When partners Hall Cannon and Miles Refo decided to take off from their life in Manhattan, where Cannon had been working in real estate development and Refo in marketing, they gave themselves a year to travel and find a community and a lifestyle that was smaller and more intimate than the rush of New York living. They settled on Otahuna after spotting it during a three-month driving tour of New Zealand, spent four months learning the ropes on the property, and then embarked on a massive renovation that landed them in the pages of Architectural Digest, as well as on the rolls of travel experts Virtuoso, and a Category 1 listing on New Zealand’s National Historic Places trust. Now, owner & Managing Director Cannon prides himself on the elegant, intimate property they’ve created at Otahuna Lodge.
Where is your hotel located within your city?
We’re in New Zealand, in the central part of the South Island, 30 minutes from the city of Christchurch and the airport.
How long have you been with the property?
My partner and I bought it in 2006 and opened it in June of 2007, so about five years. Part of it was a very personal journey; we decided to leave New York and find ourselves elsewhere, and really fell in love with New Zealand. The superlodges here are among the best in the world but we knew this place was really different because of the age—it’s a 116-year-old house and had so many compelling stories surrounding it. The gardens were planted in the late 1800s and we grow a whole array of our fruits, nuts, and vegetables, which is something we do differently.
How would you characterize the overall feel of your property?
I think it’s very personalized, very warm. Guests are most often greeted personally by us, the owners: They’ll take a tour of the lodge, meet the chef in the kitchen, who they’ll speak with at each course—we want people to feel that this is their home.
What are some of its unique design features?
The most important is the house itself—it’s an 1896 Queen Anne mansion, considered the best example of High Victorian architecture in Australasia, a very historic place. It was important that the interiors be more comfortable and contemporary while playing up the heritage; we very much wanted the inside to make sure that our guests had the modern amenities they were after, and that it not feel like a museum. The art collection is fantastic, comprised exclusively of work by New Zealand artists commissioned for the lodge’s collection. There’s a lot of original stained glass, 16 wood burning fireplaces, and in our dining room, it has the original wallpaper on the walls. It feels like a period room there.
What’s the best dish on the menu?
I really enjoy the salmon ceviche, using local salmon, and Jimmy McIntyre, our executive chef, uses coriander and currants grown on the property, and almonds that we grow on site. You can’t come to New Zealand and not have lamb, and we raise our own sheep, chickens, and pigs, so it’s certainly something to try. And it’s hard to go wrong with a fantastic crème brulee.
Which room or suite is your favorite, and why?
We have seven suites, all within the homestead building. The two standouts are the Rhodes suite and the Verandah suite, our master suites, with fantastic outdoor areas reserved for those guests, very spacious bathrooms, large rooms, fireplaces. Guests are pretty evenly divided: in the summer they love the outdoor porch of the Verandah, whereas our return guests love the master-bedroom feel of the Rhodes suite, which is larger inside.
What’s a special amenity or service guests should be aware of?
When we say we want it to feel like home, we mean that very seriously. There are no hidden charges, no bill until checkout, a wine flight is included and paired with each meal and things like laundry and bikes are included and always available. We always want to know as much about them as possible—we will plan quite elaborate itineraries, and they really should know that we can do anything they request. We do a lot with helicopters right off the front lawn to a private beach, we have access to some amazing natural experiences, like a harbor with the world’s smallest dolphins, and there are fantastic winetasting experiences nearby.
Where do you send guests for a great night out?
Typically guests will stay in in the evening—they spend all day exploring so they’re tired out!
What’s coming next?
We’re always expanding our garden operations. They were planted in the late 1800s, and our goal has been to restore them and continue to grow them, and new parts come online each year. We’ve also unveiled a whole array of new food products grown on site—we have pineapples coming up for the first time, and lots more vegetables. We’re also really excited right now about our Three Perfect Days program, where we really plan three ultimate days during their stay, incorporating everything from a visit to a sheep station to cooking with our executive chef.
What’s one of your favorite memories of the hotel during your time there?
We had guests who had flown in privately from the US with their family, and they wanted to dine in a different location each evening, so we effectively constructed a different dining room around every area of the lodge, including a private dinner party in their own room, in the Rhodes suite. They didn’t have a lot of time in New Zealand and really wanted to see as much as possible during the day, and we arranged some really amazing journey, including taking the Trans-Alpine train just one way to the ocean, with a helicopter pickup on the other end that took them to a picnic lunch on a glacier overlooking the Southern Alps. Its great to see their happiness at having such a unique experience, and to see our staff’s hard work pay off.