Amanda Jones
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New Zealand's Luxury Lodges

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Written by Amanda Jones for Travel & Leisure magazine

Having grown up in New Zealand, I feel I can rightfully say that, back then, the country was lamentably unrefined when it came to country accommodations. Any Kiwi farmer with a spare room out back could go into business as a “country lodge,” resulting in a nation teeming with artless homestays. You’d arrive at night after getting hopelessly lost (no road signs), step out of your car and into a cow pie, be presented with a pint of milk, a can of insect spray and be shown your room by flashlight. Breakfast would be something crumbed, fried and garnished with canned pineapple slices. Any wonder I didn’t go back for a decade or two?

Recently, I did return and much has changed. In 1984, the remodeled Huka Lodge raised the national standard. Then came smaller properties like Grasmere and Punatapu, and in 1998, Wharekauhau, the top-notch pastoral estate. Here, the top new spots.

For the past 17 years, Bill and Annette Shaw have run one of New Zealand's top country lodges on their 5,000-acre sheep station in the pastoral Wairarapa. Popularity inspired the Shaws to rebuild Wharekauhau (pronounced forry-ko-ho)--this time on a grand scale. The result is an Edwardian-style mansion, complete with grand hall, yawning fireplaces and mullioned windows --only ten-minutes by helicopter or a two-hour drive from Wellington. 10 cottage suites overlook rugged Palliser Bay, with ultraprivate rooms, save for the flocks which wander past your patio. You can withdraw to your fireside sofa or venture out to fish, golf, ride horses, or hike the Rimutaka ranges. Dining is Kiwi lodge-style: guests mingle at long tables over cervena, New Zealand's coveted venison, and refined reds from the much-hailed Martinborough wineries down the road. Here’s a chance to mingle with the landed gentry.

Wharekauhau Country Estate, Western Lake Rd., Featherston; 800/525-4800 or 64-6/307-7581, fax 64-6/307-7799; doubles from $280 per person.

Blanket Bay
Three decades ago, Californians Pauline and Tom Tusher (formerly President of Levi Strauss), had the foresight to purchase 55 acres of lakefront on Lake Wakatipu, forty minutes north of Queenstown. “There was nothing here then, just a hell of a lot of sheep,” says Tom. The good news is not much has changed, except that after retirement (and a rumored uber-package from Levi’s), the Tushers bought the adjacent 60,000 acres with all those sheep and decided to create a lodge, the calibre of which New Zealand had rarely seen. They retained Jim McLaughlin, Idaho’s architect-to-the-stars to design an edifice which can’t escape comparison to the hunting lodges of the American West—complete with 30-foot high Great Room (with compulsory stuffed ducks), antler chandeliers and walk-in fireplace. To their credit, the Tushers insisted on sourcing materials locally (ducks and antlers included). Instead of the predicted logs, the exterior is dominated by layers of South Island schist rock. This, combined with the dormered slate roofline, give the impression that the lodge has burst forth from the craggy mountain range behind.

The interior has that been-around-generations elegance about it. Nothing flashy, just terribly good taste put together painstakingly. Floors are milled from old wool shed planks and the stout roof beams salvaged from early-day wharves and railroad bridges. Furniture is either New Zealand-sourced antiques or colonial period replicas. Bedrooms are commodious with massive glass doors flinging open over a reflection pond, the lake and the magnificent Humboldt mountains. The service at Blanket Bay is impeccable, with the just-hint-and-it -will-appear sensibility of a thoroughly top-notch hotel. What to do other than bask and eat gourmet Pacific-Rim cuisine? Have Choppy, the local (female) helicopter pilot land on the front lawn and spirit you off for some backcountry fly-fishing. For the active, attack the nearby Routeburn Track, one of the most picturesque hikes in the country (ask chef to load a backpack with trout and sauvignon blanc).

PO Box 35, Glenorchy; 64-3/442-9442, fax 64-3/ 442-9441; doubles from NZD$1,090. Tariff includes breakfast, cocktails and dinner.

