A painting that captures the spirit of your passage…as you journey to Casale di Terra on

Conde Nast’s Top Island Destination Waiheke Island, New Zealand 


From the moment you turn into the long driveway leading up to Casale di Terra and see the terracotta villa and landscape come into view, you are immediately transported to provincial Tuscany or Aix en Provence.



Casale di Terra, is a beautiful, nurturing and private sanctuary retreat that Gabriella Lewenz and her husband Claude built overlooking the sea at Church Bay on New Zealand’s Waiheke Island with the focus on a commissioned work of art, a process endeared as The Passage and The Painting.



Waiheke Island

Located a 35-minute ferry ride across the Hauraki Gulf in Auckland, Waiheke Island is an escape from the city, a place to allow time to let go, to let the sea and salt air clear your mind. The island tempts visitors with excellent cafeterias and restaurants, stunning beaches and superb vineyards and was deservedly voted as one of the ’20 Best Islands in the World’ in the Conde Nast Travelers Readers’ Choice Awards in 2015.



A Journey to Sacred Seclusion

The name Casale di Terra translates in Italian as ‘cluster of country buildings made of the earth’ and it fits the estate perfectly – it feels like it was already meant to be here, physically and spiritually.



After Casale di Terra was built, both Maori and visiting European elders explained that the reason for its sacred feeling is due to it being on a sacred site. It was described as a kind of an embassy – not a government embassy, but a meeting place where people made connections with the temporal world and the unseen… and indeed that is what has happened over the years.


If you seek solitude, there is a small writers hut for meditation and benches on the hill overlooking the land; it is also available for body massage from a certified masseuse and Ayurvedic doctor.


The views in Church Bay are especially beautiful as the farmer who laid out the estate took great care to make sure each building was both private and had a great outlook towards the sea, islands, olive groves, vineyards and, in the valley below, the archetypal Kiwi sheep farm. Near to the property, the Church Bay Walk hosts the biennial Headlands Sculpture Walk for more artistic inspiration.



The Italianate country house theme continues with the interior and exterior décor throughout the property; the front entrance leads straight into a sunny central courtyard flanked in a U-shape by 3 separate buildings; the main house is to your right, Gabriella’s art studio directly on the left and across the courtyard with the entrance facing the studio/gallery is the Guest Cottage accommodation.



The grounds include several gardens. The main garden, surrounded by olive trees and lavender grows most of the household food in raised beds. The potager garden courtyard in front of the Guest Cottage has spectacular views of Motukaha Island – Motu means island, Kaha means strength -and the Hauraki Gulf. Along the wall, adjacent to the neighbouring sheep farm, the kitchen herbs and spices for cooking are grown in the mild Waiheke climate.



The garden below the reception is managed by a local Waiheke business, Plant Medicine Waiheke; it harvests the herbs and uses plant essences in their products. All the gardens are served by bee hives tended by apiarist John Laurant from Delizia Honey who sells gift jars of honey from the land (seasonal and supply is limited). The land also has prolific manuka blossoms from August through December, yielding a high quality manuka honey.



The open end of the courtyard provides stunning rural views which seem to go on forever. Church Bay is a place where the Southern skies are not marred by light pollution. The air is clean, the stars bright. The sounds are of the waves, sheep, the seabirds and the morepork (ruru: native owl). You feel like there is no one for miles, and there isn’t.


Guest Lodgings

The Guest Cottage is a detached, self-contained earth brick Cottage with two queen bedrooms, shared bath and great room with kitchen, dining and living facilities. Far from being a bohemian bolthole which you may expect, the décor is in keeping with the rest of the property and exudes comfort and relaxation. One bedroom faces the water and Motukaha Island and the other faces the native bush and the morning sun, the sun rises in the East but it tracks in the north, a reverse of the Northern Hemisphere.



The high ceiling and ample windows in the great room enhance the feeling of light and space. The functional kitchen is fitted with all modern conveniences and can be used for self-catering or a private chef can be arranged if preferred. An artisan-style breakfast is provided for guests – Waiheke baked breads and croissants, yoghurt, homemade muesli and fruit, coffee/tea and if available, the locally sourced honey.



