Book review – For The Love of A Place

Title: For the Love of A Place
Author: Hall Cannon and Miles Refo with Simon Farrell-Green.
Publisher: Random House

A stay at New Zealand’s luxury lodge, Otahuna is one of those experiences that remain with you forever.
Even after many years I can still recall the heady perfume of the spring flowers and the sensational taste of prime New Zealand lamb cooked to perfection.
Not to mention the stunning architecture of Otahuna and the warm welcome from owners Hall Cannon and Miles Refo who regaled us with tales about the historic house, built in 1895.
Otahuna has a long history, it was New Zealand’s largest private home and one of the first with electricity and over the years it has been a Christian Brothers’ seminary, commune, private home and finally its painstaking re-imagining as a luxury lodge.
Now the story of the history and amazing transformation is captured in a beautiful book, For the Love of a Place: the stories and cuisine of Otahuna by Hall Cannon and Miles Refo with Simon Farrell-Green.
The treasure trove of tales features the history of the 40-room timber and slate mansion that rose starkly from a bare landscape in the lee of the Port Hills, just outside of Christchurch. Run much in the manner of an English-style country estate, Sir Heaton Rhodes, the property’s founder, was the long-time benevolent squire of the district.
For nearly six decades Heaton, his wife Jessie, for whom he built Otahuna as a wedding present, and their staff worked on creating a magnificent home and grand English park.
Otahuna’s executive chef, Jimmy McIntyre also shares favourite recipes for his fresh ‘real food’, grounded in the tradition of sustainability instigated by Sir Heaton.
Today the garden produces 120 varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts and mushrooms harvested on-site annually while Perendale sheep, Wessex Saddleback pigs and hens are farmed at Otahuna. Breads, pastas, pickles and cheeses are all made on site.
The recipes are arranged across eight evocative chapters showcasing different
locations in the house and grounds with photographs by Stephen Goodenough.
Signature pancakes, muesli and breads to lunches like delicious baby zucchini flowers with goat’s cheese and salsa vierge or three tomato soup with avocado, corn salsa and scallop ceviche feature.
Dinner could be the slow-roast rack of lamb or seared venison with cherry compote while beautiful fruit starred desserts like orange cake with baked rhubarb are on offer.
The treasure-trove of stories reveal much about Heaton Rhodes, a gentleman farmer, expert horticulturalist, popular MP and philatelist (he gave away a 20,000 pound stamp collection to Canterbury museum at a time when the average school teacher’s salary was 250 pounds annually). Knighted four times, he most notably became the first recipient of the Bailiff Grand Cross outside Britain in 1947 for services to St. John.
It is also the story of Miles, originally from Boston, and Hall, from Memphis, who uprooted their New York lives and careers to pursue the dream of Otahuna.
Miles’ recalls the ‘palpable sense of anticipation’ as he glimpsed the grand wooden mansion through dark trees lining the long driveway on his first visit, to welcoming their first guests on 2 May 2007.
Hall movingly recounts how he found himself on the morning of September 4 2010 weeping for the heart-breaking destruction of the first earthquake and resolving there and then that ‘this house and its gardens would not fall on my watch’. It reopened on 10 January 2011. Brick work from the 11 original Victorian chimneys now features in the kitchen terrace and herb garden.
The genuine love and devotion is what makes this unique New Zealand lodge so special and a place that remains with you long after you have packed your bags.