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Old May 10, 09, 11:00 pm
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New Zealand Luxury Hotels - trip report (part II)

Where to stay

Once you’ve determined what kind of New Zealand experience you’d like to have and figured out your destinations, here are some thoughts on where to stay.

The Virginia Fischer lodges. Five of New Zealand’s luxury lodges were designed by Virginia Fischer, and there’s a rather interesting story behind this fact. 25 years ago, the owner and developer of the yet-to-be-built Huka Lodge was having trouble finding the right individual to design the interior of his lodge. He met Virginia in a totally non-business context. In the course of talking about his lodge and his vision for it, Virginia offered to take on the job. Though she was not a professional interior designer at the time, he took a chance with her, and the rest is history. I like her design style very much. She creates large, bright, airy spaces using a lot of wood (floors, walls, ceilings, and exposed beams) while making creative use of different textures and colors. Her bathrooms are large with double vanities, walk-in showers, and “bathtubs with a view.”

Huka Lodge, Taupo. The essence of Huka Lodge is experienced sitting in the Main Lodge — a large, comfortable lounge with sofas, a cozy fire, green pattered carpeting, and big picture windows overlooking the Waikato River. Guests gather in this supremely beautiful setting at any time of day and for drinks and canapes before dinner.

Situated just 300 meters from Huka Falls, Huka Lodge offers luxurious accommodations and great food. Of the 20 suites along the river, four have gas fireplaces, and each offers with a view across the lawn down to the river and the forest beyond. Huka Lodge has access to a vast variety of outdoor activities from fly fishing, hiking, golf, horseback riding, water sports on Lake Taupo, winetasting, and sightseeing. (Although it is central to a lot of activities, there is a bit of a drive to many of them.)

Wharekauhau Lodge, near Wellington, pronounced fah-ree-ko-ho, is located near Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand — either a 7 minute flight by small plane to the lodge’s private airstrip or a 90 drive over the mountains. The estate is on a working farm and was constructed a decade ago. The main Lodge building features large sitting rooms, a dining room, and a breakfast room right in the kitchen, and the guest cottages are scattered through the property, most with beautiful water views. Each cottage offers canopied king beds, a large sitting area in front of a gas fireplace, large dressing room, and a large bathroom (with two colors of beautiful limestone) with soaking tub overlooking the water, step-in shower, and twin vanities. The interiors feature painted T-111 paneling, rough hewn beams, glossy painted trim, with wonderful colors and fabrics in a range from off-white to ivory to peach and tan. The tariff includes breakfast and a five-course tasting menu, and our meal was superb ... highlighted by one of the most wonderful chocolate desserts I have ever experienced. By all means, take advantage of the tour of the farm offered by the Lodge. Especially interesting to me was the opportunity to watch the sheep dogs herding sheep.

Kauri Cliffs, Bay of Islands. Located near Kerikeri, you can either drive or take a short 45 minute flight from Auckland via a very small, 20 passenger plane. Although arriving at this property at nearly the same time as a tropical cyclone boasting wind gusts over 65 mph, my enthusiasm for this property is not dampened. Golf is the major reason to stay here; the property features one of Golf Digest’s top 50 courses of the world. Fifteen holes offer views of the Pacific Ocean, and six holes are played alongside cliffs that plunge into the sea. There are three beaches available to guests; the best swimming is at Waiaua Beach with its fine, white sand. Guest suites are spacious, a minimum of 840 square feet, with stunning views of the Pacific from both the bedroom and soaking tub, and a gas fireplace in each suite. The tarriff includes a breakfast and a three-course dinner.

The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, near Napier, is the sister property of Kauri Cliffs. The buildings are designed with a farm motif. The golf shop, for instance, resembles a large barn - and in the guest rooms, the door between the bedroom and the bathroom resembles a sliding barn door. Rooms are large and comfortable with the softest, silkiest Frette sheets and plumpest, cuddliest towels I have ever encountered. I was in a Ridge Suite with a great view of the Pacific Ocean and the lights of Napier beyond the bay. The three-course dinners were excellent as was the cooked-to-order breakfast, both of which are included in the daily tariff. This is a very large property with a spectacularly beautiful golf course, rated one of the top courses in the world.

Eichardt’s Private Hotel, Queenstown, was recently renovated by Virginia Fischer. The rooms are a traditional “country” style with a contemporary touch. However, she had to work with existing spaces in an old building. The Lakefront suite that I was shown had a strange layout, the room being too long and narrow for my taste. The sitting area had windows and a patio door overlooking the lake, but the sleeping area was farther back in the room, away from the windows (somewhat like the layout of the Garden Wing rooms of the Oriental Bangkok). If you want lakeviews from your room in Queenstown, this is your choice, but I feel that The Spire is the best luxury option in Queenstown.

