New Zealand’s Ultimate Luxury Lodge
Time stands still at Queenstown’s peerless Matakauri Lodge—at least until you head for the nearby slopes.
There’s an ease to things at Matakauri Lodge. That’s not to suggest it’s anything other than one of New Zealand’s, indeed, this region’s, finest luxury lodges—but there is a sense of warming simplicity that blankets time spent here. It’s to do with the setting: 10 kilometres outside New Zealand’s famed Queenstown, along a meandering road shadowed by fir pines which leads to a hidden parcel of land nudging the crisp, clear waters of Lake Wakatipu. The mountains of Cecil and Walter Peaks, as well as The Remarkables, frame the outlook—a truly mesmerising natural vista that even the sharpest photography cannot replicate.
It also has to do with the ways of the staff and the service—what is delivered is friendly, welcoming and the antithesis of the fustiness that still drapes certain renowned luxury properties. It is attentive without being intrusive, a service that knows what you want before you realise it (read: a morning coffee, order remembered from the previous day, installed in a car for an early-morning trek to the snowfields).
Matakauri comprises a main communal lodge and a smattering of low-slung private “suites” (label them villas) each built to draw those aforementioned views inside. Each boasts a spacious lounge with daybed and statement chairs, as well as a mezzanine bedroom and lavish double-basin bathroom with bath, the main areas treated to a wonderful central fireplace (gas) and a muted interiors palette across greys, white and some pops of ochre. Sit, lie or soak in a bath and lose yourself to the natural world and its daily dance of colour and light across the mountains and lake.
Matakauri also offers an expansive and secluded four-bedroom Owner’s Cottage—a private wonderland that is one of the region’s ultimate exclusive-use properties and which, like the villas, boasts interiors by acclaimed designer Virginia Fisher, her subtle eye lending to natural timber, stone and fabrics. Know that this is where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka Wills and Kate) tucked up when visiting the area in 2014.
The main lodge exists around a central fireplace and acts as meeting point, reception, as well as housing the dining and lounge rooms. Evening cocktails are encouraged—and complimentary—with prices here inclusive of all meals, which are beautifully crafted by chef Jonathan Rogers using the finest local produce.
While you’ll occasionally see and smile at other guests, most keep to themselves. This is a private escape, mostly couples, guests drawn from across the globe (Paris and New York on our recent visit), as well as a smattering of locals and Australians.
At Matakauri, it’s possible for days to be completely lost to a book, multiple baths or simply being enveloped by the very real sounds of silence and the stillness. In fact, awaking each morning to the views from bed (that elevated position is quite something), movement beyond the doona can prove unappealing—which would be a shame given that this is Queenstown and the proximity to the Southern Hemisphere’s finest ski fields.
The closest to town—The Remarkables—is a rolling playground of terrain that can accommodate all levels, though it arguably leans towards intermediates, those starting out and families. Being 30 minutes’ drive from “downtown” Queenstown can mean some crowds—especially on the bluebird days “Remarks” is known for, given its north-facing aspect and the way its valley setting offers certain protections. It’s possible to avoid queues, though, by hiring a private instructor.
Not only will you get some tips regardless of your level, an instructor can act as a personal guide, navigating the mountains and finding the best spots.
Nearby Coronet Peak feels bigger and wider than its official 280 hectares—a mountain of three main lifts with multiple opportunities to carve out a desired day, be it cruising some easy groomers, or chasing speed, bumps, kickers or jumps. Coronet (this being a ski field, always expect the singular) offers striking views down and across the Wakatipu Basin, with night skiing offered on Wednesdays and Fridays—a wonderful way to experience a unique slice of snow during a trip. Being an elevated mountainous area—where the weather can be temperamental—it makes sense to build additional days into an itinerary; a chance to experience the wonder that is lakeside Queenstown and its very strong impression of a snowy European village, especially at dusk as amber streetlights flicker into life.
Of the many and varied attractions dotted around its buzzy small streets and various back lanes, Fergburger is a rightful burger institution that will take phone orders for collection, enabling you to beat the snaking daily queue (thank us for that tip later). Know that locals speak highly of Devil Burger, too.
At the opposite end of the foodie scale, but still an equal “must”, is Lake Hayes’ Amisfield restaurant, voted New Zealand’s finest and which currently wears three hats. A darkened room of wood and local schist rock, and dominated by a large open fireplace, this is inventive and faultless fine dining as led by chef Vaughan Mabee (ex Noma). The menus change according to season and supply, but what’s on offer is a standout culinary evening (hello eel on Vogel’s bread; quail with harakeke) that typifies the flavours of Central Otago’s finest and most unique produce, all washed down with exquisite Amisfield wines (do not miss the tightly held 2019 Chardonnay, among others).
Arrowtown, a short drive from Matakauri, proves to be a step back in time. The former mining town is a well-preserved—and wooden—nod to its history, where the local cinema can be booked for exclusive use, The Winery offers the most fun self-guided wine tour you’ll have and The Dishery does a heady, warming lunch. While Central Otago grapes have established a rightful place on the global stage, local gin is finding a footing too; the best way to experience it is via a gin heli-tour which takes in the award-winning Cardrona Distillery—where you can also lay down your own barrel—before heading for Broken Heart to sample some of its truly distinct and impressive blends.
All this drinking and eating and it’s time for a nap. Home to the warming ways of Matakauri and a level of refined luxury that make it one of the world’s finest lodges.
Suites start from $850 per person/per night twin share, and include breakfast, lunch, dinner and pre-dinner cocktail hour, plus wine matching with dinner on one night (offer available until 30 September); robertsonlodges.com
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