Inspiring article by Portfolio featuring an exclusive luxury tour in the paradise of New Zealand… this is what dreams are made of!
OUT OF THIS WORLD
Of crayfish, choppers and super-lodges
Kia Ora and welcome to paradise. This story is about the luxury side of New Zealand – North Island and South. It is about the unique super lodges we stayed in, the private chefs, the spectacular helicopter flights, the lobsters we caught on a remote West coast beach, the impressive infinity pools we dipped into, the world-class wines we sampled as well as the wonderful people we met.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we hope you enjoyed the flight with Air New Zealand. On behalf of the entire crew we wish you a wonderful stay in what many believe to be the most beautiful country in the world.”
I smile and couldn’t agree more. There is a reason after all why I’ve been to NZ so many times over the past twenty years. We have just landed in the Bay of Islands - a mere 30-minutes north of Auckland - and are headed to esteemed The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, one of NZ’s oldest luxury lodges. Kauri Cliffs sits on a 6,000 acre piece of Māori land and is a true golfer’s heaven featuring a stunning 18-hole course overlooking the Pacific Ocean. To stretch our legs we start our stay with a rather exciting guided walk. Not only do we get to see an impressive 1000 year old endemic Kauri tree and a herd of cuddly baby lambs that we totally fall for, we also get to sample the famous Manuka Honey and even see a glimpse of one of the rare kiwi birds that live in the native forests of Kauri Cliffs. After this beautiful walk we reward ourselves with a visit to the lodge’s spa for a revitalizing Vichy water massage treatment. I’m quite surprised to see an original Miro painting as I walk into the spa – but hey, this is one of the many touches that make The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs such a memorable place. Dinner that night is served in the lodge’s elegant private dining room together with General Manager Martin Hamilton after enjoying a glass of champagne in the lounge whilst the sun sets over the vast ocean mist. What a first day!
The next morning, our Scottish friend John heads out to play a round of golf with the resident pro whilst Tina and William from Hong Kong, Chisato from Japan and I opt for a fishing session on Kauri Cliffs’ private beach. None of us has ever done any fishing before and I have to admit that it requires a lot more skill and patience than expected. We try hard but in the end I would not call our catch a tremendous success – the experience of being on a totally secluded, stunningly beautiful beach and trying something new however was a tremendous delight. To round off this morning, we get to enjoy a private BBQ on the beach. John is back from his game of golf and whilst we have fresh seafood, crisp salads and a traditional rack of lamb, we all share stories of the experiences we have just had. And obviously we make our only catch – a bit of soggy seaweed – sound a lot more attractive than it actually was – well, isn’t that what all hobby fishermen do?
The afternoon holds another highlight as we get picked up by helicopter. Our lovely pilot will not only take us on an amazing flight across the Bay of Islands but eventually bring us to our next lodge for the night – acclaimed Eagle’s Nest. Soaring over the uncountable little islands, the remote beaches, the bright turquoise waters, stunning villas and little picturesque settlements is quite a treat. To our total surprise we even land on top of the area’s famous “Hole in the Rock” – a formation that you normally only get to go through by boat! We truly appreciate this unique opportunity, the stunning views and the intel our pilot shares about the Māori rituals that are still regularly held on this famous piece of NZ rock.
Eagle’s Nest is a luxury property that features a hand full of private villas near the little town of Russel. Our lovely host James gives us a warm welcome and we are immediately taken by his genuine British charm, the villa’s inviting modern design, the vast living area as well as the stunning bedrooms with 300° sea views – but the highlight of Eagle’s Nest clearly is the 25 m infinity pool overlooking the amazing bay. Whilst our private chef Francois prepares a delicious French meal made out of the freshest local produce and my friends enjoy their chilled aperitif I cannot but dip into the stunning pool and go for a swim into the setting sun. Bay of Islands – you never cease to impress me!
The next morning, we wake up to the smell of fresh crêpes – oh what a lovely surprise! After a yummy breakfast on the terrace and another swim in our stunning pool we head out to the sea for a sailing trip on a private catamaran. Flying across the Bay of Islands by chopper was obviously great but sailing around the many little islands and bays in a catamaran isn’t anything less I have to admit. Wind in our hair, champagne in our hands and cameras ready for the hundredth selfie we soon get into the groove and can’t get enough of the beautiful sail on this cat. For lunch we stop at The Landing – an exquisite vineyard with a handful of remarkable private villas very suitable for multi-gen families or little groups – a rather compelling place. No wonder the likes of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have stayed here in the past.
From the beautiful Bay of Islands we head south. This time we get picked up in a historic seaplane that first takes us to Auckland’s Waiheke Island for a rather special vineyard tour and another impeccable lunch. We all enjoy the flight as much as the unique water landing and have a great time on Waiheke – even if it is only a short stay.
