Before their arrival at Matakauri Lodge, about 10 minutes' outside Queenstown on New Zealand's South Island - about three hours flying time from Australia's east coast - guests are asked about their mode of transport, providing a large hint as to its target clientele. Will you be arriving by helicopter? Er, no. I'll be coming not by chopper but by Corolla. A Hertz Toyota Corolla. But I still get an amazing arrival on dusk, as Queenstown's surrounding peaks that rise powerfully above central Lake Wakatipu are spectacularly tinged chocolate, vanilla and strawberry like gargantuan Neapolitan ice-cream scoops. What a treat.
Exclusive luxury lodges are to New Zealand as ryokans are to Japan. There's no handbook for how to create one of these lodges except that it must be unequivocally indulgent, giddily expensive and possess the ability for its stupendous setting to not only momentarily rob you of your breath, but to run away with it like an All Blacks winger. Early versions were hunting and fishing-fixated and decorated with ghastly animal trophy heads. Matakauri, in sharp contrast, was designed by Virginia Fisher, the doyenne of Kiwi interior chic, and is unfailingly contemporary in its use of stone, timber and glass with calming, lightly-hued Scandinavian-like tonings throughout. However, impressive as it is, after more than a decade under its current ownership a refresh, while by no means urgent, can't be too far away, particularly when it's blessed with a clientele with the highest expectations.
My enormous deluxe suite-cum-villa suite, set apart from the others and is reached by an extended pathway from the main lodge building, is nestled in landscaped gardens with every conceivable accoutrement awaiting you inside. The bedroom is on a mezzanine level with shutters affording privacy and darkness, while the twin-basin bathroom - itself almost as big as some hotel rooms - features an oversized tub right next to floor-to-ceiling windows. Morning reveals arresting views of Lake Wakatipu, the snow-smothered Remarkables ranges and Cecil and Walter Peaks.
FOOD + DRINK
Food and wine is an essential component of the New Zealand luxury lodge offering, with Matakauri Lodge no exception. True to form, the dining room delivers striking panoramic views (do you detect a pattern here?) as well as accomplished modern New Zealand dishes by chef Jonathan Rogers served by a polished wait staff who could dispense with the faintly stuffy black and white kit for something a bit more suitably, well, lodgey. The adjacent lounge areas are serviced by roaring fires in winter and presumably whenever it's nippy and rudely snug leather armchairs and sofas. And, yes, that Picasso tapestry on the wall near the restaurant is genuine and part of the art collection belonging to the US-based Robertson family, owners of the lodge.
OUT + ABOUT
Matakauri is a hard place to leave while you're there, let alone when you check out, but a range of experiences are offered by the lodge from fully-guided winery tours to skiing and sight-seeing tours by helicopters. Despite the lodge's serene and isolated location, central Queenstown and its plethora of restaurants, bars, cafes and adrenaline-infused activities are minutes away. With the lodge located just outside of town, you get a headstart on the scenic drive to Glenorchy - Lord of the Rings heartland - where a host of outdoor activities are available.
If you're ever so fortunate to be able to experience a world-class New Zealand luxury lodge, Matakauri Lodge is a peerless starting point. At least once in your life, even for a night, embrace the opportunity.
Rates from $NZ1874.50 ($1686.37) a night (minimum nights stay may be applicable) inclusive of accommodation and pre-dinner drinks, dinner, breakfast and lunch (excluding wine and liquor). See robertsonlodges.com; queenstownnz.co.nz
OUR SCORE OUT OF FIVE
How's the serenity? Perfect, thanks bro. It's hard to believe Queenstown is so readily accessible from the lodge
All of that tranquillity and indulgence does come at a hefty price-tag, fully in accordance with the exclusive nature of the New Zealand luxury lodge concept