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Designer Karen Walker Shares her Holiday Highlights in New Zealand & Fiji

February 27, 2014 Hotel News No Comments Email Email

Follow her “Route du Bonheur” itinerary with Relais & Châteaux 

International fashion designer Karen Walker has applied her designer’s eye to creating the dream Relais & Châteaux “Route du Bonheur”, combining idyllic retreats and hidden escapes in her homeland New Zealand and neighbouring tropical Fiji.

570406Relais & Châteaux, the world’s most trusted guide to fine hotels and restaurants, invites discerning travellers to explore the world via its series of new “Routes du Bonheur” – itineraries created personally by celebrities, famous chefs and respected hoteliers based on their favourite places to dine, explore and stay.

The “Route du Bonheur” is a French catchphrase that describes the art of creating one’s own personal “Road to Happiness” – in this case by journeying across the Pacific via Karen’s recommendations, from New Zealand’s iconic Huka Lodge to Fiji’s sublime Dolphin Island.

Along this Route, Karen shares her insights into her own personal holiday highlights, so travellers can create their own magical holidays and adventures based on authentic, genuine experiences – from horse trekking and fly fishing to the barefoot luxury of hilltop sleep-outs and floating Fijian pontoons.

“New Zealand and Fiji lend themselves to a perfect holiday combination – one so refined and rich in landscapes, the other so idyllically natural and serene in the thick of a tropical island. Spending a few days – or even a week – is the ideal relax and refresh,” says Karen.

570409You’ll find Karen’s journey online below and on the Relais & Châteaux website.


Karen Walker is a noted New Zealand fashion designer who shows each season at New York Fashion Week. Her women’s wear brands are sold in hundreds of stores all over the world. Here is her personal guide to New Zealand and Fiji:

“I was born in Auckland and have lived here all my life. Each time I leave, the light and air, the wonderful inner-city beaches and of course our beautiful azure island-filled Hauraki Gulf bring me back. I live in a 19th Century cottage in Ponsonby, my favourite neighbourhood, which is a village in and of itself. The inner city beaches along Herne Bay are just magic as you walk from tiny bay to tiny bay along my local city waterfront and of course Waiheke Island is a favourite escape.”


An experience enhanced by beauty, design, nature, fine cuisine, history and a certain mystique

My journey begins with a leisurely road trip from my home in Auckland through lush green farming country to Taupo, where you’ll find Huka Lodge, one of the world’s most truly special places.

I first visited Huka Lodge when I was seven and I was struck by its glamour and grace. I was thrilled to weekend there some 30 years later and noted that the glamour and grace was still very much present. I especially loved the constancy of the river, the open fire in the main sitting room and, of course, the extraordinary food. I remember falling asleep watching that mesmerizing turquoise green water that is the Waikato River flow past the window on its way downstream to Huka Falls.

At Huka Lodge I find total peace and tranquillity. The blazing log fires are legendary and you can relax completely while being looked after beautifully. It was founded in the 1920s as a simple fishing lodge by a charming Irishman named Alan Pye. It has always been a best-kept secret amongst the world’s most discerning travellers. From the moment you enter the gates and those magnificent lush gardens it’s easy to see why.

One of the things that enchants me is the little romantic private dining areas you discover all over the property. You often come across a table set for two waiting for guests – which I just love. We love a picnic within the grounds and one of our special places is the Jetty Pavilion.

Close to the property…

Fly fishing in Waikato River

Sometimes my husband tries his hand at fly-fishing just outside our suite. It’s fun seeing him getting dressed up in all the gear and the Lodge has rods for him to use. He still has a long way to go with his technique however he does really enjoy it. An in-room massage is 90-minutes of bliss especially if I have had a particularly demanding schedule at the shows.