From Waiheke the funky little seaplane takes us to Rotorua – famous for its thermal activities and the deep Māori heritage. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland might be a tad touristy but it is arguably one of the world’s most impressive places to see thermal activities, admire the bright red hot pools, see impressive geysers shoot water fountains high into the air, witness the ever so intriguing bubbling mud pools and simply get a glimpse of what mother earth is made of deep inside. Another worthwhile sight in the area are the famous Huka Falls with an impressive 220.000 litres of crystal clear water shooting down every second of the hour, every hour of the day, 356 days of the year. A few hundred metres upstream – away from the hustle and bustle of this tourist attraction lies another of NZ’s old established luxury lodges – the Huka Lodge. A beautifully tranquil and almost homely luxury retreat. The Queen of England has stayed here several times and we all know that she has rather exquisite taste.
After a healthy breakfast in the legendary ‘Queen’s Room’ (possibly sitting on the chair that The Queen used during her last visit) we say good-bye to Huka Lodge and make our way to Poronui Lodge – a premier sporting lodge nestled in the vast Taharua Valley an hour outside of Taupo. Poronui is famous for its prime hunting and fly-fishing and welcomes sports fishers and hunters from all over the world. Our little group has booked into Blake House, a rustic yet luxurious private villa hidden in the vast mountains surrounded by nothing but native bush. We opt to only shoot with our cameras and are happy about the time we spend unwinding in this remote location. For breakfast the local Māori guide Tom Loughlin drops by to share some captivating insights into the century old Māori culture and his local iwi (= tribe). We are captivated and I notice goose bumps more than once as he tells us about the relevance of the spiritual space in relation to the physical world, about Tane the forest, about Mana the spiritual power and about Manaaki the old tradition of hosting and welcoming guests. At Poronui it’s not about the Haka or the touristy Māori performance – the encounter we get to experience is the real thing – it is a deep insight into the spiritual world of a rather exceptional culture. One that we will certainly never forget, tēnā rawa atu koe (= thank you)!
After a few unforgettable days on the North Island it is time to explore the beautiful south. Our private luxury tour first takes us to the lovely town of Christchurch with its historical city centre and the many lovely little boutique shops. To enjoy a particularly exclusive lunch degustation in a Victorian villa surrounded by the most pristine English gardens we drive to Otahuna Lodge a little out of town. If only I could have managed to bribe the chef for his strawberry tart recipe – it was simply divine! For the night we head to The Homestead at Pigeon Bay’s luxury collection Annandale. The five course meal our private chef creates is marvellous, the drinks by the cracking fireplace a treat, the stargazing in the hot spa pool unforgettable, the rooms elegant and with this distinct colonial charm and the dolphins we see the next day on a boat tour organised by Annandale nothing short of amazing. Overall quite a beautiful stay!
Next, our luxury lodge hopping takes us to the alpine town of Queenstown in the centre of the South Island. Back in the mid 19th century the area featured some of the world’s most productive gold fields and was know for its enormous gold rush. Today, the picturesque little town of Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of the world (after all commercial bungee jumping was invented here), as retreat for the international money elite with ever climbing real estate prices, as the southern hemisphere’s leading ski resort, as nature lovers’ paradise or simply as serious bucket list material.
We have decided to stay in the iconic Eichardt’s Private Hotel - built in 1859 and situated in the heart of Queenstown, on the lakefront with stunning views over Lake Wakatipu and right where all the shopping is! After a relaxed glass of local desert wine in the hotel’s private lounge upstairs we head to yet another highlight of this trip and a prestigious past time all the same – the opening tournament of the newly established Queenstown Polo Club. Players from New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Singapore and England compete against the first trophy to be won in this promising new polo club. Some of my friends have never watched a game of polo before but you know what? With all the action on the field, the horses, the good commentary, the excellent wine and food we’re being served, the elegant marquee we sit under, the great chat we have with owner Jonathan Gabler, the fantastic company and the relaxed atmosphere they enjoy it just as much as me. Another day to be remembered as particularly unforgettable!
From Lake Wakatipu our private chauffeur takes us across the Crown Range to Lake Wanaka – another true South Island gem. The next stunning lodge we stay at is the high country luxury homestead Mahu Whenua – originally developed by none other than Shania Twain and ex-husband Mutt Lange. Located in the mountains on a vast 135 thousand acres piece of private land, Mahu Whenua is an eco-sanctuary as much as a home away from home. Luxurious, homely, welcoming, charming and paired with the most heart-warming hospitality Mahu Whenua is simply a place where your soul can breathe. I would have loved to spend a few more days in this remote mountain paradise and done some horse riding across this beautiful land…but this will have to wait till next time as our amazing luxury lodge-hopping journey goes on to the next unique location.
