Inside Vegas Golden Knights Owner Bill Foley’s New Zealand Luxury Lodge

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Wharekauhau Lodge owners Cottage at sunset
Wharekauhau Lodge owners Cottage at sunset

Businessman Bill Foley has made a solid investment in the Vegas Golden Knights, the current No. 2 ranked team in the NHL… which is pretty impressive, considering the 2017-2018 season was its first. While the Knights’ overwhelming success was a surprise to many, it shouldn’t have been given Foley’s success in making solid investments. He made $40,000 in the stock market—in his spare time—while still at West Point in 1967, before negotiating million-dollar defense contracts with Boeing. Later, he bought and revitalized then struggling insurance firm Fidelity National Financial before he began investing in wineries, golf courses, hotels, ski resorts, steak houses, fast-food restaurants and auto parts manufacturers. Today, Foley serves as the Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors for Fidelity National Financial Inc. (NYSE: FNF), and Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for Fidelity National Information Services, Inc. (NYSE: FIS).Thanks to its underwriters—including Fidelity National Title, Chicago Title, Commonwealth Land Title and Alamo Title—the former issues more title insurance policies than any other title company in the United States.

And although Foley has a passion for the finest things in life—wine, food, hotels and golf—not all are aware that he actually owns a piece of property that’s so special it was even a preferred stop of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, during their Royal tour of New Zealand in 2014.

We introduce you to Wharekauhau Country Estate, which, after visiting in 2009, Foley decided to buy (with a deal done just six months after his initial stay… he works fast). Here, we introduce you to Foley’s stunning Wairarapa wine region estate, plus share a few other ways to enjoy yourself during a stay in the area.


WHAREKAUHAU

Wharekauhau Lodge cottage
Wharekauhau Lodge cottage

When you drive from Wellington, the 2.5 hour journey to Wharekauhau Country Estate may feel like you’re on the road to nowhere. Sometimes, you might not even see another car for 20 or 30 minutes. But when you do reach one of New Zealand’s top luxury lodges, you’ll feel like you’re at the end of the Earth in the best way possible: this stunning, solitary retreat for the super private is yours, all yours.

The luxury lodge experience is something America lacks, and we’re so charmed that we barely want to stay anywhere else. They’re truly home away from homes, but better—because these “homes” include four-course farm-to-table dinners, wine and an outrageously adorable house puppy named Merlot (he’s a very quiet, well-behaved black Labrador that guests who miss their four-legged friends can take for walks and temporarily claim as their own).

But back to the stay/escape. Wharekauhau, which means ‘place of knowledge,’ is a 5000-acre working sheep station, so expect to see friendly sheep dotting the pastures outside your cottage and mountains shining against the sky. The gentle sound of the ocean is perfect ambiance as you watch a spectacular sunset overlooking Palliser Bay.

Whether you stay in a cottage or the cottage (rather, Foley’s “Owners Cottage”), expect to step into a bygone era with Edwardian grandeur. When you first step foot into your abode, there’s a lot to take in, and every little detail elicits a tiny gasp of delighted surprise (or, it did in our case).There’s the huge four-poster bed with a canopy and wrap-around hemp curtains (and apparently, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge felt right at home as well); natural materials including clay tiles, pebble mosaics, rich New Zealand wool carpeting, and soft cotton linens; the amazing views of Palliser Bay through a huge bay window; an open gas fireplace; the double-size sunken marble tub with every kind of bath product imaginable (plus, that stellar view again, so yeah, you’ve got to take a bath; we demand it!); a huge, unparalleled walk-in closet that Imelda Marcos would just love to get her shoes in; heated marble floors; satellite TV; a mini-bar; and even, yes, fabulous homemade cookies for an extra personal touch. Add in the natural materials are used throughout the cottage suites.

In the main lodge, you’ll find carefully-chosen antique furniture and oversized classic fireplaces, cozy nooks and crannies where you can curl up with a good book in front of a fireplace, and even a gaming room with a pool table, TVs and snacks in case there happens to be a particularly important (ahem, NHL) game on. In the lodge, you’ll also find an elegant main room where pre-dinner drinks and canapes are served alongside stellar conversation with enigmatic lodge manager Richard Rooney; an open-air country kitchen and conservatory, which looks like something Martha Stewart might dream up; and an elegant formal dining room, where the farm-to-table style “locavorian” cuisine is served (e verything is sourced fresh from Wharekauhau’s own gardens or in surrounding areas).

