The New Zealand lapsed vowel is the source of endless jokes amongst Australians. This is a particular favourite of mine:
Q: What’s a hindu?
A: Lay iggs, bro.
(Returns to laptop after rolling around on the floor).
All joshing aside, they may talk funny but our antipodean brethren sure know how to lay on some decent hospitality. Wikipedia tells us that the traditional Te Mata Haka (the fearsome maori victory chant) was interpreted by colonists arriving in New Zealand as meaning “Kill him! Chop him up! Baste him!” but I’m pleased to report that things have improved significantly.
A short three hour flight from Sydney finds us flying straight into Middle Earth. As the plane navigates through the mountains dropping steadily to the valley floor, it’s a little trippy to look out of your window and spot skiers close enough to see what colour their boots are.
Once on the ground, even the rows of unattractive condominiums lining Lake Wakatipu cannot detract from the sheer beauty of this ancient landscape. Queenstown itself is a great little town, small enough to walk everywhere and with more than a few gems thrown in amongst the internet cafes, ski gear stores and adrenaline sports outlets. Eichardt’s Bar on the lake is a sophisticated and cosy après ski stop. You won’t find the hoi polloi here but you will find an excellent selection of cocktails, local beers and regional wines, which is a great way to end the day or start the evening. If you’d rather hang with the hoi polloi, then make your way to Fergburger at around 5pm along with everyone from boarders re-carbing, to families, to captains of industry. There’s something to please everyone there from Bun Laden, to the Codfather to The Dawn Horn.
On this trip however we were testing out one of the latest NZ superlodges – Matakauri. Matakauri was snapped up by the Robertson family (responsible also for Cape Kidnappers and The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs) a couple of years ago and completely revamped by the queen of NZ lodge design, Virginia Fisher. It has emerged from its 1990’s cocoon as a beautiful woodland butterfly full of light and grace.
The website doesn’t really do it justice, and if I was told that a palette of navy, rust, ochre and pink would work, I would have snorted. It’s gorgeous though. The rooms retain their original architecture, with soaring ceilings, skylights everywhere to let in the forest all around and of course, huge picture windows framing that amazing view of the Remarkables, directly across the lake. The suites are spacious and well appointed with lots of lounging spaces, hidden facilities, plumptious cushions, a bath with a view to die for and a roaring fire.
The lodge is only 11 rooms and although it was full during our stay, we saw only two other couples. Rather than having one big common area, there are lots of little areas – an upstairs library, two lounges downstairs, a jewel-like dining room, a 4-seat bar, and a lavender scented outdoor terrace……..all are super-cosy with fires lit, fresh flowers and books and magazines in abundance and it means that you can pretty much have your own space anywhere.
Staff are young, sassy, multicultural and are hospitality trained, rather than just kids following the snow. Matakauri is a Relais and Chateaux property and is further evidence that the affiliation is shaking off its fusty image of yore with a series of designer properties now entering the fold. The food, by head chef Dale Gartner was crowd pleasing and very well executed, making the most of the area’s abundant fresh produce. Ferran Adria he is not, but who could say no to a toffee-glazed bread and butter pudding with chocolate chips and caramelised apple – for breakfast?
Matakauri is few kilometres out of Queenstown, and if you want to be right in the action, Eichardt’s is better located. But on our last morning, it was lovely to wander down to the shale beach on lake’s edge with mountains in front and forest behind, and not another soul in sight. Not that that stopped me clapping my hand over my mouth after exclaiming loudly “What big ducks they have in New Zealand!”