|The view towards Mount Mauganui from the French Country House, Tauranga.|
I wanted to stay by the beach. It was January, the middle of the Kiwi summer, and not only that, I was going to be in one of the most iconic seaside destinations in New Zealand – Tauranga / Mount Maunganui.
Only problem was, everybody else had the same idea. Locked into visiting Tauranga in order to catch up with Australian-based friends briefly back in the country, all beachfront accommodation was booked out. Then it dawned on me that this was no predicament: Holden New Zealand had gifted me a ridiculously awesome VFII V8 to drive for the week as part of a New Zealand Herald road trip article around Tauranga and Coromandel. As such, what difference did it make if I could hear the lapping ocean or not?
With a car that good, I decided to see if there was anything inland in the wider Tauranga region that had – as I like to say with accommodation – a bit of a story to tell. And then if I wanted to head to the beach with my friends it would be another opportunity to show off the car. What a plan!
I’d never heard of the French Country House, but it looked like a nice place when it came up on a Google search of “luxury accommodation Tauranga.” As luck would have it, they had room for me for a couple of nights so I booked myself in. How wrong I was.
The French Country House of Tauranga is not a “nice” place. Walking through the grand wooden doors, I realised this was something else altogether and in rarefied territory as far as New Zealand hotels, lodges and B&Bs go. Forget “nice,” this was gorgeous. Throw in elegant too, not to mention opulent, tasteful, historic-feeling and very, very luxurious. I couldn’t believe my luck.
Just 20 minutes out of downtown Tauranga, the seven-year-old French Country House is located in an underrated rural part of one of New Zealand’s fastest growing urban areas. It’s all too easy to assume that a famous beach destination is only about sand and water when it comes to where to stay, but the French Country House paints a different picture. With it’s enormous suites (three in total), stand-alone bathtubs, chandeliers, huge floral displays, medieval-style chairs, spiral staircases, wooden beams from an old bridge, secret attics and uninterrupted views out towards The Mount, staying inland suddenly seemed to have a lot going for it.
When you add to that the friendly horses on the property who you have the chance to hand-feed, the wandering chickens whose eggs you ate for breakfast and the photo-friendly handsomeness of the nearby farmhouse / shed, you realise why the French Country House has such ecstatic online reviews.
Being back from the beach has other benefits too, including being closer to attractions like Hobbiton in the Waikato, some excellent nearby kauri forests and the Omanawa Falls. These aren’t just any waterfalls either. Think a secluded lagoon, surrounded by dense fern-dominated forest with a narrow and very storybook-looking waterfall the centrepiece. As you’ll see in the photos, this place is beautiful but also dangerous and we only realised after the fact that several people have been seriously injured attempting the now blocked-off trail up behind the waterfall down to the pool below. Swimming mission thankfully aborted (and signs possibly foolishly ignored) once we realised it really was too steep, too slippery and too life-endangering, the falls are still a must-visit for the photos you can get from the entirely safe, very picturesque viewing area.
Back at the French Country House and not for the first time in a New Zealand lodge, I found myself totally at ease with either the owner or manager. In this case, it’s manager Kay who is gallantly assisted by her dear little doggy Freddie. Together these two make you feel extremely welcome and are a major part of what made this one of my best New Zealand lodge experiences.
Keep a look out for more in my upcoming New Zealand Herald road trip article about Tauranga and Coromandel that will also feature the French Country House, but in the meantime, here are my top 50 photos from my time at the property. Enjoy.
- The French Country House, Tauranga
- Schofields Of Newmarket – see more about the brand new Holden VFII