And that’s just the lodge. Walk through the French doors and step into another world; Wharekauhau’s magical private courtyard and gardens, which include a croquet lawn and Pentanque field; hiking trails; a 79-foot swimming pool; a top-of-the-line gym with fixed weights, free weights, elliptical machine, treadmill, cycle, multi-gym and yoga mats; and a tennis court. There are also two golf courses nearby, including the Royal-status Royal Wellington Golf Course.

Last, but not least, yes, there is even a spa. The lodge has big plans to build a larger spa area in the coming year, but for now, Amelie Agerter, a German transplant with magical hands, will be treating you from a private, cozy little room on property, where she’ll give you a Manuka honey gel mask or glowing skin with organic Millefeuille beauty products.

Honestly, all in all, this lodge is the one to beat.

Wharekauhau Lodge Owners Cottage
Wharekauhau Lodge Owners Cottage

THE BEST WAY TO TRAVEL

helicopter

We’re not going to lie, there’s something totally baller about actually having a helicopter land at your hotel, pick you up, and deposit you smack, dab in the middle of Wellington. Wellington Helicopters is the way to go: the ride is smooth, the scenery is unreal (rainbows are a possibility), and the chopper is luxe: you may ride in a S350B3 Squirrel, a Eurocopter or a Robinson. Of course, there is another way—you can choose to take a 2.5 hour car ride via Dynamic Tours through the Wairarapa wine region if you have the time to nose around—but when a helicopter can get you from point A to point B in 15 minutes, it’s hard to beat.


ARRIVE IN WELLINGTON

WEL01-Wellington-City-Hamish-JohnsonPhoto Credit: Hamish Johnson/Tourism New Zealand

You’ll arrive in Wellington—New Zealand’s capital city—which is also best known as the country’s culture capital despite its relatively small size: It’s home to the National Archives, the National Library, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Royal New Zealand Ballet. It also has some serious, serious Hollywood connections: Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson is not only from the city, but uses it as his home base, which means that on any given day, you could not only see the award-winning director milling about town, but also some of the mega-watt stars he’s employed (Scarlett Johansson, Viggo Mortensen and Tom Cruise, just to name a few). His directorial pal and fellow Oscar winner James Cameron, also a Kiwi convert, is oft-seen working nearby as well. For those who want the truly immersive film experience, hike up nearby Mt Victoria to discover stunning panoramic city sights and the scene of the first day of shooting for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy where Hobbits hid while being chased by Ringwraiths.


CHECK IN TO THE INTERCONTINENTAL WELLINGTON

Emerge Health Club at the Intercontinental Wellington
Emerge Health Club at the Intercontinental Wellington

Given that Wellington is such a major city, the luxury lodge culture that New Zealand is known for it’s really present at its hub. That said, we recommend staying at the Intercontinental Wellington; you know what you’re getting when you stay at this five-star, city-center hotel. Stay on the Club Floor in a fully-refurbished suite so that you can take advantage of the three stellar presentations offered in the massive Intercontinental Club—at 1830 square feet, it actually spans the width of the hotel—throughout the day: along with all-day barista coffee the Club InterContinental chef prepares a hot and cold buffet breakfast, afternoon tea of sweet and savory treats and evening canapés, served with a selection of c raft beers and New Zealand’s wines during twilight drinks. The views of Wellington Harbor aren’t bad either, we must say (a.k.a. understatement). The refreshed rooms have been redecorated in soothing shades of grey (a comforting way to fall asleep at night); the hotel has the largest heated hotel pool in Wellington at 108×75 square feet; the house cars are awesome—a BMW 7 Series and a Bentley Flying Spur; you’ll find Hermes bath products at your disposal; and there’s even a dark makeup towel at your disposal. We just have one question: why hasn’t anyone else thought of this yet? It’s the little things. Speaking of which… in the Lobby Lounge (where an excellent high tea is offered daily) there are 128 individual pieces of wood, sourced from the set of The Hobbit placed by the ground floor fireplace.


