Loving large in New Zealand
The hills are alive with luxury at Otahuna Lodge
Words: Damien Woolnough
Photography: Otahuna Lodge
5th July 2018
New Zealand was years ahead of Australia in acknowledging gay marriage and is light years ahead when it comes to luxury honeymoons.
Hall Cannon and Miles Refo own the magnificent Otahuna Lodge near Christchurch, built in the Queen Anne style in 1895 for politician and stamp collector Sir Heaton Rhodes.
The Rhodes Suite
Now it's a country retreat with seven opulent suites, 15 fireplaces, one incredible chef and at least eight wedding celebrations for gay grooms since 2013.
"Being in New Zealand we are proud of living in such a progressive country," Cannon says. "The gay wedding celebrations have been fantastic as they take over the whole lodge."
Cannon and Refo were searching for a new life after tiring of New York's light speed pace, taking an adult gap year to find a place to call home.
"We spent three months in New Zealand and pretty much fell in love with it," Cannon says. "Then Otahuna was for sale and it was so different from anything else. It’s old by Kiwi standards and has magnificent gardens."
The lodge had been cleaned of furnishings and needed an injection of love and money, which kept Cannon, Refo and Auckland-based designer Stephen Ashmore busy until opening.
Now the property is beloved for it’s comfortable suites, magnificent dining room and exquisite kitchen.
The dining room.
"The guests who come here are looking at getting away from it all," Cannon says. "This is not Mykonos. No one is coming to New Zealand to party and rave all night long."
That's not to say (all) people stay tucked between the sheets during their stay, with cooking lessons from executive chef Jimmy McIntyre, trips to visit rare dolphins, not so rare award-winning wineries and exclusive experiences.
"We once organised a champagne bar on glacial ice for a special couple," Cannon says.
Closer to home there is 30 acres of gardens with fruit orchards, an organic kitchen garden and fields of daffodils.
Inside, Cannon skips the magnificent ballroom to nominate the dining room as his favourite in the property, which is part of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux group.
"Rhodes and his wife honeymooned in Japan and the wallpaper in the room was fabricated there. It has the original 1895 woodwork and is pretty extraordinary."
While the property is popular with the European and American jet-set willing to fly further than Hawaii, Australian couples often fly over for an extended weekend of luxury.
While the couple only hosts 8-10 weddings a year, honeymooners are welcome at any time, in a place built, restored and managed with love.