Otahuna Canterbury luxury lodge New Zealand grand entrance

New Zealand escape | Otahuna Lodge | Earthquake restoration

Cool, understated elegance that belies inner sparkle and sizzle.

When two earthquakes hit the city of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island within five months of each other, historic buildings were among the casualties. But luck and dedicated custodians were on the side of the 115-year-old manor, Otahuna.

Over martinis in the sophisticated lobby of Sydney’s Langham hotel last month, Hall Cannon introduced a coffee table book that celebrates one of New Zealand’s most elegant and resilient lodges.


It’s something of a miracle that there is something to celebrate. The grand old country estate, built in 1895 by pioneer Sir Heaton Rhodes for his wife, Jessie, was rocked by the 7.1 earthquake that all but decimated Christchurch, 40 minutes away, on September 4, 2010. As Cannon (co-owner with Miles Reffo) recalls in the forward to For The Love of A Place: The Stories And Cuisine of Otahuna: “… Our home – one of New Zealand’s most noted architectural icons – was robbed of its original 11 massive brick chimneys. Foundations in our Drawing Room and Ballroom split and bowed from the earth’s forces. Three walls of our Wine Cellar crumbled on top of carefully assembled vintages of New Zealand wine. And nearly everywhere you looked there were signs of an 1895 house that had just faced the most dramatic assault in its 115-year history.”



Otahuna Canterbury New Zealand luxury lodge

A memoir of the luxury New Zealand lodge, Otahuna

The collapse of the chimneys caused extensive damage to ceilings, walls and furniture as did the burst sprinkler system. Being made of wood, though, meant Othuna didn’t suffer the terminal fate of many heritage buildings made from brick and stone.


Cannon admits he wept “for a vision that seemed as though it might have been lost forever”.


The story of Otahuna’s painstaking restoration – not once, but twice, courtesy of a second earthquake in February 2011 (the new chimneys held their own), is one of passion, persistence and generosity: an acknowledgment that owners of historic houses are mere custodians. The first restoration took four months, with 60 to 80 tradespeople on-site. The second, six weeks after they re-opened, another four months.


For The Love of A Place , co-authored with Simon Farrell-Green, is not a book, however, about catastrophe. Cannon and Reffo, from Memphis, Tennessee and Boston, Massachusetts, respectively, came to New Zealand in 2004 looking for a new way of life. They found it in Otahuna, in the picturesque Canterbury region, and weren’t about to let it go without a fight. It is a book about history, architecture, farming, gardening, stories, food and new beginnings.


New in 2015 is a kitchen terrace that uses bricks recycled from the earthquake damage; a new hothouse, with pineapples and kaffir lime added to the larder inventory; many new surfaces inside and out; revitalised gardens; interior fabrics and upholstery. The seven bedroom suites, each with its idiosyncrasies, were refitted and refurbished to convey the casual elegance of landed gentry.


Otahuna Christchurch New Zealand lodge cuisine Jimmy McIntyre roasted vegetables

Bounty from the potager garden at Otahuna Lodge.

Food is one of Otahuna’s drawcards. The property’s potager garden (a small part of the 30-acre property whose fields of daffodils attract thousands of visitors each September) now produces more than 120 varieties of fruit, vegetables, nuts and mushrooms.


Nearly every dish produced in the kitchen is made from scratch, and executive chef Jimmy McIntyre’s very achievable recipes are reproduced in the book, with beautiful photography, making the new publication a must-have cookbook to boot. They are cleverly collated according to where in the estate guests are likely to dine.


Otahuna Lodge Canterbury New Zealand luxury lodge fine dining

Vanilla Bean Panacotta with Strawberry Soup.


Does the terrain and events of the past five years make Cannon just a little nervous? He replies, with that Southern understatement. “You never go through something so herculean without wondering …”


Published by Random House, at good bookstores from September 25, rrp $80.
Photography by Stephen Goodenough


Related articles: luxury accommodation


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab. susan@excessallareas.com.au

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