Hall Cannon. And Miles Refo.
I love these two guys. Not just because they’re smart, funny and dashing (which they are). Or because they created and now co-own New Zealand‘s most luxurious small hotel, Otahuna Lodge – a seven-suite, 30-acre estate (which they do).
I love them because they took a chance. Followed their bliss. And truly allowed travel to change their lives.
Hall and Miles grew up worlds apart. Hall, a southern boy, is from Memphis, Tennessee; Miles, a New Englander, hails from West Newbury, Massachusetts. The two met in college. Rooted their careers in Manhattan (Hall in real estate; Miles, in publishing and marketing). And they traveled. “Well,” as they‘re fond of saying.
“We’d been living in New York for a number of years and knew we didn’t want to be there forever,” says Hall. “So we took a year to travel and figure out what (and where) we wanted to be when we grew up.”
Originally, their mindset was to relocate to the West Coast (USA) or British Columbia. But three months in New Zealand, traveling from the most southern tip to the most northern top, changed everything – as New Zealand is known to do.
I still remember my first visit there. Its greenness. Its breathtaking beauty (actually prettier than pictures). And its people – so amazingly real, not at all pretentious.
Hall and Miles had a similar first impression. “We were blown away by how astonishingly beautiful New Zealand was,“ Hall recalls. “And we found the Kiwis to be honest, wonderfully down to earth people.“
But it was Otahuna Lodge, built in 1895 and set on 30 acres, that sealed their relocation deal. Otahuna, translated from the Maori language means “little hill among the hills,‘ is considered the largest private residence and best example of Queen Anne architecture in Australasia. It served as the primary residence of politician Sir Heaton Rhodes for more than 60 years during which time the gardens – pear, peach, plum orchards; walnut and hazelnut trees, vegetable, mushroom, rose and daffodil gardens became one Sir Rhodes greatest legacies.
Since opening Otahuna in 2007, Hall and Miles have lovingly restored both the lodge and the gardens, despite a few setbacks from Mother Nature. An earthquake in 2010 in Christ Church (25 miles away) caused damage to Otahuna’s 11 chimneys, forcing the lodge to close for four months. A rare, second quake just a month after opening, forced another closure.But today, all of the chimneys have been rebuilt; all 16 of Otahuna’s fireplaces are working, and the lodge truly feels like a luxurious home away from home.
“Otahuna represents what we like to find when we are traveling ourselves,” says Hall. “We are not academic hoteliers. But we’ve traveled a lot and we’ve traveled well. We know what we like to find and what’s important.”
Which is: fine wine, and fresh ingredients; stunning beauty and architecture; amenities such as bedside cookie jars, nightly turndown with sheepskin rugs and spa treatments. Overarching connection and authenticity.
“At the end of the day, travelers remember people and experiences, not thread counts,” says Hall (though there’s been no skimping in that department).
One of Hall’s favorite moments was an American couple, who arrived by private jet, and “instantly got Otahuna,” says Hall. “They saw it as their home and wanted to use it as such. They made a very unusual request which was to host a dinner party for their flight crew in the turret of their suite. The couple was staying in the Rhodes Suite, originally Sir Rhodes’ bedroom, and it took “some ingenuity in setting up dinner for eight in the turret. But we did. And they had a truly amazing night eating foods from our gardens, drinking the local wines. It was an experience that could only happen in New Zealand, and in this place. Which is the magic of Otahuna.“
And to which I personally can attest. During my stay at Otahuna I would sightsee the most amazing sights by day – glaciers, vineyards, volcanoes, alps, whales. And then cozy into the luxury and comfort of my suite, fireplace roaring. Bliss defined…
On my personal ‘must-do’ list while visiting New Zealand and Otahuna Lodge:
- Must Drink: all the [local] wines placed in front of you, especially those from Pegasus Bay and Felton Road.
- Must Eat: the lamb
- Must Meet: wine manager, Emma, who’s so filled with energy and information; and Adrienne, reservations, who is warm and welcoming and will do anything for you.
- Must Do: fly to the southern alps in a heli and have a picnic on a glacier!
- Must Bring Home: gloves made with Possum wool (no, not the same possum as in the States). So warm! And something made of Green Stone.