Like almost every part of New Zealand, the landscape delivers on the promise of 100 per cent pure. Regular travellers will know already that Queenstown itself is urbane. Great dining experiences, outdoor clothing stores, cafes and a sophisticated global citizenry as so many of the world’s well-heeled have migrated to make Queenstown their home, or second home. It could be a boutique Colorado experience, given the number of private jets parked on the airport these days.
Our first stop was not to be Queenstown itself but the stunning Lake Wanaka, a 70-kilometre drive north where New Zealand also delivered on its famous Luxury Lodge promise. We self-drove in the early evening to Whare Kea Lodge, built and still owned by Martyn and Louise Myer. Their twenty-something daughter Lucy Myer, and her partner, were in residence for some of our stay and we got a glimpse of the lodge in its pre-incarnation as a family getaway through Lucy’s eyes as a young child. Over the next two days we fished on the lake, journeyed into town, rode horseback through local vineyards and skied Cardrona Alpine Resort.
The food at Whare Kea Lodge was sensational. Breakfast cooked to order. Pre-dinner drinks and then a menu and complementary wines from the Central Otago region (lots of incredible Pinor Noir) that would both be at home in premium restaurants in any of the world’s most sophisticated capitals. That’s because of Whare Kea Lodge’s UK born and trained executive chef James Stapley who, on our final night, brought an extravagant Heston Blumenthal-inspired signature to the table: our smoked duck came with a lid which, when lifted, released a plume of wood smoke designed to alert the senses to what would follow.
We travelled with our eight year old who was both embraced and catered to by the lodge staff – we dined privately one evening in the entrainment room and played Lord of the Rings on DVD, enjoying spotting the mountains in the film which were the backdrop to our breakfast table each morning.
Our smoked duck came with a lid which, when lifted, released a plume of wood smoke designed to alert the senses to what was to follow.
Our morning’s fishing excursion was an only-in-New Zealand experience. We were escorted to the base of the property where we were met by Chris Riley from Eco Wanaka Adventures, a Kiwi from central casting. We motored by boat under his control to an entrance to Lake Wanaka where water flowed in from the mountains and the trout kindly congregated. With some expert help, we each landed our dinner before motoring to Mou Waho Island, home to a rare flightless bird called a Weka (also known as the Maori hen) which proved to have a penchant for the biscuits laid out for us to enjoy with a cup of tea. These birds have never known hostility – there are no cats or predators of any kind on their remote island home – so they are both curious and courageous. One sauntered around us for a while and then in the blink of an eye, hopped up on our table and made a determined dash, grab, stash and getaway with a biscuit. Our son loved it as Chris pursued this friendly, overgrown bird into the scrub in vein. (It’s not good for them to develop a taste for biscuits.) But the bird was not to be seen again.
Our first ski day allowed us to appreciate one of the luxuries of New Zealand lodge living with a door-to-mountain snowfield delivery that could rival many ski-in, ski-out experiences. We were collected after a leisurely breakfast and then relaxed to enjoy the scenery on the 30-minute drive, transitioning into alpine panorama as we worked our way up to Cardona Alpine Resort in the Crown Range.
An oversized penguin – the resort’s mascot – greeted us at the mountain base adding to our son’s sense of excitement. The mountain itself offered a good family mix of terrain – gentle runs for beginners and long, smooth, sweeping runs with spectacular vantage points for an intermediate skier like me. There is some terrain for more advanced and/or adventurous skiers, although the place to go for more of that sort of thrill would likely be nearby Treble Cone Ski Area above Lake Wanaka or heli-skiing in national park locations nearby including from Whare Kea Lodge’s sister property, a Chalet high up on the north side of Dragonfly Peak on the edge of nearby Mount Aspiring National Park.
The flight to Queenstown from Sydney is three hours and with great ski resorts like Cardrona and Treble Cone near to truly extraordinary hospitality experiences like Whare Kea Lodge with its mountain transfer service, there’s little to match it anywhere in the southern hemisphere for a convenient, luxury ski experience.
Rooms are priced from NZ$791.50 (about A$723) plus taxes per night twin share and include pre dinner drinks and canapés, five-course dinner, breakfast and full use of the lodge facilities.
During the ski season, Air New Zealand flies to Queenstown daily from Sydney and Melbourne. Return economy fares are priced from A$535 and there is no business class on the route. Flight time is around three hours.
From Queenstown, Whare Kea is a one-hour drive and the lodge can arrange private car transfers. Heli transfers are also available with the helicopter landing directly on the lawn of the lodge. Contact Whare Kea for rates.
WHEN TO GO
The New Zealand ski season runs from June to October, but it is best to check with the individual resorts for their opening dates.