The bi-fold doors facing west open the wall on sunny days to bring the outdoors in, and a favourite spot is the private deck for outdoor dining (or a soak in the hot tub) and chaise loungers to capture the sun taking full advantage of the Cottage’s north-facing aspect.

The courtyard centrepiece is a large marble table on earth brick legs, ideal for a long lunch savouring Waiheke’s abundant local produce.



Sanctuary in an Artist’s Studio

Gabriella’s studio is a large (100 m² floor area), airy space with 3.2 metre-high ceilings. The walls are made of whitewashed 300mm – thick earth brick, a material used dominantly throughout the property. The floor is a timber truss system to provide flex for dancing and yoga.



As expected, the studio’s acoustics are outstanding, enough so that a professional recording engineer uses it for recording choirs to produce CD’s. Light pours into this room; a lovely feature is a large stained-glass window reaching from the floor-to-ceiling that hails from an Irish monastery.  I’m certain the monks would give their blessing of the window’s use here – while the studio has a modern art gallery feel to it from the moment you enter, you can sense it is a serious haven for contemplation and creativity.



The room is divided into a much used work space with brushes, paints and easels while the other half is used to display Gabriella’s art – walls are hung with her colourful abstract works with interesting objets d’art placed around the room. In pride of place, Gabriella has displayed an ancient Grecian urn that was a gift to her father by an old fisherman friend of his, who had retrieved the amphora from the Aegean when he was a young man. The urn has become a family heirloom which Gabriella inherited when her father passed away. Gabriella shipped it successfully from the States all the way to New Zealand.



In addition to stretched canvas, she has started working on three-panel hinged paintings inspired by the sacred altarpieces of medieval Europe. They are very distinctive and can sit on a table top, desk, altar or be wall-hung.  When in Italy on an art residency in Puglia, Gabriella would bicycle past the small shrines in the countryside seeing triptychs often placed on the altars which has since inspired this new medium for her, available by client request.




Painting for Purpose

Gabriella is an American, born and raised in Greece, and lived in Pakistan for a number of years before moving to the USA in her teens. She settled with her family on Waiheke Island in 1997 in search of a simpler life and it seems she has found it right on the hillside at Church Bay. She has exhibited in galleries in New York, Boston, Connecticut, Italy and Auckland and her paintings are in private collections in the USA, Austria, UK, Sweden, Switzerland, Hong Kong, India, Australia, Turkey and Japan.

She is not only a talented artist; she is warm and engaging from the moment you meet her so guests will be made to feel right at home. Guests will unwind, reflect and discuss with Gabriella the emblematic painting she will create for you whatever its inspiration – to commemorate a special event, life transition or to celebrate your journey there.



Recently, Gabriella experienced a wonderful unveiling of a commissioned artwork for a client who stayed one night; “While she was here she had a magical walk along our 3-kilometre coastal walkway with a stunning sunset, she photographed just at dusk. She asked me to use the colours and tones from that photograph to create her abstract landscape. It took me 2 months to complete. We made a date to unveil the work, and the client invited four other close friends to celebrate…and with a lovely fire, we sipped on chilled champagne! When she was ready, it was a moving and tender moment when she pulled away at the fabric covering the artwork to reveal her piece. It was amazing to see the emotions pouring out, so tender and elated at her triptych. I love doing these special commissions – it meant so much to her given the thresholds in life she was facing”.

In time of change, it can be healing and inspiring to travel to a new and tranquil place, a place to reflect and recharge.

All packages include the commissioned work of art, 3 nights’ accommodation in the Guest Cottage, shipping and insurance of the painting.

About the Author
Tania Stoyanof

Tania Stoyanof is the founder and owner of Black Label Experience, a premium organisation committed to bringing visitors to New Zealand and delivering them a travel itinerary of unique and exclusive New Zealand experiences. Tania’s career spanning 15 years, her own Maori heritage, client-focused, tourism and event-rich background is the foundation for her belief that “when you entrust Black Label with your New Zealand Experience, you can be assured you’ll experience the unique nature at New Zealand’s heart …and never ever forget it!” www.blacklabelexperience.com and Twitter @blacklabelexp