Warm and wonder-filled all year round, luxury boutique hotel Donkey Bay Inn is a ‘positive building’ with sensational views, quirk factor and full of surprises.
By Carolyn Enting
From the above it’s hard to spot the Donkey Bay Inn. Its 600sqm living roof blends into its native bush surrounds, and Bay of Islands paradise with views to kill.
Our suite overlooking Waitata Bay, is called Skyfall so I can’t help but make some 007 comparisons. Welcome drinks of our choosing, are brought to us on the balcony on arrival. The balcony extends across our own private sitting room, bedroom and bathroom. There are no curtains, but why would you want to cover up such a sensational view?
Waitata Bay is also known locally as Donkey Bay, hence the Inn’s name. It is only a 2 minute drive from the town of Russell, and a short ferry ride from Paihia – Bay of Islands central.
But back to the roof, which to be honest is one of the main reasons that attracted me here. The building’s native roof is believed to be the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
The building is engineered with deep foundations to hold 300 cubic metres of soil, which is a huge weight especially when it rains. The soil acts as insulator which keeps it at an even temperature – warm inside in winter, and cool in summer – making it a ‘positive building’.
It was designed for owner Antonio Pasquale by maritime architect Gary Underwood, and has curves that mimic its surroundings too.
As Pasquale says, there is nothing quite like this in New Zealand. Pasquale grew up in Italy in a medieval villa that was more than 650 years old, so he wanted to build something that would last for centuries, as well as blend in with the environment.
On top of that the hotel is also fully energy efficient, producing all of its own electricity through solar panels on the hill, and pure spring water, comes from a spring on the property.
It’s easy to spend your first day here, from dawn to dusk, drinking in the view as well as wine produced by Pasquale on the 24-hectare estate. The wines are sensational – Waitata Bay Chardonnay 2013, Pasquale Pinot Noir 2011, Pasquale Pinot Gris 2010 and Waitata Anneis 2014 are some that we thoroughly enjoy. You can only buy the wine here, or at one of the local restaurants in Russell where Pasquale delivers the wine boxes himself by donkey. Three donkey’s still live on the property, as does Pasquale who has as tiny home here and an impressive vegetable garden.
The fact that the Inn has an honesty bar, and wine fridge means you can help yourself too.
The property also produces olives and kanuka honey. Both available to taste, as well as to buy to take home. We did both!
The continental breakfast puts a capital ‘C’ into the offering. Warm fresh, locally made croissants, meats, fruit, cereals, cheeses and of course its famous honey, accompanied by fresh juice and lashings of coffee. All with a view, of course.
When it’s time for a swim, all you need to do is wander for 5-minutes down a path that takes past some somewhat evocative mosaic sculptures and giant rose quartz crystals, before descending upon the sandy Waitata Bay.
It is also known as a naturalist beach, and because hardly anyone is here it’s safe to swim with your kit off if you want to.
The Inn has just three guest suites in the building and sits on its own private peninsula.
Skyfall has 180-degree views of the sea. The four poster bed surrounded by mirrors, makes waking at sunrise extra special as the light flickers about you. However, if that doesn’t appeal, you can draw a blind at the end of the bed as a sun shade.
The Emperor’s Room is a grand, apartment-sized suite with private garden access. While Tosca’s Room, has floor-to-ceiling walls of glass that open to a private grassed area with native bush and the sea beyond.
The interiors, styled by British hotel designer Patrick Crawshaw, are unashamedly bold and eclectic, and a quite humour. The library is filled with mostly maritime books, one of Pasquale’s passions.
It’s a place to be as active or as inactive as you want. Somewhere to sit and contemplate, read, swim and walk. As well as enjoy the local nearby eating establishments which the staff at Donkey Bay Inn will happily book for you.
Recommended eateries are The Duke of Marlborough Hotel Restaurant (Russell), Hone’s Garden (Russell) and Charlotte’s Kitchen (Paihia).
Book here: donkeybayinn.co.nz/