New Zealand’s Luxury Retreats

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New Zealand's
The North Island’s Wharekauhau Lodge, overlooking Palliser Bay.

With stunning nature as a backdrop, friendly people, and Relais & Chateaux lodges, as well as other luxury accommodations, New Zealand offers a flawless, once-in-a-lifetime, high-end vacation.

During our recent visit, we traversed the country from the “Far North” down to the South Island. Along the way, we experienced a world-class farm-to-table culinary scene complemented by gourmet food and wine pairings at boutique wineries; amazing golf courses; even more amazing spas; thrilling scenic helicopter tours; luxe accommodations and the best in service.

Not to overstate how grand our visit was, but we were treated like royalty. That’s due to a combination of New Zealand’s magnificent tourism infrastructure and the phenomenal talent and knowledge of our New Zealand destination expert Keri Davis, managing director of ICEworks, the luxury DMC that customized our itinerary.

“We work with agents from the U.S. to customize their clients’ itineraries—from intimate couples’ getaways and honeymoons, to multigenerational family vacations. Our luxury lodges work really well for FIT or family groups, which can have buyouts, and we often design a program that includes three or four of the lodges, either as a self-drive or with flight options,” says Davis, adding that, “I am always thrilled to see guests’ reactions to our lodges as they are astounded by the beautiful locations that put them in touch with the ‘real’ New Zealand.”

lodge at kauri cliffs

In the “Far North” of the North Island, our first stay was at the Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, a quiet, tucked away retreat overlooking Matauri Bay. This Relais & Chateaux property, set along a rugged and eye-popping coastline with views of the Pacific Ocean, got one of the highest ratings in Conde Nast Traveler’s “Gold List 2014.” The lodge sits on a 6,500-acre working farm with thousands of cows and sheep dotting the property. The plantation-style main lodge with expansive decks that overlook the property’s golf course and the ocean beyond, has high ceilings, fireplaces and an array of spaces to choose from for dining and gathering. Accommodations are in 840- to 900-sq.-ft. cottages that are tastefully decorated with native timber and antiques. They include a working gas fireplace, walk-in closets, and decks with ocean views.

After an activity-filled day, guests are invited to meet in the main room for complimentary assorted canapes, cocktails and fine wines from around the region. A sommelier is on hand to offer suggestions and insight on the varieties available from the extensive wine list. Well-heeled guests will appreciate the candlelit dining room, which is elegant and soothing and is run by a highly trained staff, although if they prefer a more personal or private experience, other dining spots are available. Additionally, while on property, guests will want to spend time in the glass-enclosed verandah that provides amazing views of the lodge and landscape. The Library, meanwhile, offers a plush, warm and comfortable setting that is ideal for clients who want to linger long after dinner is over.

As we mentioned, the property has a par 72 championship golf course that any golf aficionado will find enthralling—there are 15 holes that face the Pacific Ocean, six of which are played alongside cliffs that plunge to the sea, and the inland holes wind through marsh, forest and farmland. In addition to golf, the lodge also has a spa, as well as three beaches where clients can go swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and fishing.

Offsite, guests can visit Waitangi in the Bay of Islands. This is sacred land as it’s where the original peace treaty was signed between the native Maori people and the English in 1840. Here, one can experience a music/dance performance to hear and see how the Maori people celebrate their culture.

the farm at cape kidnappers

Located in the wonderful wine region of Hawke’s Bay on the North Island, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers sits 1,000 ft. above the Pacific and is set on a 6,000-acre working sheep and cattle farm.

The main lodge, where guests gather for dining and socializing, is a renovated farmhouse that boasts rich interiors accented with abstract paintings, exposed wood beam ceilings and warm wood furnishings; local materials were incorporated into the design elements. Guests will appreciate the discerning service, gourmet dinners and wine pairings, all typical of a Relais & Chateaux property. The lodge has 22 individual sleeping cottages, all quite spacious and allowing the natural light in. Each has a foyer entrance with a stocked minibar, large bathrooms with double vanities, and sleeping rooms opening onto porches overlooking the rolling hills and ocean.

Golf fanatics won’t be disappointed with this property either, as it boasts a par 71 championship golf course designed by Tom Doak. In fact, the lodge was named “2014 Golf Resort of the Year” in the International Association of Golf Tour Operators’ “Best of the World” category, and rated No. 6 in the world on Golf Digest’s list of Top 100 courses outside the United States.

Not to be missed is a visit to Napier, dubbed the “Art Deco Capital of the World.” Special treatment comes in the form of a narrated tour of the city’s unique history and Art Deco architecture with Art Deco Vintage Car Tours, conducted by Graham Holley, who is passionate about his town. As your clients are driven around town in a beautifully restored 1931 Packard, Holley recounts stories one would not hear anywhere else.

wharekauhau lodge

On the southern tip of the North Island, Wharekauhau Lodge  sits on a 5,000-acre working farm in the tucked-away rural region of Wairarapa, which translates to “land of glistening waters” in the native Maori tongue. Here, guests will be embraced by peace and tranquility. We felt like rock stars as we arrived by helicopter right onto the hotel’s front lawn. Lodge manager Richard Rooney came out to greet us and made sure we felt right at home (this is something he does with all of his guests).

“We offer a true New Zealand experience, with warm and friendly people. Our lodge is meant to feel like an English country house; as if guests were staying at someone’s home vs. a hotel,” Rooney explains.

The main lodge is cozy with lots of areas to socialize. The accommodations are spacious and all come with private porches that are made for relaxing with a glass of wine while looking out over the stunning landscape and ocean.

Your clients can do as much or as little as they want while staying at the lodge, although taking in the surroundings is a true delight. We were driven around in the most up-to-date Range Rovers and saw Romney and Texel sheep dotting the vast farmland; we were even given a sheep shearing demonstration. While in the area, we recommend a visit to nearby Martinborough, home to lots of wineries. Not to miss is a delicious lunch at Poppies with a glass of their Pinot Gris.

sofitel queenstown hotel and spa

With its chic, energizing and trendy vibe, Queenstown is the jewel of the South Island’s Central Otago region. Ideally located in the heart of Queenstown, just a few minutes’ walk from the main street’s restaurants, shops and art galleries, is the five-star, French-inspired, 82-room Sofitel Queenstown Hotel and Spa.

“We offer our guests ‘handcrafted experiences,’ and with over 400 activities in the area to choose from, we know we can deliver tailor-made and authentic experiences,” says Tanya Dennis, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.

The boutique property is charming and comfortable. Just off the lobby, which offers a chic French antique decor, there’s the cozy and plush lounge, where we experienced a handpicked wine
tasting by the local Gibbston Valley wineries.

The Sofitel’s spa is sublime. Right from the get-go, guests will feel pampered as they access the private elevator that leads directly to the spa. This allows them to put on their robe and slippers in their guestroom and head for the spa ready for a treatment.

Speaking of guestrooms, they are spacious with all of the amenities one could ask for in a five-star property. Breakfast was also a treat in the property’s French-style cafe, with everything under the sun your clients could want. Recommend the “flight of smoothies” for breakfast—the variety of fruit is astonishing.

getting there

No Kiwi—which translates to native New Zealander—experience should start without travel on Air New Zealand, which gave us a big Kia Ora (welcome) with an amazing staff for the journey on the airline’s modern Boeing 777 aircraft, offering 46 flat beds and two gateway choices. Traveling in business class nonstop, clients arrive pampered and rested from either Los Angeles or San Francisco into Auckland, the gateway city to New Zealand. Air New Zealand also provides inter-country service with a staff that offers a hassle-free travel experience.