By - Land and See
This website showcase some of the best lodges and hotels in the South Island of New Zealand, exquisite places in incredible locations dedicated to the art of making their guests feel like that have evolved into another more luxurious dimension. This article isn't about one of these places. It;s about a rustic little place in the hills behind Akaroa. It isn't polished five-star perfection. But it is unique, and utterly enchanting. And if you like the idea of stepping out of the world for just a little while, into a simpler, slower existence scented with wood smoke and jasmine, then Tree Crop Farm may be for you.
Tree Crop Farm offers guests the choice of four cabins to stay in. Each is different; a tree house, a tiny hut by a tumbling stream, and another hidden in the woods, like a fairytale cottage. The two more remote cabins have no electricity. All have open fires, or little wood burning stoves, and fire baths, where you can soak under the stars with a glass of wine listening to the moreporks. The cabins are furnished with antiques and furniture painted in rich reds and purples, and fantastically draped with dramatic fabrics and layers of sheepskins. Everywhere are candles and flowers, great bunches of hyacinth and narcissi in spring, blowsy cottage roses in summer, and swags of silk blooms for good measure. The cabins are part baroque confection, part shepherds hut and entirely charming, if you like that sort of thing, which, as you might have gathered, I do.
My boy and I took off last weekend, leaving our five-year-old daughter with heroic friends, and headed east onto Banks Peninsula for some much-needed R&R. We’d been to Tree Crop before, years ago, in those halcyon days before we became parents. We wanted to see if it was still the enchanted place of our memory and whether it could still work its magic and create a blissful moment of calm in our hectic headlong lives.
We drove around Lyttelton Harbor and over Gebbies Pass onto the peninsula. The drive from Christchurch to Akaroa is one of the loveliest drives I know in the South Island. It’s windy, steep and precipitous in parts, but every corner brings a new vista, and there are so many fascinating and beautiful places to stop, that you could take all day to drive the 75km (46 miles). We didn’t stop in all our favorite places, but we did pull up at the Hilltop Tavern for a Three Boys IPA, an Aroha rhubarb cordial and soda, and to admire the amazing view of Akaroa Harbor. If there was an international league of pubs with astonishing views, the Hilltop would be a strong contender. Then we headed down into the harbor basin, stopping at Barrys Bay Cheese for some Peppered Havarti and some delicious Wainui Extra Aged mature cheddar.
We arrived around three in the afternoon and met Lynne Alexander, the owner of Tree Crop, dusting wood ash from her hands after lighting our fire bath. She showed us to our cabin. This time we stayed in the Verandah Hut, which has a covered verandah with a sumptuous day bed, a fire bath in a jasmine arbor, and a view out over the trees to the harbor.
Lynne describes Tree Crop as bohemian love shacks, which as descriptions go, is hard to improve on. But it omits one of the chief treasures of the Tree Crop experience, Lynne herself. Like all great hosts, she has the lightest of touches, knowing when people want to be alone, but if you show an interest she is full of fascinating anecdotes, generous with her time and happy to show you around her enchanted domain. In past visits we’ve had some fascinating conversations with Lynne, and this time she spent time hunting through her wonderfully eclectic library to find me a book on French allotment gardens she knew I’d enjoy.
It’s a great idea to arrive at Tree Crop with plenty of daylight to spare so that you can explore the wild rambling gardens, full of artichokes, poppies, roses, and a family of white doves. If you have more time and a pair of stout boots, you can walk some of the network of hill tracks that lead from Tree Crop up to Purple Peak.
I confess that we were exhausted by the time we arrived, so we did none of these things. Instead we sat in the sun on our secluded, scented verandah, drank wine, talked, read books and had a thoroughly enjoyable lazy and indulgent time. Later we took a bath by candlelight, and ate a gourmet picnic of goodies from the Lyttelton Farmer’s Market. The next morning we woke late, and went to fetch a basket of breakfast goodies from Lynne, a feast of creamy lemon yoghurt with a warm boysenberry compote, croissants and coffee in delicate china tea cups.
We only spent a night at Tree Crop, but the richness of the experience made us feel like we had spent much longer. We left with our hair smelling of wood smoke, rested and feeling so good that we bought this print at Little River Gallery on the way home to remind us of a perfect lost weekend.
A word of caution. Tree Crop isn’t for everyone. It’s eccentric, eclectic, and a little shabby, but that is all part of its charm. There are cobwebs, and candles and no televisions. It’s a little bawdy and a lot bohemian. It certainly isn’t your classic five star hotel! But in a world of mass market luxury, Tree Crop’s exuberant sensual character makes for an experience that’s unique and entirely memorable, and perhaps that’ s the ultimate luxury.