As someone incredibly wise and well-liked (probably me) once said, ‘You have to go to Queenstown.’ Most people don’t know the second half of the sentence is, ‘And make sure you do it properly.’
Properly, we discover, is Matakauri Lodge.
Mr Smith and I arrive at the boutique luxury retreat at 9pm after driving for what seems like 468 hours, and valiantly electing not to purchase crisps at the petrol station so as to maintain our (titanic) appetites. We share a deep, grateful sigh as we pull up, the kind that comes when you know a weekend of enormous robes the colour of celebrity teeth and pre-dinner scotch awaits. A smiling angel in fetching white slacks manifests at the top of the steps leading down to the lodge, and greets us by name. And so it begins.
The angel (Claire) kindly indulges us as we stumble from the car and stare at what lies before us. Our glazed eyes can barely comprehend the brain-bending view: dense pines cuddle the sides of glassy Lake Wakatipu, the sun (yes, sun – southern New Zealand in January has a penchant for very late nightfall) illuminates the formidable Cecil and Walter Peaks, and shadows of soft, cartoon-shaped clouds glide across the Remarkables range. Risking our reputation as totally suave luxury cats, we quietly request a photo.
Jittery with excitement – and low blood-sugar levels – we devilishly decide to head straight to dinner, until Claire artfully tells us there is a dinner jacket dress code. To the room! She leads us through the neat grounds to our Deluxe Suite, one of six that are detached from the main lodge. It sits above a wild drop to the lake, directly facing Cecil Peak.
The suite instantly reminds me how many stars (13 or so) I am dealing with at Matakauri Lodge, and that contemporary design needn’t be code for clinical. To my enchantment, I find myself in one of the chic interior design magazines I optimistically buy each month. Bursts of orange and burnt yellow against muted greys, creams and white give the suite a fresh feel, and the layered textures, cushions and rugs inject warmth. It’s cosy but uncluttered. And so smart. Mr Smith is very impressed by the massive black TV hidden behind a painting and the switch-operated fireplace; I like the separate toilet (a small but critical point when ensuring a truly romantic weekend).
Also, there is a bath, if by ‘bath’ I mean ‘magical aquatic recreation area’. This tub is set in a lavish double bathroom, perched against a window offering vistas of one of the most breathtaking natural landscapes either of us has ever witnessed. Said tub will later become the scene of an indulgent two-hour soak and a bottle of Moët & Chandon, but that’s its fault. It was asking for it.
Back in the small, elegant lobby, which boasts the kind of view hotel websites have to doctor to make look that good, numerous and attractive young staff float around politely. We are informed we’ve been given the library to dine in, a cosy room upstairs from the main dining area and with a very romantic feel. Delightful! I inhale moreish, miniature Japanese tempura prawns with tapenade, while Mr Smith sinks his teeth into butter-soft pork belly and local fish. We slurp on dazzling Otago pinot noir, all the while fretting that we should’ve tried the chardonnay or pinot gris – it’s terrifying choosing The Right Wine when you are in one of the world’s best-known and most impressive wine regions. Not surprisingly, staff members know their grapes, and together we (OK, they) make an excellent choice.
Ask for pancakes at breakfast if they’re not on the menu; when I do the following morning I’m rewarded with perhaps the finest blueberry hotcakes in modern history. Lunch is a delicious array of choose-your-ingredients sandwich and salads – it sounds modest, and it is, but the food works hard and is thoughtfully created. And there is something marvelously decadent about eating a cheese and chutney toastie in such a luxurious setting and with such a phenomenal view. (Accompanied by a glass of irresistible Amisfield riesling, of course.)
Despite being spectacularly happy lazing about our lakeside home, we figure we should see the town before we become floppy, hopeless post-massage victims, and drive the five minutes into Queenstown.
Although it’s summer (a scorching 15 degrees; it’s all relative), the town is busy hosting masses of bungy-jumpers and river-rafters, and expertly hiding all of its hip bars and eateries in tiny alleys. We have dinner at the Bunker after hearing rave reviews from gastro-snobs. It is a triumph, especially the bar upstairs, and more specifically its Old Fashioned.
We watch the choppy lake lap at the pier wall and have a coffee and world famous cheesy roll at Vesta, because one cannot eat enough toast and cheese in NZ, then head back to the hotel for deep-tissue massages. The spa, gym and pool are modest, but like the menus and the lobby, size is irrelevant when the service is exceptional. And it is: we emerge from our rooms (there is no couples room, which is sad until we realise we’ve become a couple who prefers massages in couple’s rooms, and then it becomes embarrassing) dazed and wiping drool from our mouths. Susan, my therapist, is masterful. Definitely ask for her.
Despite having only opened in August 2010, as the younger sister of the Farm at Cape Kidnappers and the Lodge at Kauri Cliffs (both consistently perched at the top of Condé Nast and Travel + Leisure’s ‘World’s Best’ lists), we don’t expect to find many teething problems, and we don’t. My only constructive piece of criticism is that an air conditioner in the bedroom wouldn’t go astray.
Matakauri Lodge excels at stealth wealth, bursting with convivial staff, terrific food and discrete luxury. And as there are only 11 rooms, it felt incredibly private. We rarely see other guests, and despite our room being under another, we don’t hear them either.
People come to Queenstown for the movie-set style views. This isn’t news. But you do not find views like this in town – uninterrupted, expansive, lake-edge vistas complemented by authentic serenity. You arrive and feel an irrational need to write a novel, or some terribly clichéd poetry. It is awesome, in the true sense of the word.
I’ve resented the eerie, disorienting 11pm New Zealand nightfall my entire time here, but at Matakauri Lodge I find myself clinging to daylight like a filthy wretch clinging to her last shiny coin. Or cheese toastie.