Shortly after arriving at Helena Bay Lodge, you’ll be handed a glass of bubbles and shown to your room. Take a quick look at the plush bed, oversized bathtub and deck overlooking the glassy water, but ignore the temptation to settle in. You’ll want to unpack your bags quickly into the walk-in closet, and then leave immediately—because the rest of the property is even better.
Though it’s only a three-hour drive north of Auckland, or a forty-minute flight if you chopper in, Helena Bay feels much further removed. The lodge sits on the beach, tucked between grassy hills. With only ten guests on the property at any given time you’ll feel as though you’ve got the place to yourself. The understated architecture and amenities play to the strength of the setting rather than competing for glory, allowing guests to enjoy the natural surroundings in total comfort. If New Zealand is meant to be the picture of natural beauty, then this is as ‘New Zealand’ as it gets. (So much so, in fact, that although a majority of guests are from overseas, the place is popular with locals, too.)
Nowhere is this more obvious than at Mohei Pavilion, the crowning jewel of Helena Bay. Is it odd to leave the privacy of your room, with its view of the bay, simply to go to a different room with a view of another bay? As it turns out, no. The little hideaway is a short ATV drive north, over the hill, to Mohei Bay. You’ll arrive to a picnic lunch set up on the deck, and once one of the staff members (there are 55 on site) has supplied you with paddleboards, kayaks, and lifejackets, they’ll disappear back over the hill, leaving you with a private beach. The pavilion itself is equipped for a comfortable day, with a refrigerator full of cold drinks, a stereo system and a variety of chairs and loungers, but it’s the absolute solitude that makes it so magical. If you strain your eyes, you might see a fishing boat hovering near one of the small islands in the distance, but otherwise, this tranquil spot is yours alone.
A word of advice: don’t visit Mohei the day you plan to check out. The only motivation you’ll have to peel yourself away is knowing there’s plenty more pampering back at the main lodge.
Meals are indulgent, without being overwhelming, and focus on produce and meat from the 800-acre property. The kitchen is run by Don Alfonso 1890, a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant, with Michele Martino as Executive Chef. If you’re lucky, your stay could overlap with a visit from chef Ernesto Iaccarino, who oversees the operation and usually visits twice a year from Italy. If so, take advantage of your luck with a cooking class. The two will work in tandem, bustling around you to demonstrate how to stir risotto properly, and how to get the salt measurement just right, then the other, how using a blowtorch to flame the outside of a king prawn perfectly roasts the outside without losing the juicy, freshness of the inside.
The lodge itself is built in a U-shape, with the wings running parallel to the shore for maximum views, and a pool at the center. The stretch along the waterfront holds a series of dining rooms, including a private den. Further from the water, in the wing behind the pool, is the spa. Book at least an hour on the massage table, but budget more time to lounge around between a chilled plunge pool, sauna and a steam room that, with a chamomile infusion and tiny twinkling lights built into the ceiling tiles, is the full-body equivalent of taking a deep inhalation over a cup of herbal tea.
Activities on the property range from adventure to relaxation. Though there’s a gym next to the spa, hiking, mountain biking or paddleboarding are more fun ways to get exercise. A must-do is the farm tour, where you’ll get an overview of the property from the friendly and highly knowledgeable farmer. Before returning to the lodge, stop by the garden to pluck ripe berries off the vine. They’re good with breakfast, but even better at the source.
Though you’re unlikely to tire of the land here, it’s worth spending some time at sea, too. Luke is the skipper of Ruru, the lodge’s brand new luxury yacht, and until recently, he operated a fishing charter a few bays south of Helena. Ruru is an incredible vessel, with all the bells and whistles imaginable—closing the doors silences the engine noise, and if the water gets choppy a stabilizer prevents the boat from rocking—but it’s Luke’s vast knowledge of the area that makes the boating trip so special. For extra indulgence, chef Michele will prepare you dinner on board.
The lodge closes during the winter (June-August, in the southern hemisphere), and guests who want to visit during the high season should book four to six months in advance.