Falling into Place

Eleven or so years ago I began hearing murmurs about a great spot in the Karangahake Gorge, Falls Retreat. These murmurs began to grow and so too did my frustration of not being able to get there to check it out firsthand. So I did the most sensible thing I could think of and booked my husband and I in for a romantic getaway. We stayed in their cute Rose Cottage, enjoying a leisurely walk to nearby Owharoa Falls, but what I really remember was the meal. I think I claimed it the best one for that year. My efforts to check out Falls Retreat were not wasted, in fact they added to the overall experience. Over the following decade, we have become regulars at Falls, be it for a quick pizza when driving through or a celebratory meal with the Nourish team.

Brad King and Emma Walters opened Falls Retreat 12 years ago. Tucked up a long tree lined driveway, with two rustic cabins, an array of fruit trees, chooks and a large vegetable garden, the idea was always to offer guests something different, an experience as well as great food. “Taking care of people has always been at the heart of what we do here,” says Emma. “As we live on site, we always had this sense of wanting to welcome people to our home and provide them with an all-round experience which incorporated our charming cottages, organic veggie gardens and amazing food made from scratch.”

Within just a few years of opening, Falls had become a favourite spot for those travelling through the Karangahake, those enjoying the nearby rail trails and those from Hamilton, Auckland and Tauranga wanting to enjoy Brad’s food and the unique atmosphere of Falls Retreat. Emma says, “We found that people loved our rustic vibes, amazing food, warm Kiwi hospitality and surrounded by nature – our slice of the ‘good life’!”

Their success continued to grow and so too did the business, particularly the bistro. Emma says, “The busier and more popular we got meant that it got harder to stay true to our values. We sometimes had 200 people per day heading up our driveway to dine with us, meaning making everything from scratch and offering a personal experience was becoming unachievable.”

The couple and their two children (now 11 and 15) live on site, so live and breathe Falls Retreat.  Events in the past few years, Emma says, gave the family a chance to stop and reassess the path they were on. And that precious quiet time we were given with family allowed Brad and Emma to realise however successful Falls had become they had also strayed from their core purpose which Emma describes as “taking care of people and our planet. Truly living the values of manaakitanga.”

Emma says, “We also realised we wanted to take better care of our staff, our property and ourselves and that if we wanted to last another ten years, we needed to create a more sustainable business model and lifestyle.”

In an attempt to reset, they bravely reduced the restaurant hours and offerings and placed more emphasis on workshops, both gardening and cooking. They extended the accommodation, adding a two-bedroom log cabin to the existing Rose Cottage and Waterfall Cabin. And they are now ready to continue the changes.

Inspired by recent travel in Italy, Emma says, “We want to bring people together to enjoy a long, relaxed meal with warm hospitality and amazing, simple food – all made from scratch and with love using seasonal homegrown produce.” From this spring you can enjoy The Long Table Feast at Falls Retreat on a Friday and Saturday night and Saturday lunch.

With just one sitting a night or lunch “this is a leisurely affair”, says Emma, “with guests being able to wander around our kitchen gardens and orchard, utilise our outdoor games and explore the kids playground”.

Guests are warmly greeted with a house-made welcome drink on arrival followed by Brad’s famous house made sourdough bread to share. The meal continues with a three-course menu carefully crafted by Brad and the kitchen team using homegrown produce from their organic veggie gardens and local farmers.

Reducing the restaurant hours and refining what they offer to provide a real food experience people will remember has also freed up the couple’s ability to offer more. There are more workshops to come, including the ability to have guest tutors and classes on a wider range of topics.

Celebrations and creating memories have always been a key part of Falls Retreat, and this will continue, be it an intimate wedding, a 50th birthday party, a team building day out or Christmas party.

Change, Emma says, is never easy, but like many things in life that are hard, sometimes it’s worth it.  What hasn’t changed, Emma says is “we remain passionate about what we do here and our values – taking care of people, providing amazing food made from scratch and welcoming guests with warm hospitality”.


image by Tracie Heaseman

Share This Post