|Lake Karapiro Lodge|
Provincial Waikato is unfairly unfashionable when it comes to New Zealanders’ own appraisals of their beautiful country. Probably because when we drive through Waikato it’s at 100ks and we’re always on the way somewhere. Somewhere more heralded as a tourist destination like Rotorua, Tauranga or the mountains and forests of Tongariro National Park. Or if you’re heading north rather than south, the city of Auckland and the Bay Of Islands beyond.
Though even with the daily bus loads of movie fans visiting the rolling hills and movie sets of Hobbiton near Matamata, not to mention the nearby tourist hot-spots of Taupo and the Waitomo Caves, the notion of making provincial Waikato the final destination in a vacation is still not particularly strong.
So with an invitation to see a friend living on a horse farm out of Cambridge I thought I’d try and challenge some preconceived ideas. Why not find somewhere to stay in provincial Waikato with a bit of luxury and a story to tell?
Perched on a hill above Lake Karapiro about 20 minutes down the state highway from Cambridge I found a lodge. The highway is one I’ve driven thousands of times and never stopped to think what the view would be like from on high. Turns out very, very nice.
Lake Karapiro Lodge is a 5-star luxury lodge run by a lovely couple in their early retirement years named Ann and Eddie. Not that there’s anything “retired” about how they maintain their property, an immaculate Edwardian-style mansion they built themselves just 11 years ago.
I say “just 11 years ago” because the design and fit-out of Lake Karapiro Lodge could leave you fooled into thinking you were being welcomed into an early 20th century country estate. There are sumptuous chesterfield leather couches, candlesticks, polished wooden tables, displayed busts, hand-knitted floor rugs and an attention to detail that shows style and devotion in equal measure.
The curtain fabric, duvets and headboards in the downstairs suites all match and the golden tones were chosen to compliment the colours of the surrounding fields when parched by the summer sun. The four downstairs suites all have ensuites with beautifully tiled floors and sit-down showers with jets from multiple angles. There’s also access to an adjacent drawing-room / living room.
Outside are private decks with spectacular views to Karapiro Lake and the Maungatautari eco-sanctuary – a wonderfully conceived community project I wrote about last year – click here to read that article. Looking at the meandering lake against the different shades of green with mountains near and far, it was a picture of Waikato so varied and so unlike what we see as we speed past on the highway.
Back inside we asked for a tour of the two upstairs suites. Wow. Climbing the stairwell it’s here that Lake Karapiro Lodge elevates itself from being luxurious by New Zealand standards into being something genuinely world-class. The Sir Tristram Suite and the Versace Suite are approximately double the price of the downstairs rooms ($900 compared to $450 and $550) and are – simply put – enormous. As in, 95 square metres enormous.
Some very prominent Kiwis have stayed in these suites and when you see their grandiosity, from the size of wooden beds to the golden fittings of the tiered Versace bath, you understand why. It’s clear Ann and Eddie have taste and nowhere is there a hint of kitsch or clutter in their design. But the sum total of the polished floors, the large rugs, the leather couches, the golden-rimmed mirrors and ornaments like the antique clocks is one of almost royal opulence.
And yet back downstairs with Ann and Eddie at breakfast and they’re as friendly and unassuming as if they were your old neighbours in the suburbs with the modest 3-bedroom weatherboard home. It almost seemed incongruous that this thoroughly normal, chatty (Ann), practical (Eddie) and warm couple could’ve conceived a residence of this kind of rare lavishness. Incongruous, but terrific fun.
Having ticked off accommodation to make this part of the Waikato a destination in and of itself, it was time to see if Mother Nature is underrated in this part of the country too. Ann and Eddie recommended a place called the Blue Spring which is part of the Te Waihou Walkway. Accessed from a carpark about 30 minutes from the lodge and right close to the town of Putaruru, this is another part of Waikato that New Zealanders tend to drive past on the way to more famous destinations.
That said, it was evident from the numbers of families out for a Sunday stroll that people from Waikato know about the Blue Spring. An easy 90 minute walk – some of it boardwalk – took us through farmland, pine and fern-dominated forest. The path follows the river which, as the name suggests, is a quite striking crystalline blue. More than that, the river is overflowing with plant life of vibrant hues that trail along in the current. The visual of the water with the river life is electric and it turns out that as much as 70% of New Zealand’s bottled water is sourced here.
The Blue Spring was so unique as to be worthy of “destination” status. Just like the incredible lodge we were lucky enough to stay at. Thanks again to Ann and Eddie and enjoy my photos* – contact information for Lake Karapiro Lodge is below.
I stayed as a guest of Lake Karapiro Lodge. For further information and reservations contact owners Eddie and Ann on 07 823 7414 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to visit karapirolodge.co.nz.
*All photos are my own except the first two external shots of the lodge which are courtesy of karapirolodge.co.nz.