ACTIVITIES 

TOUR TE PAPA

Te Papa Museum
Te Papa Museum

The Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. They originated with settlers from eastern Polynesia, who arrived in New Zealand in several waves of canoe voyages some time between 1250 and 1300, and over many centuries of almost complete isolation, developed a unique culture, with their own language, art forms and customs. Te Papa Tongarewa museum is the best way to understand and get a fully comprehensive understanding of the people from a native Māori tour guide. VIP travelers will want to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the building, where you’ll be able to see collections and artwork that aren’t available to the public… and perhaps even be able to handle some of the artifacts yourself. The Māori culture is fascinating: those with a penchant for culture and history can finally understanding why cannibalism wasn’t a taste thing (duh)… it was a power trip. But we’re not going to tell you why—you’re just going to have to visit yourself.


DISCOVER THE ARTISTRY BEHIND PETER JACKSON’S “LORD OF THE RINGS” AND “HOBBIT” TRILOGIES… AND MAYBE EVEN SEE THE MAN YOURSELF

Weta Workshop
Weta Workshop

If you’re into special effects, Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson OR Hollywood in any sense of the word, Weta Workshop is a must. Take a VIP tour of this cool, functioning special effects and props company, which came to worldwide prominence with the  film trilogy The Lord of the Rings, producing sets, costumes, armor, weapons, creatures and miniatures. LOTR does feature prominently on this tour—after all, this is Jackson’s hub—and for fans, this is a great thing. You’ll get to hear all about (and see) the pieces that Lee Pace (Elven king Thranduil) made himself; learn about Viggo Mortensen‘s (Aragorn) sword prowess; and perhaps even get to touch his sword yourself. You might be surprised to know that Weta (whose name is derived from a native cricket; they’re all over the property and gave us the heebie jeebies) Weta also served as a special effects hub for Ghost in the Shell; Blade Runner 2049; The Lovely Bones; Mad Max: Fury Road; Krampus; and, of course, Avatar. When you take a VIP tour, you’ll even be able to sit in Weta’s conference room (which may just have been vacated by Jackson, James Cameron, or a variety of other A-listers) and check out founder Richard Taylor’s bevy of awards… including, yes, his Oscars. No touching though—you might just get eaten by an Orc.


DISCOVER ONE OF NEW ZEALAND’S MOST UNTAPPED WINE REGIONS IN THE WAIRARAPA

Martinborough, Wairapa
Martinborough, Wairarapa

Photo Credit: Scott Venning/Tourism New Zealand

If wine is your thing, make sure not to miss a drive and tasting through the Wairarapa and its little engine that could of the wine world, Martinborough. This tiny village doesn’t receive the acclaim that Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough or Otago does, but in our opinion, you should treat it like the great discovery it is. This Kiwi agricultural region is framed by the Pacific Coast to the east and mountain ranges to the west, and is characterized by spectacular coastlines, big skies, wide valleys and small towns with character. Here, you can hit the New Zealand Wine Trail at charming little wineries like Palliser Estates and Schubert, but don’t stop there. The region is actually known for its award-winning olive oils, our favorites being Loopline, Blue Earth and Olivo Olive Oil. Cap your afternoon with a gourmet lunch at Poppies, Pinocchio or Salute Restaurant… and then head back for a nap, fat and happy.


CHECK OUT THE MOST BEAUTIFUL SMALL TOWN IN NEW ZEALAND AWARD-WINNER, GREYTOWN

Greytown
Greytown

Speaking of the charming little town that could, well, that would be Greytown. This tiny hamlet in the Wairarapa was named New Zealand’s Most Beautiful Small Town of 2017, and at first glance, we couldn’t figure out why. And then, realization struck. Greytown is the opposite of its name: it’s a vibrant, picture-perfect street that looks like something out of the movies (namely, Pleasantville). Every shop will make you say “adorable!” There are mom and pop bicycle shops, a cozy inn, handmade chocolates and, yes, even an organic grocery store—Forest Food Organics—courtesy of James Cameron and wife Suzy Amis Cameron, where the couple sells their organic ware, including the Kiwi specialty, medicinal grade Manuka honey (try it; if Cameron hasn’t made you a convert, seeing the results for yourself will). For those who are interested, the Most Beautiful City in New Zealand winner is also in the Wairarapa: Masterson is just a 25-minute drive away.

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