view of a lodge camp across the lake
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Alpine Lodge at Minaret Station

One of New Zealand’s most epic wilderness experiences is set on 65,000 spectacular acres of private farmland in the remote Fiordland.

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looking at residential style hotel on hill overlooking lake with mountains on other side
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Matakauri Lodge

In driving distance to Queenstown, but set on a gloriously serene perch overlooking Lake Wakatipu, Matakauri Lodge is a New Zealand showstopper.

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What is difficult to picture before you’ve been to Annandale is that the “working farm” part is neither gimmick, petting zoo nor tourist attraction. Owner Mark Palmer dreamed of owning a farm first and foremost, and that is what drives the revenue. Depending on the season, there are some 7,000 sheep and 700 cattle here, which are bred for wool and meat sales. Wherever you go—either hiking or four-wheel driving—you encounter herds of animals dotting the Annandale pasture, located high above the ocean, with large rolling hills and dramatic cliffs that plummet into the sparkling water below.

Guests arrive at the Homestead, a lavishly restored manor house that is surrounded by glorious gardens and overlooks Pigeon Bay. This was the original villa that Palmer, a Kiwi who is based in Texas, restored and outfitted for his family. It’s a sumptuous centerpiece, complete with an infinity pool, gym, tennis courts and several massive gardens—all accessible only to guests renting this four-bedroom villa. Instead of placing the three additional Annandale villas alongside one another on the same bluff however—that would have been too easy—Palmer added two of them in utterly secluded coves and the third, a romantic charmer for two, on top of a hillside surrounded by pastures.

The latter, called Shepherd’s Cottage, occupies a restored, historic home, and its single bedroom has beautiful views towards the sea. It’s as quiet as can be—after all, even this villa is a 30-minute drive from the Homestead.

The true showstoppers on property, however, are Scrubby Bay and Seascape, both designed by award-winning Auckland architect Andrew Patterson. Scrubby, about a 45-minute drive from Homestead, is a low-lying, cabin-style villa with three master bedrooms and a bunk room for the kids, as well as a pool, hot tub, massive living room and fully outfitted kitchen. The wood-paneled doors all slide open so that interiors and exteriors blend into one continuous place.

Seascape, a cove over but seemingly worlds removed, is a couples-only haven. With its mix of slate, concrete, pine and an abundance of glass, it looks like something James Bond and Sir Norman Foster co-designed. The open-floor living room-kitchen-bedroom is framed by massive, floor-to-ceiling windows, leading to a terrace that fronts a bay that is entirely yours for your stay. The rectangular gas fireplace—opened by the push of a button —separates a comfortable, al fresco sitting area on one side from the sunken hot tub on the other, and every inch has uninterrupted views. It’s a stunning, contemporary hideaway, but once the care taker's car that dropped you here has disappeared up the steep rocky driveway, you are keenly aware just how far from “civilization” you are —staying here is almost like high-end back-country camping.

Make that very high-end back-country camping. When guests arrive, the stainless steel fridge is stocked with dinner, the next day’s breakfast and a nice selection of wine. This is how Annandale has, for now, solved the logistical challenge of distance and in-villa dining. Chef Paul Jobin pre-prepares multi-course meals and labels them with preparation directions. If this sounds like airplane food, it isn’t. On the night we visited, we dined on Moroccan chicken pie dressed in wild watercress oil. Next up was a 30-hour-cooked lamb shoulder with a smoked kumara puree, seasonal vegetables and a crisp salad (homegrown, of course). And for dessert, chocolate pecan pie with an avocado ice cream and rhubarb coulis.

The best addition to dinner, however, are the views and feeling of complete seclusion and privacy – the coves of Seaside and Scrubby Bay and the hillside of theShepherd’s Cottage are yours alone for the time you stay there. Indagare Tip: The “we cook, you serve” concept is innovative, chef Paul’s cuisine is absolutely delicious and the directions are as straightforward as an be – but people who do not cook at all back home might still find executing the meals a bit challenging. At Scrubby Bay, Seaside and the Homestead, having the chef come to your villa to prepare the food sur-place is also possible.