Queenstown. Flying into Queenstown was one of the highlights of my trip, a fitting introduction to this stunningly beautiful corner of the world. The Air New Zealand 737 flew through a mountain valleys, banking to the right over the lake, and descending through another mountain valley to the runway.

The Spire Hotel is a small boutique luxury hotel with only 10 rooms. My room, really a suite, was spacious with a large patio overlooking the village church. Beautiful contemporary interior design featured a very comfortable Eames reading chair facing a gas fireplace and the immense wall-mounted Panasonic plasma TV. The room had the latest in electronics, all controlled by a high-tech remote control that completely baffled me! The room had a gas fireplace, a large dressing area, a large bathroom with soaking tub, walk-in shower, and dual vanities. The Spire is upscale, visually appealing, and will not disappoint. Rates include breakfast, free internet, and free airport transfers. The hotel prides itself on great service; the manager is always ready to recommend the best places to eat and shop (and to drive guests there), and the hotel’s own dining room is superb.

Eichardt’s Private Hotel is the Virtuoso hotel in Queenstown, and it is all about the view. See my review above. However, definitely come here for lunch. The Seafood Chowder came with a well-deserved reputation. A cream-based chowder with some cheese, it was chock-full of seafood — mussels, clams, scallops, prawns, calamari, and chunks of fish I can’t name — and was absolutely wonderful.

The Sofitel offers what guests have come to expect from this chain, solid 4-star rooms with a French flair. The lead-in Superior rooms offer good space and attractive furnishings. The attractive bathrooms have tubs, separate walk-in showers, and a single vanity. The Sofitel Suite is spacious, and the Penthouse a real WOW. There is not much of a view from the rooms; the lakeview rooms offer just a “peak” at the lake. The lobby was plain and non-descript, no natural light, and not a welcoming place to gather.

Hotel St. Moritz describes itself as 5-star, but that’s not what I saw. The property offers good value, especially for families, and the lakeview rooms provide a very nice view. The rooms are in need of a soft goods renovation - new furniture and more upscale decorations. However, they do offer good space at a reasonable price. Suites, in addition to sleeping 4, provide washer-dryers, mini-fridges, a cooking surface and microwave - and connect to separate bedrooms, creating a true two bedroom Suite.

Blanket Bay is an absolutely wonderful property. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the hotel is situated directly on Lake Wakatipu with no other resorts anywhere in sight. Come here to enjoy the scenery and enjoy the splendid isolation. The rooms are large and comfortable, and bathrooms all feature tubs, walk-in showers, and dual vanities. The best rooms in the hotel, the suites at either corner of the top floor, provide corner views of the lake and mountains. The Chalet Suites also provide great lake views and, with a connecting living room between two guestrooms, offer a great option for families. Free internet, a great recreation room with pool table and shuffleboard table, free minibar (everything except hard liquor) are included in the rates. A very romantic destination — and if you want to surprise someone with a proposal, reserve the private “wine cellar,” for a romantic, candlelit dinner.

In and around Christchurch

Otahuna Lodge. Let’s start with one of the most charming properties in New Zealand. Located about 30 minutes from downtown Christchurch, Otahuna Lodge is a large, comfortable home that has been converted into an exquisite luxury lodge. When it was built in 1894, it was the largest private residence in New Zealand. Recognized as an architectural icon with a place on the Historic Places Trust, this Queen Anne style residence was purchased by its current owners who have lovingly created one of the most comfortable lodges I have ever seen. Every room is unique, and the Master Suites are especially attractive. The room rate includes a 5 course tasting meal, with each course paired with wines. As much as possible, the produce used for meals are grown in the lodge’s own organic vegetable garden. The staff are warm and hospitable, a culture that begins with the owners. You’ll especially enjoy the chef, Jimmy, and ask for a tour of the garden as well! Come to Otahuna to relax, to commune with nature, to fish, and as a base from which to explore the sights of the Canterbury region of New Zealand.

The George, Christchurch, is a member of the Small Luxury Hotel collection and the nicest hotel in the city. A boutique hotel (53 rooms) with a great location right by Victoria Square, guests enter through a unassuming yet comfortable lobby. The hotel will be closed during the month of August in order to complete a soft goods renovation of floors 1-3. We saw some rooms on floor 4 with the new interior design that is coming next fall. The attractively decorated lead-in Executive Rooms are fairly small, what one would associate with a Superior room category; the room we were shown had just a tub with shower. Most guests would prefer one of only 4 Junior Suites which were about the size I would normally associate with a Deluxe room. If you stay here, ask to be blocked in a Junior Suite with a view of the Square. The Park Suites are corner rooms, large and bright with a great view of the Park.