Horse trekking at Harakeke Farm

To take in the sheer drama of panoramic views around Mount Ruapehu, Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe, a horse trek at Harakeke Farm is just the best. I love to ride but I am very much a novice. As a city kid, growing up horse riding was always my favourite excursion on school holidays. The owners, Karen and Wally Niederer, have both had a strong association with the NZ Olympic equestrian team – so their horses are great and they are such interesting people to connect with on their beautiful farm, full of birdlife and deer.

Lake Taupo by boat

Taupo has that crisp clear air that being so high above sea level brings and this is so energising after being in big cities for so long on work trips. Sometimes we take a private cruise on Lake Taupo which is apparently the size of Singapore! The white pumice beaches make it seem like a vast inland ocean. Places that can only be reached by boat intrigue me. Diving off the boat and swimming in the lake is so exhilarating on a hot day – the water is so clear and fed from mountain streams. There are amazing Maori carvings in the rock cliff face of the lake – beautiful when lit by the late afternoon sun.

Dolphin Island, with its blue waters, offers a superb private ‘‘castaway’’ experience

I first visited Dolphin Island in 2012 and was struck most strongly by the General Manager Dawn Simpson’s charm. We were there just after our New York Fashion Week show and were completely exhausted. We slept 13 hours straight the first two nights and I loved that the island immediately made us so relaxed that we were able to switch off straight away.

Dolphin Island also offers much to restore the body and soul. Nothing is ever too much trouble for Dawn and her team and they anticipate your every need down to an absolute fine fine art.

I always pay a lot of attention of course to design and once again, I was struck by the hand of interior designer Virginia Fisher. This is tropical chic with a touch of barefoot luxury and the rich elements of Fijian design are woven through in a truly sophisticated way.

The local fisherman calls daily and my husband is always so excited if his favourite, coral trout, is amongst the catch when he comes to choose what he would like. We adore all the juicy fresh mangoes, papayas and pineapples.

The floating pontoon is a great place to dive in from for a morning swim or to have sunset cocktails and dinner. Lounging on those super comfy poolside daybeds beside the infinity pool or on the coral white sand on the beach, with a pile of my favourite magazines is perfect bliss.

Close to the property…

Hilltop Sleep-out Bure

A very short hike (the island is only 5.5 hectares) over the hill from the main bure takes you to the Hilltop Sleep-out. Its lashed beams and woven ceilings are open to the sea breeze and the stars. Light comes only from lanterns and masses of candles. The evenings are warm and often have a cooler, gentle breeze. We love to sit out and enjoy the special light of the tropics – with hundreds of lanterns dotted around all over the

property – especially for us. Dawn organizes a big bonfire down on the beach and there is much singing and dancing by Fijians from the nearby village. I love the music of Fiji and have drifted off to sleep within its melody as it continues into the night. Traditional Fijian massages have a firm tissue pressure especially good for your circulation. The bathrooms are well stocked with local spa products and the frangipani fragrance and coconut oils are wonderful after all that sea and sun.

The local villages

We love to go onshore and explore the local villages, accompanying Dawn to the local market in Rakiraki for those bounteous vegetables and spices. We once hiked through a rainforest to a series of waterfalls near the tiny village of Narara and swam in the crystal clear waters of the largest and deepest one.

Aquatic adventures

We seem to spend a lot of time in the water at Dolphin Island. It is crystal clear and the beauty of the brightly coloured fish and the coral have to be seen to be believed. I never seem to tire of snorkelling in and diving down for another look, or taking the sea kayaks or Hobie catamaran out.



Relais & Châteaux offers its Routes du Bonheur for your inspiration: they are suggested itineraries that you can adapt to your preferences and desired experiences. You can personalise your routes and our reservations agents are available worldwide to help you book our properties and tailor your stay.

Example: An 8 night stay from 6970 NZD*

*Minimum indicative rate per person, subject to availability, based on double room with double occupancy, including accommodation, breakfast and dinner (without beverages) in the properties suggested for the itinerary. Activities on site and nearby must be booked separately.

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