driving distance of Abel Tasman National Park, where hiking and kayaking opportunities abound. Summer is the best time to take advantage of the area’s gorgeous beaches and swimming holes, but it is divine all year round.
Otahuna Lodge: Season’s Greetings
Picture this: hazelnut and walnut trees, wild porcinis under soaring oaks, oyster and shiitake mushrooms growing in an old apple house, a restored shed filled with melons, cucumbers and microgreens in the off-season, hives buzzing with bees; in all, some 140 varieties of fruit and vegetable and nuts are grown on Otahuna Lodge’s 30 acres, the grand Victorian lodge itself rising above this teeming production.
Executive chef Jimmy McIntyre is constantly inspired by the seasonal bounty: “I can go down to the garden and get a zucchini that has just been picked or a carrot fresh out of the earth, or go down in the early evening and cut some herbs, so the flavour is just phenomenal. It’s quite magical when you pick a strawberry or a tomato and it’s still warm from the sun. I think that is really quite special.”
Added to all the goodness on the property, the immediate region, with its many artisan producers – supplying organic Muscovy ducks here and free-range eggs there – is what McIntyre sees as the real star. On receiving high praise from the owner of another of the country’s luxury lodges, he modestly said, “I don’t think I’m that special at all. It’s just I’ve got a fantastic canvas to work with here at Otahuna, and it really is unique and special.”
Christchurch is the gateway to the spectacular Southern Alps, with top-class hiking and skiing, and Otahuna Lodge is a mere 30-minute drive from the city’s airport. Winter, obviously, is the best time to take advantage of snow sports, while any time of the year is good to explore the many picturesque coves of Banks Peninsula, the vineyards of the Waipara wine region or the marine life on the Kaikoura Coast (a 2.5 hour drive north).
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers: Food from the Farm
James Honore, head chef at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, says honouring local Hawke’s Bay produce with farm-to-plate dining – both grown on the property and from the wider region – gives guests a deeper understanding of that beautiful part of the country.
“For us it’s about giving a sense of place and it gives us a story behind each dish as well,” he says. “It’s nice when you can say, ‘I know we’ve grown this on property,’ or ‘This has come from this local supplier.’ It just gives extra layers to our service.”
In that respect, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is very well positioned, Hawke’s Bay being a treasure trove of culinary goodness – Honore relies on stone fruit from a few kilometres down the road, and almost all the cheese and meat served is from Hawke’s Bay cows and sheep. “The producers we use, we use all the time,” says Honore.
The farm-to-plate movement is becoming an increasingly important part of the luxury lodge experience: “It’s something a little bit extra, something a little bit out of the ordinary – there seems to be a growing culture of it. It is a growing movement within New Zealand.”
Thirty minutes’ drive from Napier or a four-hour drive from Wellington, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers perches over the Pacific. That same coast is home to two large gannet colonies, with spectacularly severe cliff formations rising from the sea. The region is stunning all year round, summer is busiest and warmest, while spring and autumn are both likely to produce gorgeous blue sky days.
The Landing Residences: Freshness Guaranteed
The Landing Residences puts farm-to-table dining at the very centre of the guest experience. Marketing manager Sarah Hull says as much as 80 per cent of all herbs and vegetables served – all guests have the luxury of personal chefs – are grown on the property’s extensive gardens, menus dictated by what’s available and what’s in season.
Having so much of the food grown on the grounds means guests can enjoy the entire process.
“We take people on walking tours through the gardens and the orchards, and for them to be able to see where their produce has come from is really massive,” she says. “There are no chemicals, there’s no packaging, there’s none of that. It’s out of the garden and into the kitchen.”
Hull says the guiding philosophy is letting the produce shine: “It’s about getting back to having the produce right there and the guests knowing that what they’re eating is really good for them and that it hasn’t been shipped in from somewhere. It’s really exciting to be able to deliver that to guests in a really authentic way.”
Overlooking sparkling Wairoa Bay, an hour and forty minutes from Whangerei, The Landing is well positioned to take advantage of the year-round warmth of Northland’s subtropical climate. The area also has a fascinating history: it was at the nearby Waitangi Treaty Grounds that the historic agreement between Maori and Europeans was signed in 1840.
Wharekauhau Lodge: Farm to Table
Nothing says “New Zealand” quite like a working sheep farm, and at the Wairarapa’s Wharekauhau Lodge, you’ll find 2500 Romney sheep dotting the historic estate’s 5500 acres. For executive chef Marc Soper, this has some excellent benefits, as does the fact that his beef comes from just 15 minutes up the road. “I can see what the animal feeds on, how they are in the pasture,” he says. “You have an idea of what they’re feeding on, how long they’ve been feeding on that, what age they are coming to me, what size it is going to be.”
Soper says that when he is designing his daily menus, what he has on hand determines what he’ll cook: “First and foremost is ‘What have we got on the estate?’, ‘What are we growing?’, ‘What can we forage for?’ and then we build it off that.”
Luckily for him – and, more importantly, for the guests – that is a long list. A sample: wildflowers, watercress and eels from the creeks, crab apples and plums for jellies and jams, figs, kawakawa leaves. Not surprisingly, guests meet such abundance with glee.
“I go out in the restaurant and people are just blown away by it,” he reveals. “People say, ‘I’ve eaten in all these different Michelin restaurants and by far yours is the best.’ The team really enjoy that whole aspect of what we’re producing – we’re very proud about what we’re putting on the plate – and hearing comments like that show we’re slowly starting to showcase what New Zealand’s food is about.”
The Wairarapa, separated from Wellington by the Rimutaka Ranges, is one of the country’s finest wine-producing regions, with many boutique vineyards and cellar doors. Wharekauhau Lodge is located on the coast and very close to Lake Wairarapa, the third largest in the North Island.