New Zealand - A Land of Second Lives

By Janet Forman  

Photos by Tom Houghton

Reinhard Nickel slicing cake

Petra and Reinhard Nickel came to New Zealand after 25 years of stressful corporate life in Germany, determined to create a more peaceful existence. They sunk roots four kilometers down an unmade road to build the graceful three couple Bushland Park Lodge & Retreat, now a New Zealand Luxury Lodge. Transplanting their worldly European tastes to a deeply rural locale, they’ve created a place where German Gemütlichkeit meets Kiwi eccentricity:

The Nickels polished their cooking skills with a Michelin star chef, laid a path through the forest to an eerie glowworm grotto, even built a fantasy outdoor slipper tub warmed by scented candles where couples can tumble into romance with chocolates and champagne.

Dairy farmer Alan Hopping was convinced that mineral-rich hot springs were bubbling under an old campground on the Coromandel Peninsula. He searched for 20 years, spent all his savings several times over, and engaged a water diviner before finally locating a fossilized geothermal spring said to be sixteen thousand years old, nearly 2,200 feet below the surface. Now The Lost Spring is three and a half acres of sybaritic thermal pools and fresh waterfalls, eerily landscaped with delicate ferns and towering palms, dotted with gems and crystals unearthed during Hopping’s search.

Nearby, after twenty years as a stockbroker, Willie Lochore launched Coromandel Adventures to preserve and guide visitors through his home region’s deep forests and wild beaches.

Robyn and Nicholas Jones also cast off dependable careers as accountants in 1992 to build

Willie Lochore walking with Janet on The Hot Beach

Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant at than little known Waiheke Island near Auckland, now one of the most esteemed vineyards and restaurants on this newly fashionable spot.

Painter Gabriella Lewenz, raised in Greece and educated in Boston, settled on Waiheke Island after roaming the globe in the 1990s. Locals called Lewenz and her husband “The Mad Americans” for spending three years hand-building their Italianate earth-brick country house, Casale di Terra. Now that the seaside mansion is complete, Waiheke Island has become a chic Auckland retreat, and Lewenz has found an international following, she opens her studio to select visitors and invites those who commission work to stay in her ravishing guest house overlooking Church Bay.

Stephen White has traveled an even farther-flung path: After years as a world-class yachtsman sailing the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, White turned his hand to winemaking, honing his craft in Tuscany and France. He launched Stonyridge Vineyard --- whose Bordeaux style Larose is considered one of New Zealand’s finest vintages --- on Waiheke Island in 1981, a time, White recalls, “when there was nothing here but golden sun-burnt grass, wild horses and old broken fences.” These days, White operates on a still higher plane, as a yoga instructor to nearby winery workers, health professionals, and the occasional luminary like Richard Branson.

Stonyridge Winemaker Martin Pickering

Farmer’s Market Honey Seller

Takatu Grape Vines

Two New Zealand wine and food havens, still under the radar to North Americans.

Waiheke Island: Before the fast ferry arrived in the late 1980s, this wild island off Auckland was a hangout for hippies. Now that it’s just a 35-minute commute, land prices have skyrocketed, and savvy vintners have found it an ideal spot to grow grapes. With 25 vineyards at last count (, the island is well known for its wines, including the multi-medal winning Stoneyridge Larose (, and for restaurants like Mudbrick which offers heart-stopping views and an innovative twist on native ingredients. ( But beneath the chic veneer, the island’s boho roots endure: Few people lock their doors, teenagers still hitchhike to town, and the renowned painter Gabriella Lewenz keeps the door of her hand-hewn mud brick studio open to visitors.

Matakana: Even fewer outsiders know about this bucolic region 45 minutes drive from Auckland. Once a sleepy spot where locals kept barebones weekend ‘baches’ or cottages, these days, the hills running down to the sea are carpeted with vineyards, 27 at last count, including Brick Bay with its remarkable Sculpture Trail ( Oyster farms produce prized bivalves, and boutique agriculture endeavors fuel the region’s newfound reputation as an Eden of food and wine. The madly popular Saturday morning Farmer’s Market ( goes beyond artisanal produce, offering medicinal grade Manuka honey --- credit the accomplished native bees for the $120/kilo price tag --- and an entertaining Dog Minders corner, where neighborhood kids occupy the pooches for pocket change. ‘Green’ is close to a religion here: Witness the Sawmill craft brewery ( built with only storm-felled timber and such a strong distaste for sign pollution that newcomers must look sharp to find their destination. The arts flourish with a yearly opera series, a wine bar adjoins the cinema, and a public loo is built-in monumental Maori style. Those simple ‘baches’ have been upgraded to smart rental homes, and at the four-room Takatu Lodge ( surrounded by vineyards, proprietor Sharon Greene turns private chef to offer guests a sumptuous nightly dinner party. 

The Uncommon Art Galleries of New Zealand

New Zealand is a land of freethinkers, both homegrown and drawn from afar, where some artists exhibit their work in wildly imaginative ways.

Gabriella Lewenz invites clients to spend time in her remarkable guesthouse, where they can develop an intimate relationship with their artwork in progress. Of all the original architecture in this land of resourceful iconoclasts, Lewenz’s Casale di Terra is unique: A hand-built Italianate earth-brick country house overlooking the sea on Waiheke Island.

Greek-born and educated in America, Lewenz and her husband roamed the world before settling on Waiheke, where locals called them “The Mad Americans” for taking three years to build their compound.

Gabriella Lewenz in her studio

Her guesthouse is itself a work of art with soaring proportions that echo the open sky, a lavish chef’s kitchen, and artisan fabrics befitting an artist’s home. Guests shower in pure rainwater, pluck medicinal herbs flourishing at the door for tea and may withdraw, if they choose, to total seclusion in a separate ‘writer’s hut’ on the hillside. The price: Money is not accepted. Only those commissioning or buying work from Lewenz are permitted to stay. ,

Photos by Janet Forman

o   Gibbs Farm. The largest collection of open-air sculpture in New Zealand, this private 990-acre park, also inhabited by exotic animals including emus and giraffes, is open to the public one day a month by appointment.

o   Christchurch Street Art. Inspired by his first purchase of a work from the celebrated street artist Banksy, and compelled by the region’s devastating earthquakes, expat Englishman George Shaw curates major exhibitions by international masters of this genre.

o   The Sculpture Trail at Brick Bay Winery. Along a two-kilometer path lacing through the vineyards are fifty original large-scale sculptures, including sound works that respond to the environment and interactive pieces like the visually deceptive spiral ‘folly’ that has unwary participants ignobly creeping on hands and knees to exit

o   Kura Gallery. Majestic Maori arts and crafts. Kura

o   Moko Artspace. Adjacent to New Zealand’s bizarre natural wonder, the Hot Water Beach, this art and design gallery exhibits more than 150 New Zealand artists. Some of the finest pieces are Maori greenstone pendants.

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