While New Zealand’s South Island is best known for its rugged mountains and dramatic fjords, it’s also home to some seriously luxurious lodges.
Ranging from a grand estate near the island’s biggest city to architectural wonders nestled in remote glacial valleys, there’s a lodge for every taste.
Where is it? Queenstown
One of the most impressive lodges on the South Island is only a few minutes’ drive from the heart of bustling Queenstown. Owned the US-based Robertson family, who have another two luxe lodges on the North Island, Kauri Cliffs and the Farm at Cape Kidnappers, Matakauri Lodge is easily the most accessible retreat on the South Island – it’s a mere 20 minutes by car from Queenstown Airport – yet when you stay here it feels like you’re miles from anywhere.
That’s because Matakauri sits on a wooded hill above Lake Wakatipu, looking out over the icy water to the forbidding slopes of Cecil Peak, so all you see from your suite is the lake and an uninhabited mountain that’s too steep for even grazing sheep. And all you hear is the gentle, insistent sound of waves lapping on the shore below.
There are six Deluxe Suites spread out in pairs away from the main lodge building, each with a spacious living room boasting sweeping picture windows, below a separate bedroom level and a massive bathroom that features an oversized bathtub with more lake views.
If you’re travelling with kids, there’s also the option of taking the only Deluxe Suite in the main lodge building, which connects to a smaller Lodge Room. And if you’re travelling with large amounts of disposable income, you can take over the Owner’s Cottage, an exclusive four-bedroom villa with indoor and outdoor dining areas and a separate chef’s entrance to a decked-out kitchen.
Whichever room you choose, you’ll be drawn to the windows as you watch the sun light up the Remarkables mountain range in the morning and the ever-present wisps of white clouds cast shadows across the peaks in the afternoon.
The Lodge at Blanket Bay
Where is it? Glenorchy, near Queenstown
Continue around half an hour down the road from Matakauri on Glenorchy-Queenstown Road and you’ll find another luxe lodge overlooking Lake Wakatipu. Considered one of the finest alpine retreats anywhere in the world, The Lodge at Blanket Bay commands a prime lakeside position on the expansive grounds of a former sheep station.
Originally built as a private fly-fishing retreat for owner Tom Tusher, Blanket Bay has been extended to encompass a grand timber-and-stone lodge building housing guest suites, a Great Room with a soaring nine-metre beam ceiling, dining rooms and terrace. Beyond the main lodge are a series of freestanding chalets overlooking the lake, a villa for larger groups and an exclusive Owner’s Residence.
The Lodge at Blanket Bay is just outside the small town of Glenorchy, which is best known as a staging base for some of the country’s best epic walks, including hikes through Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park. But with an opulent suite to enjoy and the everchanging views of clouds snaking around nearby peaks, you may well content yourself with exploring the grounds at Blanket Bay before an indulgent lunch, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, heading out on a jet boat safari from the lodge’s picturesque jetty.
Split Apple Retreat
Where is it? Kaiteriteri
Most of South Island’s luxury lodges successfully weathered the border closures and emerged with refreshed offerings, although the renowned six-star Edenhouse, outside of the town of Nelson at the southern tip of the South Island, recently closed, with its new owners in the process of converting it to a private home. So for a dose of luxury in this part of the South Island, your best bet is Split Apple Retreat, an hour’s drive along Tasman Bay from Nelson.
An ultra-luxury wellness retreat, Split Apple offers just three suites – the Japanese-style Lotus and Fuji suites and the Western-style split-level Rainbow suite, each with two private decks overlooking Tasman Bay.
Whichever suite you choose, you’ll have access to a yoga pavilion where you can have private hatha, Iyengar, astanga or vinyasa yoga sessions. Massage treatments and meditation sessions are also on the menu, along with cooking lessons with Split Apple co-owner and chef Pen Nelson – she’s responsible for the Asian-Mediterranean fusion cuisine that’s designed to help you optimise your health as well as delight your senses.
Split Apple Retreat is just outside Abel Tasman National Park, a wilderness reserve with great coastal bushwalking tracks and secluded beaches. There are also two beaches in walking distance of the retreat, including the stretch of sand looking out to Split Apple Rock, a striking granite rock formation that’s believed to be more than 120 million years old.
Note that Split Apple closes for winter and reopens on August 6, with bookings available through to May 31, 2023; splitapple.com.
Where is it? Ahuriri Valley, near Omarama
Like Blanket Bay, The Lindis’s founding purpose was to take advantage of some great fly-fishing opportunities. A low-set lodge with a striking wooden roof that rises and falls to mimic the surrounding hilly terrain, the Lindis sits at the foot of the spectacular Ahuriri Valley, around a three-hour drive north-east of Queenstown.
Each of the five suites in the lodge building, as well as the guest lounge and dining area, face out over the valley floor to a seemingly endless procession of snow-capped peaks. You’ll get the same view, but with an extra helping of seclusion, from one of the modernist pods set to one side of the lodge. These tiny pods may not blend into the grassy hillocks like the main building, but with mirrored glass walls on three sides they certainly ‘reflect’ their surroundings.
There’s world-class catch-and-release fly-fishing to be had in the braided river that winds its way in lazy loops past the lodge and down the valley. Outside of fishing season, you can while away days in forays into the wild Ahuriri Conservation Park by road, e-biking or horse-riding through the valley, or exploring the beauty of the region by helicopter.
Where is it? Tai Tapu, near Christchurch
A Victorian mansion set on a sprawling pastoral estate outside of Christchurch, the seven-suite Otahuna is something of an outlier among New Zealand lodges. Where most other luxury lodges in the country were constructed in the past couple of decades, Otahuna’s Queen Anne-style grand home was built in 1895 by Canterbury pioneer Sir Heaton Rhodes as a wedding present to his bride. It was the largest house in the country at the time and now, lovingly restored by its current owners, offers a unique sense of grandeur.
Standing below a dormant volcanic peak, this magnificent country house features a hand-carved kauri staircase, wood panelling in local rimu timber, more than a dozen working fireplaces and a fine art collection.
During the pandemic pause, owners Hall Cannon and Miles Refo added a new suite, the Loft, in what was originally the attic space. The first new suite since they bought the lodge in 2006, the Loft is a whimsical, bright and modern addition to the existing offering that includes the two master suites, the Rhodes and Verandah.
The heritage-listed building faces some 12 hectares of pastoral land including manicured lawns, fields of daffodils and woodlands, that’s also considered a garden of national significance by the New Zealand Gardens Trust. The garden is not a museum piece, however, with 140 different kinds of fruits, nuts and vegetables grown here and harvested daily. Dine at Otahuna and the chef will personally explain where the produce comes from – with up to 80 per cent of the ingredients in your meal grown on site.
The rolling lawns of Otahuna double as a helicopter landing pad, so you can step out of your suite and be whisked away by chopper to the peaks of the Southern Highlands or the wineries of the Waipara region before returning in the evening for another memorable meal.