Waiting for the Waiheke Island ferry I am sitting next to a woman who is wearing a ‘Humphrey’ fake fur coat. Somehow, while waiting for the island crossing, I have entered a time warp into the 70s. The smell of patchouli gets me right between the peepers.
A lot of facial hair is heading to Waiheke Island, along with a wicked collection of shoes to match the wicked threads. It’s a real mish-mash of fashion. I spot a lace fingerless glove and a man in a tie-dyed T-shirt. Peace and love to all, man.
I am ready to board, along with an eclectic mix of passengers, from a group of Japanese businessmen in black, to tandoori-tanned teenage girls and a young couple, obviously in the early stages of love, who can’t leave each other alone. My fellow passengers are friendly, and everyone seems to know each other.
I choose the lower deck, which has a dance floor. As we pull out of Auckland Harbour, the sun sinks below the silhouette of the city and the clouds turn a pretty shade of apricot pink. We briefly stop at Devonport for more passengers and, as we depart again, the last sliver of sun hits Mount Victoria’s crown.
Things are starting to heat up on board. With three prams parked on the dance floor, children are rolling around laughing and young mums coo over each other’s babies. On a far table, someone has stacked plastic cups into a pyramid, and that young couple are doing a fine job of becoming entangled. I feel like I’m at party central, flipping between the young mums’ club and a university hostel party, while the group of men with open-toed sandals and socks and sleeveless windbreakers, well, they too are having their own kind of fun. This boat is rockin’.
I have been told I will be picked up by David Scott in the island’s only orange Land Rover. I feel like I’m on safari rather than driving through the suburbs and before I know it, we have arrived at The Boatshed. I am greeted by Jonathan Scott, David’s son, a tall and friendly chap who has run the business since it opened in 2002.
The family owned the land for 30 years before the building of The Boatshed started. David designed the lodge with seven suites, including a lighthouse, all boasting high ceilings and a generous connecting pavilion.
I enter my suite and ask, “When did Ralph Lauren leave?” The space has a strong nautical feel, channelling Ralph Lauren’s latest Driftwood collection. The pared back luxury suite in sandy tones of milky cream, beige and taupe is picture perfect. There is fresh fruit – apples, pears, mandarins and feijoa – in a handmade bowl, along with freshly picked roses in a white pitcher, a roaring fire, white-washed floors and soft linen sofas.
I order a glass of local Cable Bay Waiheke Island Pinot Gris, which is delivered with delicious cheeses on an antique blue and white Staffordshire pottery plate. I have certainly left the 70s, and have now walked into the glossy pages of an interiors magazine. I begin to relax.
The Boatshed has been cleverly designed and built by the Scott family so that each studio, suite and room looks out over Little Oneroa Bay, and plantings of tussock, flax and purple agapanthus, hide the main road of the island. The view sweeps you in and you feel as though you are floating up over the water. I can hear the waves, and look forward to waking in the morning to see what it really looks like.
The great CD collection, iPod dock, beach bag of towels, sunscreen, mozzie repellent and jar of jelly beans beg to be taken to the cove below in the morning.
I decide to have a shower and use as many of the Living Nature products as possible. If anyone from Living Nature happens to be reading this, can you please redesign those containers so it’s easier to get into your great potions and creams? What’s inside is worth the struggle, especially the body wash of kumerahou and manuka honey, but you don’t make it easy for the wannabe pampering punter.
After a glass of wine, some cheese and fruit I head for dinner downstairs. I am dining alone – something that doesn’t happen very often. However, a large stack of books sits on my designated dinner table along with a vase full of white lilies, purple basil and camellia leaves. A candle flickers in a large hurricane lamp, and a carefully chosen group of shells adorns the table with a smart piece of grey and white knotted rope (which I hope is not required during or after dinner). I am happy to flick through the books the staff have chosen for me. The other diners, all couples, don’t have books on their tables. I feel special.
Andrew the head, and only, waiter is quick on local knowledge and has been with The Boatshed since it opened. The meal kicks off with a red and white beetroot salad, with goat’s cheese. It is pretty and tastes just as good as it looks. All the vegetables are grown on the property, and on my plate is the last taste of summer, with carefully arranged micro salad leaves and a light dressing. The dish is a delight to eat and is not overworked or fussy.
A lychee and lime sorbet is delivered to my table before the main arrives of pan-roasted hapuku with chargrilled zucchini topped with feijoa caponata. It smells divine, although I want to redesign the dish with less red pepper to let the feijoa’s flavour shine through. Again, it is an uncomplicated, simple dish, and the fish is beautifully cooked.
The dessert is a deconstructed rhubarb crumble with apple custard sorbet. I’m not a great fan of anything deconstructed when it comes to food, but this works, and the bitterness of the rhubarb perfectly balances the icing sugar-covered oatmeal cake. The crumble needs the apple custard sorbert to tone down the tartness of the rhubarb. The simplicity of the food perfectly matches the laidback luxury of the surroundings.
“Once we know the numbers of guests each night and I know what is ready for picking in the garden, I try not to overcomplicate each dish,” chef Peter Upton explains. Upton has been at The Boatshed for two years. He is a talented chef and his food is some of the best I have been served in New Zealand.
Full and tired I head upstairs to bed.When I wake, the smell of breakfast and that truly stunning view makes everything, well, perfect. Breakfast is served in the pavilion and I take prime position to soak up that uninterrupted view. I indulge in fish cakes with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. It is fresh and delicious and the best breakfast I have had in a while. My view of a sloping vineyard to the left, down to the pohutukawa-edged peninsula, with Great Barrier and Little Barrier islands in the distance, and the water twinkling in the morning light, does not disappoint.
To the left of the property, an early 1940’s beach house has been remodelled into a very smart bungalow, and is part of The Boatshed offering. An enormous flame tree outside the property complete with singing tui (a native bird from the honeyeater family) herald our arrival. A nod to a typical New Zealand beach house of that period, it is both warm and inviting, and features local artwork throughout. It has a cottage feel about it, with a mix of polished floorboards, sisal carpet and antique New Zealand furniture, but it still boasts all the modern comforts including Bose audio equipment, a giant bath in the middle of the space and a separate dressing room.
THE MAGIC GARDEN
It is, however, the discovery of the organic garden at the back of the main property that is the surprising jewel of The Boatshed, complete with potting shed made of recycled windows, doors and panels. This layered garden with winding stone paths and raised garden beds works hard to keep the kitchen stocked with a range of produce, herbs and greens.
Wandering around this gardener’s fantasy patch, I am welcomed by pineapple mint, nasturtiums, parsley, thyme, sage and basil mixed in with marigolds, mesclun, Mexican salad leaves and wild rocket. Everything is grown from seed in the potting shed where Jonathan has his gardening magazines and books, and sits reading about what to plant next. It seems such a perfect place to ponder those plantings, which will be turned into ingredients for future meals, while having a cup of tea or wine before dinner.
I return on the 11 o’clock ferry back to Auckland city. I say a fond farewell to the view from my suite, to the kitchen garden, to the serene, coastal-inspired interiors and to the friendly staff. On board the ferry back home, I realise I have just experienced one of the best examples of five-star laidback luxury in New Zealand.
Waiheke Island is a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland. Tickets cost from $24 return; sealink.co.nz.