In and around Wellington

See review of Wharekauhau Lodge above.

In and around Napier (Hawke’s Bay)

See review of Cape Kidnappers above.

Greenhill Lodge is an intimate, 7-room lodge in the heart of the Hawke’s Bay region, the Napa Valley of New Zealand. An historic Victorian house on a hilltop overlooking farms and grazing land, the beautifully renovated estate offers comfortable accommodations for guests wanting wine tours. The lodge offers the ambiance of an elegant B&B, and if the canapes we tasted are any indication, you’ll enjoy their la carte breakfasts and four-course dinners. Although the three rooms, three suites, and separate villa are more modest in size than many of the properties reviewed here, this is still an excellent choice for guests. A beautiful property in a wonderful setting, all at a reasonable price-point. Ask as well about their “Behind the Label” wine experience hosted by an accomplished enologist who can arrange for exclusive visits to many excellent vineyards. Guests receive free greens fees at Hastings Golf Club in Bridge Pa, rated on of NZ’s top ten courses.

In and around Taupo

See review of Huka Lodge above.

In and around Rotorua

Treetops Lodge is located 20 minutes from Rotorua and is an unique property offering an eco-wilderness adventure with every possible luxury. The lodge is in the midst of thousands of acres owned by Treetops. Come here to fish, to explore nature, or simply to enjoy a retreat away from the fast-paced world. Come also to experience the Maori culture of New Zealand; we were greeted in the Maori language by a member of the hotel’s staff (all staff members are native to New Zealand). Rated Travel + Leisure’s #1 resort in New Zealand, rooms at Treetops Lodge are large and comfortable — baths all have dual vanities and walk-in showers — and the Villas are exceptionally beautiful, large, high-ceilinged rooms with gorgeous views looking out on Treetop’s property (2,500 acres). There is a special emphasis here on ecological responsibility; all wood and stone used in the construction of the property came from the grounds of Treetops. 100% of their power is hydro-electric, derived from waterfalls on the property, and Treetops even sell excess electricity back to the utility. Organic vegetable and meats are used for meals, and all are raised on the property. Springs provide the resort’s water. Lead-in suites are surprisingly affordable, especially in the off-season.

Peppers on the Point is right on Lake Rotorua. Originally the lakeside home of a very wealthy family, it has been converted into a small boutique hotel that retains the style of the era in which it was built. We received an exceptionally warm welcome. Rooms are large with direct views of the lake and old antique furnishings. Bathrooms feature not only large jacuzzi soaking tubs but also massaging showers. The hotel has just constructed a chapel which would be a great site for a wedding or recommitment ceremony. On the Point is the best restaurant in Rotorua, a good possibility for a romantic dinner for two.


The Westin Auckland Lighter Quay. I spent one night at this hotel located in the harbour area in downtown Auckland. With beautiful contemporary architecture, the hotel lobby is especially attractive in the evening when lit by candles that reflect off the black marble floors and glass walls. My Deluxe guestroom (SPG Gold upgrade) was large and decorated in a somewhat minimalist style in shades of tan, beige, and black. The hotel charges 25 NZD nightly for internet, but the connection was fast and reliable; my Skype call to the US was crystal clear. Impressive bathroom with large soaking tub, glass-enclosed step-in rain shower with excellent water pressure, but only one vanity. This is convenient location from which to tour Auckland; you are a short walk from the harbour with its many restaurants.

Mollies. Mollies is the archetypical boutique hotel. If what you want in Auckland is a large, comfortable hotel room, a convenient location, and an efficient concierge desk, book the Westin. But if you want an unique and quite personal experience, consider Mollies. This hotel was originally built for the first Mayor of Auckland. It was converted into a boarding house, and then a hotel, by Molly, the mother of the current owner, Frances Wilson - a noted opera coach. The hotel is decorated with antiques, and the wall treatment is Venetian plaster.

Staying at Mollies is an event. Guests mingle for cocktails and canapes every evening at 6:30 in the drawing room and enjoy a brief, extremely well-done operatic performance at 7:30. I’m not a particular fan of opera, but this was enjoyable — short and sweet with classic opera pieces that should be familiar to most. The setting is conducive to conversation between guests, and you will get to know some interesting and sophisticated fellow travelers.

My Junior Suite at Mollies was everything I would expect from that room category. I had a comfortably sized corner room with a separate sitting area and a small balcony. The room had all the expected amenities, and the bathroom was large with a double vanity, jacuzzi tub, and a very large walk-in shower. From April through December, Virtuoso guests are virtually guaranteed upgrades to a Villa (suite). The top room category is a Premium Villa which are larger, feature great views, and have baby grand pianos in the room; the most requested room is #8.

Last edited by DavidO; May 10, 09 at 11:20 pm
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