Kōmanawa Retreat: A small retreat house in the lost world of Northland

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Komanawa Retreat is an unbeatable retreat in Northland. Photo / Provided

As we ride through the native bush in our host’s Kawasaki Mule, I’m afraid I’ll disturb the sleeping monsters of my childhood. Dragons, dinosaurs, orcs – the 161 hectares of Kōmanawa Retreat are an unbeatable refuge for forgotten and imaginary creatures. Jim Murray, co-owner of the land for five years, compares it to Jurassic Park. Except you don’t need to travel to Isla Nublar to find this lost world, just Opuawhanga, Northland.

Prior to moving to Opuawhanga, Jim and his partner, Susie, owned costume and prop company First Scene in Auckland, which created and sold props to the production teams behind Hercules, Xena: Warrior Princess and the Lord of the Rings franchise. the Rings by Peter Jackson. After 25 years of running First Scene, the couple sold and bought the retreat with Susie’s brother Dean and his family. It was a collective dream to own land, which they now operate as a getaway for those who want to spend time off the grid.

The Trump mule and dog, which came with retirement.  Photo / Provided
The Trump mule and dog, which came with retirement. Photo / Provided

The families live closely together towards the entrance of the retreat. You will find the farm, the wool house, the office, a workshop and the shepherd’s hut, a small house where I stayed with my partner. Just a five minute walk from this small cluster of buildings is the second, slightly larger cabin available to stay in – Valley Hut. Both are cozy and charming, but Valley offers two extra beds and a hot tub for a higher price per night.

The hilly terrain can be traversed on foot, by quad or with Jim in his Kawasaki Mule. Jim is happy to take visitors on a full tour flanked by his Border Collie Kelpie mix, “Trump”, who came with the retreat. Jim insists Trump was named by his former owner and despite the family’s best efforts to change his name to “Crump”, or at least “Trumpy”, the dog won’t respond to anything else.

Set for a bumpy ride, we accepted Jim on his offer to explore by Mule. We rushed over the streams and springs of water, which gave the retreat its name (in Te Reo Māori, Kōmanawa means a spring of water that springs up, much like the heart springs up). Hidden in the steep curves of the valley we found waterfalls where you can swim in the summer, panoramic ocean views and a selection of hand-built cabins.

Jim Murray, owner of Northland's Komanawa Retreat.  Photo / Provided
Jim Murray, owner of Northland’s Komanawa Retreat. Photo / Provided

Like diamonds in the rough, huts are unique and can only be found if you know where to look. The owners have built several over the years, including the wild and rustic Bush Hut, and the beautifully finished Ridge Hut, which overlooks a view of trees. The huts are all comfortably furnished with running water and although not advertised to the public they can be made available for those with a taste for something special. Jim recounts how he spent a New Year’s Eve alone at Ridge Hut, enjoying a bottle of wine while gazing at the stars.

For those who prefer their adventures on foot, Kōmanawa is a playground. There is a comprehensive map of hiking routes that last between 30 minutes and two hours. We took the Hawk’s Track, a climb through long grass and thick vegetation that we pushed aside with wooden poles. Together, the owners have planted 15,000 trees on the land, including mānuka, tōtara, tānekaha, taraire, rimu and even kauri.

In the park surrounding the farm you will find groves of feijoa, fig and olive trees often frequented by the raft of turkeys from the retreat, who liked to visit us at the shepherd’s hut for leftover food. In the fields, you’ll spy cows, chickens, sheep, and two alpacas, Rocky and Harry, who you can flat-feed if you have a spare apple or two.

Northland's Komanawa Retreat offers a comprehensive map of hiking routes that last between 30 minutes and two hours.  Photo / Provided
Northland’s Komanawa Retreat offers a comprehensive map of hiking routes that last between 30 minutes and two hours. Photo / Provided

In addition to hiking, you can escape to nearby Helena Bay for a beach walk and swim or spend an afternoon tinkering in Jim’s workshop. Although his front stage days are behind him, creativity is still very much in his blood. We spent a morning learning how to shape, cut and seal a silver ring using a saw, blowtorch, file and acid. Jim can also teach guests how to make a beeswax candle, using everything from a human hand to a small, unidentified skull, as molds. The workshop counter is cluttered with perfume bottles, with labels reading Angel Wings, Bali Affair and, of course, Dragon’s Blood.

Making guests feel welcome and like family seems to come naturally to Jim, who not only showed us around the retreat and taught us how to make jewelry, but also gave us a bottle of locally made red wine. and invited us to participate in a barbecue organized for friends on the property. We were delighted to accept and spent a few hours chatting with the family and their neighbors.

After a six-month lull with guests last year due to Covid lockdowns, Jim seemed happy to be reuniting with people and enjoying all the secrets there is to uncover on the property. Although easily mistaken for the Lost World, there is plenty to find at Kōmanawa Retreat.

CHECKLIST: NORTHLAND

DETAILS
To book the Kōmanawa Retreat, go to abnb.me/q2LbUFmjSqb
For more things to see and do in the area, visit northlandnz.com

For more travel inspiration, visit newzealand.com/nz.

Check traffic light settings and Department of Health advice before traveling at covid19.govt.nz

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