Closer to Queenstown and less formal than Blanket Bay, Matakauri is a spanking new lodge teetering right over the waters of Wakatipu. More typical of a wholly New Zealand experience, the lodge is constructed around the incomparable view—180 uninterrupted degrees of the Remarkables, Cecil and Walter Peaks. And since there’s not an architect living that could trump this vista, the design is an uncomplicated, straight-lined affair predominantly built from glass. Native wood and stone are used where absolutely necessary. The result is understated while obviously upmarket. The four villas and three suites are designed for open air breezes in the summertime and intimacy during the frigid winters (consider skiing Queenstown’s slopes—in August). Each villa has rich timber trim against pale walls, a sitting area, open log fireplace, under-floor heating and bathrooms wherein you should plan on spending a large portion of your stay. Book the Manata or Cecil Peak villas with sliding windows beside a two-person tub (complete with aromatherapy candles) for bathing al fresco , with only cheeky fantail birds as voyeurs. The water below is so crystalline you can see the trout trolling for dinner. Retire in front of the floor-to-roofline glass of the main living room with a book from the library, sup award-winning local wines and watch the rosy southern sun sink behind a landscape Bill Clinton himself deemed “enchanted.”

PO Box 888, Queenstown; 64-3/441-1008, fax 64-3/441 2180,; doubles from NZD$600. Tariff includes breakfast, cocktails and table d’hôte dinner.

Whare Kea
Whare Kea, a six bedroom house-cum-lodge is a glorified version of the New Zealand homestay notion—only you get to take the house and ditch the family. Owned by prominent Australian retailers who use it as a winter ski retreat, Whare Kea can be rented in its entirety or by individuals. The building stands perched on a cliff over Lake Wanaka, a sparsely-developed area a two hour drive north of Queenstown (where well-heeled urbanites are fleeing now that Queenstown has “gotten glammed up”).

Architect, Australian John Mayne, based his design on the utilitarian space of the New Zealand farm shed. Hard to believe when you’re inside, gazing out the all-glass and metal pipe walls filled with a fantasy vista of the lake and soaring Southern Alps. The interior has a carefree familial atmosphere, with sat-in sofa’s, historical prints, photographs and maps, and help-yourself bar. The bedrooms have a lighter-than-air Nordic feel, each with that same breathstopping view. But if it’s solitude you’re seeking, be aware that meals are served with guests seated as a group, which could demand greater reserves of energy than some travelers have to offer. Whare Kea staff are friendly and casual and the cuisine is fashionably inventive. Those wanting to run the gauntlet of New Zealand’s notorious (and liability-less) near-death-experience sports, Wanaka is the latest epicenter. Choose between heli-biking, hydro-sledging, canyoning, parapunting and on and on. For the tamer among us, there’s very civilized hiking and wine-tasting.

PO Box 115, Lake Wanaka, 64-3/ 443-1400, fax 64-3/443-9200,; doubles from NZD$800. Whole lodge: $2,400 per day. Tariff includes breakfast, lunch, table d’hôte dinner.

Paratiho Farms
When American’s Robert and Sally Hunt left what they say was a crime-defiled America to seek paradise, they were in the position to stay in the world’s best hotels looking for it. Instead of finding their ideal, they found a matchless location and decided to build a lodge of their own. Paratiho is located on a working farm near Motueka, a one-pub town on the sunny Northern coast of the South Island. The lodge is palatial in many aspects, stuffed to the gills with treasures and art with signatures like George Rickey, Hans Hoffman and Alexander Lieberman. Outside, the sculpture garden alone evokes Storm King. The building was designed by Sun Valley architect, Jack Smith in a style he terms as “New Zealand design in metaphor,” although the pink monolith with verdigris roof can come as a shock, smack in the middle of 2,000 acres of lush pasture. The interior of the main lodge is almost unbearably rich at first—classical mixed with modernist, Europe with Asia, contemporary canvases flanked by Fortuny drapery. Only with time can you fully appreciate the preeminence of the collection. The six suites, housed in three free-standing cottages, are the most thoughtful mini-homes you could hope to find, complete with Persian rugs, fireplace, four-poster bed and fundamentals such as crystal whiskey tumblers, iron-on mending patch (you are, after all, on a farm) and a silver nutcracker. The cavernous bathrooms are the piece de résistence, with claw-foot tub, monsoon showerhead, makeup vanity, and bi-fold glass doors which peel back onto a private fern garden. The courtly Hunts dine nightly with guests as in-house chef Will van Heeswyck serves five courses of the country’s finest food and wines. Paratiho also has a full-service spa.

