For many, the word “lodge” conjures up images of mounted deer
amid rustic and possibly rough-hewn accommodations. But the luxury
lodges of New Zealand constitute a different breed, many run by
monied Americans who come here not only to buy their own piece of
paradise, but to share it with other visitors.
On the North Island, there’s Blanket Bay, owned by the former
president of Levi Strauss & Co., and Wharekauhau Lodge, owned
primarily by American investors. And on a smaller scale is the
Lodge at Paratiho Farms, situated on a 2,000-acre working farm in
the South Island’s Nelson region, an idyllic area of the country
that resembles California’s Sonoma Valley.
Like Blanket Bay and Wharekauhau, Paratiho (a Maori word meaning
“paradise”) is the brainchild of Americans. Owners Robert and Sally
Hunt moved here in the mid-1990s after the Northridge earthquake
destroyed their Los Angeles home. The Hunts, who made their fortune
in asphalt and amassed a sizable collection of modern art, searched
both the North and South islands for a spot to build their dream
home and a place to share their art collection with other
well-heeled, world travelers.
“We wanted a project,” Sally Hunt recalled. “We didn’t want to
come here, build a house and just stagnate.”
The Hunts’ “project,” which opened in late 1999, adds a
decidedly personal spin to the concept of a rural lodge. For
starters, the lodge’s modern-style main house is actually the
Hunts’ home their well-mannered bichon frise dogs having full run
of the common areas.
Breakfast is served in their own kitchen, and the Hunts are host
to pre-dinner drinks in their library as well as dinner in one of
two dining rooms every night.
Lodge rooms are adorned with the Hunts’ collection of paintings
and dramatic sculptures (many by one of their sons), making a stay
at Paratiho feel more like a visit to the home of high-society
friends than anything remotely rustic.
That’s not to say the property doesn’t take advantage of the
natural surroundings. A working farm, Paratiho is home to sheep,
deer and cattle many of which you see as you drive up the long,
gated road to the property. Green rolling hills, dotted with gently
bleating sheep, surround Paratiho, and outdoor kinetic sculptures,
including works created by one of the Hunts’ sons, sway in the
Guests stay in one of 12 suites, divided among six duplex
outbuildings on the perfectly manicured grounds. Each suite
consists of a bedroom with four-poster bed, a sitting room with gas
fireplace and fully stocked minibar (the contents of which are
covered in the nightly room rate). Animal pelts lay on the
stone-tile floor, reminding guests that this is a lodge, as do the
views of the pastures, a pond and the artwork.
The Hunts spared no expense in outfitting each suite with
state-of-the-art gadgetry. A step into the dressing room triggers
the automatic lights overhead, and the bathroom is wired for sound
with Bose speakers connected to the sitting room’s stereo unit.
When I asked about checking my e-mail, a staff member delivered a
laptop to my room, giving me dial-up access to the Web.
That emphasis on service also extends to the food at Paratiho.
The Hunts never tell their two chefs what to cook they treat the
chefs as artists, Sally Hunt explained but the staff does ask
guests in advance about any dietary restrictions.
Dinner is about presentation as much as anything else. The Hunts
sit with the guests, and a sommelier explains each wine before
pouring. Paratiho only serves locally produced wines, and lots of
them, making a dinner there like an evening of Nelson wine-tasting
minus the driving.
Though one could easily spend several days soaking in the
relaxing vibe at Paratiho, the lodge is a great jumping-off point
for touring the area’s attractions. At the top of that list is Abel
Tasman National Park, a coastal preserve where the hiking and sea
kayaking are considered some of the best in the country. Paratiho
also arranges fly-fishing excursions for those looking to nab some
brown trout, and then there are the region’s 19 wineries and
countless art galleries to explore.
With so much to do both on- and off-property, a multi-day stay
makes the most sense here, budget permitting (see Hotel Review,
“You can’t get the flavor of Nelson in one night,” Robert Hunt
said, adding that he “gets annoyed” when travel agents send clients
to Paratiho for just one night.
But the Hunts should be careful. After several days of
Paratiho-style pampering, some visitors may find themselves the
next U.S. expatriates moving down to Nelson for a lodge “project”
of their very own.
Hits: Gourmet food cooked to order, rural scenery straight off a
Misses: Having two omnipresent bichon frises might not appeal to
Clientele: Upscale travelers, even the occasional celebrity or
Be Aware: Paratiho Farms is a 45-minute ride from Nelson
Airport, much of it on winding country roads. Make sure clients
arrive during daylight hours.
Rates: The nightly rate is approximately $900 per suite, per
night, based on double occupancy. Rates include all meals and
beverages, unlimited use of swimming, tennis, croquet and exercise
facilities. Spa treatments are not included.
Contacts: 011-64-3-528-2100; www.paratiho.co.nz. Paratiho Farms
is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, which operates a
reservations center at 800-525-4800.