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Weekend in wonderland at Blanket Bay, New Zealand

Tell anyone you’re going to Queenstown in New Zealand and the first thing they think is “adventure town” – bungee jumping, skydiving, mountain biking, hiking. Mention you’re going to Glenorchy and you may get a confused look.

But in just 45 minutes on a scenic winding road, you can leave the hustle and bustle of Queenstown and reach Glenorchy, population 465. A few minutes from here, nestled by the sapphire waters of Lake Wakatipu, sits Blanket Bay Luxury Lodge, the perfect spot to relax, cosy up by the fire and enjoy a beautiful degustation and fine wines whilst still being close enough to experience all the action this part of the world has to offer.

The floor-to-ceiling windows of the main lodge give an unobstructed view of the incredible blue lake and snow-capped mountains. The lodge has a relaxed, comfortable feel, and it is so tempting to curl up on one of the soft leather lounges and enjoy the warmth of the blazing fire with a cup of tea or glass of local wine – which we did most evenings before dinner. The main lodge has eight guestrooms and is equipped with a games room, movie room with self-serve bar, heated outdoor lap pool and wine cellar.

The path to our private chalet suite is flanked by long-stemmed magenta cosmos, white and violet hydrangeas and beautiful wild lavender. The stone cottage-like chalets reflect NZ colonial architecture, with an open fireplace, and living area with views of the lake and gardens.

 

Mountain and lake views from the pool

 

At 6:30pm it’s cocktail hour and we enjoy a glass of local Amisfield red wine and watch the sunset before beginning our five-course meal. The menu changes daily, and you make your dinner selection during cocktail hour. Although it is chilly, the outdoor setting is equipped with blankets, heaters and a fire. We choose this option most evenings to get the most of the crisp, clean air. Each meal is created from mostly local produce – wild mushroom soup, seared scallops, slow-cooked free-range NZ beef, and desserts such as pavlova with lemon curd and fresh fruit, or a local cheese platter. We walk away perfectly satisfied, but not overdone. With a flick of a switch, the fire in our room is blazing as we climb into bed.

It would be easy to sleep in, as the sun doesn’t rise early and the beds are so comfortable, but there is so much to experience.  Breakfast is a bounty of fruits, cereals, muesli and breads, along with an à la carte menu with porridge, eggs and the works. We enjoy toasted sourdough with crispy pancetta and melted mozzarella with seared baby tomatoes.

At 9am we’re collected by the Dart River shuttle bus to take us to Glenorchy for our Dart River Wilderness jet boat ride, which actually begins with a 4WD trip around the Rees Valley and a short walk through ancient beech forest. We get fitted with rain jackets and life vests and then it’s into the boat and off at top speed through the clear, shallow waters of the Dart River. Our trust is with the driver as we skim past rock faces and sandbanks, missing them by mere centimetres, hanging on for dear life to the (heated) handlebars as we do 360-degree turns.

Back in Glenorchy, we explore the few shops and restaurants. The Glenorchy Cafe is a local favourite where you can purchase a delicious sandwich on homemade bread or a slice of berry crumble. The General Store sells souvenirs, groceries, camping equipment and healthy homemade snacks.

That afternoon we enjoy a private horse ride around Wyuna Station, which is exclusive to Blanket Bay. The two-hour ride is the perfect way to immerse ourselves in nature and see how beautiful the property actually is, riding around the outskirts of the lodge and along the shores of the lake.

The next morning we plan a helicopter ride with Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters. After breakfast, we enjoy a moment by the fire with a cup of tea, chatting to general manager Brent Hyde. He pauses mid-sentence to say he hears out helicopter approaching. Sure enough, within a minute or two, it lands right in front of the dining area.

We hop in and wave goodbye to Blanket Bay (sadly, we will be transported straight to Queenstown airport after the flight). I can’t think of a better place to embark on my first helicopter ride – the scenery is jaw-dropping.

Fortunately, the wind is just right for us to land briefly on the mountaintop. We jump out onto the white snow, greeted by a gust of icy air, and take a few snaps. It’s breathtaking. We fly over Milford Sound for a bird’s-eye view then, after a 30-minute stopover, head back across the mountains to Queenstown. It’s been a 2.5-hour flight, but I feel like we’ve been gone for a whole day, my adrenaline pumping the entire time.

Back in Queenstown, ready to hop on my plane, I reflect that it’s been the perfect three-day trip – unique experiences amid spectacular scenery. Once again, New Zealand has exceeded my expectations. I will certainly be coming back here soon for more.

 

Landing on the glacier via helicopter | Kelly Allen

 

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