This review of Hapuku Lodge & Tree House in Kaikoura is taken from our guidebook Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection Australia/New Zealand.
Look, I’m not very good at packing lightly; instead of a weekend’s worth of clothes I have a month’s supply. A fact I instantly regret as Mr Smith and I lug four suitcases up three flights of stairs to our room. Luckily a plate of baked-that-day biscuits is waiting for us as a reward for our work-out. There is no number on the door – our room is called Kotare, after a native bird, which kind of makes sense considering it’s a bit like a nest: it’s one of the five treetop rooms. There is also a lodge at Hapuku, but surely the only reason you’d stay on ground level is if you’re recovering from a hip replacement.
Our room is luxurious, with an inviting king-size bed in the centre, and ridiculously impressive views. Wander to one end and there is a fireplace with two comfy chairs and full vistas of snowcapped mountains; a meander to the far side leads you to the ensuite, which looks out to the sea. There is something very sexy about the bathroom area. Mr Smith is so enamoured of the heated slate floor he lays his clothes on it so they’re nice and toasty when he puts them on. The double spa has cushioned headrests, but for the voyeur (not mentioning any names, Mr Smith), the shower is completely encased in glass and looks over a privately owned field to the ocean. ‘Only the sheep can see you,’ a staff member assures us, ‘and they’ve seen it all before.’
Jaws removed from the floor, Mr Smith and I take off to explore the area. The first thing we see is a colony of seals on the rocks. We decide the collective noun should be a snuggle of seals, as they make the most precarious rock look comfy. Next, we visit Kaikoura Winery. I’m willing to wager there aren’t many wineries where you can sip booze while whale watching. Yep, somehow seeing a frolicking pod of blue whales makes the chardonnay taste sweeter.
Happy with our sea-life encounters, we head back to the lodge for dinner. All the guests meet for a pre-supper drink and you can mingle as much or as little as you like. There are only three other residents tonight and, as Mr Smith also goes by the name Captain Have-a-Chat, we’re soon all merrily swapping anecdotes.
Now to the food: it is quite simply exceptional. None of that gourmet guff where you’re given a massive plate and need a magnifying glass to find the part you eat. The fresh creations are elegantly presented and the portions are man-sized. We choose the eye fillet for two and there is so much left over that the chef offers to make it up as sandwiches with lashings of mustard the next day. Now that’s service.
Full of top tenderloin and gallons of New Zealand pinot we stumble back to our room to find someone on staff has lit the fire for us. We change into the supplied dressing gowns. ‘It’s like walking around wrapped in a flannelette sheet,’ says Mr Smith before drawing the burgundy curtains that make the bedroom feel instantly like part of the Queen’s Court. Deliciously regal.
After a decent sleep-in and a game of ‘I can see the snow, now I can see the ocean’ we head over for breakfast. I can formally declare duck hash the breakfast of champions. We grab our sandwiches and venture to Hanmer Springs to enjoy the thermal pools. Now, everything might look close on the map, but trust me: not only do you need a hire car here, you should also double the time you think it will take to get anywhere. The roads are windy and either hug the coastline or take you over mountain ridges, which can be hairy when massive trucks speed past.
We arrive at Hanmer Springs to find it’s not as rustic and natural as we expected. There is, however, something deeply cool about choosing what temperature pool to soak in. Here’s a hint: 41 degrees is where it’s at. Then Mr Smith spots the waterslides. If anyone had said I’d be in New Zealand in the dead of winter in my bikini racing up icy steps to the top of a waterslide I would have said they were loco, but embracing your inner child is a completely energising experience. The lifeguard joins in and gives us marks out of 10 for our entries into the water.
We’re buzzing as we arrive back at our room. Mr Smith decides to light the fire himself and when the flames leap obligingly he dances around the room like Tom Hanks in Castaway, exclaiming, ‘I made fire.’ (I don’t want to burst his manly bubble but how hard can it be when you have to hand: propellent, pine cones and perfectly cut wood?)
As we walk to dinner I make a mental packing note: Louboutin heels may look fab, but they aren’t really practical on gravel pathways around a lodge. Staff members take drink orders like friends excited to welcome you to their new pad. Rather than imposing, they are so knowledgeable about the local area it feels like they’re co-conspirators on your adventure. We are soon telling them tales of conquering the waterslide and, amazingly, they don’t look at us like we are immature freaks. Not once.
Dinner again exceeds expectations. We even ask to speak to the chef, and when he brags that his rice pudding with poached tamarillo is the best in the world Mr Smith hears the sound of a gauntlet hitting the ground. Minutes later my amateur critic is raising a creamy spoonful to a smirking mouth, an eyebrow arched. A flash of disappointment at not being able to burst the chef’s bold claim is swiftly replaced by a look of ecstasy. What else to do after but flop, full of pud, into those fireside chairs but a waddle away? We stare glassy-eyed into the flames and our surroundings feel as comforting as being wrapped up in my dad’s favourite old jumper. But thankfully for boutique-hotel lovers, Hapuku Lodge is just that little bit more stylish.