Turn off, tune out and unwind

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 05:00 13/04/2014
Martinborough
Fairfax NZ

SPACE TO UNWIND: The sunny retreat Martinborough offers makes it perfect for leisurely rides where destination is of little importance.

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There's nothing worse than finding you've arrived at a luxury escape with 490 of your closest friends, and another 1000 or so loping along behind you.

For what we've cheesily deemed our "weekend of love" (gross, I know, but you get to do that on your wedding anniversary), my husband and I are heading to Peppers Parehua resort in Martinborough for two days of relaxation.

As we head out of Wellington, we agree a true weekend of love can only be attained without bringing the guy from our touch rugby team, my mum, a bevy of university friends, and associate health minister Jo Goodhew. She might be following me on Twitter, but she's not coming to Martinborough. Goodbye, social media buddies.

The wide-open plains of the Wairarapa somehow manage to be both rugged and ridiculously picturesque, sort of how you'd imagine a scene from Little House on the Prairie.

When we wind down from the Rimutakas and into the tiny township, the sun is still bravely stretching its final rays across the surrounding vineyards. It's taken us under two hours to get here from Wellington - in rush hour traffic, I should add - so we're happy there's still some daylight left when we pull into Peppers.

The resort is one of 40 such luxury retreats across New Zealand and Australia, the first springing up in New South Wales' Hunter Valley in 1984. The Martinborough resort was the second to open in New Zealand, in 2005.

"It smells like bread in here," my husband says, as we turn the key to our lakeside cottage. Moments later, he is holding up a loaf of freshly-baked bread for my inspection, his eyes gleaming as if he's just discovered the holy grail.

"There IS bread in here! I knew it," he says, walking off to open every drawer, flick through every magazine, and test every light switch in the room.

He only stops his tour of inspection when he hurts his elbow after flopping down too hard on the bed, and discovers an antipasto platter waiting in the fridge.

There's also a complimentary bottle of reisling from local vineyard Te Kairanga, which we quickly throw in the freezer to chill (no time to waste) while we check out the rest of our digs.

The spacious cottage boasts its own reading nook, spa bath, and faux crackling fireplace.

The decor has a down-home feel and is centred around comfort, complete with mohair throws and more cushions than you could possibly snuggle into.

It opens out onto a deck with a view of a lake that, to be fair, would probably look more appealing if it wasn't the end of a hot, dry summer. We're ensconced in trees on either side, creating a real sense of seclusion from the neighbouring cottages.

Breakfast at the Pavilion restaurant is a well-stocked, buffet affair. I help an elderly man rescue two stuck slices of toast while a line begins to form, but aside from the under-performing toaster the meal is without flaw.

It's with pukus full of creamy mushrooms, scrambled eggs and tomatoes that we're left with the most difficult decision of the weekend - what to do next.

The wearying list includes taking a dip in the pool, playing tennis or croquet, relaxing, drinking more coffee on the restaurant's deck, ordering a masseuse, or hiring a retro bicycle.

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Checking Facebook almost slips onto the list until I remember it's not allowed and quickly back out of the iPhone app.

Peppers is also a function venue and hosts everything from jazz evenings to yoga retreats, but is blissfully quiet this weekend.

We decide on the bicycles, adopting a sedate pace on the quaint old clankers. Peppers is about a 15-minute walk out of town, surrounded by vineyards, so bikes are a great option for getting around.

Pedalling down grape-lined country roads, we are starting to feel like this "weekend of love" thing is really coming to fruition. When we turn into the Olivo plantation and find ourselves biking side by side through dappled olive groves, the picture is almost complete.

If my husband swapped out his Steven Adams basketball jersey for some kind of paisley shirt, and we both got rid of the dorky helmets, I'd swear it was a Hallmark moment.

Olivo is the oldest commercial olive grove in the Wairarapa, a fact proudly related to us by owner Helen Meehan as she pours their award-winning extra virgin olive oil alongside a flavoured range for us to test.

Did you know lemon-infused olive oil is delicious on vanilla ice-cream? Or that orange oil can, and should, be drizzled over dark chocolate? Amazing. Armed with this new culinary knowledge, we opt for a porcini mushroom blend which is rumoured to taste great with mashed potato.

It's another light ride back to the township, where we stop at Medici Cafe for a takeaway flat white (good, but $5 for a regular . . . I guess I'll just have to get used to these ever inflating coffee prices) before making tracks to Peppers.

What with all the relaxing to be had, leaving the room for dinner seems almost too difficult. You don't have to, actually, with the full menu available as room service.

The restaurant is full tonight, a Saturday, mostly with sunburnt couples like us. But there's a group of six who appear to be celebrating a special occasion, and a trio of girlfriends who look dressed to hit the local pub.

Any other night I'd be tempted by the six-course degustation, but after a long afternoon spent sampling at Brewday, the local beer festival, I'm not sure I could fit it in.

We start with paua fritters and a spinach and filo pastry, both of which are delicious. It's not often you see paua on a menu, and it feels like a treat.

Our efficient waitress whips our entree plates away, replacing them with a bowl of lemon sorbet each. She says something neither of us catch and then flits away. I decide the sorbet must be a palate cleanser of sorts and, while we didn't order it, the refreshing citrus treat is quickly demolished.

For the main course I order a caesar salad, while my husband has fish. Both our meals are delivered quickly and are massive, with a hearty amount of dressing and a perfectly-cooked egg perched atop my lettuce. Afterwards, we slink off quickly with a post-dinner Baileys.

An almost sole complaint raised by Trip Advisor reviewers, which didn't bother me due to my vow to avoid the internet, was the speed and patchy service of the wifi.

However, Peppers Martinborough general manager Simon Tocker says the rural location can make wifi service challenging, with high winds earlier this year causing intermittent issues with reception.

If it wasn't working, a free internet "hot spot" for guests was available in reception and in the restaurant. The next morning, we are lazing back on an assortment of pillows watching Colin Craig on The Nation when my husband becomes particularly incensed by a comment.

"What's the name of that reporter?" he says, tapping away on his phone.

"Why?" I ask. There is a silence.

"No reason," he says, as I lean over and catch him mid-tweet.

While we failed at the last hurdle with our ban on social media, it was far less difficult than I imagined.

Our weekend truly felt like a retreat - a welcome excuse to switch off from the world.

The writer stayed courtesy of Peppers Parehua Martinborough.

- Sunday Star Times

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