Designer Ben Pentreath’s idyllic island hotel retreat

The architectural/interior designer and Bloomsbury shopkeeper found his escape – a tiny inn with big style – on a lush island in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf

Waiheke’s Oyster Inn has a relaxed vibe and a great seafood restaurant
Waiheke’s Oyster Inn has a relaxed vibe and a great seafood restaurant

"My husband Charlie is a New Zealander, and we go over at least once a year. We like to split our time between trekking around the country, catching up with friends and family – basically one or two nights each in everyone’s house – and then a week on our own. Last spring the two of us spent that week around Auckland, including three nights on Waiheke, where a close friend of ours had recommended The Oyster Inn.

From the minute we arrived, I loved it. Both the hotel and Waiheke. Winery tourism is big here, but to me it was one of the few things about it that actually felt a bit contrived, whereas the town is great; I was happy to spend all my time there.

Ben Pentreath
Ben Pentreath | Image: Simon Bevan

Is it true to say that all islands have a relaxed vibe? Maybe apart from the Isle of Wight and the Isle of Man…? Anyway, Waiheke really does have this great, easy feel about it. And there’s something about taking a ferry that makes you relax the minute you step on. 

The hotel’s 4x4 was waiting to collect us at the port and drive us to the hotel, which is right on the high street in Oneroa, the main town. It’s really a restaurant with rooms – only three of them – but for me they are perfect, simple hotel rooms. They look like they’ve been decorated from one of Terence Conran’s House Books from about 1980, and I mean that in a good way. They are timeless in style – not so much in fashion as never going to go out of fashion. And what’s great in practical terms is that they’re tucked off the back of the building, so although you’re in a quite scene-y little high street, and the restaurant is very popular and so gets very busy, you’re not disturbed by it. You get a remove, and different but equally nice views.

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The staff are all incredibly friendly. Perry Newton, the hotel manager – who was so nice, and welcoming, and funny – is, it turns out, a good friend of a friend of mine. He and his partner washed up on Waiheke I don’t know how many years ago, and loved it. Our mutual friend somehow learned Charlie and I were staying there, probably on Instagram, and emailed him, and he came to let us know. And often at hotels you get treated really well if you know the owner or manager – and perhaps not quite so well if you don’t. But The Oyster Inn welcome had already been so friendly, before that personal connection. It is nice to be able to say that about a place.

And then, of course, they’ve got their amazing restaurant, which again, for me, is the perfect seaside restaurant. The great seafood – with local oysters – the service, the way it looks, with the yellow stripy chairs and the blue‑painted floor; they’ve just nailed it. It’s very real. At a moment when small hotels are, to my mind, beginning to feel like rote executions of two or three different designers’ styles, I love that there’s this place that has its own energy, and that has done it totally its own way. "

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