Benedict Cumberbatch has been gushing about his love for the Hawke’s Bay retreat he spent part of New Zealand lockdown in. Here’s a look at the idyllic property. This article was originally published in May 2020 and has been updated.
The retreat boasts that guests will “never want to leave”, but Sherlock Holmes and marvel star Benedict Cumberbatch didn’t have a hell of a lot of choice in the matter.
The Oscar-nominated British actor was part way through filming the Jane Campion-directed Netflix film The Power of the Dog, when the Government announced New Zealand would go into lockdown, his representative told MailOnline.
So rather than put himself and his family through the kerfuffle of trying to leave for the UK within 24 hours, he and wife Sophie Hunter decided to stay put.
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And who wouldn’t when their employer had agreed to help put them up, not in the nondescript airport hotels that serve as many returning Kiwis’ quarantine quarters, but rather a more-than-$3000-a-night oceanview retreat with half a dozen or Hawke’s Bay’s best wineries on its doorstep?
Not Cumberbatch, it seems. The actor, Hunter, and their two boys – Kit, five, and Hal, three – stayed at Summerlee Luxury Retreat in the tiny town of Te Awanga until filming finished.
Built in 1926, the 545 square meter, two-storey property started life as a farm homestead – Wellington businessman Robert Fisher and his wife Charlotte restored it and turned it into a retreat after purchasing it in 1993.
Its current owners, who wish to remain private, gave the place another major refurb after buying it in 2015 for $3.05 million, reopening it to the public two years later as a Black Barn Retreat.
Summerlee has a lot to recommend it to a celebrity wanting to keep a low profile on holiday. Set at the end of a long, oak-lined driveway with a pool in the backyard, there’s little chance of said celebrity’s semi-naked body ending up in unflattering close-up online.
Guests are required to book out the whole place, so there’s no need to worry about anyone else sneaking pictures of your famous face – or body – when you’re not looking.
As well as the eight bedrooms, open living and dining area, professional kitchen, scullery, additional kitchenette “for cooking staff”, study, TV room and loggia positioned to make the most of the afternoon sun, you have 10 acres of gardens to call your own. Complete with swimming and spa pools, a pool house kitted out with gym equipment, tennis and petanque courts, a croquet area, orchard and vegetable garden.
As Black Barn Retreats notes on its website, there’s “plenty of room for the chef, nanny and tutor too”.
It’s all very elegantly done, with its muted black, white and brown color scheme and classy-yet-comfy looking furniture.
It’s a bit like a Kiwi version of an English country estate in some respects, so that’s probably why the Harrow-educated actor called it a home from home. Squint and it’s not hard to imagine the pale-faced Cape Kidnappers as the White Cliffs of Dover.
“We were so lucky. Far away from home, but we found a new one,” he told The Daily Mail.
The retreat is stocked with premium Black Barn Wines at winery prices, meaning there’s very little reason to leave. If you do need to get out for some air, however, the world-famous Cape Kidnappers Golf Course is right next door, while Napier, Hastings and Havelock North are all within 20 minutes drive.
Beaches, trout-fishing rivers and New Zealand’s largest gannet colony are also within easy reach. As the best place to see the noisy birds, the Plateau colony, is on private land, however, you need to book with a commercial operator to get there. Handily, Gannet Safaris leaves from the end of Summerlee’s driveway.
Cumberbatch appeared to have got out and about at least a bit under level 2, visiting at least one local winery. MailOnline quoted a woman in the Hawke’s Bay as saying: “Sometimes I forget that I work at a spark plug winery, but today I was cruising by the winery restaurant on my tractor and saw Benedict Cumberbatch sitting there.”
It’s an image that sums up Hawke’s Bay in general: spark plug but down-to-earth.
No wonder Cumberbatch liked it there.