Monday, October 29, 2012

New Zealand adventures, Part II

The Hapuku guest lodge will enchant you with its unique treehouses, which American owner/architect Tony Wilson designed for his tall trees.
New Zealand adventures, Part II
for New Zealand adventures, Part I (click here)
by Gregory Speck

Huka Lodge outside Taupo is of course the most iconic of all the great New Zealand resorts, and it has been the chosen abode of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, when they have ventured to this unique outer reach of their Commonwealth.  Since 1924, when the Irish adventurer Allan Pye discovered this mesmerizing fly fishing spot on the banks of the Waikato River, it has attracted such anglers as Charles Lindbergh and James Michener.  
In 1984 the Dutch entrepreneur Alex van Heeren decided to upgrade the old lodge and its roaring riverside setting and erected a princely manor house enclosing such intimate parlors that even the royals feel at home.  Amid hedges so tall you feel you are inside, whether soaking in the swimming pools or wandering around the park-like gardens, this supremely elegant destination offers every degree of privacy, and every form of hospitality; even the Crown Prince of Holland spent two weeks here with his Argentinian bride Maxima in secret seclusion on their honeymoon. 
In case you want to climb Mount Doom, head for the southern end of Lake Taupo and check into the very special River Birches guest lodge, which is so warm in atmospheric aesthetic, and yet so cool in architectural style.  There you can enjoy more sensuous pleasures, from jacuzzi in the rain to cuisine by the hearth, from fly fishing in the river to bird watching in the marsh, before heading off to nearby Tongariro National Park, where two volcanoes provided dramatic backdrops for pivotal scenes in Peter Jackson's Tolkien epics, and where you can explore a dreamy waterfall used in a poetic moment in the film trilogy. 
On the east coast of the north island, Hawke's Bay faces the vast Pacific and boasts the famed art deco town of Napier, which was destroyed in 1931 by a violent earthquake and then rebuilt in that period's trendiest architectural style, featuring geometric interpretations of Egyptian, Mayan, and Oriental.  In the nearby countryside the very comfortable Glen Aros guest lodge provides tranquil elegance in a rural setting, superb dining as prepared by a former Savoy Hotel chef, and a most relaxing ambience in which to enjoy the pool and gardens.
Farther down the coast is the legendary Farm at Cape Kidnappers, the second of American hedge fund plutocrat Julian Robertson's opulent New Zealand lodges, spread out on 6,000 clifftop acres that encompass an 18 hole golf course designed by Tom Doak, sheep and cattle pastures, and a luxuriously appointed faux farmhouse;  it houses both spacious guest suites and an extensive wine cellar, and features multiple gourmet dining and lounging areas.  Designed by architects Andrew Patterson, Roger Langley, and Paul Rosnell, the gracious but unpretentious structures were decorated by Linda Bedell. 
Many guests stay in the adjacent cottages, all of them tastefully furnished and concealed around the infinity swimming pool near the state-of-the-art spa center;  most of them are also eager to visit the local gannet colony, where big baby birds hatch and fledge, at the breathtaking Cape for which this outstanding resort is named.  The lowkey but attentive hospitality is absolutely first class at this unique destination, where the magnificent landscape echoes Montana, and the menu of both leisure and sporting activities will keep you entertained for days.
At the southern end of the north island Palliser Bay bends westward, and there Wharekauhau guest lodge appears on its 5,000 acre estate like a mirage across the river, a palatial white mansion commanding a great lawn beneath the Rimutaka mountain peaks.  If the grand exterior with its many towering chimneys is overwhelmingly stately, the interiors are subtly seductive and cheerily sumptuous, with antique-studded parlors and salons indoors, and terraces among the gardens outdoors. 
Guests are housed in a series of suites within charming bungalow cottages around the manicured grounds, and like all of these remote 5 star lodges, spa facilities, tennis courts, horse stables, and swimming pools are on site.  These amenities are complemented by exceptional cuisine embracing every possible delicacy harvested from sea and land, and a dizzying selection of local and international wines. 
New Zealand's vibrant capital city of Wellington is just around the bend, and its skyscrapers offer a striking contrast with the remote and rugged natural beauty in which most of the countryside resorts are located.  Established in the mid-19th century within a sheltered harbor, this maritime trading station now houses the federal government, numerous corporate offices, and a full range of cultural and historic sites, all spread around the attractive port.   
