FOR MY FULL TRAVEL GUIDE TO THE NORTH ISLAND CLICK HERE
If there is one place that you simply cannot miss as a luxury traveler, it is Relais & Chateaux's The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in the wine region of Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. The definition of five star accommodations, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers has it all - breathtaking views, a world renowned golf course, the highest quality of fine dining, superb rooms with every amenity at your fingertips and a lodge so tastefully and beautifully decorated, it would put Pottery Barn to shame. I can say with confidence that The Farm is the best luxury lodge in New Zealand and one of the top hotel destinations in the world.
I've been waiting to release this feature for a while as it is the most incredible location I've visited to date, so it's taken time to do it proper justice. There are several parts to this piece, so I've provided some quick links for you to jump between specific areas as needed.
The Lodge & Property
Location & Check In
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is a short 20 minute drive from Napier and in the heart of the wine region, but is actually hidden away and not easy to find, adding to its elite exclusivity. After driving up and down a quiet road along the water, we were confused because there was clearly not a luxury lodge in sight, even though that's where our directions led us to. We happened to see a gate with a call box and a small sign that said Cape Kidnappers so we decided to dial in and ask.
The man over the box welcomed us to The Farm at Cape Kidnappers and instructed us on our next steps (it felt like a treasure hunt); through the gate we were to go, slowly following the path to the lodge while being watchful for the property's grazing farm animals. We were informed that the drive would take 20 minutes and he would meet us there when we arrived. Now you are probably thinking what I was thinking - 20 minutes to get there from the front gate? Good grief! Where am I going? But that initial drive was magnificent; through rich green hills, wandering sheep, thick woods, dramatic ocean cliffs, open pastures and then finally the lodge. I'm pretty sure that the drive actually took us closer to 30 minutes because I kept making Colin stop the car so that I could take photos of little lambs and the emerging views - the poor guy was probably standing outside wondering what could possibly be taking so long!
We were greeted in the driveway, our car valeted, assured that all of our things would be delivered to our room and we were led to the lodge entrance where we checked in. Although we arrived rather early in the morning, well before the check in time, we were assured that it was not a problem at all and that our room was ready for us - exactly the warm greeting you hope for after a long morning of travel. After the necessary signatures, we were given a tour of the main lodge and escorted to the sitting area where we were offered drinks of our choice and snacks (we decided upon local red wine and mixed nuts). Sitting peacefully with a glass of wine was the perfect introduction into the magic that was to come...
The main lodge is most impressive - gorgeously designed in contemporary chic elegance, with every detail thought of and no expense spared. Set high above the grounds, it looks out onto an endless ocean view and large floor to ceiling windows provide guests optimal viewing no matter what room you are in. It is a single story ranch style lodge and houses the check in desk, three separate dining areas where all of the meals are served and multiple sitting rooms for reading and relaxation throughout your stay. There is also a center courtyard as well as ample outdoor seating to enjoy the views on warm days. Surprisingly, not many people took advantage of the sitting areas so they were often empty, probably because the suites are so comfortable; however, we benefitted from sipping tea, playing games and passing the time in the sitting rooms without interruption the majority of the day.
It is important to note that we traveled during the winter/early spring and were lucky enough to be one of the few guests staying at the lodge since it is considered low season. I cannot express more that this is a wonderful time to be a traveler throughout New Zealand and The Farm at Cape Kidnappers was no exception - over our 3 night visit and practically had the place to ourselves; it was truly magnificent.
The property is comprised of the main lodge, 22 suites plus an Owners Cottage, a world famous golf course, pool & jacuzzi, fully equipped gym and 6,000 acres of their privately owned working farm. There are various designated walks and hikes around the property; however, it would be nearly impossible to see it all on your own without taking a Can Am Tour (see activities), it's just too large and complex. The property spans practically the entire area of Cape Kidnappers and is not open to the public, with the exception of a few accessible coastal areas. It's remarkable that one location can have forest, farms, beaches and cliffs, but this one certainly does. All of the photos below were taken during our first trail walk (about 3 miles).
