Less than two-hours from Auckland lies a mansion in gorgeous Secret Garden-like surrounds with no less than six different locations you could choose for your wedding day. Or you could be like us and be in search of your first trip away as new parents and want somewhere awesome and special but also easy – oh so easy – to take a newborn. It doesn’t matter – whether for a wedding or a staycation, or if – in the case of overseas visitors – a bit of luxury in beautiful New Zealand countryside, you really can’t wrong with Henley Hotel in Cambridge.
If you’re familiar with the hospitality scene in Waikato and the name “Henley Hotel” isn’t ringing a bell, it’s because this two-decade old, 12-hectare property was formerly known as Sarnia Park. Indeed, road signs still point to “Sarnia Park”, but what was once a seven-bedroom boutique hotel is now – several million dollars later – a 14-bedroom, 5-star retreat. The gardens are as spectacular as ever, but what was previously an extremely nice hotel is now inarguably among the premier accommodation options in Waikato.
Indeed, I had firsthand knowledge of the old Sarnia Park having stayed there for a Roxborogh Report article back in 2015. Click here to read about my experience at the hotel then and see how the refurbishment has completely transformed the interior of the building. You can also see how the gardens look in early summer with the wisteria out in full force on my 2015 visit, compared to the early spring photos of this latest visit.
This time around we swapped out the wisteria for cherry blossoms, and while there isn’t a bad time of year to stroll around the grounds of Henley Hotel, seeing all those blossoms in spring – especially in one of the outdoor wedding areas where a grove of blossoms almost completely cover you – is magic.
As mentioned, we had our own little cherry blossom in the form of three-month old Riley Roxborogh. Given Riley’s dad happens to be a travel writer, we knew it was going to be sooner rather than later that we took her somewhere and we wanted trip number one to be as straight forward as possible.
Henley Hotel fit the bill with its proximity to Auckland, its location just outside one of New Zealand’s prettiest towns in Cambridge, its garden setting perfect for pushing a pram, the presence of a spa and a heated indoor pool, and its outstanding service – including the providing of a cot if necessary and in-room dining if Mum and Dad can’t quite settle baby in time to make it down to dinner.
None of which mentions the grandiosity of the building that is the hotel itself. Split across two-levels and with some serious The Sound Of Music vibes, Henley Hotel’s most striking feature is its grand, open lobby, complete with a sweeping staircase and chandeliers. It sets the scene for the adjoining plush dining and living rooms, as well as the bar. Artworks adorn the walls, Union Jacks are not in short supply and the intentional air of English elegance is throughout.
While some of the bedrooms are downstairs, most are up that most photogenic of staircases (or in the lift if you’ve got bags/a baby/a pram). This is where things really have changed since the days of Sarnia Park. Walls have been knocked down, or in some cases, put in. Every room has been completely refitted and each has its own details and interior design. Some are more feminine, some more masculine, some have balconies and all the ‘Best’ rooms have gas fire places and soaker baths.
We decided to sample two of the rooms – why not! When you’re a hotel nut like me, you do things like this and we were lucky enough to pop our heads into all but a couple of Henley’s rooms, while sleeping in two of them: Room 6 and Room 3. Henley has three categories of rooms: ‘Good’, ‘Better’ and ‘Best’. I always love hotels where the rooms aren’t all exactly the same and Henley relishes in having different dimensions as well as different wallpaper, different colour schemes and even – in the case of Room 3’s extremely cool brass bathroom fittings – completely different bathrooms.
The one thing that remains the same is a standard of luxury that doesn’t dip below 5-star, even in the ‘Good’ rooms.
Another change from when Henley was Sarnia is the creation of a day spa facility next to the indoor pool. Speaking of which, Riley Roxy was very content to lounge by the pool in her bouncer while her parents swam some lengths and then felt the first real waves of relaxation since becoming parents while lounging back in the spa.
That temporarily forgotten pre-parenthood feeling of relaxation carried through to our walks in the garden where Riley was entranced by all the blossoms. Meanwhile, her parents were busy thinking about where we could one day renew our vows given we’re already married. Would it be in the cute century-old chapel or on the lake by the rotunda? Would it be in the grove of cherry blossoms or on the mini cricket oval? Or maybe the garden rotunda? Or even inside the hotel in the lobby with the grand staircase.
Henley Hotel has wedding packages that range from elopements all the way to huge 200-person celebrations. You can even book out the entire hotel if you choose – click here for more details.
Thanks so much to Nick and his team at Henley for looking after us so well. They even let us bring Riley down to dinner in her bouncer where I tapped her with my foot for the entire two-hours of pre-meal wine, some sensational lamb shanks and dessert! It was a great first trip with our daughter, though it’s possible she now has unrealistically high expectations accomodation-wise going forward. Visit henleyhotel.co.nz for everything you need to know, but in the meantime, enjoy my Henley Hotel top 50 photos.