Have you ever had the opportunity to be amongst the first in any lodge? Well, in our case, we are the second set of guests that are able to spend the night at the newly opened The Lindis – an iconic and architecturally rather distinct luxury lodge located in the pristine Ahuriri Valley. It is hard to describe what makes The Lindis so special as it is appealing in so many ways. Is it the unique setting away from civilisation in the most beautifully stunning scenery? Is it the five designer suites that invite you to forget any stress you ever had? Is it the unparalleled wine cellar? The wonderful team around General Manager William Hudson? Or the impressive stargazing you can do whilst relaxing in your hot bubble bath once the sun has set over the surrounding mountain peaks? Whatever it is…there sure is something quite compelling about The Lindis and I can see how the distinct travellers from all over the world will soon fall in love with this new designer luxury lodge.
After a few magnificent days it is time to leave The Lindis, its lovely team and the spectacular location with its million dollar views. Our helicopter is ready to take us on what will not only be an amazing flight across the Southern Alps but more so an absolutely unforgettable experience. Dan our pilot is a true southern man and has been with Alpine Helicopters for half of his life. I like him instantly and feel totally at ease as we soar above the snow-capped peaks, dive deep down into remote valleys, fly low over the vast native forest, rise high above the clouds and eventually land on a totally secluded West Coast beach. Well, actually it is not totally secluded - rather totally packed as Dan has landed our chopper in the middle of a huge seal colony! WOW! Our cameras ready we carefully step out and watch in awe as these beautiful creatures assess us with just the same amount of curiosity. They might not smell great but the opportunity of being so close to them, hearing their deep roars, watching the little ones play and taking some great shots up close is pretty amazing I must say. We’re kind of sad as we have to leave again but our guide Dough says they’ve got yet another surprise up their sleeve, so on we fly along the coast. New Zealand’s West coast is wild. Loud. Misty. Rough. Barren. Secluded. But equally captivating, thrilling and unique. A few kilometres down we land on a black sand beach and Doug asks us to get out. He then takes off the helicopter’s door and attaches a rescue hook and a long metal wire. Hmmm…no idea what kind of ‘surprise’ the boys have prepared but let the show begin! And what a show it is! With James Bond like precision they fly the heli out to the open sea, aim the rescue hook over a little red buoy that wildly bounces in the roaring waves and soon pull out a huge metal crate. A chopper, a hook and a crate in the sea? That’s what I call helicopter crayfish catching at it’s very best! Oh my God, especially our Hong Kong-nese friends Tina and William cannot believe their luck as we are invited to pick one whole crayfish each. And mind you these are the really big fellows we’re talking about, not the little ones.
The rest of the crayfish are released, the crate put back into place and with some more than content smiles in our faces we take off again. But wait, there’s another highlight soon awaiting us - a landing on top of a spectacular glacier for some stunning poser shots, more ohs and ahs and a super fun little snowball fight. Can this day get any better? It actually can as our crayfish are yet to be had! As this is not your normal helicopter flight but a helicopter excursion of unparalleled superlatives we obviously don’t just have our pray cooked in a fine restaurant. Alpine kitchen and luxury picnic is the way to go – so we soon sit down at the glamping table on a tussock framed plateau high in up in the mountains, enjoy a glass of chilled champagne while Dan and Dough cook our crayfish to perfection on a little gas stove they brought along. This is quite the way to enjoy a luxurious meal and Tina swears she had never had better crayfish before.
For afternoon tea we visit a rather unusual lodge – one that I really wish we had booked to stay for a few days – Minaret Station. Set in a remote valley and only accessible by air, this alpine luxury lodge is heaven for nature lovers, couples and those who seek unusual experiences just like our fantastic helicopter ride.
Our last night is there and tomorrow we will all fly home. To enjoy the more remote side of Queenstown, we have decided to spend our last evening at the prestigious Blanket Bay lodge a bit further down the lake. Blanket Bay is marketed as NZ’s Ultimate Alpine Escape and said to be one of the world’s best luxury lodges. Is it true? I don’t know. All I can say is that Blanket Bay is a remarkable luxury lodge and a lovely way to bring our outstanding luxury lodge hopping tour to an end in a lot of style.
The next morning it is time to say good-bye to bucket list country number one. Highlight after highlight after highlight seemed to have been the motto of this luxury lodge hopping tour. Unforgettable experiences, extraordinary memories, million dollar shots and strengthened friendships is what we will take home. And one thing is for sure - we will be back as Aotearoa is the perfect place for a super luxury retreat!
Published by: Portfolio Singapore