When I tell friends about my experience at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, I often say that it is one of those rare places that is filled with life. It seemed like at every turn there was life emerging - from the organic vegetable garden, the seals sunbathing along the rocky shores, the thousands of farm animals (sheep, cows, goats and pigs) and the spring babies being born right in front of us. Away from the multi-million dollar lodge is a serenity unlike anywhere else I've been, where nature and opulence converge and excellence emerges.
In addition to the working farm, the owner of the property has been one of New Zealand's conservation leaders in his efforts towards saving the native bird population. With the largest predator fence in New Zealand, the The Farm is home to hundreds of species of birds, including multiple gannet colonies and the rare kiwi.
A large part of what makes The Farm so special is their incredible staff. As you would expect, customer service is impeccable; however, the graciousness and warmth in their hospitality is what struck us most. Unfortunately, in my personal travel experiences, great luxury is often accompanied with a cold, staunchy, stuffiness that can be rather uncomfortable - but there was an ease about the team at The Farm that we fell in love with. We had fantastic conversations with everyone there, learning about their families, their home towns and the story of how they came to work at such a beautiful place; honestly, we tried to convince more than one of them to sit and have dinner with us! The property manager is also lovely, ensuring that all of her guests' expectations are met and that their experience is unparalleled. On a couple occasions we asked about what to do and before we knew it they were making a special experience happen!
One of the days we asked to be driven out to the Gannet Colony about four miles out and we would walk back to the lodge ourselves. It was late in the afternoon and clouds were brewing overhead and about three miles in I was becoming a bit weary from our walk... right when I thought I would start crying from the darkness and the impending rain overhead, a vehicle appeared a quarter mile ahead (which is strange because there is literally no one out there). When we got close, our amazing driver from earlier appeared with an umbrella and said that they were all worried so he came out to get us - my knight in shining SUV!
When we were checking out, one of the amazing women at the front desk had already printed out directions to our next location, wrote a note of appreciation and remembered how much we loved the ice-cream from the night before that she begged the chef for the recipe and printed it out for us so that we could make it ourselves when we got home. Who does that? Wow. I can't say enough about how much we enjoyed their company and I encourage guests to spend time getting to know each one of them, they are an absolutely wonderful team.
There are 22 luxurious suites sprinkled throughout the property, in varying proximity to the lodge. There are four Lodge Suites for those who would prefer not to have to walk, eight Hilltop Suites and two multi-room Family Suites just a short walk above the lodge, and finally, the most secluded Ridge Suites which are a 5 minute walk from the lodge with unobstructed skyline views.
Each Suite Features:
- Air conditioning
- High-speed wireless internet
- Remote control flat screen TV, DVD & CD player with iPod connection
- Fully stocked complimentary mini-bar
- Walk in closets
- Spacious bathroom with over-sized bath tub and twin vanities
- Private balconies with 180 degree ocean & property views
We were in the Skyline Suites as we don't mind the extra walking and prefer the added privacy. The suites share only one wall, similar to a duplex, and are designed in a way that you feel secluded from the rest of the property where all you can see from your windows are sweeping ocean views. The photos will tell you most of what you need to know, but some of the highlights include a California-king bed that is so plush you can barely get out in the morning, an electric fireplace, a stocked bar with drinks and delicious snacks, a flat screen television hidden behind a picture frame on the wall, heated floors, a walk in closet big enough to park my Prius in, and speakers throughout so you can play John Mayer in the bathroom while you watch the sunset from your gigantic bathtub with the windows wide open (you feel that isolated) and the ocean breeze flowing in. In addition, the bed faces towards the french doors that open up to a private porch with views that quite literally take your breath away. I would sit outside with a cup of tea and watch the sunrise over the cape, feeling like I was on the edge of the world and the sun was coming up just for me each morning.
Included in your stay is a full breakfast, pre-dinner drinks and canapés and a multi-course evening dinner each day. While lunch is not included, you can order an a-la-cart lunch in the dining room or head over to the Club House at the golf course and have lunch there. Honestly, I'd be surprised if anyone was actually hungry between meals and with the snacks available in the room we never found a need for lunch. All meals are served in the lodge, unless otherwise pre-arranged for in-room dining or specific private dining requests.
