On any given day, as you take the turn off the Karangahake Gorge road, over the one-way bridge, up the steep drive through some very tall trees, you will be surprised at the number of people you will find at The Falls Retreat. It is out of the way, not the sort of place you stumble across, but the popularity of this rustic restaurant continues to grow.
What is it about this charming composition of quaint cottages, gardens, orchard and converted milking shed that has become one of the region’s most celebrated restaurants, and a significant local employer?
First and foremost, it's the food. The artistry created on the plate by owner and chef Brad King has gained a wide reputation for the terrific taste of the seasons and local produce. However, there is a lot more behind Brad’s simple claim that he prepares good honest food, from scratch.
The decision to become a chef came early, at 10 years old he says. After training and working in New Zealand Brad was cheffing in Australia when he met his future wife and business partner, Emma Walters, on her OE without end from northern England. When their son arrived, the two working parents decided to find a better way of life to enjoy their growing family.
Back in New Zealand, Brad and Emma invested everything in a property in the Karangahake Gorge; a couple of cottages and a run-down old café in the woods on a hill next to the stunning staircase Owharoa Falls. With Brad working locally to make ends meet, Emma wrote business plans and trawled second-hand stores for equipment. It took three years, and their dream was realised when Falls Retreat opened as a restaurant nine years ago.
In the beginning, diners really did come by word of mouth, but that word soon spread beyond the local fan base. The opening of the Hauraki Rail Trail a year later helped guests find this hidden gem, and they came back in droves. These days, there may be more bicycles than cars parked under the trees. And while acclaim has flowed in from many quarters, the team at The Falls Retreat are not satisfied with their current achievements.
Early on, a kitchen garden and orchard were established to satisfy Brad’s demand for locally sourced seasonal produce and a local swap system, “barter at the bistro” expanded the range in exchange for coffee and dessert. In the next step, accomplished organic gardener Nicki Murray-Orr moved from waitressing to further developing the property and also workshops on sustainable gardening techniques. Composting and worm farming, growing organic vegetables from seed soon expanded to cooking workshops as well. If you’ve ever wanted to learn the secrets of fermentation in kombucha and kimchi, how to make pasta or the perfect pickles, the team are happy to impart their tips. Brad likes to cook from scratch, remember, so he knows the tricks. A small onsite shop stocks some of the signature condiments and treats.
The two cottages have been refurbished with care and charm, perfect for a restorative getaway. The Waterfall Cabin affords guests a romantic peek of the Owharoa Falls from the mezzanine floor queen bed and a signature hamper adds the final touch. That romantic feeling and the luxury of complete privacy are good reasons why The Falls Retreat is a popular wedding venue. And the food, of course.
The plan is to continue to develop the business and to offer wellness retreats, but we reckon The Falls Retreat delivers big on that promise just the way it is.