Wharekauhau Country Estate is the most enchanting sheep station in all of New Zealand, just a short helicopter ride or leisurely drive from the capital city of Wellington, and the perfect home base for exploring wine and food in the Waiarapa.
You first glimpse Wharekauhau Country Estate after rounding one of many bends along Palliser Bay, and the reveal is sure to take your breath away. A few minutes later, you arrive at the Edwardian lodge and, even as a first-time guest, I instantly felt like I was returning home.
General Manager Richard Rooney has worked here for a dozen years and his unbridled passion for the property is the heartbeat that inspires his team of hard-working and talented staff. Last year, Rooney was recognized by Luxury Travel Advisor as one of the top luxury resort general managers in the world. His career at Wharekauhau boils down to one thing – kaitiaki. The Māori word for “guardianship” expresses his leadership style, the way he looks after both his employees and the land, Wharekauhau’s most precious assets.
The first night at dinner, dessert is Mr. Joe’s Lemon Tree Tart. I inquire as to who Mr. Joe is and am told the story of an incredible man who farmed the land at Wharekauhau his entire life, only just retiring a few years ago. This dessert honors his decades of hard work, including the lemon tree he planted that bore this fruit.
Even in retirement, Mr. Joe remains part of the Wharekauhau family, helping Spa Manager Amelie Aegerter build shelves and frames for the new Hauora Spa. Hauora is the Māori word for “wellness,” and Aegerter has significantly expanded the treatment menu, working exclusively with organic skincare products from New Zealand-based Millefeuille. The signature body treatment showcases local ingredients, with a manuka honey and sea salt exfoliation followed by a soufflé-like, warm honey mask created by Millefeuille just for Wharekauhau. Amelie is a magician, a massage therapist with soft-but-strong hands who is equally skilled as an esthetician and hairdresser. She’s been here for more than eight years, starting as a cook, and Wharekauhau is so lucky to have her.
It’s tempting to just laze around property, wandering through the fields with the sheep and enjoying the ocean views while soaking in the tub with Nellie Tier bath salts. But it’s worth spending a day exploring the Wairarapa’s charming surrounding townships, too. Martinborough is the wine capital, with more than 20 wineries. The dry climate and alluvial soils are great for finnicky pinot noir. Wharekauhau’s proprietor Bill Foley also owns two wineries in the region – Martinborough Vineyard and Te Kairanga. For a comprehensive taste of the region, visit The Wine Bank, a new tasting room with 64 wines available to try.
In nearby Greytown, enjoy a nutritious, plant-based meal at Food Forest Organics before indulging in chocolate at Schoc Chocolates down the street. They make 80 different flavors of chocolate bars, including unique combinations like curry-papadum and lime-chili, all of which are available to sample. Back at Wharekauhau, the restaurant team selects some of the country’s best wines to pair with each course at dinner. And you might just find yourself drinking wine with the chefs and restaurant team until the wee hours of the morning.
I already know I need to come back in the spring for stargazing. Rooney tells me that you can see shooting stars every April. I know what I would wish for.