New Zealand gives good VIP and VIO (very important occasion) treatment. At the top end, the pristine landscape is matched by impeccable service. From hotels and luxury lodges to restaurants, wine producers and hip neighbourhood bars and cafes, our antipodean neighbours love taking things up a notch.
Wharekauhau Lodge in New Zealand's North Island
The country is a famous testing ground for new ideas – a tech incubator, political frontier and luxury honeypot. In the 19th century, it was the first country to allow women to vote. Now, it’s Jacinda Ardern territory – the world’s youngest female leader and one of the most progressive.
To the rest of the world, the Land of the Long White Cloud is the end of
the earth, but for Australians it’s just a three-hour hop across the Tasman Sea and a two-hour time difference from Australian Eastern Standard Time. It’s slightly larger in size than Great Britain, but has a population of only about five million.
Even in the cities, there’s a sense of time and space. You can’t do it in a weekend, but Australians can do it over multiple long weekends, and there is no shortage of bar-raising accommodation and innovative food to fuel the adventure.
South Island – Queenstown and Surrounds
Zipping across Mount Aspiring National Park over glaciers and icy lakes, the helicopter pilot pulls up on a peak and, in a luxury travel masterstroke, cracks open the champagne. Next stop is lunch at Minaret Station, at the head of a glacial valley within the Southern Alps, near Wanaka, for a multi-course meal that will make you feel like a VIP (most diners actually are).
The whole experience costs a lavish $1450 per person – chump change for Hollywood royalty, bucket-list prices for the rest of us.
The Penthouse at Eichardt's Private Hotel
Set yourself up on the best spot on Lake Wakatipu in an apartment-sized room that nails cosy chic. Cue the touch-operated fireplace and supersized bath. The in-house restaurants The Grille and legendary Eichardt’s Bar give this hotel a big hit of atmosphere. The best room in the house – and some say the country – is The Penthouse, roughly $10,000 a night. But the new nautical offering, Pacific Jemm, is just as lavish. Adventurous guests with cash to splash can take to the water in plush surrounds for about $12,500 a night for up to 10 people. Go all in with a custom fireworks upgrade.
Change of Pace
Out of town but only just, The Elms on Lake Hayes is pure luxury. Comprising three amazing villas – two three-bedroom havens and a four-bedroom option – which can be combined, this exclusive complex is set for the ultimate group holiday, or perfect if you never travel without your glam squad. It’s smack bang in the middle of Central Otago wine region (award-winning vineyard Amisfield is just 100 metres away) and a short drive in the house Land Rover to the Coronet Peak ski field. Villas start around $6000 per night, but that includes the private chef.
Cape Palliser Lighthouse at Wairarapa on the North Island
North Island – Wellington and Wharekauhau
On a fantasy holiday, there’s no need to exert yourself. Break up the travel with a short stay in Wellington. The Sofitel is a fantastic base for exploring the capital’s buzziest precincts: Lambton Quay for views and Hannah’s Laneway for innovative food trucks. The perfect short stint includes dinner at Rita, an intimate eatery with elevated wholesome food. By day, take in the Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War exhibition at Museum of New Zealand. For lunch, drop by Pickle & Pie – Wellington’s take on a NYC delicatessen.
The Sofitel lies in the heart of Wellington's food and culture scene
Wairarapa is food and wine heaven, packed with producers who are intent on taking their crafts to the next level. Organise a chauffeur and drive about 45 minutes to Martinborough, a cute town that features more than 20 wineries, most within cycling and walking distance of the quaint village square. At The Wine Bank, you can sample more than 60 local wines. Then soak it up with lunch or a platter at Poppies vineyard.
The next day, it’s a twisting, turning 90-minute drive through clouds and Middle-earth-like scenery to Wharekauhau Lodge in the Wairarapa region. Wills and Kate put their feet up here in 2014. Since then, the property’s chef Marc Soper was named Chef of the Nation twice. Embedded between water and mountainside on a working farm, the lodge is all about bliss – super special but also relaxed – where guests are treated as family. Days are spent quad biking through the secluded property, pigeon clay shooting and soothing tired muscles in the Hauora Spa. Then it’s dinner, which starts with cocktails and canapés around the fire, followed with a “locavorian” menu where everything is sourced from the gardens and surrounding area.
This article originally appeared in the October issue of marie claire.