In the lap of Huka luxury

MICHELLE HURLEY
Last updated 05:00 03/08/2014
Huka Lodge

HUNTING GROUND: The trophy room at Huka Lodge (marshmallows available on request).

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Sumptuous, glamorous, relaxed and, in some ways, delightfully old-fashioned.

THE SETTING

About five minutes north of Taupo town, Huka Lodge claims prime position on the Waikato River. The gardens at Huka are extraordinary: honed over many decades, they stretch across seven hectares before melding into bordering Wairakei Park and feature meticulous hedging and multiple perching points with fern trees framing the lake.

Nature abounds but a spot of sport calls too, with its all-weather astroturf tennis court (complete with racquets and balls at the ready), a heated-to-26-degrees swimming pool and the two access-all-hours covered spas. And there's even croquet and petanque. Our two girls wanted to dive into the pool before we had even seen our rooms, despite the driving rain.

THE SPACE

The main lodge comprises multiple lounges, with separate rooms for dining, a commercial kitchen and the manager's offices. Downstairs has a Royal family/Highland fling vibe, while upstairs in the study and lounge-come-trophy room, it's rather more Out of Africa, with mounted stuffed animals, oversized lounges and tribal artefacts.

According to Tatsio, the genial assistant manager, guests spend most of their time in the main lodge rather than sequestered in their rooms. Hearing our children shatter the calm, I wondered if we might be the exception.

THE KIT

Away from the main lodge, down a rainforesty path, lie 18 junior lodge suites, one lodge suite and - a bit further - two Huka cottages, catering for larger groups. Our suites are two adjoining ones, tasteful mirror images of each other. The decor is a calm blend of beige and greens, deliberately designed to let your eye take in the main event: the river, just a few metres from the floor-to-ceiling French doors framing it.

The beds are excellent. Indeed they were so comfortable that both our children slept through the night without stirring, a rare event. There are no televisions in the room, so if you have young children you may like to ask the staff to bring in a computer and DVDs. The bathroom housed the biggest bath I've yet sighted but alas, the shower cubicle suffered a little from a lack of space (and pine-needle jets of water).

COMFORT FACTOR

Apart from the shower jets, terrific. Beds, as noted, blissful. The real joy of the lodge, however, is in its multiple and strategic nooks and crannies: you are rarely more than a minute away from a cleverly designed resting place, be it a well-placed chair in the upstairs reading room, an outdoor wooden bench with cushions and padding to rest upon after a walk, or a secluded table for an outdoor dinner on the far reaches of the property with the Waikato River at your feet.

Huka prides itself on catering for any experience: a romantic picnic, dinner for 20 friends, or in our case, a weekend with the kids.

The girls took to it like, yes, ducks to water. When the rain disrupted a picnic lunch, Tatsio improvised by moving the picnic to the upstairs trophy room, with the fire roaring besides us.

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This was day two, and by then our eldest, all of 6, had sniffed the wind and worked out that should one ask, one would receive. "Do you think," she inquired of Tatsio, "that we could have some marshmallows to toast in the fire?" Yes, he obliged.

FOOD

Included in the usual tariff is pre-dinner drinks and canapes, a five-course dinner and a cooked country breakfast. We gave the girls room service while we opted for the five-course dinner. The staff are flexible about catering for kids, and whipped up a tasty spaghetti bolognaise and the best-seasoned vegetables I've yet eaten.

With Anastasia, the babysitter, ensconced, we headed to the main lodge for the main event. Part of Huka's appeal is the clubby atmosphere, where guests sidle up for a chat during drinks and canapes before being seated individually for dinner.

We were in the library, touted as Queen Elizabeth's favourite room (she's been a guest four times). We feasted on a very good menu, including chicken and mushroom compote, heirloom tomatoes, gurnard with chorizo and a chocoholic's nirvana of meringue "mushrooms", chocolate eggs and mint and chocolate shavings. All washed down with wines to match.

The sommelier's antenna was acute: when he came to chat to us pre-dinner and asked us about our wine preferences, upon hearing we were no fans of sauvignon blanc and not major red drinkers, he tweaked the accompanying wines to our taste while still managing to align with the dishes perfectly.

WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR

The lodge can arrange any activity, from four-wheel driving to jet boating, horseback rides, quad adventures and bungy jumping and skydiving. Fly-fishing expeditions are popular. We didn't manage any of these, but the children loved their jaunt at Huka Prawn Park.

THE VERDICT

Sumptuous, glamorous, relaxed and, in some ways, delightfully old-fashioned, Huka Lodge doesn't disappoint.

GETTING THERE

Huka Lodge is about an hour's drive from Rotorua; three to four hours' drive from Auckland, and a four-hour drive from Wellington. There are daily flights to Taupo airport from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Or book a Huka Helicopter: Transfers are available from Auckland, Wellington and Rotorua direct to the front lawn of Huka Lodge. To get to Huka Lodge by chopper from Auckland takes about 1 hour 15 minutes, from Wellington, 1 hour 35 minutes and from Rotorua, 25 minutes.

ESSENTIALS

Huka Lodge offers a two night package in a riverside Junior Lodge Suite, including a bottle of Bollinger champagne, pre-dinner drinks, and canapes, five-course gourmet dinners and full country breakfasts from $955 per person per night.

There is also a two night family package which includes accommodation in a junior suite with an adjoining escort room, a guided walk at the Opepe historical native bush reserve, a family dinner on the first night and country breakfast the next morning followed by a visit to the Prawn Park with a picnic lunch at Lilliput farm.

In the evening, a babysitter is provided for four hours while parents enjoy pre-dinner drinks with fellow guests, followed by private dining for two, from $1072 per adult per night (two children aged between 5 and 10 are included in the tariff).

The writer was a guest of Huka Lodge; hukalodge.co.nz

- Sunday Star Times

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