Bedroom at Azur Lodge, Queenstown, New Zealand - Photo Courtesy - Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Azur Lodge

Located at the end of a suburban street, a six-minute drive from Queenstown, Azur has just nine villas and a main lodge, making it a great choice for couples who like to hole up in an incredibly romantic setting at the end of an active day. All of the nine villas boast the same generous size and open floor-plan layout, with a large sitting area in front of a gas fireplace, a nook for a round dining table and a massive, oversized king-size bed. Everything is pointed in the direction of floor-to-ceiling window panels that overlook Lake Wakatipu and Cecil Peak and stretch onward to the Remarkables mountain range (featured prominently in The Lord of the Rings movies).

Interiors are modern and sleek, with lots of warm wood and splashes of color in greens and blues. Bathrooms – spacious and with views – are tiled in charcoal grey, boasting showers the size of small Manhattan apartments, and bathtubs come with Jacuzzi jets. The mini-bar is stocked with local treats, the balcony has comfortable loungers, there’s wine upon arrival – in short, once you have arrived, the Azur villas are not easy to leave.

That’s a good thing for couples happy to hole up here and not so great for types who need hotel amenities. Azur doesn’t have a pool, a gym, a spa or a restaurant. Massages can be organized in the rooms, and the lovely staff is happy to pick up some food from a Queenstown restaurant – a fancy version of take-out – and set up the table with candles in your room. The main lodge has a comfortable dining room where breakfasts are served communal-style, and the library where afternoon wine and canapés are presented, but for the most part, Azur is the type of place where guests are touring in the area during the day and are holed up in their villas in the evenings. Queenstown is close by (it feels more accessible than at Matakauri) and guests can request to be shuttled there, in case driving on the left side of the road after dinner does not sound appealing.

The staff at Azur is terrific – young, motivated and full of great recommendations for touring in Queenstown and beyond. And thanks to the intimate size of the property, the experience of staying here feels personal and customized.

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Aerial View - Bay of Many Coves, South Island, New Zealand

Bay of Many Coves

In New Zealand, a Kiwi’s “bach” is the equivalent of an American's cabin in the woods. The Bay of Many Coves resort was conceived as a collection of hillside baches, nestled on a steep incline in the stunning Marlborough Sounds. The wooden structures, which range from one- to three bedrooms, have polished wood ceilings, wooden deck terraces and large window walls that slide open. Views from the bed and comfortable living rooms are beautiful – the soothing waters of the Charlotte Sound and the gently rising, lushly green hills that make up this special northern part of New Zealand’s South Island. The sounds’ coves are studded with small lodges – the multi-day Queen Charlotte trek is one of the country’s most popular – but the Bay of Many Coves Resort is the only five-star (it’s also part of New Zealand’s Luxury Lodges collection).

Run by Murray McCaw and his wife, Elaine, the resort is situated around a marina and includes a café, casual lunch and fine dining restaurant, a small pool area and a spa housed in a structure so lofted that it appears to be a treehouse. Steep pathways snake around to the eleven baches, which are closely clustered, though none share walls. The rest of the property’s 100 acres extend out and – mostly – up, and guests are treated to some challenging hiking right on property (the Lookout Point hike is a popular one, thanks to the rewarding view towards Picton and the Cook’s Straight).

If you look at the Bay of Many Coves resort on a map, it might appear as if you can simply walk up to join the Queen Charlotte’s trek, but in reality, the climb is so steep that the resort discourages this. Rather, guests are picked up by one of the many water taxis cruising the sound and dropped directly at the trek for a multi-hour hike (armed with a packed lunch), then gathered back at the end of the day. Other day trips include fishing tours, visiting the local farms for mussels and salmon, or arranging an eco-tour of nearby Motuara Island, home to blue penguins (the world’s smallest).

