Bay of Islands bounty

It probably seems strange that ‘a decent shower’ was my overwhelming desire while visiting one of the Bay of Island’s loveliest hotels, but it’s the truth.

Before I arrived at the Paihia Beach Resort and Spa Hotel, I had been staying with a friend whose home is on tank water, at a time of drought in the northernmost region of New Zealand’s North Island.

Our water use had been severely rationed in the previous days, so we were both excited by the prospect of running water as we pulled up outside reception. That excitement didn’t evaporate, but it was overtaken by appreciation for everything else the hotel had to offer.

Our home for the night was a one-bedroom apartment with panoramic views of Paihia beach, and the stretch of water beyond. To our left across the Bay, the majestic flagstaff of the famous Waitangi Treaty Grounds; beyond that Moturoa Island and the entrance to the Kerikeri Inlet; to our right, Okiato, New Zealand’s original capital, and the tip of the peninsula that is ‘home’ to Russell, the infamous Hell Hole of the Pacific.

No matter that it was not blue skies and seas. Badly needed rain was falling. This, with just a touch of sea mist, made the view even prettier, so we settled down at the verandah table for a glass of bubbles to toast the tanks being topped up ‘at home’.

Our suite for the night featured a single bedroom with capacious cupboard space, a large living-dining-kitchen area and a bathroom with lie-down spa bath (and decent lighting for make-up). Oh yes, and a wonderful shower!

We had booked for dinner at the hotel’s highly regarded Provenir Restaurant (more of that later) but if we had wanted to cater for ourselves, all the accoutrements were there: a full-size fridge, oven and stove top with rangehood, microwave and dishwasher. The stone benchtop housed cupboards and drawers with cutlery, crockery and glassware, and a range of Scanpan saucepans and utensils.

Dinner was booked for 7pm, and we were eagerly at the restaurant's door on the dot. The young woman who was responsible for ‘meet and greet’ set the tone for the rest of the staff on duty: warm and welcoming, helpful but unobtrusive.

What a night! The food was exquisite and beautifully presented. Locally sourced where possible, and put together with care. Interesting blends of tastes and textures, with excellent recommendations on the most appropriate wine to accompany each dish, if we so chose.

My local Orongo Bay Pacific oysters were a salty, creamy delight, and my friend was equally enthusiastic about her scallops – even though they were Australian because the local variety was out of season.

She chose the 30-day aged Angus tenderloin with cremini, smoked butter, parsley and truffle while I selected the pan-fried Hapuka with tomato, dashi, galangal, prawns and water chestnuts. Both were so lip-smackingly good we didn’t want to share! It was a similar story with dessert: a delicate wild flower honey brulee and a wicked French Valrhona chocolate tart.

A special surprise were the complimentary freshly baked bread (yum), and olives, the amuse bouche (tuna mousse with superb cheese pastry) before we started, and the citrus-mint sorbet between entrée and main course.

We both chose Central Otago wines, each opting for two glasses rather than changing beverages, because they were so delicious. For me, the Misha’s Vineyard Dress Circle Pinot Gris, and for my friend, the Maude Central Otago Pinot Noir.

The wine list is extensive and very interesting. My only complaint would be that there are not enough examples of local wines, which is a shame because New Zealand’s wine industry effectively started in the Bay of Islands.

That being said, we could not find fault with the meal, or the service, or the ambience of the room. It’s a small restaurant, seating no more than 30, and pleasantly quiet: the background classical music is set low and the waves were but a murmur outside the windows, allowing for a low-pitched hum of appreciative conversation as each diner enjoyed their meal and commented on the experience to their companions.

Service was attentive but subtle. The knowledgeable wait staff made suggestions when asked and then left us to enjoy our meal without interruption.

Thanking the team before we left, we discovered a veritable United Nations. We had already picked our wait staff as hailing from Scotland and England, but discovered our chefs were from Austria, France and Italy. Only the wine waiter was a genuine Kiwi. It was a mix that sums up the area – there are always so many accents to hear around the Far North.

Provenir is not just the province of hotel guests. Members of the public are welcome to dine here, but in either case it is wise to book. Treat yourself to a stay at this beautiful hotel (with on-site spa) and at least one heavenly dining experience.


Contact details:

PO Box 68, 130 Marsden Road, Paihia, Bay of Islands, New Zealand, Freephone: 0800 870 111 - Telephone: +64 9 402 0111


 - by Liz Swanton©


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