The Landing Is The Stylish Northland Lodge You'll Want To Escape To This Summer
Before lockdown, Rebecca Barry Hill experienced the exclusive lodge nestled in the Bay of Islands
It’s a tough decision. Warm yourself by the firepit on the brow of a wild peninsula? Sink into a party-sized sofa in one of three living rooms? Or skip through the cavernous kitchen to the pool room, helping yourself to a cookie from the jar like you’re the President?
In the end, I take up the window-seat in my bedroom (and a biscuit) and take in the slowly darkening islands as the sky turns pink and the farmland black.
This is my first impression of The Landing, a luxury lodge set on 1000ha of historically significant waterfront land in the Bay of Islands. The four-bedroom Gabriel Residence on the hill is one of four Cheshire Architects-designed dwellings nestled into a tightly mown, stone-walled, wetland property of natives, the landscape groomed to look perfect and natural all at once.
Everything about it is grand yet understated, sprawling yet sacred, comforting yet beguilingly beautiful. One of the residences even has a stone turret, the likes of which you might see in Scotland.
And that presidential description isn’t hyperbole: at the long table in the house I’m staying in, former US President Barack Obama dined with Sir John Key, Sir Peter Jackson and other VIPs three years ago. Word has it that the prospect of spotting our flightless bird tempted him to venture into the scrub, only to be vetoed by his security.
Then the lodge’s resident mariner heard two kiwi fighting right outside the house and alerted the big man to the show.
I’d arrived to this sophisticated hideaway in style too, driving the new Audi e-tron GT quattro, sliding low into the electric performance vehicle and tipping my head back to take in the clouds through the glass roof that gives backseat passengers the unique experience of flying through the air.
The e-tron’s responsiveness took my breath away on more than one occasion as we quietly zipped from Bay of Islands Airport along stretches of farmside road, powered by batteries delivering up to 350kW beneath the pedals, an electric motor both front and back, an extendable rear spoiler and “air curtains”, slots in the wheels designed to channel the air and eliminate drag.
After a brief stop for tea and icecream in Paihia, I heeded my passenger’s call to “punch it” and (safely) thrilled to the curling, roiling road on the mysterious drive to The Landing.
The wheels clenched the tarmac and held the curves with a centrifugal force my subconscious initially refused to believe until the car and I reached a mutual level of trust. It dealt with the red gravel road equally as deftly, its suspension raised with the click of a button. I shouldn’t say I was disappointed to arrive. There’d be more driving tomorrow.
Turns out I wasn’t the only person in the world here, after all. As darkness fell, so much harder than it does in the city, I was relieved one of the charming guest services team picked me up to take me to the neighbouring Vineyard Villa.
The Landing first planted vines in 2007 and now produces stand-out rosé, chardonnay and syrah, among other varietals. Chief winemaker Keith Barker took us through the making of their chardonnay, allowing us to sample unfinished wines straight from the barrel to give us a sense of the diversity of flavour in the blending process. Accompanied by delicious canapes, including juicy rock oysters, it certainly whet our appetites.
Dinner was served in the Cooper Residence on a neighbouring hillside, named after The Landing proprietor Peter Cooper. A Kaitaia boy who dreamed of owning a holiday spot near his roots, the now California-based entrepreneur is perhaps better known for founding Britomart.
The Landing was originally intended as a privately owned subdivision but, recognising its cultural significance and special, indefinable nature, its owner has developed it over many years into a luxury lodge marketed largely to North American holidaymakers.
Until Covid closed our borders, that is. Now, when domestic travel restrictions allow, the team are rediscovering the land’s mana through the eyes of local travellers. The Cooper Residence is not only where Peter and his family stay, it’s where Obama — and on another occasion, Mick Jagger and his ballerina girlfriend — have also slept.
The huge, mahogany bath is just one of its magnificent features, along with a significant collection of Maori art and artefacts, and a guest book signed by a who’s who of New Zealand stars.
Head chef Jacqueline Smith served a sumptuous spread, giving a traditional Maori blessing before our party sat down to eat all of the flavoursome fare — from line-caught snapper drizzled with honey to lamb with salsa verde, kumara hash and beetroot salad — grown or caught on the property.
Afterwards, the team proffered a pair of gumboots for a guided walk around the property to go kiwi-spotting. While the native fauna weren’t playing ball, it was refreshing to get out outside to burn off some of Jackie’s delicious flourless chocolate tart, the distant call of a male kiwi taunting us as we huffed our way back up the driveway.
But the essence of The Landing wasn’t revealed until the next morning, when we stood on the Purerua peninsula where Maori chief Te Pahi first met with Samuel Marsden more than 200 years ago. A short boat trip around the point took us to Rangihoua Heritage Park, where the first Europeans to Aotearoa made settlement. It’s a spine-chilling experience — aside from there being fewer trees, this rugged site would’ve looked much the same to the settlers all those years ago.
Back at The Landing, with a new appreciation for its name, we found our footing at the Boathouse, the smallest of the residences, which opens directly on to the water, the stuff of summer holiday dreams. The only thing making this experience easier to farewell was our ride.
This time I drove the Audi RS e-tron GT, the higher-performance vehicle in the range, capable of accelerating from zero to 100kph in 3.3 seconds, providing the stomach-hurtling inertia of a rollercoaster.
To test this out, Kerikeri airport stood in for the autobahn, allowing us to feel the intensity of Audi’s nervous-system-merging power as the RS rocketed along the runway up to speeds of over 200kph. Terrifying. Thrilling. And the perfect ending to a truly luxurious getaway.
Viva and Audi are offering one lucky reader the chance to experience The Landing (once Covid alert levels change) with a night’s stay at The Boathouse and the use of an Audi e-tron SUV. Enter at Viva.co.nz/Win