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Matakauri Mountain Lodge

The Main Lodge is nestled
in pristine wilderness.

Each of four villas overlook Lake Wakatipu.

Be forewarned. When you drive up to the luxurious Matakauri Lodge south of Queenstown, New Zealand, drive a car with a low-roof. Why? Because the Matakauri is so private and exclusive, that you have to drive through the forest to get to their front door. In moments, you'll forget the Aspen-like busy-ness of Queenstown (Aspen and Queenstown are sister cities) and arrive in a peaceful oasis. The Lodge is set on nine acres of native bush, partially landscaped with rolling lawns, a meandering stream and surrounded by a pine forest, overlooking the spectacular Lake Wakatipu, creating an atmosphere of supreme privacy and enjoyment.

Don't look for a big sign or reception area. There isn't one. When we drove up, we thought we might have accidentally stumbled into someone's private compound — and that's exactly what the folks at the Matakauri want you to feel like. We tip-toed through the front door, only to be greeted by our host, a delightful German woman, named Wiebke (VEEB-keh). She offered us a drink (Bob had a single-malt Scotch; I sipped a local Zinfandel), and showed us around the lodge.

Relax in the villa's window seat.

You won't want to leave the heated bathtub.

The villa bedroom opens onto the view.

The Matakauri Lodge is just four years old (2000), and was built with a main house for the family who lived there, and four cottages, each with two suites that are a few yards and miles of privacy away. General manager Tomas Kastberg told us that while other lodges in the area are more formal, with white gloved butlers and such, the Matakauri was designed to reflect the New Zealander lifestyle — more relaxed, simple and elegant. Think of a simple but very elegant Zen Buddhist structure, add the Kiwis' zesty love for the outdoors, and you begin to get the picture.

Our suite in one of the cottages could have been a large apartment in many metropolitan areas. The sitting room was built from local stone and wood, elegantly decorated with furniture of simple lines and sumptuous fabrics and garnished with a gas-started wood-burning stove. A minibar was stocked with teas, coffees, cookies, and other goodies, all included in the price of the room (except for the alcohol, which was extra). Commanding the entire room was the stunning view of Lake Wakatipu, with 270 degree views. Across the lake, the mountains fill your eyes with stunning beauty, and not one iota of human presence. Having come from the San Francisco Bay Area, it was ocular refreshment.

I can't tell you which room was the piece de resistance — the bedroom or the bath, so I'll have to say "both." The wall in the bedroom at the foot of the bed isn't a wall at all, but louvered accordion shutters, that we closed when we  were napped. Otherwise, we threw them open and looked out through the living room into the amazing view. Now that is my idea of luxury, a bed with a view!

Double shower heads
and lots of room.

The bathroom was the best designed I've ever seen. The shower contained two shower heads, so that Bob and I could shower together without fighting over the water. Plus he could lift the shower head to reach over his 6'3" height, and I could lower mine to my comfort as well. The tub is not to be missed. It's large enough for the two of us plus a large dog, quite comfortably. Jets give your tired feet and back a delightful massage. As an extra touch of comfort, the tub is heated from underneath, so no matter how long you sit in the tub (and I was there a very long time), the water never gets cold. If that isn't enough, the tub overlooks the same view as the living room. Needless to say, I acquired a rather permanent pruny quality to my skin over the three days we visited.

The Living Room of the Main Lodge.

The Main Lodge's Library & internet connection.

Get a massage in your room.

The staff wants you to feel as though you are visiting a friend's home, a place where your soul is replenished, where abundant natural beauty brings you back in harmony with yourself and nature. The Lodge's heart and soul are about  balance — wonderful nature, fun-loving people, a place of relaxation and rejuvenation. How do they do it?

It starts even before you arrive. If you notify the Matakauri of your likes and dislikes, they will have everything waiting for you. But even if you didn't plan ahead, they make it appear as though you had. We had been traveling so much that we didn't quite get around to telling them that I am allergic to wheat and mushrooms. No problem . . . the cook was able to make some adjustments on the fly.

But we really put them to the test when we asked if my step-son and his girlfriend, who had been living in Queenstown, might be able to join us for dinner. This was trickier because the Lodge only hosts 16 people when it is full, and there were only eight guests when we were there. The chef usually only cooks for the number of guests, but he was cheerfully able to accommodate our last minute request.

World-class dining in a homey atmosphere.

For romance, try dinner in the wine cellar.

Dinner starts at  7 p.m. with drinks and nibbles with your fellow guests. Our first night, we met a couple who were visiting from Hamilton, a city on the North Island of New Zealand. They raised racing horses among other fascinating things, and we spent the whole evening chatting with them. At 8 p.m. we moved into the "Living Room", where the staff had set up two tables, so that we could eat and view the sunset over the nearby mountain range called The Remarkables. After our engaging chat with our new friends, we quickly decided to shove our two tables together and continue the evening. We had made new friends. Then the food started to arrive.

