Sunday, June 12th 2016
As an Australian, our lust for travel feels innate. Maybe its the isolation of our country that fuels this sense of wanderlust and creates a burning desire to explore, to dream, to discover. A 20+ hour transit is a journey we’ll happily endure. It’s something we very rarely think about. Nonchalantly jetting to far flung destinations is an attitude that never fails to surprise our U.S. or European friends blessed with a myriad of exotic locations just a stone’s throw away. Yet what struck me while planning a recent trip to New Zealand, is that when it comes to making a short 3 hour journey there, like a lot of Aussies, I’ve never made the effort. Considered it, absolutely. But chosen it over a long haul flight to the opposite corner of the globe, never.
A close friend and I had the opportunity to visit the breathtaking Huka Lodge recently, tucked away lakeside in Taupo. It came at one of the busiest times for me with work, and was the first time my friend and full time mum had been away from her two new babies, or had a weekend to herself full stop. Carving out time proved difficult but allured by a little adventure and a quick break amidst the chaos of work and life (in one of the world’s most renowned retreats which is almost always booked out!), we jumped at the chance.
Admittedly we both didn’t sleep a wink the night before trying to cram everything in to give ourselves a couple of days to relax over there. Delirious and coffee-fuelled we landed late afternoon and set off on our 3.5 hour road trip through the countryside. It was difficult to switch off at first, still taking work calls a lot of the way and minds dizzied with overflowing to do lists. Yet it wasn’t long before the wild air became intoxicating, and watching the sun fall over this wild, rolling landscape forced a still presence. Conversation drifted to deep contemplation, life reflections, and indulgence in the ideas and dreams that only surface when you give yourself space to breathe.
In darkness, we finally arrived at the entrance of Huka Lodge. Hidden from the outside by dense forest, it’s one of those beautifully deceptive places nothing like the imagery you’ve researched, and beyond anything your imagination could stretch to fathom. In an instant, you’re swept up in it’s magic. Staff at Huka Lodge don’t allow formalities to interrupt this dreamstate for a moment, whisking our luggage away, worrying about check-in later, and transporting us to dinner in a private garden enveloped by rainforest. Electricity is traded for open fire, music is replaced with the percussion of wild rapids which you can barely make out in darkness, glasses flow with the most exquisite wine while you dine languidly beneath a canopy of stars. In a heartbeat you’re transported worlds away,
The contrast of luxurious dining, with the sensory elements of nature that completely stir your soul was unlike anything I’d experienced, or expected. And it seemed that perfect juxtaposition is key to the magic that Huka Lodge taps into. Maybe deeper than just an experience at a luxurious retreat, the idea of contrast says a lot about what we truly crave, and what ignites us in life… Balance. Contradiction. Unexpected moments. Things that side step our overactive minds and force us to feel.
This dreamstate continues upon waking, finding yourself in a cosy timber cottage, accented with details that blend rustic warmth with effortless opulence. Greeted by ducks tapping at your glass side door (really!), a pathway trails past lush foliage to the edge of drifting rapids in a spectrum of blue so vibrant it doesn’t quite seem real. The walk through this enchanting landscape just to breakfast alone, is pure poetry. There’s a flow and rhythm to life here that you’re forced to quickly tune into; one that’s both wildly invigorating and quietly entrancing.
After coffee and breakfast in the sun, Huka lodge becomes your playground, with an enthralling list of experiences to indulge in; Kayaking, Hiking, Jet Boating, White Water Rafting, Bungy Jumping, or for those wanting a little less adventure, an indulgent in-suite massage or beauty treatment, tennis, petanque and croquet. Or simply laze on sun chairs at the edge of rapids, wine in hand, and steal away a rare few hours to yourself to watch the world go by.
Dying to relive our stunning lakeside dining experience of the night before, in true Huka Lodge style, we were instead lead to the most divine candlelit table setting tucked inside a cave-like cellar and treated to an exquisite 7 course degustation menu. For anyone dreaming of an intimate wedding, we could not think of a more perfectly secluded location for a romantic tablescape accented effortlessly with trails of candlelight and wild blooms.
