|The lobby and grand staircase at Sarnia Park.|
As I continue my unexpected crusade to challenge the notion Waikato is less interesting than the rest of New Zealand, I was invited back to the province last week. I say “unexpected” because it’s a part of the country I’ve been to a million times for family reasons as well as the fact it’s unavoidable if you’re driving south. And not until last year did I start to notice just how destination-worthy so much of it is.
I’m not pretending I’m dreaming of retiring in suburban Hamilton. But places like Lake Karapiro, the Maungatautari eco-sanctuary, Wairere Falls and the Blue Spring are Waikato gems still curiously under the radar.
Catching up for a couple of nights with the lovely owners of Lake Karapiro Lodge Ann and Eddie (whose property I wrote about in October), I decided to extend this latest Waikato jaunt by a third night. Seeing if there was anywhere else accommodation-wise in the Hamilton / Cambridge / Tirau / Matamata / Te Aroha neck of the woods to rival Ann and Eddie’s Edwardian-style mansion on the hill, I discovered Cambridge’s Sarnia Park.
Where Lake Karapiro Lodge is about the remarkable, almost Italian-like views over the surrounding lake, mountains, forests and farms, Sarnia Park swaps vistas for gardens. And both lodges offer a very high standard of recreated old-world luxury that puts them in rarefied company in the Waikato.
Sarnia Park is less than 20 years old and for the past seven years has been run by dear lady in her 70s named Bev. A former IT lecturer and married to Roy a retired farmer, she could be putting her feet up in her retirement years. But I sensed Bev’s energy, her clearly fierce intellect and her passion for people and hospitality means managing a seven-room luxury lodge and 12ha garden is precisely what she wants to do.
More than the rooms and gardens, Sarnia Park is one of the region’s premier wedding venues with no less than six potential nuptial sites on the property. These include a pergola on a lake and a cute 100 year old chapel.
The lodge itself has more than a whiff of Captain Von Trapp’s Sound Of Music home to it. You enter between two great brick pillars and are immediately in the lodge’s ballroom/lobby. There’s a grand sweeping staircase, a chaise lounge and a chandelier giving the two-storey room a sense of restrained, early 20th century elegance. As a karaoke-fiend I also couldn’t help but notice some mighty fine acoustics if I wanted to strike up a song Von Trapp-style.
Each of the seven bedrooms are named after native birds and my Takahe Room had a beautifully-tiled ensuite, two queen-size beds and attractive garden views. I also checked out the bridal suite (Kotuku Room, see photos below) and found my way to the heated indoor pool and spa. Throughout the house the recurring colours of gold, white and blue are found and no matter where you are the smell of fresh flowers is a constant.
|The view from Lake Karapiro Lodge.|
Speaking of flowers, the gardens of Sarnia Park have a wonderfully English, Secret Garden vibe. I’m no flower expert, but the wisteria in particular was awesome. Then there’s the lake with its water lilies, the roses and the countless spots that look picnic-perfect. And I haven’t even mentioned the cricket oval! Well, more of a backyard cricket oval, but still. I can confirm that Sarnia Park comes complete with a hedged-oval that would make for the ultimate backyard cricket venue. Considering this place already caters for my singing urges, this cricket fanatic was starting to feel very at home.
As for dining, Sarnia Park prides itself on its culinary prowess and employs an executive chef, a sous chef and an assistant chef. I ate a delicious three-course meal with Bev and Roy with Bev playing both waitress and host. They really are a sweet couple and enjoy a yarn as much as delivering 5-star service and accommodation.
Located less than five kilometres from both Cambridge and Lake Karapiro, Sarnia Park is also only 20 minutes from Hobbiton and approximately two hours from Auckland. And if you have business in Hamilton – Waikato’s largest city and New Zealand’s biggest inland urban hub with a greater population of 180,000 – Sarnia Park can be reached in half an hour.
I thought I should compliment my Sarnia Park garden experience with a visit to the internationally acclaimed Hamilton Gardens. To me this makes a perfect combo for Aucklanders who seek out gardens and don’t have time for a longer escape. Hamilton may be unfashionable to its northern neighbour Auckland, though its increasingly happening CBD cafe scene could one day shake this reputation.
But what really confronts the perceptions of Hamilton are the Hamilton Gardens. I’d heard for years they were good, but how good could they be in an industrial, farming city that gave birth to the bastion of bogan broadcasting The Rock FM?
Turns out quite brilliant. As in, my reaction as I walked from fenced-off, themed garden to garden (Italian, Chinese, Japanese, English, American, Maori etc) was increasingly of “Wow! I can’t believe this is free!” In short, the Hamilton Gardens deserve all the international accolades they get and are perhaps better known abroad than they are by fellow Kiwis.
So if you like gardens and feel like something a fraction more glamourous than what Hamilton tends to offer, Sarnia Park is a perfect choice. Special thanks to Bev and Roy and enjoy the photos, all of which are of Sarnia Park except the bottom 11 which are of Hamilton Gardens.
|Hamilton Gardens (as are the remaining photos).|