The first evening we had:

» Teriyaki Glazed Salmon Medallion served on a Ramen Noodle Salad with wilted bok choy, accompanied by Gisborne 2002 Villa Maria Gisborne Reserve Gewurtztraminer.

» Oven Roasted Veal Rack set on Dauphinoise Potatoes, with a red pepper comfit, Steamed broccolini, finished with a pomegranate glaze, with a Gibbstown Valley — Central Otago 2002 Waitiri Creek Pinot Noir

» Strawberry Quark and Cassis Terrine accompanied by a sable biscuit and coconut ice cream, Hawkes Bay 2000 Virtu Noble Semillon

Local wines complete the tasty meals.

Don't forget to save room for dessert.

The next evening, which we shared with the kids was:

» Smoked Salmon Rosette served in a foamy green pea soup, with a 2003 Peregrine Pinot Gris

» Oven Roasted Lamb Shortloin marinated with herbs and garlic, served with a mustard seed potato mash and braised portobello mushroomS, finished with ginger glaze, with Obsidian Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot.

» Poached espresso and Baileys crème accompanied by vanilla ice cream, with Bailey's Irish Cream over ice.

Executive Chef Gerhard Gerber was awarded the prestigious Swiss Chef of the Year Award in 1997, and in following with the Lodge's focus on simplicity and elegance, his dishes are combined to let the natural flavors of the meats and vegetable speak for themselves. Rather than being encumbered by complicated sauces, the fresh foods are allowed to sing on their own with a minimum of delicate flavorings. Wow!

Breakfasts were equally simple and stunning. Bob had the local version of pancakes with slices of seared pineapple between cakes. My herbed scrambled eggs were the perfect start to my day. As you might imagine, lunch is completely unnecessary, though the Lodge does serve it, and they will pack you a lunch if you will be away for the day.

Check out the hot tub, day or night.

Indoor exercise is available.

Golf is nearby.

And skiing is just a short drive away.

Or take a tour of the breathtaking
Remarkables by helicopter.

If you can manage to get out of bed, be sure to take in a soak in the Lodge's outdoor hot tub. With it's private location away from city lights, the tub offers you a view of the stars that would make Carl Sagan jealous. Billions and billions of them. Take a short walk down to the Lodge's dock (or jetty) to see the amazingly clear waters of the lake and a view of the lodge with the stunning mountains behind. And if you don't get enough exercise walking, skiing, fishing, or any of the other outdoor activities, you can use the gym stocked with a stationery bike, free weights, bench, and a touch we ex-rowers especially appreciated — a rowing machine. The Lodge can arrange for you to unwind from your workout with an in-room massage and tailored yoga sessions.

Queenstown and its sister communities are home to many talented artists, and the Lodge is proud to showcase some of the finest works, including paintings, sculptures, and hand crafts.

The Matakauri Lodge staff can also arrange a wide variety of adventures for you, for this is the spirit of the real Kiwi — outdoors adventure. Fly in a helicopter tour of the Hollyford Range, which is Hobbit country; see the spectacular Milford Sound and the glacier at Mt. Pembroke. They can also arrange bungee-jumping, whitewater rafting, heliskiing, fly-fishing (see my related article on Stu Tripney of Born to Fish for the best), kayaking, mountain biking, paragliding, water-skiing, horseback riding, golf, and jet boating, and much more.

Maori legend tells of a beautiful princess, named Manata, who loved a young warrior named Matakauri. They wanted to be married, but her father had arranged her marriage to a chief from another village. A terrible giant who lived high in the mountains stole the princess away. The father proclaimed that any warrior who could save his daughter's life would have her hand in marriage. So great was Matakauri's love for Manata, he was the only warrior who would face the cruel giant.

Matakauri found the giant asleep in a small valley with Manata tied to a thorn tree. No matter how hard Matakauri swung his axe, he could not break the magical cord that held the princess. Weaping, Manata pleaded with Matakauri to leave before the giant awoke. Then, a tear fell upon her bonds, breaking the spell and setting her free.

Matakauri quickly laid dry bracken all around the giant's body and set it alight. The blaze grew so hot that it consumed the giant — his body burning a hole in the ground and melting the snow on the surrounding mountains.

To this day, Lake Wakatipu resembles the shape of the sleeping giant. The lake's water level rises and falls about 11 cm (6 in) every 11 minutes, and legend says the giant's heart is still beating beneath the surface providing this rhythmic pulse.

Matakauri Lodge
Glenorchy Road
New Zealand
Telephone: +64 3 441 1008
Fax: +64 3 441 2180

Click to Fish New Zealand

Normally, I like to finish my articles with a few things you should do or see around the hotel that I'm reviewing. But this hotel is so special that I think you should go there without any other agenda. The staff are so wonderful that they will be able to help you choose activities custom tailored to your needs. When the staff are that good, I like say "let the professionals handle that."

— Feature by Cymber Quinn and Bob Conn, Jetsetters Magazine Correspondents-at-Large. Photos by Cymber Quinn and Matakauri Mountain Lodge.

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