Breakfast starts with an array of options at the self-serve cold table - including yogurt, fruit, cereals and fresh pastries. Then as you sit down to one of the three dining rooms, you are provided with a hot menu, with a variety of typical breakfast options like eggs, bacon and pancakes. The orange juice is remarkably fresh and there is a large selection of juices, teas and coffee to choose from. Sitting in the main dining area with grand sliding windows, quietly staring out onto the vast property is seriously the best way to start the morning.
Dinner is a full event each evening and a fantastic excuse to get dressed up (jackets are required for men, so don't forget to add that to your packing list!) and delight in an extraordinary meal prepared by one of New Zealand's finest chefs, Head Chef Dale Gartland. Upon arrival in the evening, you are escorted to the main sitting area near the fire where the impressive sommelier offers you whatever adult beverage tickles your fancy. I asked for a glass of chardonnay of his choosing, providing him with just a few of my personal preferences and he poured me a glass of Te Awa, what has now become my favorite chardonnay of all time (so much so, I shipped home 6 bottles!). While you wait for your table, you are served an assortment of canapés while your glass is continuously refilled... which is something to watch for, because on our first night I was not paying attention and finished three glasses before we ever sat down for dinner!
Guests have two ordering options for dinner - a la carte or the chef's five course tasting menu - both of which change daily based on the availability of the finest seasonal, local ingredients. We dined for three nights and each meal was equally incredible - offering an impressive collection of dishes, prepared and served to perfection. We have eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world and we were absolutely blown away by the quality and care that went into each dish, wish a special note to the pastry chef who makes some of the best desserts and ice-creams we've ever had - I mean wow! I also very much appreciated that the staff was happy to let us pick and choose when it came to the meal, including ordering additional dishes if we were still hungry or, like one of the evenings, deciding that we wanted to try seven different flavors of ice-cream, options were truly endless.
On a side note, alcoholic drinks are not included with dinner, but are included in the pre-dinner portion of the meal. There are options for wine dinner pairings (which I would highly suggest), bottles or very reasonably priced glasses. Again, after all of the pre-dinner drinking I struggled to finish much more than a glass during the meal (but then again, I'm a bit of a lightweight).
On our last evening at The Farm, it was only us and one other couple from Florida who we met at breakfast. We decided to eat together (it would be silly not to, really), so the staff set up a private dinner table for us in front of the fireplace in the library. It was an enchanting ambiance with dim candlelight and the warm crackle of firewood in the background. It was such a memorable way to end the trip, with fabulous company and exquisite food in an elegant setting.
We booked afternoon tea for the two of us on the day we decided to stay in and relax. We were given the choice to set up anywhere we liked in the lodge and were presented with an enormous array of delectable treats and savory snacks along with all of the tea necessities. It was more than enough food for lunch, but be sure to do it early in the afternoon so that you still have room for evening dinner.
Special Dining Events
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is often host to some of the world's greatest chefs, offering special weekends where guests come and experience an unforgettable food and wine event where celebrity chefs design elaborate meals and mingle with the diners. On the weekend we arrived, The Farm had just finished a sold out weekend event with Rick Stein, one of the UK's best known celebrity chefs. Luckily for us, we were able to meet him after all the guests had left and he was enjoying some relaxation at the lodge. Be sure to check their schedule of upcoming events to book one of these VIP weekends.
First, I must advise that there is a very good chance that you will not want to leave the property, so I suggest waiting until you arrive before booking any major activities that are outside of The Farm at Cape Kidnappers as you may just change your mind when you get there and don't want to feel stuck with pre-arranged plans. I recommend that you spend no more than one day away for every three days there; that seems to be the magic number and any more is just a waste of your visit.
