When you think of the word “staycation”, chances are you’re picturing a night or two in a nice CBD hotel in the city in which you live. But when thoughts turn to treating yourself to some kind of retreat – the sort of place where you can be immersed in nature, hear the birds, go on bush walks and recharge the soul – “staycation” probably never enters your mind.
More that that, chances are you’re thinking that in order to “get away”, that you really need to, you know, get away. As in, surely a 90-minute drive minimum, usually much more. But what if I told you that the luxury eco-escape of your far away dreams was actually just 20-minutes north of downtown Auckland? Not only that, but in lush, forested surrounds less than 10-minutes from Albany?
Yes indeed, Warblers Retreat is the Auckland staycation you never knew you could have. Set amidst 5-acres of beautiful, regenerating native forest, we had to keep reminding ourselves that the big drive home at the end of our stay was, in fact, just going to be about a quarter of an hour.
The labour of love of owners Dave and Barb Milina, the original lodge at Warblers was built in the year 2000 before being purchased by Dave in 2001. Joining forces with Barb in 2012, the couple were later married in an intimate ceremony by the waterfall at Warblers. And for almost a decade now, these two have pooled their talents to create a very different, very special retreat.
For a start, with Dave being a stonemason and landscaper, and Barb’s background establishing the award-winning ‘Sustainable Paremoremo’ project, they’ve steadily transformed the steep section where Warblers lies into a cascading series of levels. Gorgeous stone walls punctuate a property that now also includes The Cottage and the Keruru Studio as well as the main lodge.
Guests can hire out just the Cottage or the Keruru Studio, or for larger groups, the entire four-bedrooms of the Lodge – inclusive of the Keruru Studio – can be yours. Opening soon is also a supremely retro-cool glamping experience with – wait for it – a refurbished caravan that opens into a tent that’s perched on a wooden balcony that houses a private outdoor spa that sits high up in the forest canopy. Wow.
Wherever you stay, beautiful landscaped plants and flowers as well as dense bush dominate the sight-lines. And beyond those views there are also outdoor fireplaces and bbqs, a large swimming pool complete with sun lounges, a lawn perfect for weddings, a chicken coop with friendly hens, plentiful fruit trees and vegetable gardens, a fantastic new indoor-outdoor function-centre-in-the-forest called The Canopy, and a health and wellness facility known as The Retreat where guests can book sessions for things like Reiki and massage.
But if there’s one image that stands out in my mind about Warblers, it would have to be the outdoor spa baths. As mentioned, there’s about to be another one once the glamping area is completed, but until then you’ve got either your own personal outdoor spa bath at The Cottage, or a truly stunning bath by the waterfall.
This is the waterfall where Dave and Barb were married and you can see why: walking down those steps to the bath, you are completely enveloped in the wonders of native New Zealand bush and as such have total privacy. Large fern fronds frame the perfect, stargazing picture and it’s arguably here more than anywhere at Warblers that you feel a million miles from Auckland city.
It’s not the only spot though because Warblers is all about finding those secret little spots. Like the two chairs down the shell path behind The Canopy. Like the nikau grove as part of the network of bush trails. Like the wall of glow-worms by the river. Like the attic in The Cottage.
Speaking of which, Warblers may specialise in romantic escapes, but we found The Cottage ideal for a 2-night stay with our one-year baby Riley. We took our port-a-cot and set up Riley in the spacious living room, leaving the bedroom as our own space and the attic as a kind of Mum-and-Dad club house once she’d gone to sleep. Riley loved both of the outdoor baths, as well as being mesmerised by watching her parents play table tennis in the games room that fills the garage.
Also coming complete with a full kitchen, Albany is just down the road so one night we bought ingredients from a supermarket and cooked up a storm back at The Cottage. Dinner options at the lodge are also available on request and fresh eggs, home-baked bread and preserves are delivered to your door for breakfast.
We filled our days with bush walks and exploring the property. In each room at Warblers comes an information booklet made by Barb and Dave detailing all the native birds and trees you can find without leaving the front gate. Again, a reminder that to have this kind of authentic, eco-retreat experience, you don’t have to travel very far at all.
Thanks again to Barb and Dave for hosting us! We love what you’re doing and Warblers is so deserving of all the acclaim it gets, including a 5 star gold sustainable tourism award from Tourism NZ.
Check out WarblersRetreat.nz for more, including details of Barb and Dave’s commitment to sustainability – something that’s clear as soon as you arrive. It’s a staycation with a social conscience that’s good for body and soul as well as for the planet. And those outdoor baths can’t be beat.