For most travelers who dream of one day exploring New Zealand’s landscapes, their thoughts likely drift toward the mountain peaks, glacial rivers, blue alpine lakes, and the black sand beaches boarded by frigid seas. Many parts of both the North and South Island country do contain these wonders; however, there’s a mellower side to the land that is less visited but no less beautiful known as the Bay of Islands.
The Bay of Islands is known to the Kiwis as the “winterless North.” This sub-tropical region found at the very top of the North Island rarely sees temperatures dip below 60 degrees, even in winter. In the summertime, highs hover between 72-80 degrees. Few places take advantage of this temperate region’s wonderful geography as well as the luxury lodge Helena Bay. I was lucky enough to visit Helena Bay in May of 2017 with a group of fellow travel professionals. To say I was wowed is a true understatement.
Situated 40 kilometers north of the town of Whangarei, Helena Bay is located next to the sea. It is only a 45-minute helicopter flight from the capital city of Auckland. The lodge’s five waterfront suites are the perfect location for soaking in the scenery. Also, there is access to an array of aquatic adventures including stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming, and small craft boating. During my stay, I chose the time I wanted to go paddle boarding and was then met by an employee on the beach. My board was on the sand and a paddle was pre-set to my size. The opportunity to paddle the waters and take in the surrounding green hills from the solitude of the sea felt like New Zealand truly personified.
So Much To Do
The opportunities for fun on land were no less abundant and our group made good work of the lodge’s many options for exploring the property’s 800 acres. Before Helena Bay was turned into the picture of luxury for travelers, it was a sheep farm. Today, cattle are raised on the property and the lodge keeps miniature donkeys, alpacas, and chickens as pets for the guests to enjoy. A quick ride on the electric all-terrain vehicles delivered us among the farm life. Later in my stay, I opted to go off-the-beaten path via a mountain bike. I had a blast climbing hills and visiting secret beaches all to myself. Although they offer many outdoor activities, if the weather is poor, the fully equipped indoor gym, heated lap pool, sauna, and steam room should keep the active crowd satisfied.
Finally, I have to mention the food. Michelin-starred Ristorante Don Alfonso of Southern Italy operates in Helena Bay. The philosophy is respecting the local food culture while incorporating the age-old traditions of the Sorrento Peninsula and Amalfi Coast. A good deal of the produce we found on our plates for each meal is grown on-site. We had farm fresh eggs at breakfast each morning. The staff and overall experience our group found at Helena Bay was second to none.
As New Zealand’s newest luxury lodge, Helena Bay is still under the radar. However, with the unrivaled Kiwi experience offered, it won’t be long before the waiting list fills up quickly.
I’m am East Coast native (Philadelphia) who relocated to sunny Southern California. Growing up I was lucky enough to visit all over the United States with my family going on snowboarding trips along with excursions to some America’s best beaches. After a trip to Costa Rica I was hooked on international travel and have since visited ten additional countries including New Zealand and the Cook Islands and I can’t wait to add many more. I’ve worked in the travel industry for six years now, starting with Home Exchange before moving to become the Marketing and Sales Manager for the Cook Islands Tourism Board’s North American Office. I’m thrilled to be a part of the Swain Destinations Team as the Relationships Manager for American Express Travel.