There are a number of on property and off property activities available to book for an additional fee (click here for a full list of options); however, there are also a number of fantastic activities included in your stay - such as spending time at the pool, riding mountain bikes, numerous walking and hiking trails throughout the property, as well as a variety of games, books and movies at your disposal for a relaxing day in. I have included details of the activities that we took part in during our stay. Unfortunately, it was not the time of year when The Kiwi Discovery Walk was available, but we would have definitely done that if given the opportunity and will plan on it during our next visit.
The Spa is located just above the lodge and is a tranquil oasis for weary, stiff travelers. I enjoyed an 80 minute Swedish massage and Colin had a 50 minute Deep Tissue massage. The therapists are experienced and professional, guaranteeing the removal of any traces of stress you might be carrying from the long plane ride over.
Can Am Tour
The CanAm Tour is simply the best way to see all that The Farm offers. Since the majority of the property is unreachable by regular, four wheel drive vehicles, your private guide is able to use the Can Am to take you to the farthest reaches of the expansive grounds. We learned about how the property operates as a working farm, wandered deep into the native brush, climbed to the peak of the hillsides, peered straight down the ocean cliffs and witnessed the birth of spring babies just a few feet away. The guide is actually a local and grew up working on the property before it was ever turned into a luxury lodge, so he's got the history and the experience to take you on an unforgettable adventure.
Hawke's Bay Sunday Farmers' Market
If you are looking to bring home some locally grown and produced goods, head to the Hawke's Bay Farmers' Market held Sundays from 8:30-12:30. There's music and a ton of delicious artisanal delights to try and a great way to spend a Sunday morning like a local.
Wine Tasting/Napier's Art Deco
We planned one day to drive around to do some wine tasting and explore Napier, the Art Deco capitol of the world. After trying some wonderful wines at dinner, we decided to visit the vineyards of our favorites in the area, have lunch and check out the town. The wineries here are lovely, all featuring true New Zealand hospitality. Everyone we encountered was friendly and excited to tell us about the grapes grown in the region and the wines that have been gaining respect and recognition worldwide.
My personal favorite wineries, especially for the Chardonnay, are Te Awa and Vidal. We went a little overboard and ended up buying 15 bottles to ship home. It's actually easier than you might expect to ship wine (depending on where you live) - for just over $100, we filled out a slip, brought all of the wines we collected to a nearby winery to be shipped; six weeks later all of our bottles arrived in one piece and we've been enjoying sips of New Zealand from home ever since!
We took a quick drive around Napier where we gazed at their rare collection of Art Deco buildings that have gone untouched since the 1930s, when much of the city was rebuilt after a major earthquake. There are not many unique shops or restaurants in town that require a stop, so a quick drive is really all you need.
After just four hours of being away from the lodge, we were definitely ready to head back. While the city really is beautiful, when you're staying at The Farm there's nowhere else you'd rather be!
FOR EVEN MORE, REMEMBER TO CHECK OUT MY FULL
TRAVEL GUIDE TO THE NORTH ISLAND HERE
FOR MY FULL TRAVEL GUIDE TO THE NORTH ISLAND CLICK HERE
Just two and a half hours drive south east of Auckland lies the Coromandel Peninsula, one of the most beautiful beach destinations on the North Island of New Zealand. This picturesque area has incredible ocean views and dramatic cliffs on one side and rolling hills on the other with the feel of a California surf town. Hidden down a quiet street, alongside the historic Shakespeare Scenic Reserve and estuary is the boutique, luxury accommodation 970 Lonely Bay Lodge.
After many days and hours of doing research on the Whitianga area, it was clear that 970 Lonely Bay Lodge was the epitome of peaceful, beachside relaxation that I wanted to start off our New Zealand vacation. We only had one night, so I wanted to make it count and it couldn't have been a more perfect match.
