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Short hop for a long weekend: New Zealand's Whare Kea Lodge
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
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House & Garden
A long-weekend jaunt to New Zealand's Whare Kea Lodge on the shores of Lake Wanaka is an exhilarating encounter with an enchanting region, writes Lucy McCabe.
Being greeted with a glass of Peregrine Pinot Gris and an Aoraki smoked-salmon roulade certainly helps me switch from work mode into luxury-recipient mode at Wanaka's Whare Kea lodge.
It's Friday afternoon and I've just emerged after a three-hour flight and an hour's limousine drive from Sydney to this luxury lodge on Lake Wanaka in New Zealand's south island. So, instead of anticipating the crush of a crowded city restaurant, I'm luxuriating in a view of crystal-clear water and tussock-coated hills rising to majestic mountains as seen through floor-to-ceiling windows. I'm snug and warm, outside it is chilly and incredibly beautiful.
As a former interior-architecture student, the first thing that strikes me is the Japanese-influenced design at Whare Kea (whare meaning house in Maori and the kea being a large alpine parrot). The glass windows and doors invite the outdoors in and flood the interiors with natural light, giving the sensation of being on a boat floating on water. Inside, the warm timber finishes, cosy-style interior (generous leather armchairs, plentiful cushions and throws) and landscapes by local artists combine to create an inviting atmosphere where five-star luxury meets rustic charm.
Avid mountaineers, Martyn and Louise Myer (of Myer retail fame) fell in love with the property and added it to their holdings in 1993. Along with the construction of the lodge, they planted much of the 24ha farmland with more than 10,000 trees including silver birch, larch, fir, chestnut, oak and poplar. The result is an ever-changing vista of gentle shapes and colours surrounding the always serene lake.
After settling in, my group sits down for a five-course degustation menu prepared by executive chef, James Stapley, with local wines to match. It emerges that he's devoted to uncovering the wonders of local produce and goes to extraordinary lengths to unlock the potential of the edible gold mine that is Wanaka. One of our courses is fresh koura taco with avocado, chilli and lime. Koura is a sweet freshwater crayfish from nearby Alexandra that he has skilfully converted a Sunday night staple into a culinary revelation. Once we've tucked into this superb meal, we're eager to know what's on the menu the following night but James casually remarks that he hasn't decided yet - he will venture to the local markets in the morning and assemble a menu based on the freshest available local produce.
The following day, a hike to the top of Mou Waho island, the pristine nature reserve, works up our appetites, and right on cue a helicopter appears to sweep us away. We are taken on an exhilarating flight higher and higher to Whare Kea's private alpine chalet, set 1750m above sea level on the slopes of Dragon Fly peak in the Buchanan mountains. Here, we settle in for a gourmet lunch, the clear sky a perfect backdrop for the tumbling glaciers and peaks that dwarf us.
Back in the helicopter, we wind our way between areas renowned for their ski fields, such as Treble Cone and Cardrona, down to the Lodge. As a keen skier, I imagine how special it would be here in winter, but I'm not fussed, because I'm taken with the diverse activities on offer in autumn. Whether you prefer salmon or trout fishing, jet boating, horseback riding, skiing, picnics surrounded by Mother Nature, wine tasting or simply relaxing with a local drop in the lodge, the unspoiled yet versatile landscape offers an exciting adventure playground in all seasons.
To round off our long weekend we saddle up for a horse ride through the countryside. We pass the shy sheep, with their thickening coats signalling their readiness for winter, head up through the larch forest and out to Rippon Vineyard, where we soak up our last view of Lake Wanaka before our return to the hustle and bustle that is Sydney. For this first-time visitor to New Zealand, I have not only had an action-packed weekend but I have also been able to relish the simple things like sunrise and sunset. As soon as I leave, I start to plan my next visit. It's been the most relaxing, memorable long weekend of my life.
Activities at Whare Kea are tailor made to guest requirements and come guided or self-guided. Choose from half or full day walks, mountain & road biking, mountaineering, high altitude hiking, fly fishing, hunting, wilderness and high country tours, lake and river cruises, native bird watching, winery tours, golf, rock climbing, kayaking, skydiving, jet boating, paragliding, skiing and heli-skiing (four local ski areas), excursions to Milford Sound, Mount Cook and the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers.
Whare Kea Lodge & Chalet, from $1383NZD/night ex GST. Includes use of lodge facilities, pre-dinner drinks, canapes, five- course degustation and a la carte breakfast. Call +64 3 443 1400 or go to
. The Myers recently launched WANAKA, from Earth to Heaven at Whare Kea, a book highlighting the region and all its pleasures.
Air New Zealand
has regular weekly services from Sydney to Queenstown, and also via Christchurch. The airline also offers flights from Sydney to Christchurch, with a daily connection to Wanaka.
Go to the
New Zealand Tourism website
for more info.
Lucy McCabe travelled courtesy of Whare Kea Lodge & Chalet.
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Hi Lucy, Just wanted to let you know I read your Article this evening. It transported me back to the serenity of Wanaka and accelerated my intention to re-visit soon, maybe during the ski season, although, like you, I became entranced during my most recent Autumn visit in 2008. I am madly now looking for my friends' email address to make contact to go back. PAUL
Wow. This looks amazing. Definitely on the bucket list.
I would love to experience this amazing location!
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