The Hapuku Lodge Story
A bit about Tony and the Wilson Family
Architecture and design are in the blood of owner, Tony Wilson's family. With the completion of her masters degree in architecture, Tony's niece, Julia, is the fifth generation of architects in the Wilson family.
Tony's father, Gordon Wilson was the NZ Government architect from 1949 until 1959, when he died suddenly from a heart attack on the streets of Wellington. Gordon was a highly respected architect and his work can still be seen throughout NZ today; in the Wellington Public Library, the Auckland railway station, the National War Memorial Carillon and the National Art Gallery. In 1948, he was awarded the NZ Institute of architects' Gold Medal for his design of the Dixon Street Flats.
After his father's death in 1959, Tony and his siblings followed their mother, Virginia Smith, to Los Angeles, California where her family resided. Tony attended UCLA, playing rugby throughout his undergraduate years and graduating with a degree in history.
The majority of Wilson family moved to the San Francisco Bay area as Tony, his two sisters and one brother, attended graduate school at University of California at Berkeley. Tony received his law degree from Boalt Law School at Berkeley and practiced law for a number of years. While practicing law he and his older brother, Michael, were engaged in designing and renovating Bay Area property. Michael became a licensed California architect in the 1970's. Tony's younger brother, Peter, received his architecture license in 1980. In 1982, the three brothers and sister Sara, formed Wilson Associates to design, build and operate small, high quality real estate properties.
Not only a builder, Tony has a passion for food. This passion has led him to work with his sister, Sara, in the creation of various food interests, such as the Pasta Shop, Cactus Taqueria, and Hapuku Fish Shop. Though varied in style, each of these little businesses focus on creating tasty food using fresh, wholesome, seasonal ingredients.
Hapuku Deer Farm
Tony kept New Zealand close to his heart and would return when possible. On a trip in the early '90s, he visited his nephew Paul, who had acquired a modest deer farm overlooking his favourite surf spot at Mangamanu Bay. With a want to try his hand at farming, Tony and Paul agreed to become partners in Hapuku Deer Farm.
The farm started out small, approximately thirty-five acres of rich soil on the upper plateau above the Lodge, but soon Tony and Paul realized they would need more land to sustain the growing deer herd. In the mid 90s, they decided to purchase the 120 acres of the lower farm where the Lodge now sits. As the Hapuku River is the southern boundary of the farm, much of the land is rocky in nature with the upper paddocks, seen from the Lodge, and olive orchard composed of the best soil. With the help of Tony, Paul has worked hard to turn the land from a struggling sheep farm into a working deer farm.
The deer industry relies on three main sources of revenue. The largest earner for deer farmers is the sale of venison. The second income source is through the harvesting and sale deer horn velvet. The male deer grows velvet each year to replace the hard antler that has fallen off in the winter. Velvet can grow up to 6" in one day leading many to believe (including some scientists) that when consumed velvet is a good source of cell regenerating growth hormone. The third income centre is rather new, but growing quickly, and that is deer grown for their trophy potential. Trophy deer are ranked by the size, structure and symmetry of their antlers. Hapuku is a stud farm, concentrating on the best genetics for velvet and trophy farmers.
Conception & Management of Hapuku Lodge
With mountains to the west, ocean to the east and deer all around, Tony thought Hapuku was a special spot for family and friends to visit. If family and friends would like Hapuku, so would others. Wilson Associates decided to build a small guesthouse or B&B on the farm. Wilson projects have always involved the family and the creation of Hapuku Lodge was no exception. From the building design, to over seeing the construction, to designing and building of the furnishings, even olive tree pruning and recipe creation have all been the responsibility of Wilson family members. Tony's son Justin arrived at the Lodge in 2002, to help see it built and act as general manager. In late 2006 Justin moved back to California, where he is still actively involved working with Chris our General Manager developing the US market.
Chris Sturgeon took on the role as General Manager in early 2012 and along with his wife, Executive Chef and 2011 MasterChef Finalist Fiona Read. Together they manage the day to day running and continued development of the lodge including a cooking school on a nearby site due for launch in 2014.
Chris & Fiona both born in the depths of the South Island, came to Kaikoura after 17 years in Wellington to build their business for the same reasons the Wilson family came to Kaikoura to build Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses. Kaikoura's unique eco system and topography, with an economy founded on agriculture and fishing, makes it an ideal spot to develop an eco-lodge and a unique cuisine and food experience of a quality as good as anything in New Zealand.
Fiona and Tony met after Fiona had been evicted from the television programme MasterChef and returned to Kaikoura to commence the building of their cooking school, Hapuku Kitchen. Tony & Fiona quickly hit it off and after a short time Tony invited Fiona to take on the role as Executive Chef.
