Wharepuke – The Best Accomodation In Kerikeri And A Refuge In The Pandemic
Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist
I Found The Perfect Place At The Perfect Time.
(This is the 16th post in a series. Missed the first 15? Click here to see them all.) On February 21st I flew to Christchurch, New Zealand, planning to spend a few weeks before hopping “across the ditch,” as one says here, to Sydney. Prices are so expensive that I bolted through the south island and up to the north, planning to make a run for it, and then the pandemic changed all my plans. I chose the north of the north island, figuring it would be warmer and have fewer tourists, than the south island, which might also mean it would be less expensive. I also thought, if I had to isolate away from people, I’d be better off up north. Wise decision!
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I started in an AirBnB in Kerkeri and went for a walk one day, which led me to meet Robin, who owns the property where I am now, known as Wharepuke. It includes Accommodation, Restaurant, Garden and Art. It’s been the perfect haven during these strange times. When I arrived, on March 24th, having just accepted that New Zealand was to be my temporary home for an indefinite period, feeling alone and scared by the notion of lockdown, I met Tania. Tania is one of Robin’s daughters and made me feel instantly taken care of. There were two couples that would be stranded with me, and I learned that Tania magically cultivated our presence – we all got along well and shared Monday night drinks. Martin and Zoe from England, and Jess and Aaron from America were to share this strange journey with me. After a short while, though, Martin and Zoe made a dash back to the UK so it ended up being me and Jess and Aaron for four months.
Images from Wharepuke’s beginnings. Click each image to see a larger version
Photos provided by, and belong to, Robin Booth. All Rights Reserved.
At the start of our time here, with lockdown limiting places we could go, the five acres of Wharepuke became a natural solace. I walked the beautiful paths each day, took photos of the budding nature, got familiar with the sounds of the native birds, like the Tui, made friends with Fantails, and loved seeing monarch butterflies.
Wharepuke means “The house on the hill.” It’s existence began in 1938 when the Booth family, Stan and Joyce, purchased the property. They had four sons and when Stan passed, the land was split into four pieces and divided among them. One of the loveliest parts of this magical place, is how, underneath the surface, it’s a beautiful representation of each generation’s desire to share their addition of beauty with the public.
In 1993, Robin, one of the Booth sons, began planting many different tree and plant varietals. There are two gigantic redwoods and a Mulberry tree that have been on the property for at least 125 years. They’re huge and beautiful to walk by. Robin’s father had an orchard on the property and sold grapefruit and tangelos at the time. He tried to grow kiwi as well, but grew the wrong variety and it didn’t take off commercially. (I’ve learned there are so many more varietals than just the green kiwi fruit that I knew about in America!) Robin created a nursery during this time, and it was located in the area that now contains the cottages we’ve been lucky to stay in. Robin’s initial plan was to have a garden and bring up water from the nearby Wharepuke waterfall. However, the hole created for this purpose, filled with water, could have created a potential drowning risk for kids, so an entrance and exit were created to eliminate this hazard and between a friend and a hired digger, volcanic rocks were cut and placed around it. This area is now a beautiful blend of aloe vera plants and small sculptures you can walk around at the base of the property.
Robin wanted the grounds to be a place for people to enjoy and walk through the nature. So, he created paths for them to walk through until they reached the bottom of the property. Robin just celebrated his 80th birthday and it’s a real joy to see him literally build new walkways on the property today. He wants to both update them and create more walking paths for people to be able to see the entire property and realize they can enjoy a wonderful meal at Maha, the restaurant on the premises. I’m amazed that one day I see Robin with a pile of lumber, and the next, there’s a completed walkway. Robin says I must be experiencing time more quickly than he does.
Robin and Tania relaxing on one of the walkways Robin has built from scratch. Robin’s dog Bella is in the foreground trying to help out. Photographed by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved.
Wharepuke Print Studio (created in 2005)
The breadth of art spaces at Wharepuke is astounding and makes it feel rich with beauty and culture. The print studio is New Zealand’s first, and only dedicated, studio for non-toxic etching. Mark wrote a book on the techniques Non-Toxic Printmaking – (London, A&C Black, 2011). Mark and Tania have very strong connections and networks with printmakers from all over the world.
Mark explains his practice in an essay Imagined & Remembered Places – Drawing On The Past in the Intellect Journal ‘Drawing, Research, Theory, Practice’ Vol 5 Number 1, 2020 – published by the University of Ulster. He notes, “My current practice revolves around traditional and digital printmaking, video and sound with interest focused at the point, or points, where these approaches meet, cross and mingle – the correspondences of layering and collage, the composing, presenting and re-presenting of still and moving images and sounds, their relationship to each other and to memory, place and time.” You can learn more about Mark at www.markgraver.com
You can take a non-toxic printmaking course, or do an artist residency. Click here for details.