The charming Wellesley Boutique Hotel downtown was once a gentlemen's club, but in 1969 one of the resident sugar daddies jumped from the roof, and then began to haunt the stately manse, so membership declined;  the handsome edifice was eventually reborn as a very smart hotel renowned for its formal dining room and splendid cuisine. 
The charming Wellesley Boutique Hotel.
Its formal dining room.
Within walking distance are the imposing parliament buildings, one a classical temple, another a gigantic beehive, both surrounded by a hillside park, and along the dock you will find an array of fascinating museums.
Paramount among these is of course enormous Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand, which comprises not only natural history (from whales to moas) and cultural heritage (from Maori migrations to gay liberation), but also fine art exhibits and costume shows, such as the superlative "Unveiled:  200 Years of Wedding Fashion," on loan from London's Victoria and Albert Museum.  
Across the road is the chic Museum Hotel, along the quai are a series of other interesting art and history museums, and high above it all the lush and varied Botanic Garden. 
After you check out the greenhouses and rose bushes in this hilltop Eden you might need some more formal spiritual sustenance, so back down the mountain you can retreat into the quiet of an exquisite old church, such as gothic St. Peter's, or the even more beautiful St. Paul's, which dates from 1866 and features intricate woodwork and important stained glass.  The long beaches all around the city are magnets for legions of fit sunbathers and swimmers, but for the best views of all you need to ascend Mount Victoria to take in the whole panorama of glorious Wellington and its truly magnificent harbor.  
Though many choose to fly Air New Zealand to reach the south island, regular passenger and car ferries depart Wellington for the three hour sail to Picton via the Cook Strait, where schools of dolphins swim beside the ship, and even albatrosses swoop and glide alongside to keep you feeling like Dr. Doolittle. 
The port town of Picton is accessed by the awesome Queen Charlotte Sound, an azure waterway of emerald jungles climbing skyward, where sailboats and schooners alike drop anchor near its many sandy beaches. 
In the midst of the dozens of nearby Marlborough wineries, the dignified Timara guest lodge in Blenheim will envelope you with its 25 acres of blooming English gardens, its lake and swimming pool, and its plush interiors;  under the care of Austrian owner/chef Louis Schindler you will dine like a king, and drink like one as well, given the abundance of local vineyards. 
Down the east coast near the whale, dolphin, and seal sighting town of Kaikoura, the Hapuku guest lodge will enchant you with its unique treehouses, which American owner/architect Tony Wilson designed for his tall trees.  Indeed, the best rooms in this fanciful but ecologically oriented hotel are literally in the tops of trees, and feature luxurious bedroom/bathroom suites from which you can see the swimming pool, the orchards, and the herd of red deer, whose antlers are annually sawed off for various environmentally sound uses. 
The south island's largest city, Christchurch, was severely damaged by an earthquake in February 2011, and indeed its celebrated 1881 stone cathedral, fenced off from viewing for security purposes ever since, is now to be demolished, which fate awaits much of the downtown area.  Fortunately, the centrally located George Hotel, a chic boutique facing Hagley Park, was untouched in the big shake, and it offers a sleek and hip refuge from the devastation all around it.  With fine restaurants, inviting bedroom suites offering every amenity, and easy access to all the still operating sites, The George is very clearly the best hotel in town.
In the country suburbs stands the resplendent Otahuna guest lodge, built in 1895 by country gentleman/politician and entrepreneur Sir Heaton Rhodes in the elegant Queen Anne style, and reputedly the largest privately owned historic home in the nation.  Regrettably, the tall chimneys of this imposing heritage property crashed during the quake, and so the recently arrived owners, Tennesseans Hall Cannon and Miles Refo, salvaged the bricks and with them created terraces in the back yard near the vegetable and flower gardens.  The future King George VI spent the night here in 1927 while he was still The Duke of York, and so the tradition of grand social rituals like ceremonial high tea has become a hallmark of this singular mansion. 
Christchurch sightseers will be disappointed that the fantastic architectural structure of the 2003 museum of modern art has been declared unsafe, so that striking art gallery is closed, but the Orana wildlife park is open for those hoping to get close to tigers and lions, and the marvellous Canterbury Museum is still in operation. 
