Less than an hour’s drive from Hamilton, tucked into the Bombay Hills, you will find Simunovich Olive Estate, a touch of the Mediterranean sitting amongst the Kiwi countryside. Here on the 336 acre estate, 173 acres of which are planted in olive trees, the Simunovich family have created an oasis around olives.
Sitting in the heart of the operation is a beautifully restored and restyled Kauri villa which is Bracu Restaurant, named after the Adriatic Island Brac, where the inspiration for olive growing began for the Simunovich family. Sit inside and enjoy the elegant interior or on the gorgeous wrap around veranda for views of the garden and estate.
Award winning head chef Mikey Newlands is thoughtful, energetic and contagiously enthusiastic — all of which shines through on his creative menu which can be described as innovative, sophisticated seasonal fare. This is fine dining at its best.
“Where we can we use local produce,” Mikey enthuses. “There is a man who comes around and provides us with special items, such as guinea fowl eggs and produce he has foraged.” We are handed what looks like a piece of a succulent plant that you would find growing on sand dunes — and in fact is! Called an ice plant it tastes like a mildly salty piece of crunchy cucumber. This is just one of the quirky ingredients you’ll find on the menu.
We are in his large kitchen watching him work. We notice some dried whole fish carcasses and Mikey explains “those are dehydrated John Dory bones to make dashi”. It’s clear his philosophy of using everything and respecting the ingredients is put into practice. Mikey says, “We grow some of the vegetables we use on the menu here on the estate and source much of the produce locally.”
The famous “Bracu Snickers Bar” is being made before our eyes. For the brave or adventurous the recipe is on our website. This Bracu favourite caused a revolt from customers when it was removed from the menu, so it is back. Having tasted it we know why, simply divine!
With our lips smacking we meet the charismatic restaurant manager Michael Wenzell . Originally from Germany Michael is a whirlwind of knowledge, passion and experience. We step into his pride and joy, the Wine Library. Just off from the restaurant this is a room filled from floor to ceiling with wines to suit all budgets and tastes. Kept at a constant 16 degrees to conserve its precious contents, Michael tells us “there are over 2000 wines, approximately 80% from NZ, with 8—10 varieties representing each grape”. You can imagine the fascinating conversation about wine that followed! Michael’s expertise and passion is clearly evident in the collection. Opulently decorated with high backed elegant chairs surrounding a solid wood table, this is the perfect venue for a small private function, meetings or an intimate party.
Next we wander around the estate with Johno Smith, the estate manager, and quickly realise Simunovich Olive Estate has even more to offer. The Island, a picturesque structure gracefully decorated with silk lining, is perfect as a romantic wedding venue. Completed last year by Johno and his team, it is a great addition to the estate which also houses the Pavilion which is beautifully fitted for private functions and wedding receptions.
But we soon discover there is more to do here than eat and drink. Set on one of the estate’s lakes is a range offering clay bird and pistol shooting, archery and knife throwing. Managed by the experienced, 500 year old gun manufacturer, Beretta this recent addition to the estate has proved extremely popular, especially for Christmas functions and team activities.
Together with his team of seven, Johno is kept busy from the end of May until late July harvesting over 20,000 olive trees on the estate. “There are more trees we could harvest, but that’s how many we can reach with the tractor,” Johno tells us pointing towards some extremely steep slopes.
One of the top five olive growers in New Zealand, Simunovich Olive Estate produces over 19 tonnes of extra virgin olive oil per year. Eight different olive varieties are grown, including ones from Greece and Italy as well as a couple that have been grown in New Zealand for more than 180 years.
The oil is processed in the on-site factory producing their award winning extra virgin olive oils as well as the growing Olive natural skincare ranges. That’s right, olive oil is not only delicious and good for you to eat, it also makes wonderful natural skincare. In addition to the estate’s olive oil, the skincare ranges include olive leaf extract. The results, a natural and effective skincare range.
Who knew, all this going on in the Bombay Hills?
Simunovich Olive Estate|49 Main Road, Bombay|www.simuolive.co.nz