When Captain Nevill-Jackson bought his 14-hectare piece of paradise in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges, there wasn’t much of a city to get away from.
It was 1940; New Zealand’s population hovered around 1.6 million. Aerial photographs of the city show tracts of undeveloped land. It took the airline pilot three days to cut through the bush to a plateau, where he built a bachelor pad out of aeroplane packing cases.
Now, Auckland is a more crowded beast; one that it’s essential to escape and unwind from, even if just for a weekend. So Rob and I leave our city-fringe flat and head to the site of Captain Nevill-Jackson’s home, just 35 minutes away.
It is now Waitakere Estate, part of the Heritage Hotel’s boutique Heritage Collection. Brothers Reg and Hugh own and run the 20-room hotel, which has evolved from their father’s bachelor pad to family home to rainforest retreat.
Up here, the air has a delicious coolness. Sunlight picks out shades and shapes of green, from khaki leaves to verdant fronds. Rob and I wander along the Ridge Track, a private 15-minute walk dipping down into native bush. We spot waxeyes, fantails, tui; apparently grey warblers and tomtits visit too.
Unusually, my food intolerances are like catnip to head chef Kamal. “I like a challenge!” he says, after spotting me and double-checking my dietary requirements. Those with eating restrictions are well looked after here.
That evening over dinner, looking out the picture windows, the city seems alive in the distance: lights shimmering like a million lighthouses. Yet over breakfast, the city looks frozen in the sunlight.
Only an occasional shaft of light reflecting on a car windscreen indicates people heading to brunch, taking kids to sport. We go back to bed for the rest of the morning and read, because we can.
Before we know it, it’s time to eat again. Waitakere Estate does a mean high tea on weekends, tiers of dainty sandwiches, baked goods and sweet treats. My gluten-free, dairy-free version keeps me happy, washed down with Chinese mutan white tea, and segments of dehydrated orange are a surprisingly light, sweet delight.
We feel compelled to attempt to walk it off. The well-maintained Fairy Falls path is a short drive away. It winds through stands of rimu, kauri, nikau and rewarewa to a series of falls; the last tumbles 30m into a pool, where we were tempted to swim.
Instead, we walk back to the car. There’s more to explore in the area – the windblown charms of black-sand beaches, Titirangi’s fabulous Te Uru Waitakere contemporary gallery – but the appeal of lounging in our hotel room as the mist drifts by is too great.
After dinner, we retire to the lounge, which really is superb. There’s a large fireplace with a scoria surround, plush red sofas and carpet, a wooden ceiling and a spiral staircase leading to a mezzanine library.
Reg is determined to retain the place’s feeling of history as it expands, so the classic colours and kauri furniture remain, teamed with gorgeous Florence Broadhurst wallpaper. Individual rooms feel a little old-fashioned yet have charm to burn: dark matai ceilings, a curved balustrade on each balcony. There’s a new wing almost finished, too.
There’s luxury here, but it isn’t so shiny and hard edged that you have to stand on ceremony. You can still sink into a comfy couch and enjoy skimming the magazines piled haphazardly around the mezzanine. Or you could sit on your deck, listening to a tui attempting to impersonate an entire orchestra and almost succeeding.
On Sunday, I feel unnaturally calm. I have had time to read an entire book and had two nights of uninterrupted sleep. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to spend 48 hours in someone else’s paradise – especially one so close to home. It made the whole experience easy.
Reported by Mary de Ruyter for our AA Directions Autumn 2020 issue