Blenheim Estate may answer a prayer

10:20 AM Wednesday April 1, 2015 Colin Taylor

The 114-year old Old Saint Mary’s Convent Vineyard Estate near Blenheim.

The Old Saint Mary’s Convent Vineyard Estate in Rapaura, 10 minutes’ drive from Blenheim is for sale along with its 114 year old former convent as part of the freehold property and going concern business.  

The convent building has been restored and transformed into luxury accommodation set amidst the 24 hectare estate of vineyards, park-like gardens and an olive grove.

“This an award-winning Marlborough wedding venue,” says Glenn Dick, Bayleys Marlborough director who, with colleague John Hoare, is marketing it for sale by tender. These need to be sent to Bayleys office at 33 Seymour St, Blenheim before 4 pm on Wednesday April 22.

Dick says the historic nuns’ quarters comprises five opulent rooms complete with modern amenities, original ceilings, rimu paneling and native timber floors.

“Originally located next to St Mary’s Church in Blenheim, the convent was moved in five separate pieces to its present location at 776 Rapaura Rd,” he says.  

“Painstaking restorations under the guidance of renowned New Zealand architect Sir Michael Fowler have preserved the convent’s historic charm and the downstairs interior layout remains as it was originally constructed in 1901.

“A considerable refurbishment was undertaken in 2008 including the addition of a new sitting room and bar using recycled rimu.”

Dick says the sale represents a chance for a buyer to own a piece of New Zealand history “but without the elbow grease needed to restore it - since this has already been completed to an impeccable standard”.

“A new owner will benefit from its prime location and a glowing track record that has seen the business win multiple awards.”

The convent sits on the ground level below the old chapel which has been converted into the superior honeymoon suite with handcrafted stained glass windows, ensuite bathroom and balcony access.

776 Rapaura Rd, St Marys Convent vineyard - interior.jpg

The interior of the Victorian convent has been converted to luxury accommodation.

“Weddings are held in the carefully manicured gardens, by the lake, or in the charming Victorian-style wooden church that sits adjacent to the other building,” Dick says. “The original Bible still sits at the church altar.”

Keith Denham who has owned the property for the past nine years says he fell in love with the building and the grounds. “It was in a bit of a sorry state when we bought it and needed a bit of TLC. We undertook some major extensions, added a new lounge, swimming pool, irrigation and gardens,” he says.

“It was important to me that the buildings be retained and restored as New Zealand doesn’t have a long history.”

Denham says between 10 and 25 weddings are hosted each year, but the primary business comes from international visitors.

Over the past five years, Old Saint Mary’s Convent has received a number of industry accolades including a 2014 Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor, inclusion in Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Experiences – 10 Best Spiritual Sleeps list and the Fodor’s Choice award three years in a row.

“The venue receives excellent customer reviews and draws honeymooning couples from around the country and abroad,” Dick says.

Built in 1901 by Thomas Turnbull, the architect behind many of Wellington’s most famous buildings including St Peter’s on Willis and the Parliamentary Library in Molesworth Street, the convent once provided lodgings for the Sisters of Mercy, including 19 bedrooms, a library, music room, sewing room, office and upstairs chapel.

Native timbers like matai, rimu and kauri were used extensively throughout the building, including in an impressive carved staircase.

Denham says two nuns, former residents of the Old Saint Mary’s Convent, visited the property recently.

“The two ladies in their eighties were very impressed and pleased that the building had been saved but they had a good giggle about the old chapel being made into the honeymoon suite.”

Denham says he has thoroughly enjoyed his time in the business but has reached a time in his life where he is looking to slow down.

“We bought a small vineyard to the rear of the property where will be moving.”

Hoare says more than 151,000 international visitors came to Marlborough in the year ending June 2014 and local accommodation providers cited their busiest summer in four years.

“Many have booked out over the peak season and are now taking forward reservations through April and into May so all the signs are pointing towards a tourism growth phase in Marlborough

“The strong economic recovery and surges in both domestic and international tourism make the business and property at 776 Rapaura Rd an attractive proposition.

“Being close to New Zealand’s finest vineyards and the pristine Marlborough Sounds makes this property a favourite among tourists and out-of-towners looking for a peaceful retreat within cycling distance of the region’s main attractions,” Hoare says.

According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, international spending in Marlborough topped $100 million in the year ending March 2014, up $14 million on the previous year.