Saturday July 21, 2007 By Simon O’Rourke
It’s often where the Queen will stay a few nights before her official duties begin in New Zealand.
In fact it’s where royalty from across Europe choose to book in when they visit Downunder, not to mention a few of the rich and powerful – Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch – and the famous, Michael J. Fox, Cher, and Barbara Streisand.
Huka Lodge has also been recently ranked 58 in the top 100 hotels worldwide, the only hotel within Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific to make in on the international list.
Travel and Leisure Magazine also voted it the No 1 resort in New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific and lists it No 50 in the world’s 500 best accommodation spots.
Though he’s proud of the awards, co-director Constant Engels almost brushes the kudos aside. “Don’t overdo it, it’s not our style.”
Executive chef Twan Wijers prepares pumpkin soup before serving up today’s main luncheon dish, snapper on orzo pasta combined with wilted spinach with pesto and tomato vinaigrette. Looks good. Delicious.
This weekend staff will host 42 guests (just short of the lodge’s capacity of 46). A spot in the single suite occupancy will set guests back $2869 this weekend, or $1541 per person in the double suite occupancy units.
The rates are a bargain because this is the low season. The best quarters are the private “Owner’s Cottage”, where eight guests in the high season pay $11,469 per night between them.
Winter is usually quieter, with about 70 per cent of the guests New Zealanders.
In summer the guest list is dominated by Americans and the high season is largely “chocker block” booked out.
Millions of dollars have been invested by Dutch owner Alex van Heeren since he bought the 17-acre Taupo complex in 1984, says Mr Engels. “It was very basic and primitive then, and was primarily a fishing lodge.
“The car park was at the front [on the edge of the Waikato River], and that was the most beautiful part so that was the first thing to change.”
Though the ambience of the various rooms have a distinct hunting and fishing theme, complete with tartan rugs and three original Goldie paintings, Mr Engels says the lodge now caters to a wide array of people from all over the world.
“Hunting is still a popular activity, but many don’t want to hunt with a gun, they just want to hunt with their camera or video recorder.” Golf, fishing, hunting and horse riding are the activities of choice among more energetic guests, although Mr Engle believes most people come to the lodge with relaxation in mind.
Eighty staff are on hand to help them unwind.
The grounds are private and the gardens are beautifully manicured all year round.
After showing us the luxurious units, the spa pools, the swimming pool, the tennis court and the croquet green, we check out the wine cellar.
“One word describes this,” Mr Engels says before we enter. “Abundance.” In the centre of the room is a dining table, one of about a dozen places guests can choose to eat.
“A few nights ago we had 10 guests in here.”
It’s dangerous territory, this. A six-litre, $10,000 bottle of 1996 Chateau d’Yquen stares up at you, alongside the same sized 1990 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, a $9900 number from Bordeaux.
Then there’s the 12,000 other little bottles lining the wall. Hardly the place for a party, one would have thought.
The top 10
Travel and Leisure magazine’s top 10 hotels in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. (last year’s ranking in brackets)
1 (1) Huka Lodge, Taupo
2 (6) Observatory Hotel, Sydney
3 Bora Bora Lagoon Resort & Spa, French Polynesia
4 (5) Four Seasons Hotel, Sydney
5 (8) Hotel Bora Bora, French Polynesia
6 (16) InterContinental, Sydney
7 (n/a) Langham Hotel, Melbourne
8 (7) Park Hyatt, Sydney
9 (n/a) Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa, Katoomba, Australia
10 (13) The Westin, Sydney