545 Waiwhero Road, R.D. 2, Upper Moutere, Nelson. 64-3/528-2100, fax 64-3/528-2101, Doubles NZD$1,850. Tariff includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, all beverages and wine.

Glenora Estate
Although probably not technically a lodge because they don’t serve dinner, Glenora is a must-know for the traveler passing through Auckland with a few days to kill. A 35-minute ferry ride away from the city center is Waiheke Island, weekend escape of the city’s elite. And on the Western-most end is Glenora Estate, a dead ringer for a hundred-year-old French farm house—with New Zealand verve. When visiting Europe, owners Sally and Derek Holland fell in love with the imperfect antiquity of the houses. “We were determined to go home and build a roughcast farmhouse with a thatched roof floating on top,” says Sally. The Hollands purchased eight acres of native bush overlooking sparkling Church Bay and set about building a pre-aged farmhouse (avec clay roof, thatch required too much maintenance). With true Kiwi ingenuity, they launched into the finished construction themselves. Derek laid the sandstone floors, cracking some for a worn look, and Sally grouted and acid washed them. She mixed horsehair with the limewash which covers the thick plaster walls, and black-caulked the demolition floor boards to give a heritage feel. They filled the place with French antiques, had Waiheke artisans hand-craft the finished carpentry, and then Sally put her tasteful touches to the quirky object scattered about. The final project was to plant a vineyard out front. In the main building there are two guest rooms and a separate “Brittany barn” in the potager garden. As far as finding dinner, one of Auckland’s best restaurants, the Mudbrick, is just minutes from Glenora.

Church Bay R.D 1, Waiheke, Auckland; 64-9/372-5082, fax 64-9/372-5087;
doubles from NZD$300. Tariff includes breakfast.

Kauri Cliffs
Add the name Kauri Cliffs to the swelling list of New Zealand’s luxury lodges. A grand mansion in the sublime bucolia of Northlands, North Island, it boasts one of the world’s latest “must-play” golf courses, with fifteen of the eighteen holes teetering over the Pacific Ocean. American owner and former fund manager, Julian Robertson, built the place because he and wife Josie wanted to “share the God-appointed fairways with others.” The lodge is colonial Kiwi-style—tin roof, sweeping pillared verandahs, timber floors, an abundance of fireplaces, huge floral ensembles, and beamed rooms furnished in one-off antiques for a lavish-private-home feel. Eight cottages nestle among native bush, each housing two ecru-hued suites, with view-grabbing windows and porch over the golf course. Despite being in the “backabeyond,” you’re assured gastronomic greatness thanks to innovative chef Paul Jobin. For the non-golfer, there’s a swimming pool, tennis, game fishing, scuba and some of the finest nature the country has to offer.

PO Box 800, Kerikeri, New Zealand, 64-9/ 405-1905; fax: fax 64-9/ 405-1901; (NOTE TO EDITOR...this website is diabolical, they are apparently working on putting a new one up right now); Email:; doubles $1,700 (New Zealand dollars), includes cocktails, breakfast and dinner. Golf rates $400 (NZD).

Treetops Lodge
During the Americas Cup, yachtie millionaires in need of terra firma had themselves helicoptered to Treetops, the latest of New Zealand’s superlodges in the central North Island. Deep in “Middle Earth’s” ancient forest outside Rotorua, the lodge is an outpost of adventure—without having to forfeit the foie gras. For the active, there are seven streams, four lakes, three waterfalls, and 60 miles of walking track under a sun-pierced canopy of fern trees. Alternatively, commune with all that nature through the floor-to-ceiling glass frontages of the vast stone and timber lodge, or while soaking in the spring-fed jet tubs of the secluded villas. Interiors are all about comfort and neutral elegance, with yards of overstuffed sofas, yawning fireplaces, native wood furniture, carved beams, and fossil-stone bathrooms. Nothing here attempts to outshine the perfection outside. The open kitchen whips out gourmet meals using the country’s most extravagant ingredients: green-lipped mussels, local pheasant, impossible-to-resist triple cream cheeses, and award-harvesting wines. And its all comes served with that Kiwi flair for friendly graciousness. So friendly that the millionaires can be spotted hugging the staff upon departure.

351 Kearoa Rd., RD1 Horohoro, Rotorua, New Zealand; 64-7/333-2066;; doubles from $1,025 USD.