Hapuku Lodge + Tree Houses in Kaikoura is an architectural feat of beauty and imagination – which makes sense when you consider that the Wilson family, who own the property, have architecture and design in the blood. Five generations of the Wilson family have now chosen this field. What's more, the luxury accommodation, some of which is nestled high in the tree tops, also has an incredible restaurant where only the best of New Zealand is served up on a plate, including the famed Kaikoura cray. General manager Chris Sturgeon fills us in.
Tell us a bit about how your establishment got started.
Kiwi-born Tony Wilson, who moved to the US in the early 60s, always kept New Zealand close to his heart and on a trip here in the early 90s, visited his nephew Paul, who had acquired a modest deer farm overlooking his favourite surf spot at Mangamaunu Bay. With a desire to try his hand at farming, Tony and Paul agreed to become partners in Hapuku Deer Farm.
The farm started out small, approximately 35 acres of rich soil on the upper plateau above the lodge, but soon Tony and Paul realised they would need more land to sustain the growing deer herd. In the mid 90s, they decided to purchase the 120 acres of the lower farm where the lodge now sits. With mountains to the west, ocean to the east and deer all around, Tony thought Hapuku was a special spot for family and friends to visit and Wilson Associates decided to build a small guesthouse on the farm. Wilson projects have always involved the family and the creation of Hapuku Lodge was no exception – from the building design to the olive tree pruning, all has been undertaken by Wilson family members.
I took on the role as general manager in early 2012 along with my wife, executive chef and 2011 MasterChef New Zealand finalist Fiona Read. Together we manage the day-to-day running and continued development of the lodge.
What is Hapuku's business philosophy?
It can be summed up in one word – respect. We respect:
- that our guests have chosen to stay with us, some travelling great distances, and we want them to have an exceptional and unique experience
- the many skills and attributes our staff bring to the Hapuku experience
- the produce we have access to and the many producers, farmers and fisherman who contribute to the Hapuku culinary experience
- the land on which the lodge sits and its surrounds
- the wider community and their contribution to the Hapuku experience.
What do you offer guests/patrons that sets you apart?
We take great pride in offering our guests distinctive accommodation (in either a tree house or a spacious lodge suite), with spectacular views of the Pacific coast as well as the snow-capped Kaikoura mountain range. We host our guests, providing down-to-earth, authentic yet professional service. This honest and genuine service creates a very relaxed environment for our guests. Many of our guests remark that a stay at Hapuku is like staying at a friend’s home – a very nice place where you are welcomed and made to feel at home.
What sustainable practices do you use?
• The quality of food is very important and to ensure the freshest and tastiest meals, we source 80 per cent of our products from local farmers and purveyors with whom we often have a direct relationship, tracing meat and vegetables to the farm gate and ensuring it is of the highest quality. Our wine list also features only New Zealand wines.
• The kitchen garden, managed by our executive chef Fiona and her team, is run on organic principles, growing seasonal vegetables and herbs on site to ensure the best possible taste and reducing carbon miles associated with transporting produce. Our olive trees produce most of our olive oil, and our chickens provide us with some of the eggs we use for breakfast.
• Our electricity supply is 100 per cent renewable through our certified electricity provider. This reduces our carbon footprint significantly. On top of this, our swimming pool is heated by our own solar water heating system.
• We have committed to planting at least one New Zealand native plant for every guest night spent at the Lodge. As of May 2017, we have planted over 15,000 NZ native plants and trees. By planting, we create a long-term carbon sink offsetting a proportion of carbon produced by travel and our operations. Just as important, we help replenish the local vegetation and thereby support the native bird populations, which include rare and endangered species.
• Recycling is an important part of Kaikoura’s EarthCheck certification, and at Hapuku we do our utmost to reduce, reuse and recycle. We recycle all our paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, cans, and our food waste is used to feed pigs on surrounding farms. Our green waste is brought to the Innovative Waste centre in town. They make it into compost, which we use on our gardens.
• We replace our light bulbs with the most energy efficient LEDs, have a towel and linen reuse programme, a key-card system in the lodge rooms and treehouses, all the bathroom amenities are environmentally friendly, as are our cleaning products.
• Timber used in construction and interiors are responsibly sourced, and although we include some imported timber these are mainly recycled and salvaged timbers.
• Our Tree Houses have small private fireplaces, at the time of installation these enclosed fireplaces were some of the most efficient fireplaces in the world.
• All rooms have significant insulation; HR1 grade insulation and double glazing.
• Collecting rainwater, black and grey water from our guests stay is fed into our natural filtration systems which ultimately republish the water back out to our farm paddocks to assist in grass growth for our resident deer farm.
Where do you source your ingredients for the restaurant and what’s important to you in doing so?
Hapuku Lodge sources its produce from as close to home as possible – this forms part of the philosophy of respect and delivering a genuine experience. Whatever is at its best, is what ends up on the plate – this could be from the lodge’s own gardens, olive grove and free-range chickens; or a local’s veg patch; a fisherman, farmer or foraged from the coast or mountains. If it’s fresh, delicious and full of flavour it forms the basis of the dish. Simple, honest, generous. All the food at Hapuku Lodge is made in the lodge kitchen including breads, stocks, ice cream, jams and jellies, even the peanut butter. Fiona and her team change the dinner and breakfast menus daily to take full advantage of the produce, game and seafood available. Fiona and Chris raise Wessex Saddleback pigs and rare-breed ducks, the results of which are often featured on the menu.
What would you like your guests to feel on arriving and then on leaving your establishment?
This is a difficult question to answer, our only response is to relay what guests tell us – that a stay at Hapuku is like staying at a friend’s house, where you are welcomed and made to feel at home, where there’s a glass of wine not too far away along with a warm fireplace. Guests often comment the lodge offers relaxed and refined luxury, not fussy, just honest and genuine, a treat to experience a true piece of New Zealand.
What does nature mean to you?
Tony, the lodge owner, often talks of the inspiration for the tree houses: “If you could be a bird you could more fully appreciate the beauty that is Kaikoura.” The seductive grove of manuka and kanuka suggested the solution: provide guests with access to the tree tops and become closer to the mountains, closer to the ocean, closer to the birds. That is what the Wilsons have tried to achieve – allowing guests to nest in the treetops in a luxurious version of a child’s tree house. And we believe we are stewards of this land, ensuring this experience continues for generations.
What dish on your menu most exemplifies your philosophy to food and nature?
Crayfish and kawakawa mayo, house-made black pudding, pea puree, wild watercress. It’s a dish which combines the paddock and sea with freshness from the lodge garden and watercress from the wild. It has heat and sweetness, it’s earthy and fresh.
To read more about Hapuku Lodge + Treehouses, or to book a room or table, head to hapukulodge.com.