From the moment we pulled up to the lodge, it became obvious that we were in for a special experience. Kym, the property manager, greeted us at the door with a warm smile welcomed us into the incredible property. To this day, it's one of the most beautiful accommodations I've ever been in - exquisite in every way and in every detail. The lodge is comprised of three, one bedroom suites and a fourth two bedroom honeymoon suite. The downstairs living area has floor to ceiling windows that absorb light from every angle, and provide incredible views of the lush backyard looking out toward the estuary and beachfront. There, you'll find a dining room, kitchen, library/sitting room, and an open television room and sitting area with numerous fireplaces. The sitting area windows glide open completely and the ceiling remotely retracts to allow for optimal exterior views - the ideal place to watch the sunset with a glass of wine and a plate of cheese and crackers. In addition, the lodge also has its own elevator to accommodate those with accessibility needs or anyone who simply doesn't want to lug all of their luggage up the stairs like my dear husband. Decorated in sophisticated elegance, no details were forgotten when it came to ensuring that guests had every luxury needed for an unforgettable stay.
The backyard is immaculately kept, with a luscious garden, private outdoor bathtub, wrap around deck and direct access to paths leading to the beach and to easy hikes to some of the area's best viewpoints. In the spring, the magnolia trees are in full bloom, covering the ground with their soft, pink leaves, complimenting the interior decor perfectly. The beach is a direct shot from the patio, less than a five minute stroll over a whimsical bridge to the long sandy oceanfront; so secluded in the winter it feels like it is waiting just for you. The Shakespeare Reserve is also directly in front of the lodge, a unique spot for bird watching and enjoying some of New Zealand's natural bush.
Since we were traveling in August, which is late winter/early spring in New Zealand, we were the only guests (lucky us!) and were led up to the Estuary Terrace Honeymoon Suite, which is an expansive two bedroom suite with a covered outdoor dining/entertaining lounge with a gas fireplace facing the ocean and overlooking the estuary. The second small bedroom is up a small set of stairs and has its own patio, perfect for a family with older children or two couples traveling together. The main bedroom has its own door that closes off from the other bedroom, so while the two rooms share a bathroom and large walk in closet, the suite is completely private. In addition, the honeymoon suite has a separate entrance, with stairs on the side of the house leading up to the outdoor lounge. The lounge is perfectly situated with a large dining table for entertaining friends or enjoying a quiet dinner by the fire while listening to waves crash in the distance.
The main bedroom itself is incredible, with the best view in the house, plush king sized bed, electric fireplace and complimentary mini-bar, fully stocked with water, sodas, wine and organic snacks. The bathroom has a gorgeous claw footed bathtub with premium amenities to fully indulge in complete relaxation. Each and every subtle detail of the room, from the white washed shutters to the toilet light (Colin's favorite detail), remind you that you're experiencing the best that New Zealand has to offer.
In the morning, Kym prepares a breakfast feast that smells so good it literally grabbed us out of bed. Amongst the tea and coffee, yogurt, granola (muesli) and fresh fruit, she also makes guests a hot breakfast to order - we both had eggs and bacon over toast. As if it wasn't already the best way to wake up in the morning, what I will remember most are the delectable, light and fluffy croissants and pain au chocolate pastries that appeared fresh from the oven. They are imported directly from France and are sumptuous, buttery clouds that melt in your mouth with every bite.
I have to say that this will always be one of my most memorable, enjoyable and most beautiful stays we've had in the world. In addition to the extraordinary view and superb elegance of the lodge, we loved the time we were able to spend with the property manager, Kym. She is one of the most lovely people I've met - kind, accommodating, generous and omits a sense of peacefulness that few embody. I continue to believe that accommodations are only as good as the people behind it, no matter how beautiful it may be, and this is why 970 Lonely Bay has it all. When you visit, be sure to take some time getting to know Kym; she is truly the gem that makes this place shine so bright.
My perfect Day at 970 Lonely Bay
Unfortunately, we had a few short days in the Whitianga area, so I've put together how I would suggest spending the perfect 24 hours while staying at the lodge. Let me first say that you should stay at least 2 nights, if not 3-5 to enjoy it fully; however, I know that's not always possible so here's how I would do it, knowing what I know now and experiencing it first hand. It's also important to note that this is based on having a car, which I highly suggest, as it's the best way to experience all of the areas of New Zealand without restriction.
