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beauty: health

Spa Horrobin & Hodge: a secret on the shoreSpa Horrobin & Hodge: a secret on the shore

Horrobin & Hodge is a well kept secret in Manakau, New Zealand, for those in the know about great spa treatments, writes Jack Yan
Expanded from issue 26 of Lucire


Horrobin & Hodge, Manakau


I LEFT Wellington city at 8.30 A.M. for a leisurely drive up State Highway 1 to Manakau—as opposed to Manukau—for the new spa, Horrobin & Hodge. The credentials seemed fantastic: Jacqui Cameron as the spa manager, formerly from a well known city chain, with her facialling technique learned from none other than Margaret Hema herself—a woman whom I described as having magic hands.
   The drive is fairly simple and an hour and a half to Manakau is well worth it for the scenery. While Horrobin & Hodge does not have accommodation, there are great B&Bs in the area and I can foresee people from around the region taking time out to visit the spa.
   Cameron’s instructions were simple: ‘Manakau village is approximately 7 kilometres north of Otaki. There is a righthand turning lane on sh1 into the village over the railway line. Continue straight ahead past the school and a little white church, both on your left. The tar-sealed road then turns right and continues up a hill and we are at the very crest of the hill on the left. Drive straight down the driveway and follow it round and park under trees by the spa with the big brown doors.’
   The Horrobin & Hodge sign on the letterbox is unassuming and down the drive I arrived at an unassuming, squarish block. It’s then that I knew I was in for something special.
   I have never liked the “shout from the rooftops” way of presentation, and Horrobin & Hodge was unassuming and private. I was greeted by Sarah Hodge, owner of the spa and, like the property, someone understated but whom I sensed to be incredibly knowledgeable.
   It’s those little touches that signalled that Horrobin & Hodge wasn’t just another spa, but something very special. The reception desk had an old-style black telephone (with push-buttons, mind) next to a modern LCD computer screen. Up above was a milk tray filled with the old 110 ml cream bottles converted into lights. After walking through reception, I saw that the Hema product range is represented here, with Margaret Hema’s hand-blended oils for the face, neck and body.
   Go in to the day room and the neat touches that say that Horrobin & Hodge is proud of its country roots are very apparent. The lights hanging from the ceiling are ex-road works ones, once with huge bulbs in them. Now they house more modest lights of a more civilized wattage. Other than the lights, with their smoked aluminium appearance, it is a modernist room with a taste of the Mediterranean.
   The day room is not so country that it doesn’t have mod-cons that city visitors expect. A broadband line runs right into it. Hodge explained that to the west, the Tasman Sea was indeed there, and on a clear day, one can make out Mts Taranaki and Ruapehu, depending on the direction.
   The history of Horrobin & Hodge, she told me, started as a nursery. Along with her partner Wayne Horrobin, she grew and sold perennials. ‘We would sell to garden centres,’ she explained.
   She had a less than stellar experience with a city spa she had visited. ‘I had an epiphany on seeing and sky and light one evening,’ she recalled. ‘I told Wayne: we should convert the rooms [in the shed] and use our own products.’
   Hal Smith, a well regarded architect, drew the plans. Hodge continued, ‘He insisted on wide corridors, because of his experience designing hospitals in the Middle East. The walls are heavily insulated and Gibbed.’
   Rachel Johnson did the detailing and interior design, including the modernist fireplace in the day room, before which we sat for the interview. ‘The tradespeople were all local. You look after your own in the country; we’ve been doing it for years. The builder makes [filmmaker] Peter Jackson’s water propellers.’
   The benches outside, Hodge pointed out, were made from old packing tables. The milk-bottle and road-works lights were Johnson’s ideas. ‘Everything is a bits of old and bits of new,’ she explained.
   It’s the perfect mixture of old and new, I discovered. I was introduced to Jacqui Cameron, who came to fetch me for my treatment. Through the window I could see the nursery where the flowers were still grown—aside from the spa, Horrobin & Hodge still sell perennials—which relaxed me totally. There was no busy gym next door, no office blocks blocking the sunlight.
   But the equipment was totally new. The treatment bed was of a German design, contorting itself so no one could ever complain of being uncomfortable. ‘Everything gets sterilized,’ Hodge had explained before I entered the room. All the products are natural and organic—a fact that is very apparent as you realize they are literally from the area outside. Where there are products from outside suppliers, such as Hema, Horrobin & Hodge has ensured that they are totally natural as well.
   Cameron—whom I noted could have been a model herself—was a miracle worker, favouring body work. She had also come from a family business in the country so I sensed she also welcomed being in her new surroundings. A general massage session was followed by reflexology. A colleague reports that Cameron’s facialling techniques are indeed Hemaesque—and that’s as high a compliment as one can get in that world.
   Hodge said that the spa had hosted people who have had breasts removed and other surgery, and her aim was to welcome all.
   ‘People should feel truly welcome,’ Hodge said of the spa’s ideals. ‘[They should] get out a feeling that they are truly, naturally lovely.’
   They have even been sensitive to the politics of being near a capital city, scheduling appointments so two MPs from different sides of the House would never meet.
   To make me feel very welcome, the couple—the real-life Horrobin and Hodge—treated me to a memorable lunch with meat (from the farm next door) and salad. The water had Mexican marigold, giving it a unique flavour.
   I would recommend making a day and a night of it in Manakau. While I did drive back to Wellington in the afternoon, Horrobin & Hodge is the perfect getaway for those who want true privacy. It was the perfect antidote to one of my Auckland trips—and you know if you have something like this to come back to, the return flight is ever so sweet. •


Horrobin & Hodge’s website is at


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The day room is not so country that it doesn’t have mod-cons that city visitors expect. A broadband line runs right into it. Hodge explained that to the west, the Tasman Sea was indeed there, and on a clear day, one can make out Mts Taranaki and Ruapehu, depending on the direction

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