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Nun quite like it – former convent for sale

Tags: Commercial Marlborough

A 114-year-old converted Victkorian convent and its surrounding vineyard estate has been placed on the market for sale.

Old Saint Mary’s Convent Vineyard Estate in Rapaura, 10 minutes drive from Blenheim, has been lovingly restored and transformed into luxury accommodation set on 24 hectares (59 acres) of park-like gardens, rolling vineyards and lush olive grove.

The award-winning Marlborough wedding venue includes the historic nuns’ quarters, offering five opulent rooms complete with modern amenities, original ceilings, rimu paneling and native timber floors.

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.

Originally located next to St Mary’s Church in Blenheim, the convent had to be moved in five separate pieces to its present location at 776 Rapaura Rd. The property is being sold as a going concern by Bayleys through a tender process closing on Wednesday April 22 at 4pm. It is being marketed by Bayleys Marlborough director Glenn Dick and Bayleys Marlborough salesperson John Hoare.

Mr Dick said, “This is an opportunity to own a piece of New Zealand history, without the elbow grease needed to restore it, as it has already been done to an impeccable standard”.

“The new owner will benefit from a coveted location and a glowing track record that has seen the business win multiple awards and receive overwhelmingly positive customer feedback.”

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.

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

Vendor Keith Denham has owned the property for the past nine years.

“I just 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 did some major extensions, adding a new lounge, swimming pool, irrigation and gardens,” he said.

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

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.

More than 151,000 international visitors came to Marlborough in the year ending June 2014 and local accommodation providers have cited their busiest summer in four years, with many booked out over the peak season and taking forward reservations until April and May.

“All signs are pointing towards a growth phase in Marlborough after a period of uncertainty in the wake of the global financial crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes,” Mr Hoare said.

“Strong economic recovery and surges in both domestic and international travel


make this an attractive proposition.”

Proximity to some of New Zealand’s finest vineyards and the pristine Marlborough Sounds makes this property a favourite among tourists and out-of-towners seeking a peaceful retreat within cycling distance of the region’s main attractions.

Mr Denham said they host between 10 and 25 weddings each year, but their 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 boasts excellent customer reviews and draws honeymooning couples from around the country and abroad.

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 such as matai, rimu and kauri have been used extensively throughout the building, including in an impressive carved staircase. Considerable refurbishment was undertaken in 2008 including the addition of a new sitting room and bar using recycled rimu.

Two nuns, former residents of the Old Saint Mary’s Convent, visited the property recently, Mr Denham said.

“The two ladies in their 80s were very impressed and pleased that the building had been saved. But of course the old chapel has now been made into the honeymoon suite, so they had a good giggle about that.”

Mr Denham said while he has thoroughly enjoyed his time in the business, he 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.”

For further information about Old Saint Mary’s Convent Vineyard Estate contact Glenn Dick on 021 731 201 or John Hoare on 027 432 1410.

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