Rising stars

New Zealand's coterie of luxury lodges continues to grow, renovate and reinvent. Max Anderson reports.

Matakauri, near Queenstown

Lodges alongside Lake Wakatipu are dwarfed by the aptly named Remarkable Mountains, snow-clad peaks savage enough to dwarf the egos of bazillionaire guests who stay at sumptuous hideaways such as Blanket Bay.

Adding another five stars to the shoreline is Matakauri, a newcomer from the group behind the outstanding Cape Kidnappers Farm, near Napier. The new 10-suite lodge will open on August 27, exhibiting some similar hyper-designed rusticity and cool contemporary Kiwi art. Head-turners will include the infinity pool and the en suite deep-water spa baths with views of peaks so fab you'll be making your own bubbles.

Go east for Queenstown, west for Glenorchy and all the glacial scenery appropriated by Peter Jackson for his Ring thing.

Matakauri has an introductory rate of $NZ595 ($485) a person a night, all-inclusive. See matakauri.co.nz.

Whare Kea Lodge and Chalet, near Wanaka

Fourteen-year-old Whare Kea is no spring chicken but it is a winter peacock thanks to its high-flying alpine chalet. If you can bear to be separated from the beautiful lakeside lodge, a private helicopter will take you thudding between peaks of the Buchanan Mountains to reach the otherwise inaccessible timber hut. Landing in deep snow alongside the structure perched at 1750 metres is possibly one of the more dramatic entrances you'll ever make.

The host will keep you in the comforts to which you are accustomed; the mountain guide will keep you alive. The chopper can hang around if powder hounds need to carve extra-virgin slopes. After lights out, expect to understand the sort of isolation felt by astronauts.

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Cost is from $NZ1250 (double) a night, all-inclusive; overnight chalet costs $NZ4950 all-inclusive (maximum four). See www.wharekealodge.com.

Split Apple Retreat, near Nelson

Three couples can stay at this new and quite unusual retreat to enjoy ocean-side finery, as well as a dedicated program of rebalance and wellness. To help purge life's stress-induced toxins, there's Japanese-inspired design, infrared sauna, outdoor spa pool, infinity pool and an exotic menu of massage. Your hosts are a Hawaiian doctor and his Thai wife, the former giving you a rundown on your state of stress, the latter serving five-star ''functional'' food - that's food designed to do something other than simply add to your waistline. (Yes, they serve wine but no children and no smoking.)

Upping the harmony is your private beach and nearby Abel Tasman National Park. The best souvenir of your stay is a renewed dedication to healthier living.

Cost is from $NZ800 a person a night, all-inclusive, twin share. See splitappleretreat.com.

Otahuna, near Christchurch

Otahuna is the reno to end all renos - a restoration of a historic stately home that once hosted visiting royals. Today it's a period drama of gables, verandahs and staircases, with grounds and kitchen gardens suitable for any Jane Austen fantasy you may harbour. This year, however, the American owner-hosts are shaking things up-up-and-away with a heli-experience package called World in a Day. Lift off from the trimmed lawn to visit Franz Josef Glacier, touch down for champers on a mountain top, do fly-pasts of forests, waterfalls and the country's highest peak, Mount Cook, and take lunch on an isolated west coast beach.

A lodge suite costs from $NZ1350 a night, all-inclusive; heli-package costs $NZ7300 (three passengers). See otahuna.co.nz.

Lake Okareka Lodge, near Rotorua

More an exclusive retreat than a lodge, Lake Okareka has recently merged six suites into three, deciding half as much is twice as good. And indeed it is, affording the top-floor dweller a penthouse-like 120 square metres. Lake Okareka is the Kiwi answer to the Hamptons and the lodge's contemporary opulence is well-suited to its private water frontage.

But exclusivity is the main draw; a couple can get the run of the place for $NZ5005 a night, complete with 24-hour butler service, chef and a larder chock full of NZ goodies. If you want to better the cost, take another two couples, each paying $NZ1000 a night.

Rotorua's bubbly personality is 15 minutes away but you'll probably surrender to home pleasures - quaffing wine in the lakeside spa, fly-fishing for trout or hooting across the volcanic lake on your jet-ski.

Cost is from $NZ5005 for first couple, $NZ1000 for each extra couple, all-inclusive (excluding GST). See lebua.com.

Lydia Bradey mountain tour, out of Eichardt's, Queenstown

Eichardt's Private Hotel is a nine-suite sanctuary of lakeside calm in Queenstown, the adrenalin outpost where people like to party. Ahipara Luxury Travel offers an exclusive wilderness experience for guests staying in South Island lodges (including Eichardt's), offering a heli-tour of the South Island in the company of Lydia Bradey. The first woman to climb Everest without oxygen, Bradey will take you to her favourite far-flung peaks in Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland and, thanks to permissions from the Department of Conservation, you'll be touching down in places where few have gone before. What you do there is up to you: ice climbing, walking, gourmet picnicking, whatever you fancy. Three hours of flying time gives you a whopper chopper range. Eichardt's costs from $NZ1425 a night (including breakfast); heli-tour costs $NZ10,000 (four guests). See eichardtshotel.co.nz; ahipara.com.

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