- Main Lodge (with an enclosed garden terrace and stunning backdrop of Waikato River for up to 70 guests and the option to erect a marquee)
- The Owner’s cottage (A luxurious private cottage and secluded retreat which sits at the very edge of Waikato River for up to 30 guests. We loved the idea of an intimate wedding under the stars right by the river)
- The Alan Pye Cottage (A private cottage spilling onto lush rolling green lawns & surrounded by manicured gardens for up to 40 guests. The perfect space for a dramatically long tablescape lined with chic, classic blooms)
- The Jetty Pavillion (Think a magical candlelit dinner under the stars for 8 guest on the river bank)
- The Orchard (An outdoor space with beautifully rustic accents for 20 guests)
Weddings, events and honeymoon perfection aside, thinking about all of the luxurious vacation destinations we spend months planning and saving for overseas, it seemed ludicrous that I’d never once taken the short 3 hour flight to New Zealand, let alone made it a regular weekend haunt when in need of a little escapism. Just two days in, this special part of the world felt so powerfully invigorating and transportive. Huka Lodge ignited something inside that had me craving new experiences, new ways of thinking about how we vacation, how we want to feel when we return, and a new way of thinking about luxury. But most importantly it revealed how essential it is to switch up your routine, seek out adventure and indulge in things that feed your soul. And that sometimes, the things we’re searching for are right there in front of us.
Visit the Huka Lodge website for bookings and enquiries.
Wednesday, February 10th 2016
There are Manhattan skyline views, and then there are views that practically bottle the magic of New York at dusk. The kind of spaces that have you itching to return, just so you can share it with everyone you know and love. Perched rooftop at Wythe Hotel with a cocktail in hand, we discovered a New York City vantage point we never knew existed, and our dream wedding venue along the way. Chic, unpretentious and achingly cool, Wythe makes you forget everything you thought you knew about a ‘Brooklyn venue’.
Oozing character from every floor, we’d uncovered an entire hotel that seemed to tick every box on our long (and very picky) event checklist. Unique reception spaces, lofts and private alcoves, each permeated by an elusive, uncomplicated luxury. Rooms that spill with finishes you want to reach out and touch. Details that make you look twice. Incredible architecture and an artfully curated cohesion of textures that feel invitingly lived in. These are walls with stories to tell.
With the chameleon in us drawn to lavish celebrations on long communal tables one minute, wildly magical cocktail parties under the stars the next, and intimate dining experiences in unexpected nooks, all at the same time - Wythe Hotel is the venue that seems to have it all. Offering a myriad of blank canvas spaces spilling with charm and polished details, the possibilities are infinite.
To reveal Wythe Hotel from the top down, the journey begins at the Ides Rooftop, the space that originally stole our hearts. A spectacular setting for photos and cocktails, this terrace offers the perfect place for guests to luxuriate before or after celebrations. Come for an extraordinary view over a city that never sleeps, but stay for an aperitif…best appreciated outdoors.
Stepping inside The Blue Room (an intimate space surrounded by unobstructed views) you’re immediately drawn to the textural play of tobacco leather and accents of polished brass to punctuate the space. As a sky level setting for close gatherings, it’s perfect for small seated parties or cocktail and canapé celebrations. Imagined in a fittingly beautiful tint of blue, and wrapped by the Ides rooftop, the play between indoor and outdoor proportions is stunning. We imagined an indigo-themed bachelorette long lunch, an engagement cocktail party or an intimate wedding reception.
For lavish celebrations, the majestic proportions of the Main Hall provide an extraordinary blank canvas. With exposed brick walls and windows that stretch from floor to ceiling, it’s everything you seek in the grandeur of a ballroom, minus the dated, ugly elements that often come-with. Original pine floors and masonry exude a chic, slightly industrial mood of opulence, and its large versatile floor plan would adapt to all kinds of configurations. Our favourite would involve a spectacularly long banquet table, styled with giant branches of flowering blossom and room for a dance floor down one end.
Heading outside, the Main Hall gives way to the tranquil urban-retreat of the Outdoor Garden. Paved in monochrome tiles and enclosed in original brick walls, this terrace has aperitivo-hour written all over it. Or cocktail party. Or wedding ceremony. Draped with bistro lighting, the split-level open air space serves as a gorgeous stand alone setting for slightly smaller celebrations, or a natural outdoor extension to the Main Hall itself. Spilling with original character, it requires very little in the way of styling, the authentic patinas already creating an inviting atmosphere and layered space.
Below ground reveals the Private Dining Room - a moody, vault like event space at cellar level, complete with crystal accents and a suitably sensual mood. Forever drawn to the secretive atmosphere of private dining rooms, it has an unmistakable intimacy that permeates smaller spaces. An irresistible backdrop for petite celebrations (inviting only those truly closest to you), the Private Dining Room is perfect for a rehearsal dinner, engagement party or bachelorette event. Suffused with Art Deco detailing, this space was one of our favourites, and left us dreaming of excuses to throw a celebration of our own.
