New Zealand’s diverse Te Tai Tokerau (Northland) region is full of natural and cultural riches.
To the west, you’ll find the Waipoua Forest (and Aotearoa’s largest kauri tree Tāne Mahuta) and the rugged, beautiful sweep of the Hokianga Harbour, where it is said Māori first arrived on this country’s shores.
Eastwards, the Bay of Islands is a jewel in a region that has no shortage of picturesque beaches, charming small towns and lush native bush. Made up of 144 islands, the area has a subtropical micro-climate nicknamed “the winterless north”. The islands and surrounding waters are filled with abundant wildlife: penguins, dolphins and whales and native birds like kiwi.
It’s a special place worthy of an equally singular base from which to explore it. Checking into Paroa Bay’s Tarāpunga villa in Russell, your biggest problem might be that it’ll be difficult to stray beyond the 17-metre heated infinity pool.
I stayed at Tarāpunga, one of three luxury sole-use villas you can book on The Lindis Group-owned 75-acre property. From its vantage point overlooking Paroa Bay and the wider Bay of Islands, it’s no exaggeration to say the view is breathtaking (especially with the sapphire swimming pool beckoning in the foreground).
It’s around four hours’ drive from Auckland, or you can fly to Kerikeri airport and take the one-hour-15-minute road trip from there.
By the time you arrive, via a winding driveway through rolling hills and Paroa Bay Winery’s green vineyards, you’ll feel a world away from the clamour of city life.
“Tarāpunga is the premier villa on our Paroa Bay Winery property,” says managing director William Hudson. “It works very well for multi-generational family travel – people who want to experience relaxed but professional service and contemporary design in a very private setting.”
Tarāpunga is named after the local seabirds that frequent the area, and features a roof with a dipped shape designed by Northland architect Noel Martin to pay homage to the tarāpunga’s soaring wings.
Through the ginormous front door (seriously, it’s huge) you’ll find a contemporary open-plan kitchen and living area, decked out in pale wood and white, with high ceilings. There’s glass everywhere, which makes the outdoors feel especially close. A sizable stone island separates the chef’s kitchen from the lounge, which has large white leather couches flanked by a fireplace and a flat-screen television. A separate dining room seats 10, as does the table on the deck.
You can laze about on the generous outdoor sofa (next to a second exterior fireplace) or practice your golf swing on a small putting green. Laps in the pool, surrounded by the Bay of Islands’ greens and blues, is particularly blissful; a warm evening swim, with the sound of the ocean and ruru (native New Zealand owls) hooting in the trees, was one of my favourite moments of the trip.
The villa sleeps six across three bedrooms – two have views. Beside two spacious showers, the master bedroom’s ensuite has a deep bathtub ideal for lolling in bubbles with a glass of Paroa Bay wine from the in-house selection.
While you should definitely explore Russell and the wider Bay of Islands area, you don’t necessarily need to leave the property to find adventure. There’s a tennis court behind the house and a badminton court down the driveway, as well as a sauna, spa and petanque area. A couple of surprisingly zippy golf carts are there for you to zoom around the property. You might take a walk to the secluded, pebbly beach, or up to Paroa Bay’s restaurant Sage for dinner.
Further afield, you’ll find plenty of great pit stops. In Russell, grab a beer and a bowl of chips on the deck at The Duke of Marlborough and pull up for pizza at Hone’s Garden, followed by a stroll along the promenade looking out at the boats. If you head over to Paihia on the ferry, Charlotte’s Kitchen is ideal for a casual meal with a great view, or Terra Restaurant for a degustation or long lunch.
You can also book activities through Paroa Bay, including fishing and sightseeing boat charters, heli-tours, golfing at Kauri Cliffs, parasailing and spa treatments. There’s the option for a guided tour of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, one of Aoteaora’s most important Tohu Whenua (sacred historical landmarks). Visit the museums and Te Whare Rūnanga (House of Assembly).
Food and drink
Paroa Bay’s Sage Restaurant is well-known in the area; it’s perched just up the road from the villas in an idyllic setting overlooking vines, forests and sea. It’s open to the public, but there’s a daily three-course dinner included as part of the villa package (or a personal chef). Sage head chef Dan Fraser and his team cook dishes that draw from the area – many ingredients are grown in the on-site gardens at Paroa Bay Winery, and others – oysters, fish, clams, and lamb neck – are listed at the start of the menu according to how many kilometres away they were sourced.
Ordering à la carte or degustation, you could eat kūmara rewena (Māori sweet potato bread) with Rawhiti honey whipped butter; a fritter of farmed blue pāua (abalone) from Ruakaka; roasted beetroot with whipped Clevedon Valley buffalo ricotta; poached green lip mussels; or a grass-fed eye fillet steak from Waikato.
All the dishes have been designed to pair with wines from Paroa Bay Winery, which are made and bottled on-site with grapes that are grown and handpicked there too.
At the villa itself, the kitchen is stocked with breakfast and snack provisions – think eggs, sourdough, prosciutto, cheese, crackers and condiments. There’s a separate drinks fridge stacked with soft drinks, Antipodes water, Paroa Bay wines, beer, cider and champagne. You won’t go hungry – or thirsty.
Something I loved about staying at Paroa Bay is that it has all the amenities and concierge services of a five-star hotel, but it’s far more private. You feel taken care of yet completely undisturbed. At $6000 a night in low season for just the Tarāpunga villa (at the time of publishing), this doesn’t come cheap. But if you’re looking for a luxurious getaway to celebrate something special, or you’ve always wanted to visit the Bay of Islands, this is the place.
The writer stayed at Paroa Bay as a guest of The Lindis Group.