US billionaire in deal to buy $24m Kiwi resort

BY TANYA KATTERNS
Last updated 05:00 01/09/2010
Wharekauhau Lodge
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LUXURY-PLUS: Wharekauhau Lodge sits in a 2023-hectare farm property in southern Wairarapa. The haunt of the rich and famous, it is often ranked among the world's top 20 resort hideaways.

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An exclusive Wairarapa luxury retreat – frequented by music and movie stars – has been sold to an American billionaire, his business partner and its Kiwi managers.

The Overseas Investment Office has cleared the sale of Wharekauhau – a country estate and farming business – to William P Foley II as the major shareholder.

Mr Foley, one of the top-paid executives in the United States with a 10-year salary alone worth $430 million, already has extensive investments in New Zealand, primarily in the wine industry. He has not stayed at Wharekauhau before.

Often ranked among the world's top 20 resort hideaways, the lodge is one of New Zealand's grandest. It is set in a 2023-hectare working farm, which has long been a playground for the rich and famous.

The lodge and its thriving farming business is thought to be worth in excess of $24 million, though the sale price has not been disclosed.

Jack Black, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Meg Ryan, the Rolling Stones and Bill Gates are among the celebrities to have been there.

Among Mr Foley's vast list of investments are an $80m-plus resort ranch in Montana, fast food chains, and vineyards in Napa Valley. He chairs insurance company Fidelity National Financial, ranked 366 on this year's Fortune 500 list.

The other buyers are South African-born Nico De Lange and his American wife, Kristy – who are both now New Zealand citizens – and American Thomas M Hagerty. Mr Hagerty, 47, is a director of several of Mr Foley's companies, including Fidelity National Financial. He began his financial career in the mergers and acquisitions department of finance giant Morgan Stanley.

Mrs De Lange, who once ran Richard Branson's Caribbean resort Necker Island, has with husband Nico managed Wharekauhau for the past seven years. "We are very, very excited. We have built a home here at Wharekauhau and the future is exciting," she said.

The resort's marketing director, Karine Thomas, said the new owners had been working on plans for a makeover of the lodge. A multimillion-dollar renovation was already under way, with "substantial amounts of money" spent upgrading the grounds, buildings and soft furnishings in the past fortnight.

Ms Thomas said Wharekauhau was poised to lift its position in the elite luxury resort market. "It has grown in popularity rapidly in recent years. With Sir Peter Jackson having his estate in Masterton and the movies connection, celebrities will fly into Wellington in their jets then jump straight on a helicopter and 15 minutes later they are here."

Another growth market was the Middle East, from where royal families would fly for weddings, she said. "There is more and more private jet business coming into New Zealand and, with that, more celebrities slipping in and out and no-one apart from those that are hosting them are even aware that they are in the country."

COUNTRY SPLENDOUR

Wharekauhau is at the end of Western Lake Rd, Palliser Bay.

It's a luxury private country lodge with cottages, suites and self-contained houses on 2023ha of rolling coastal farm.

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Tariffs range from $610 to $956 per person, double occupancy, or $4625 to $5755 a night for a three-bedroom private house, including breakfast, dinner and cocktail hour. (Prices exclude GST.)

It has "baronial" dining and sitting rooms with plush furnishings and roaring fires; always-open country kitchen; indoor heated swimming pool and gym; mature gardens, riverbeds and beaches for walking and riding.

Helicopter hire from Wellington costs $317 a head for four people; or $275 a head for five people.

Wine, coastal and farm tours can be done at additional costs.

THE SELLERS

Wharekauhau was the brainchild of Waikato farmers Annette and Bill Shaw, but they were helped by these international investors:

US multimillionaire Julian Robertson, who owns Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers.

Former Levi Strauss president Tom Tusher, owner of Blanket Bay.

Alex van Heeren, from the Netherlands, who is the man behind Huka Lodge.

US art collectors Robert and Sally Hunt, who created Paratiho Farms, Nelson.

- The Dominion Post

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