Making our way back to the ground floor, we linger in the chic surrounds of Reynard, Andrew Tarlow’s extraordinary restaurant and dining destination unto itself. Feasting on a mouthwatering menu of arctic char, beets and roasted pork, we wisely left room for the indulgent (award winning) desserts. Edible art on a plate, that we dreamt of for days. Food lovers migrate here naturally for the seasonally-driven celebrated menu, however interior aficionados will appreciate a space brimming with beautiful finishes. The surrounds of smoke mirrors and mosaic floors only enhancing an already magical dining experience. Renowned for its emphasis on locally sourced produce, the food philosophy of Reynard extends through to each of Wythe’s catering menus. And for anyone who loathes the alternate drop fish/chicken/beef style of wedding service (more akin to a school prom than a chic reception), Tarlow’s approach to catering is sure to resonate. Think seasonally-inspired mouthwatering menus imaginatively styled and immaculately plated. Wedding food your guests will actually remember, for all the right reasons. Canapés, Prix Fix and Familial style feasts are each executed in sophisticated, but unpretentious fashion. Local produce transformed and presented with an uncomplicated elegance - our favourite way to eat. This is fine dining, that feels refreshingly unpretentious, or tricky.
If by now you’re a little reluctant to leave, a sleepover at Wythe Hotel offers quiet luxury at every turn. Creative souls will appreciate the detail and design focus throughout each of the hotels 70 rooms, where a mood of simple sophistication and polished restraint prevails. For extra special stays, it’s hard to go past the 8th floor loft suites, which boast enormous private balconies and uninterrupted views over the Manhattan skyline. We imagined waking up there, after a night of decadent cocktails on one of said private balconies (it’s entirely possible - complete with catering!). As an antidote to all things generic, local artisans and makers collaborated on the custom fit outs, creating everything from sign writing to wallpaper, artworks and bespoke light fittings. Similarly, minibars and bathrooms throughout are filled with local products, and appointed with turkish towels rather than slippers and robes. Such unexpected luxuries are layered and hidden, adding to the sense of discovery that permeates the entire Wythe Hotel experience. Each detail fuelling an irresistible temptation to linger a little longer and explore every alcove of this unique venue.
To truly appreciate each of the spaces (and sample each of the menus!) our dream scenario would unfold as a ‘Wythe Wedding Weekend’. Beginning on the Thursday our perfect sequence would look a little like this…a long Bachelorette lunch in the The Blue Room with 30 of your closest ladies, before checking in to an 8th floor loft, and a cocktail party to follow at sundown…on your very own private terrace. On Friday, following a day of pampering and any final preparations (although really, everything venue wise is already taken care of) a rehearsal dinner with the bridal party and family, in the Private Dining Room. The tables spill with perfumed blooms and a mouthwatering progressive menu before retiring at a sensible hour to the amazing loft, waking to uninterrupted views. A simple ceremony (either on, or offsite) followed by guests congregating in the Outdoor Garden for the aperitivo hours of late afternoon (meanwhile, you’re in the midst of spectacular photos being captured on the Ides Rooftop). A banquet style reception to follow, feasting on a seasonal Summer menu of familial share style food, in the Main Hall, before endless dancing. On Sunday, waking after a decadently long sleep-in, heading downstairs for a late brunch at Reynard. Joined by a selection of favourite friends or family, in the dining alcove, you reminisce over mimosas, the magic of the night before.
Need To Know
Wythe Hotel is located at 80 Wythe Ave, N 11th Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The hotel has 70 rooms, including 4 incredible loft suites (two of which have their own terrace, perfect for cocktail parties of up to 40 guests).
Spaces & Capacity
The Main Hall hosts 140 guests for dinner or 250 for cocktails. It also has a dance floor & built in sound system.
The Outdoor Garden hosts 150 guests for cocktails, 70 guests for dinner or 120 guests for a wedding ceremony.
The Blue Room at the Ides Rooftop accomodates 60 guests for standing cocktails and accomodates post-wedding breakfasts.
The Private Dining Room hosts 50 dinner guests or 65 for a cocktail style celebration.
Wythe Hotel offers different menus perfect for different styles of celebrations and spaces throughout the hotel. These change seasonally but as a sample, they include a
- Seasonal Canape Menu
- Cocktail Menu
- Seasonal Prix Fix Menu
- Summer & Winter Family Style Dinner Menus
- Wedding Cake Menu (think Toasted Almond Cake with Marscapone Cream & Grilled Stone Fruit, or Earl Grey Butter Cake with Saffron Vanilla Bean Cremeux).
We Dined on (at Reynard):
Arctic char, beets, onion cream
Roasted pork, red potatoes, celery, yogurt, peashoot
Chocolate cremeux, kefir, cranberry, buckwheat
Floating Island, persimmon, almond, elderflower