There’s just something about dramatic scenery and degustation dinners that go hand in hand. At least that’s the case at Huka Lodge. Perched on the banks of the Waikato River on New Zealand’s North Island, Huka Lodge is the hideaway beloved by celebrities, presidents and the Queen. Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth has visited so many times she has her very own miniature portrait gallery next to the guest book at the front door.
It’s easy to imagine the Queen at home at Huka. Subtle touches of tartan, fireplaces flanked by brass whippet dogs and mohair blankets thrown over wingback armchairs, the crisp country air – it was almost made for her. For mere mortals, Huka is a window into another world, of mighty mother nature and manmade decadence.
New Zealand might be best known for its misty mountains and rugged shores, but the North Island’s rolling hills and sprawling forests give way to little pockets of wonder. One such pocket is where you’ll find Huka Lodge. Just half an hour’s drive from Taupo, the tiny town that hugs the shores of its enormous namesake lake, Huka is a world away from any kind of rat race. Turn off the main road and drive almost right up to the river. Your eye is drawn to the small pond near the front of the lodge, where a mini waterfall adds to water pooling off the fast-moving river beyond. Rainbows arch over ducks happily paddling along the pond’s calm surface. Yes, it is that picturesque.
When it comes to setting, it’s hard to imagine beating the natural beauty of this spot, chosen back in 1924 by Irishman Alan Pye on a fly fishing trip. During the day, the river enthralls you at almost every turn. Spot its eddies and currents through the trees as you enter the main lodge building, listen to the rush of the water as you snuggle up with a blanket to sip sparkling wine on the terrace or step out of your suite and stroll along its manicured banks.
It makes a dramatic backdrop, but when the sun goes down, Huka Lodge really turns on the charm. A stay includes not only pre-dinner drinks and a full breakfast, there’s also a five course meal, in the location of your choosing. We’re not talking about a window seat. Staff will move aside the furniture so you can dine underneath elk in the Trophy Room; an ode to the lodge’s South African sister property in South Africa, they’ll stoke the outdoor fireplace to roaring, so you can settle in with rugs and red wine under the stars. Each evening mini private dinners take place all over the property, with guests asked to pick their preferred spot at check in. Each spot has its own special charm, but for a truly memorable night choose the wine cellar. Surrounded by the lodge’s extensive collection of wine, with candlelit chandeliers hanging overhead, it’s a meal like no other. And that’s just the setting. Head chef Paul Froggatt elevates local produce to the realms of fine dining with delicate foams, purees and wafer thin slicing. Start with translucent slices of fennel and heirloom carrot salad, move on to cauliflower tarts and lobster bouillon and save room for dark chocolate spheres.
The meal ends but that’s certainly not the end of the night, with guests encouraged to retire to the lodge for cheese and petit fours by the fire. Tiered stands of macarons, nougat and handmade praline chocolates are hard to resist, and a night cap or two is almost mandatory.
When you can finally draw yourself away from the fire, it’s to snuggle up in bed where staff have left hot water bottles to heat up the sheets. They’ll stay warm until morning, when you must try to rise early to watch the sun hit the river.
To see the true might of the river, guests can grab mountain bikes and cycle just a few minutes down the road to the Huka Falls. A lookout spans the mouth of this 11 metre waterfall, the bridge giving you a birds eye view as water plummets into the rapids below. It’s an immense force, with more than 220,000 litres of water rushing through every second. Mountain bike paths wind around the banks of the waterfall, if you want to continue exploring, but most guests make their way back to the lodge, with a new found respect for the river.
Alan Pye may have founded the lodge because of that river, and the fly fishing opportunities it presented, but these days lessons and fishing sessions take place 25 minutes away on the Tongariro River. The more adventurous can head out heli fly fishing or raft fly fishing. It might seem hard to tear yourself away from the lodge, especially when there’s tennis courts, croquet lawn, heated pool and Jacuzzis on site, but Huka also offers dozens of different activities. Birdwatching, float plane rides, cruises on Lake Taupo, private hikes, even deer hunting and turkey shooting can be on the agenda. Just make sure you’re back in time for pre-dinner drinks by the fire.
Whether you want to spend your days drinking fine wine by the fireside or out exploring the New Zealand wilderness, Huka Lodge is nothing like home away from home, unless of course, you’re the Queen. •
+64 7-378 5791
271 Huka Falls Road, Taupo, New Zealand