On the edge of the extensive botanic gardens, this repository of ancient Maori anthropology and sociology, 19th century European immigration and settlement, decorative arts, and natural history also hosts offbeat exhibitions, such as the entertaining Paua Shell House, in which an eccentric couple decorated their home with abalone shells, and the fabulous "Wearable Art" travelling show.
Farther south along the coast you will come to the remarkable town of Oamaru, which by the 1880s became quite prosperous through refrigerated meat-shipping, thanks to the local supplies of lamb and beef.  With that wealth its city fathers erected a series of exquisite limestone temples in classical Greek, Roman, Gothic, and Venetian styles, which housed banks, wool concerns, and even an opera company.  Now quaint though still stately, the town offers close access not only to fur seals, but also to two colonies of extremely rare penguins, the Blue species and their Yellow-Eyed cousins.    
The 1889 9,000 square-foot hilltop mansion known as Pen-y-Bryn is surely the leading guest lodge in the area, and like the other members of Lodges of New Zealand features complimentary cocktails, a lavish dinner, a bountiful breakfast, comfortable accommodations, and hospitable hosts, in this case Virginians James Glucksman and James Boussy. Still the largest single-storey home on the south island, this historic property has been occupied by several families over the decades, and in the 1990s was refurbished to operate as a private hotel.
One can hug the coast toward Dunedin or go inland at such a point, so if you head west you may reach Lake Wanaka, which seems a combination of the Scottish highlands (Loch Ness or Loch Lomond), of the Swiss Alpine peaks, and of the Colorado Rockies resorts.  In the pleasant town of Wanaka, which feels almost like Aspen, Puzzling World, a museum of illusions, will provide disorientation at its most delicious, the Transport and Toy Museum will restore your belief in chrome, and the NZ Fighter Pilots Museum will show off not the best planes, but the best automobiles ever built. 
Over the hills you will come to the resort town of Queenstown, which in the 1850s was born of a local gold rush boom, and where you can do everything from the fiords and Milford Sound to bungie jumping and river jetting.  Azur Lodge is just west of town, and it is a triumph of rustic sophistication, with polite staff members cheerfully moving you into spacious sleek villas overlooking the surreal Lake Wakatipu, its steep walls high above your head, alternately shrouded in fog and blazing in sunlight. This guest lodge should be on your radar if you want to go, whether for skiing the slopes or hiking the glaciers. 
You can take the antique TSS Earnslaw steam ship across the deep lake to an equally antiquated but still inviting pavilion, you can visit the ineffably cute vintage village of Arrowtown, and you can also check into the wondrously modernistic Matakauri Lodge, the third of Julian Robertson's New Zealand resorts, bought and operated by his son Jay and his wife Claire.  With ultra-posh lakeside villas orbiting around an ultra-chic main manse, this five-star retreat will entrance you with its impossibly refined culinary delights, presented with such aplomb by a courteous staff bent upon service.
The drive to Glenorchy is among New Zealand's most memorable, especially if it culminates in a stay at its most lordly of guest lodges, Blanket Bay, which recalls the great American national park hotels at Yosemite and Grand Canyon.  Though some guests might feel overwhelmed by its ducal grandeur, its design and decor are in keeping with the spectacular scenery in which it is situated.  Here one can expect to rub elbows with the reclusive movie stars who feel protected within its majestic halls, so it is definitely a contender among the top destinations for the rich and jaded. 
Queenstown's most reliable prospect of repose is surely Eichardt's Private Hotel, where the staff and decor are so over the top you will feel like a Kiwi under care.  The soft and thick bedspread is itself a gigantic opossum duvee, the marble bathroom is big enough for the whole family simultaneously, and the fireplace is activated with a switch, which is the way of the future.  You might run into old acquaintances over breakfast in the glamorous dining parlor overlooking the quai, where all the joggers seem to hook up each morning, or perhaps in the hip bar in the evening.  You may not even want to get away, but there is more to see, especially the magnificent Mount Cook, which suddenly appears, like the Matterhorn across Lake Tekapo, as if intended for lovers.
All of these five star guest lodges and hotels have their own websites, so the internet will provide you with any information you might want if you care to plan a trip to lovely and charming New Zealand, where the people are sweet and funny, and the nation's natural beauty unspoiled by the problems of civilization elsewhere around this planet.