‘Michael Hill and Ben Bayly invite you to attend a special evening to taste food and drinks at our new restaurant Aosta’
I’d heard whispers about a new restaurant in Arrowtown for months and was very excited to hear the new chef was renowned chef Ben Bayly.
First impressions first; Aosta looks stunning. Designed by the Architect Anne Marie Chin, the genius behind the award-winning Lodge at The Hills, the fit and interior look amazing. Meeting Anne-Marie and her team over a glass of bubbles – its clear they love their work and wow does it show!
So why Aosta?
Aosta is a valley in Northern Italy with many similarities to Arrowtown. With four defined seasons, similar growing conditions and on the parallel latitude, the Aosta valley and Arrowtown have more similarities than you would ever expect. Ben Bayly declares that "We're focusing on the marriage between Central Otago and Southland ingredients and Northern Italian technique and philosophy."
As the evening went on, we served tasting dishes of some of the menus highlights.
KINA PAPPARDELLE SHAVED PAUA Fried leeks, Terra Sancta’s yolk
FLAME GRILLED SARDINES Cromwell dried cherries, pickled shaved fennel & pinoli
TORTELLINI Wairiri buffalo curd, brown buttered chestnuts, wild mushrooms, Soave raisins
WILD SHOT RED DEER CHEEKS Pickled black walnuts, Colatura di alici, potatoes & calvolo nero
Whilst they were all delicious, my favourite was the Paua pasta. With fresh pasta made onsite and Paua shavings too, this was a dish to remember and I would recommend anyone to choose this.
Special mentions must go out to the deer cheeks and to the Tiramisu. Both amazing and I’d choose it again in a heartbeat. I’d never been a huge tiramisu fan until that evening – That has certainly changed.
You will not be disappointed!
For anyone wondering whether to go, do it - you will not be disappointed. I’ll leave you with one highlight of the evening:
Mid way through Sir Michael Hill leapt onto one of the benches to welcome everyone and declare their intention that this would be the best restaurant in New Zealand.
It’s early days yet, but the combination of driven owners, an amazing chef, beautiful architecture and stunning food means it can’t be far off.
Exploring the North Island
Early July I was lucky enough to spend a week exploring the North Island, visiting our villas and luxury lodges and experiencing some of the best activities on offer in the regions!
A touch of Tuscany at Ataahua Lodge
My first stop was Ataahua Lodge, a villa that is new to our Residence Collection and located just outside Tauranga. The villa has 7 bedrooms and is Italian inspired in its design, I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of the property! It looks out over the golf course and water and has such a large outdoor area with a stunning pool. It is the perfect retreat for family groups wanting somewhere really special to stay!
Traveling on to Rotorua
I then took a drive down to Rotorua to check in to Solitaire Lodge which is on a peninsula looking over the glass-like Lake Tarawera, such a beautiful setting! I was warmly welcomed by Wayne and Ingrid and shown around the property, including the private jetty with kayaks, perfect for a day exploring the lake!
I spent the afternoon relaxing in my suite, which had an outdoor bath overlooking the lake – absolute bliss! In the evening I was kindly hosted by Wayne for pre-dinner drinks and canapes, followed by dinner. We had a five-course meal - the courses were all delicious and complimented each other well.
A morning of relaxation
The next morning, I met up with Tu from MDA Experiences for a day of adventure in the Rotorua region! Our first activity of the day was to enjoy a boat cruise on Lake Rotoiti with Pure Cruise, on board their 53ft catamaran. This lake is just beautiful and there are so many coves and interesting spots to stop, their skipper Matt is so knowledgeable of the area and was explaining the history and all the fun things that could be done on the lake, such as geothermal springs, glowworm caves, paddleboarding and good old Kiwi fun – climbing a tree and swinging on the rope swing! We then stopped at the Manupirua Springs, only accessible by boat, for a soak in the hot springs, super relaxing!
An afternoon of Adrenaline
The afternoon was less relaxing – more adrenaline fueled – as we took on the Kaituna River for some white-water rafting! This river has multiple waterfalls, including the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, at 7m high! I have done white water rafting before but nothing that comes close to this, feeling fear at the top of the waterfalls then such excitement at the bottom once we conquered them! Tu was incredible and really encouraged me to take on all the additional parts such as cliff jumping and swimming down a waterfall, so much fun!
Huge thanks to Tu at MDA Experiences, Pure Cruise and Rotorua Rafting for showing me what this region is really all about!
A stay at Treetops Lodge
Following my exciting day, I drove to Treetops Lodge and Estate for the night. I was welcomed by Andrew and Sandra, who showed me around the property and then to my room. I was staying in a Valley Villa and was blown away! The villa is really very large with a living area, bedroom with walk in dressing room and a beautiful large bathroom. The villas are located a short drive from the main lodge itself, and each one is provided with their own golf cart to get you to and from, which adds to the experience!
In the morning, I got up early and had breakfast then headed out on the walk to Bridal Veil Falls. There are so many walking tracks on this property, you really need to spend a lot of time here to get out and explore them! It was absolutely pouring all morning, but Treetops provided me with a coat and gumboots and off I went, and I am so glad I did, after around 40 minutes of walking through beautiful bush I reached the falls, which are absolutely stunning, well worth the walk!
A spot of lunch at Huka Lodge
I then drove to Taupo for a site visit at Huka Lodge. I was met by Hannah and shown around the property, including the stunning Junior Lodge Suites which overlook the Waikato River. Even though I have looked at photos of this property so many times I was still blown away by the setting on the river, it is so beautiful with the fast-flowing colourful water! I then enjoyed a beautiful 3 course lunch looking out over the view.
The stunning Farm at Cape Kidnappers
For my final stop, I drove to the Hawke’s Bay for a stay at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. I was full of excitement for this property as I’d heard so many wonderful things, and it absolutely exceeded expectations. From the moment I arrived, I was greeted by the lovely friendly Averil who gave me a walk around the main lodge building then took me down to my room and showed me around and gave such a great arrival experience. I was staying in a Ridge Suite, of which there are 8, just a short distance from the main lodge. The suite was absolutely beautiful, overlooking the vast property, a beautiful bedroom with large ensuite. I couldn’t fault it if I tried!
I was hosted for dinner by James, the assistant lodge manager who was great company, so friendly and really helped me learn even more about the property.
Conservation is everything
Whilst here I got to explore the property, visiting the Cape Sanctuary and learning about their conservation efforts, do a property tour to the outer edges of the farm and the dramatic coastline and have a site visit through all the room categories (that Owners Cottage, WOW!). The Farm at Cape Kidnappers was just voted the #1 lodge in New Zealand and Australia and #4 in the world, and I can definitely see why!
After departing Cape Kidnappers, I went for a site visit to Summerlee Luxury Retreat. This is a large 8-bedroom home with beautiful coastal views. It has a large outdoor area, pool, croquet and tennis court. It’s the perfect spot for a family retreat!
A beautiful ending to the week
Finally, to end my time I had a visit at Craggy Range Winery. I met with Georgia and Kristine who showed me around all the accommodation options here, such a great spot in amongst the vines! The newly built River Lodges and the four-bedroom Lodge are just stunning, so well done! I then had lunch at the restaurant here which was just beautiful, this winery is really high end and definitely a must do when in the Hawke’s Bay!
This was such a wonderful week visiting some top spots in the North Island and some truly spectacular properties!