But even hyper-active types have a tendency to quickly settle into the resort’s laid-back rhythm. A stay here is about enjoying the incredible natural setting – since inception, the resort has planted some 13,000 native trees, and a walk quickly turns into horticultural exploration. The water of the Queen Charlotte Sound seems to change colors all day long – from flat grey in the mornings and the piercing sparkle of midday to hazy afternoons and early evenings with light that looks straight out of a Vermeer painting. Even go-go-go New Yorkers might find themselves completely content sitting on their terrace with a book and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Early in the morning, the symphony of bird song borders on a Disney movie – New Zealand birds are known for making up for what they might lack in the looks department with absolutely spectacular voices.

The comfortably outfitted rooms come equipped with kitchenettes, stocked with teas and coffee, as well as snacks, beer and wine. But while the set-up might inspire ideas of self-catering, the cuisine at the resort is so memorable that most guests choose one of the inclusive meal plans. Chef Francisco Sabando originally hails from Chile, but years of working across New Zealand have created in him a remarkable touch for showcasing the local bounty – salmon, blue cod, lamb, venison – in new and innovative ways. During a recent meal, nothing was overcomplicated: ceviche of local scallop had just the right spice; king salmon came pickled in beet roots, intensifying its crimson color; and loin of venison was served with a touch of chocolate jus and dried blackberries. Most guests opt for the wine-paired tasting menu at least one of the nights – the sommelier and chef work closely together finding the perfect, mostly New Zealand, vintages to complement the food. The pairing of an aged Giesen Auguste Sauvignon Blanc with a rustic ostrich tartare was a particularly bold and fitting choice.

Meals are served in a glass-paneled dining room that looks across the bay as the sun sets and the moon rises. The best part is the walk back up to your room after dinner – the air is sea-scented, the hillside unfolds dark and imposing, and the quiet is absolute.

Chalet Looking Sout at Blanket Bay, Queenstown, New Zealand

Blanket Bay

In the 1970s, when an American couple bought the Blanket Bay property, it abutted a 65,000-acre working sheep station, and sheep still graze on the hillside. Back in the 1970s, Tom and Pauline Tusher figured that one day they might build a cabin so they could fly-fish on vacation, but after Tom retired from running Levi Strauss, their simple cabin grew into a grand lodge with 13 guest rooms. (Soon after Blanket Bay opened as a hotel, in the late ’90s, its reputation for exquisite scenery, fine service and gorgeous rooms reportedly enticed Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston to come for their honeymoon.)

The design of the lodge, inside and out, owes less to New Zealand influences than to the Tushers’ time in the American West. Astonishing mountain views as well as an enormous rock fireplace, an imposing antler chandelier and log beams dominate the great room. Salvaged wood floors and railroad ties give the lodge an antique patina, and whimsical fabrics printed with fishing ties and duck decoys add to the feeling that you’re in someone’s home.

My favorite touch was the “excursion” room, downstairs, where guests can plot the following day’s activities on the giant map of the area on one wall. A helicopter jaunt to an obscure stretch of river for fly-fishing and a picnic, perhaps? Or a drop-off somewhere along the Milford Trek for hiking the least touristed bit? Horses can be saddled up, kayaks launched. Satisfying any adventurous urge seems so easy and pleasurable when you know that a wine cellar and spa await you on your return. And when the guests gather in the den to have cocktails and trade tales of the day’s exploits, the conviviality is infectious.

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Exterior View - Eichardt's Private Hotel, Queenstown, New Zealand

Eichardt’s Private Hotel

Charming, stylish Eichardt’s sits at the edge of the marina looking much like a saloon from a western frontier town. Originally opened as a pub with rooms in the mid 1800s, when gold drew an onslaught of newcomers to this area, the hotel today occupies the original historic building. The cozy bar/tapas restaurant downstairs has a whiff of historic lore, thought all interiors are deeply stylish.

There are seven suites upstairs—five in the original structure and two in the modern add-on—all of them well-sized, apartment-style extravaganzas. Three of them face Lake Wakatipu, and at night, guests are treated to sunset panoramas from the comfort of their rooms. The luckiest guests booked into Room Number One get the extra perk of a balcony from where they can gaze across town and perhaps be reminded of the days when Eichardt’s was called the Queen’s Arms. There is also a penthouse suite at the top of the hotel, and down the street are three lakefront apartments and a residence.

