Foley now 75pc owner of luxury lodge

Bill Foley is a major player in the US insurance market.
Bill Foley is a major player in the US insurance market.

American billionaire Bill Foley has raised his stake in Wairarapa luxury lodge Wharekauhau, and is calling for more Kiwis to come and stay.

A decision released by the Overseas Investment Office shows William PFoley III acquired a further 25 per cent stake in Wharekauhau Country Estate Ltd, buying out former lodge managers Nico and Kristy De Lange for an undisclosed sum.

It brings his total stake to 75 per cent, with the remaining shares owned by American Thomas Hagerty.

Long a playground for the rich and famous on Wairarapa's south coast, Wharekauhau has hosted many celebrities, including Jack Black, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Meg Ryan, the Rolling Stones and Bill Gates – as well as new neighbour and Avatar director James Cameron.

The lodge is also a favourite of Sir Peter Jackson and wife Fran Walsh, who own an estate outside Masterton.

Mark Turnbull, chief executive of Foley Family Wines NZ, said Mr Foley was looking to pump more money into the lodge, which had recently launched an online "Wine and Food Society".

"Like anything, when you have a controlling interest it allows you to make decisions quickly.

"It allows us very easily to develop the Wharekauhau Wine and Food Society, which is very closely linked to Foley Family Wines."

Mr Foley was also working to make the luxury lodge more accessible to domestic clients, Mr Turnbull said. "He's said that he wants more Kiwis to be able to enjoy it."

Tariffs are $1300 plus GST per couple per night between April and November, and $1990 plus GST per couple per night over summer.

The previous managers had done a "positive job" in a difficult financial climate, and the purchase was a "win-win" for both parties, Mr Turnbull said.

Wharekauhau was the brainchild of Waikato farmers Annette and Bill Shaw, who recently sold their adjoining Pounui farm to James Cameron.

Mr Foley and several other investors bought Wharekauhau in 2010 reportedly for more than $24 million. The purchase included the adjoining Wharepapa Station, a 538-hectare sheep station that is currently on the market.

Mr Foley has long held extensive investments in New Zealand, primarily in the wine industry.

A recently announced merger between Marlborough's New Zealand Wine Company and Foley Family Wines would put him more than half way toward his goal of a million-case Kiwi wine business.

Contact Seamus Boyer
Wairarapa reporter
Twitter: @SeamusBoyer

The Dominion Post