The art gallery and a view of Mark Graver’s “From Day One” exhibition.
Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.
Art Gallery (created in 2009)
Housed in the grounds is a beautiful gallery, Art At Wharepuke, that showcases New Zealand and international artists on a rotating basis. I was impressed by Mark Graver’s “From Day One” exhibit. Until I saw it, I hadn’t consciously registered that we were in lockdown for 75 days. Within his daily works I found myself reflecting on my various emotions that went along with the experience. I also love the ceramics from Richard Parker found in the gallery and at Maha. And, I’ve been lucky to meet him with Mark and Tania and have many a fun discussion over a great meal.
In 2019, Mark was elected to the (RE) Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers based in London. He’s currently the only artist from Australasia to be an elected member. When I saw his prints it was like an entirely different universe of art. His process is in-depth and the results unlike any other art I’ve ever seen.
In addition to viewing art, you can take advantage of the artist residency program and future art classes.
The Garden Walkways
There’s a sign at the entrance to the garden setting expectations that nature is not curated and runs wild. Robin believes that a tropical area is a wild mixture of plants that go together. It may take you over rather than the other way round. Leaving the nature alone allows various insects and wildlife to thrive. This means that upkeep is low maintenance, but that not everyone will be able to walk along the wild nature sections.
The gardens were awarded the Garden of Regional Significance in 2006. In December 2019, the New Zealand Gardens Trust awarded them five stars and a “Garden of National Significance.” Be sure to ask Robin for a tour if you get here, you’ll see a lot more with him than on your own and you won’t have to question what all the various plants and trees you see are with him leading the way.
One of many sculptures in the sculpture garden. You must look carefully around you – while some of the sculptures are large and obvious, others are so much a part of the landscape they are easily overlooked! Photography by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved.
The Sculpture Park (created in 2015)
Robin’s daughter, Tania, who was living in England, came back to Wharepuke in 2005 with her partner Mark Graver, a renowned international artist. http://www.markgraver.com/ This created a beautiful generational impact on Wharepuke. Tania and Mark, both artists, wanted to add a sculpture trail to the property, thus adding their vision to the overall experience here. A connected trail was added. Tania’s uncle, Chris Booth, a renowned sculpture, provided one of the amazing pieces of art you will see here.
Terrace dining at MĀHA Restaurant. Photo provided by Diane and Ming of MĀHA Restaurant, is fully their property and copyrighted.
The other addition conceptualized by Mark and Tania was the purchase of a restaurant building. Intriguingly, the building was located two hours drive south, in Whangarei. They trucked it back to Wharepuke, quite a feat as it was very large! A builder was brought in to make it into a restaurant space and Robin built the decks. For the first few years, the space was used for an interesting variety of gigs – Latin dance classes, Scottish dancing, and bodybuilding competitions among them! Eventually, a couple stayed in the cottages and asked if they could take the lease of the event space and turn it into a restaurant. They stayed for several years, and then the lease was taken over by Ming and Diane, the current owners of MĀHA restaurant.
Ming brings an Asian flare to all the dishes. The food is outstanding, and the menu changes with the seasons. If you come to Kerikeri, don’t miss out! On the walls you’ll see Mark’s art, as well as beautiful ceramic dishes by Richard Parker. You may even be tempted to buy some which you can!
These were another addition from Mark and Tania. Six were built and each, originally, had a different owner. They were placed into landscape that was already planted, so we have a beautiful garden complete with fresh rosemary, thyme, mint, seasonal berries, and more. If you’re fortunate enough to stay in Kerikeri, you’ll enjoy a feeling of complete nature and peace staying in one of the cottages, which are fully equipped to cook, relax and practice mindfulness.
Living here, and having the joy of Jess and Aaron as neighbors, I’ve learned a lot more detail of the local plants and fruit. In this video, Jess taught me what many of them are and how to use them:
I feel lucky, every day, to be here in this beautiful place during this strange time on earth.
Things To Do At Wharepuke
Visit the Art Gallery
Dine at MĀHA Restaurant
Enjoy the Garden Walk
Walk around the Sculpture Garden
Take a course at the Print Studio
Do an Artist’s Residency
Stay at one of the Cottages
Honey House Cafe
Stone Store and Boat Basin
Wharepuke Waterfall hike
Rainbow Waterfall hike
Te Wareire Waterfall hike
The Parrot Place