Rooms focus around large gas-burning fireplaces and king-size beds that sit up a couple of stairs for an elevated view. The industrial-chic design scheme makes the most by mixing stone, dark wood and charcoal/black iron, but everything is accented by softening touches like large flower arrangements, skylights above the bed and in the bathrooms, and comfortable furniture with colorful pillows and throws.

There’s not much of a lobby, so guests either spend time in their comfortably sized rooms, in the cozy pub (where breakfast is also served) or in the charming sitting room, another blast from the past with gorgeous artwork, deep cushy couches and chairs and complimentary whiskey served in the afternoons when light floods the room, catching the antique mirrors. It’s a lovely spot for a breather at the end of an active Queenstown day, and just another corner of Eichardt’s where past and present beautifully meet.

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Exterior View - Hapuku Lodge, South Island, New Zealand

Hapuku Lodge

If Hapuku Lodge, one of New Zealand’s most renowned, feels a little like stepping into a childhood dream, that’s because it is. Growing up in Wellington, owner Tony Wilson was passionate about building treehouses with his brothers, and so this lodge grew from the idea of creating a permanent way of waking up surrounded by branches and leaves. The Swiss Family Robinson–style structures – there are five – look cool on pictures but not until you’re standing in one can you fully appreciate the whimsy.

The boxy, wooden rooms are elevated on high stilts and marvelously framed by native New Zealand trees and vegetation (for every guest who checks in, the lodge plants a native tree). Clad in wooden slats and branches, the houses blend into the vegetation to a point – remaining freestanding enough so that views around them are uninterrupted. And what views they are. The back of the room, outfitted with two rocking chairs and a wood-burning fireplace, overlook the pastures and fields of Hapuku’s deer farm, while the front of them, housing a stunning bathroom with floor-to-ceiling windows, look toward the blues of the sea. And even though the treehouses are relatively close together, the design and landscaping makes for privacy.

Interiors are bright and cheerful, with loads of tree references, including a green-painted ceiling, wooden slabs as headboards, even branch-shaped handles on the furniture. A small balcony affords great star-gazing opportunities, as does the large Jacuzzi bathtub. The floor plan is open, so the bathrooms leads seamlessly into the bedroom which culminates in the sitting corner with the fireplace. Two of the Treehouses also have a downstairs bedroom, a great choice for families.

For those traveling with a family, know that the Hapuku treehouses are surely the accommodations kids will remember the most during their New Zealand trip. And everyone will appreciate the lodge's wonderful cuisine and the fact that friendly manager Chris Sturgeon is passionate about the Kaikoura area and can happily make recommendations on what to see and do during a visit, including where to see baby seals, go sea kayaking and embark on fishing excursions.

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Daffodils at Otahuna Lodge, South Island, New Zealand

Otahuna Lodge

Set in the rolling hills outside Christchurch, Otahuna is an elegant country house retreat. When Americans Hall Cannon and Miles Refo purchased the property, the largest historic house in all of New Zealand, they kept many of the period details, but updated rooms with modern comforts like iPod docks and oversized bathrooms with soaking tubs. With only seven suites, each unique, Otahuna feels very much like a private home.

The lodge is blessed with an extraordinary chef and he and his team spend their days dreaming up new delights: freshly baked rosemary focaccia, house cured prosciutto, hand rolled pasta. One reason everything is so delicious is that so many of the ingredients come from the orchard and potager behind the lodge, where they grow more than 120 varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts and mushrooms, including heirloom tomatoes, kaffir limes, mulberries and porcinis. Meals are eaten family style in the light-filled modern kitchen or the formal dining room. The staff is very attentive, and guests feel wonderfully spoiled.

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View of Flockhill house with pool and mountains in the background

The Homestead at Flockhill

A staffed, private four-bedroom villa, the Homestead at Flockhill makes a wonderful base from which to explore the Southern Alps.

The Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa

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