Arrive Early: If driving from Auckland, give yourself about 3-3.5 hours to get there to allow for photo stops and a quick breakfast. We stumbled upon Pukeko's Nest Cafe, which was great quick break for a yummy hot breakfast and a fresh display of gluten free pastries. There are plenty of other cafes along the road leading into Whitianga, more than you would expect, so don't feel pressured to eat at the first one you see in fear that there won't be any more along the way.
Check In: Call ahead of time, letting Kym know you are on your way. Even if you can't check in quite yet, drop your bags and quickly freshen up before exploring the area.
Cathedral Cove: Take the 20 minute drive from the lodge to the first and best introduction to Whitianga. Cathedral Cove offers an unbeatable ocean view, striking cliffs, white sand beach and easy to moderate walking paths/hikes for a picture perfect afternoon. If you haven't had lunch, I'd suggest grabbing some food from a local cafe or grocery store and bringing it along to have on the beach or lay out a blanket and sit on the grass near the lookout. There is a free parking lot at the top of the hill directly in front of the stairs that lead you down to the walking paths with clear explanations of where to go, effort level and length of time. I'm scared of heights and prefer easy to moderate hikes, so we took the Stingray Bay route, which took about 20 minutes each way. This doesn't take you all the way to Cathedral Cove, which takes 45 minutes one way, but is a quick and easy alternative with great views of the cliff. If you have the time and energy level for a longer, more difficult walk/hike, I've heard Cathedral Cove is absolutely worth it.
Hot Water Beach: Making your way back toward the lodge, take a turn toward Hot Water Beach. This is the famous spot where you can dig a hole in the beach sand and create your own natural hot water pool from the hot spring just below the surface. This can only be done a few hours before and a few hours after high tide, so be sure to check times before heading that way and bring something to dig with to make it easier (you can rent them from the local shops near the beach). It was a cold day, so we weren't ready to get in the water, but we got to enjoy the view anyway.
Afternoon Tea and Bubble Bath: By this point, you're probably ready for some rest and relaxation. Head back to the lodge and enjoy your beautiful suite. Run a bath, make some tea and open the windows to let the sea breeze in.
Watch the Sunset from the Outdoor Lounge or Downstairs Sitting Room: Savor the incredible view as you sink into one of the plush seating areas throughout the house with a blanket near the fire as the afternoon sky turns to a fiery red and the sun slowly tucks behind the lodge.
Order Take Out from Go Vino: The best way to relax is to stay in the lodge as much as possible, so instead of spending hours out at dinner, pick up some food from Go Vino - one of the local favorites. Despite the strip mall exterior, it's actually a fine dining restaurant with an extensive wine list and delectable and flavorful dishes. For lodge guests, they perfectly plate everything for you to take back with you to enjoy as if you were eating at the restaurant. Highlights for us included the mushroom risotto cakes, charred polenta dish, and for dessert, the dark chocolate marquise.
Star Gaze from the Outdoor Bath: After dinner, pour an extra glass of wine, put on a robe and slippers and head to the backyard with a few candles. Fill up the bath and gaze at the never-ending stars from your very own outdoor bathtub. Don't worry, it is completely closed off and locks from the inside so you don't have any new friends joining you unexpectedly!
Early Morning Hike to Shakespeare Cliff to Watch the Sunrise: If you're up for an adventure with an incredible view, wake up early and take the path from the backyard to the nearby Shakespeare Cliff outlook to watch the sun come up over Whitianga. Oooor, you can do what I did and sleep in instead. I took the below picture from the balcony outside our room.
Breakfast at the Lodge: Indulge in Kym's scrumptious breakfast spread outside on your patio or in the dining room and be sure to have some of those heavenly French pastries fresh from the oven!
Paddle board from the Estuary to Cook's Beach: If you're not too full, take out the lodge's paddleboard onto the stream that flows just a few yards from the backyard and paddle out to Cook's Beach. Walk along the sand towards the reserve and explore the rock formations, tide pools and native New Zealand bush.
Say a Tearful Goodbye at Checkout: This is the worst part - leaving this enchanting lodge. With a warm hug from Kym, wave goodbye to 970 Lonely Bay, Whitianga's best hidden luxury retreat.