Having spent many years in Banking, sales, marketing & business transformation, Chris once combined with Fiona's food expertise made them a perfect pair to take on the running and promotion of Hapuku Lodge.
Interior Design of Hapuku Lodge
Not content with designing just the exterior shell, Tony and Peter carried their aesthetic throughout the Lodge, designing most of the furniture in the Lodge. With no history in the accommodation business, the Wilson's standard for the interior was to design to a degree and style that they would look for themselves when traveling.
A point of advice that made an impression on the Wilsons, was an article about beds Tony read in an in-flight magazine during a trip from California to NZ. Written by an experienced hotelier, the article said the most memorable and important factor in any guest's accommodation experience is quality of sleep. Spending hundreds of dollars a night for marble on the floors and gold on the faucets, is resented if the bed doesn't provide a great night's sleep. It is the quality of the sleep experience that turns out to be the most important.
With this in mind, the Wilsons set out to create the best possible sleep environment. Double paned, tilt-swing, soundproof windows were imported from Germany to reduce the noise of the stag's roar during the mating season. Extra thick padding was put under the carpets to reduce the sound of footfalls from other guests.
Most importantly a lot of thought went into the beds. Swedish slats that will bend and flex with the contour of the sleeper's body were used in the construction of the bed frames. And then, the perfect mattress was sought. Not being able to find just the right mattress, Tony decided to design and make a custom mattress for the Lodge. After trying out various materials and densities, two layers of hypo-allergenic pure latex with a wool overlay was just right. And it's proven to be so. Many of the guests say the Lodge has the "best beds" in the South Island and they always say they had a great nights sleep.
Construction of Hapuku Lodge began New Year 2000, and it opened March of 2003. This slow pace was partly due to the detail and finishing required (we painted some rooms four times to get the right colour) but Mother Nature played a part as well. In late Spring 2000 the building crew (in NZ vernacular called the "chippies") held the traditional "roof shout". A roof shout calls for the owner to buy the chippies beer in celebration of having topped out the building by installing the last of the roof. The next day the "strongest wind in 100 years" blew through Hapuku and knocked the first floor of the Lodge 15 degrees off center and blew the roof off, sending much of it into the ocean, almost a kilometer away. As can be imagined, this slowed the project down.
Much of the Lodge is built of natural products from far and near. The exterior cladding is North American cedar. The flooring in the Lodge is Tasmanian oak (a type of eucalyptus) with kwela inlay. The kitchen's curved ceiling is also Tasmanian oak. The stone of the fireplace is from the Hapuku River and is reported to be the hardest stone in the country. The floor in the event room is kwela and again the ceiling is Tasmanian oak.
Farmers from northern California, Michael and Peggy Henwood, would often bring olive oil from their family farm into the Wilson's Pasta Shop in the Bay Area. Through this introduction, Tony and the Wilson family were invited to the Henwood farm to learn how to make olive oil, using Michael's home built olive press. The Wilsons enjoyed the experience and visited the Henwood Farm numerous times over the course of the next couple of years.
With his appreciation of olive oil, and the knowledge gained from the Henwoods, Tony decided to plant an olive orchard in Hapuku. To produce a farm oil resembling his Italian favorites, Tony decided to plant only Tuscan varietals including Frantoio, Leccino, Minerva, and Pendilino. In 2001, Michael and Peggy decided to step away from their olive farm in California and join the Wilsons in New Zealand. With them they brought their olive knowledge, olive press and amazing collection of North American woods.
In the autumn of the year the Wilsons, along with neighbors and friends, can be found in the orchard hand picking from their adolescent olive trees that they planted with the intention of producing their own olive oil for use at the Lodge.
Not only an olive farmer, Michael had a passion for wood and created beautiful hand made furniture as well. Over the course of 35 years, Michael had collected unique and beautiful pieces of North American hardwoods that he milled using his homemade sawmill. Realizing that he would never be able to use all of the wood in his life-time, he offered to bring a large portion of his collection to Hapuku to be used in the creation and making of the Lodge furniture.
Michael constructed furniture in the old style, that is to say, precise and, therefore, time consuming, but always of the highest quality. Michael taught Duane Turner, one of the builders from the Lodge, much that he knew about furniture making. Using the gorgeous wood that Michael had brought over from California, they set up a workshop in the Olive House and built much of the furniture found in Hapuku Lodge today. After Michael and Peggy returned to America, the Wilsons turned to Duane and other woodworking friends Dave King and Lachlan Hill to help finish the Lodge furniture.
Click here to read more about the story of Hapuku.