72 hours of understated luxury living in Wairarapa with digital editor Louise Dunn

20 December 2023
By Louise Dunn

Join digital editor Louise Dunn on a gourmet tour of the Wairarapa countryside in the Range Rover Velar, where she discovers a detail that leaves her feeling full in more ways than one.

Arriving at Wharekauhau Country Estate. Photo: Hamish Johns. 

Day one: Saturday

Beginning the weekend in Poneke/Wellington, my partner Mitch collected me from the airport. We stopped briefly for breakfast at Cafe L’affare, before calling into Armstrong’s Wellington to collect the keys to a Range Rover Velar Plug-In Hybrid. Besides a few coats and freshly pressed shirts suspended by their hangers, we could have afforded to pack a lot more for our two night stay, our suitcases looking somewhat lonely in the generously sized boot. We set off for Wairarapa, flowing through the congested veins of the capital’s traffic, conversing over almost undetectable road noise. The Range Rover Velar sat elevated on the road with expansive visibility. We synced my phone to the Apple CarPlay from the floating curved glass infotainment screen, and settled into a 90-minute journey to our long-awaited stay at Wharekauhau Country Estate situated in the untouched Palliser Bay. Plagued by unusually windy conditions that called for road closures around the region, we toggled between the Range Rover Velar’s drive modes, adapting to the bends in the road, traversing the Remutaka Range and dampening down on the exposed open stretches between Featherston and the estate. Turning into a driveway lined with centuries-old trees, we pulled into the porte-cochère. Greeted by members of the staff, we were taken through to an informal dining area overlooking the courtyard for lunch. Catching glimpses of the luxury homestead’s utter comfort and cosiness, sealing us away from the elements howling in from the cape, we knew this was a farm stay unlike any we’d come close to experiencing before. Assistant manager Jackie gave us a tour of the main house, before guiding us down to our private cottage overlooking the hillside. Inside, it was warm, light and spacious. A jar of dairy-free cookies balanced on a side table – a small but sincerely felt detail that signalled only the beginning of the level of care we were to receive.

Arriving at Wharekauhau Country Estate. Photo: Hamish Johns. 
. Photo: Hamish Johns. 
Photo: Supplied.

I took the afternoon to enjoy a relaxing full-body massage at the Hauora Spa, while Mitch used the gym and swam in the heated indoor pool. We reunited poolside wearing our Wharekauhau robes (my personal barometer for any accommodation), and made our way back to the cottage to get ready for pre-dinner drinks. Each time we headed for the main house, my mind instantly cast me to one of my most adored films, Dirty Dancing, set in 1963. We were tucked away in our own quarters, and yet we felt part of an intimate community operating at a slower, more considered pace, like something from an almost forgotten era, steadfast in tradition. We reflected on our day over cocktails and specially prepared canapés catered to our preferences before being ushered into the dining room with the other guests where the open fire roared and the wind swirled around the building. It was dimly lit, private, and called for a loose-fitting waistband. Multiple decadent courses followed an amuse-bouche of scallops and crisp kumara wafers. Each dish drew on the surrounding land, showcasing organic fruits, vegetables and herbs procured from the gardens, alongside exceptional seafood and meats, and expertly recommended wine pairings. 

Photo: Hamish Johns. 
Palliser Bay. Image: Supplied.
Taking the Range Rover Velar for a spin. Photo by Hamish Johns.
The Runholder. Image: Supplied.

Day two: Sunday

The next morning, we savoured a slow start, admiring the sorbet hued sky over coffee in bed. Dressed in our finest threads and ready to go, we settled back into the Range Rover Velar and cruised over to Martinborough, spending half the day at The Runholder. We toured the newly designed building, which sits on a richly historied run of land, and sampled Te Kairanga and Martinborough Vineyard wines, as well as the various Lighthouse Gins crafted by Rachel Hall. Head Chef Tim Smith (former executive chef at Wharekauhau) prepared a series of truly exceptional dishes from the a la carte menu, leveraging the fine produce and flavours of local suppliers. The restaurant beamed with sunshine and possessed incredible acoustics. Evident in the tactile material choices, no expense had been spared, and yet the space possessed a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere. After our dessert plates were cleared, we filed underground to the barrel hall with Te Kairanga head winemaker John Kavanagh to compare notes on their pinot noir selection – mindful we still had our return journey ahead of us. When the time came, we meandered into the town’s square, exploring some of the local boutiques before making the drive back to the estate. That evening we dined “family style” in the private dining room. We curled up in the armchairs facing an open fire, sipping on our favourite selects from the day. Dinner was a three-course meal, including a main of earl grey chicken, pine nut risotto and delectable sides of vegetables. Cosy and understated, this was a core memory in the making.

Wine tastings at The Runholder. Photo: Supplied.
The Runholder. Photo: Supplied.
Wharekauhau Country Estate. Photo: Hamish Johns. 

Day three: Monday

Come Monday, the storm had mostly passed. We geared up and set out to explore the property on ATVs. We witnessed the cape in all its rugged glory, learned about Wharekauhau’s origins – and how it ultimately came to the current owners, US businessman and vintner, Bill Foley and his wife Carol – and rode through rivers, native bush, beaches and past livestock. Our guide Sherelyn offered intel on the community in which she plays an important role, sharing why places like this are so sacred. It was a sentiment that echoed our experience at The Runholder the day before. It was bittersweet checking out – we had devoured more food in a few days than we had in a week and yet we could have stayed for the month. Before returning to Poneke/Wellington, we made one last stop at Olivo, the largest commercial grove in the region. We walked through a variety of olive trees with owner Helen and sampled blends of olive oils, including the award-winning Olivo estate extra-virgin varieties. On our arrival, drums of olive oil were being collected for Wharekauhau. It was then that the experience came full-circle. Each destination was a supplier or buyer in one way or another, fully supportive of one another, creating an ecosystem of prosperity. A win for one business was a win for all. The reinvestment in the region was real and exciting. Feeling grateful, we spent our last stretch in the Range Rover Velar conspiring as to how and when we could return.

Words: Louise Dunn
Photography: Hamish Johns, Supplied

In association with Range Rover
With special thanks to Wharekauhau Country Estate

This article originally appeared in Fashion Quarterly‘s Summer 2024 issue. 

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