Mother Nature’s Crown Jewel, Exploring New Zealand’s South Island and a stay at The Blanket Bay Lodge

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Paradise is a cliché term bandied about when the natural landscape in front of the viewer is beyond any other descriptor. The South Island of New Zealand is such place of crisp fresh air, majestic snow-capped alpine mountains, emerald forests, and crystal-clear fjord lakes where to describe it as paradise could be considered an understatement.  This pristine wilderness is literally Middle Earth with surreal landscapes cast as the set of the Lord of the Rings movies. Surrounded by all of this indescribable beauty is an exclusive respite for the well to do and one of the top luxury lodges in the world, The Blanket Bay Lodge.

The Blanket Bay Lodge is located in the South Island high country on a winding mountain road forty minutes from the town Queenstown and near the charming village of Glenorchy.  Throughout this region are stunning alpine vistas to behold and the drive itself is one of the most scenic drives in the world. Cradled between the mountains, sheep paddocks, and the Lake Wakatipu is where you’ll find the Blanket Bay Lodge.  

Sir Ian McKellen accurately described The Blanket Bay Lodge as “paradise on Earth”. The grounds are on a Ponderosa-sized 10,000-acre estate with untouched nature, farmlands and the Humboldt Mountains. Near the lodge, the landscapes complement the natural surroundings with several chalets, a pond- well attended by ducks and other waterfowl, a boat dock that extends over the lake and a red wooden boat house. The property has an au naturel aesthetic from stone and unpainted wood surfaces and grounds attended but not overly manicured. One could compare the aesthetic of the lodge to a beautiful woman without any make up or, the need for it.

This hunting lodge-style hideaway is, in a word, sublime with schist rock walls and rough timber exteriors, recycled from the area’s old bridges and steamer wharf beams. The lodge is uber-exclusive with only 17 rooms, including four chalets, plus a four-suite villa and the Owner’s Residence. Included in the room rate are a gourmet breakfast, cocktails and canapés each night, a five-course degustation menu in their highly regarded restaurant, and on-demand home baked cookies at any time and place.      

There are no other lodges in this part of the world like this, the nearest maybe a grand chalet in the alpine mountains of Europe or perhaps a fancy dude ranch out west in Wyoming or Utah.  It’s resemblance to a western-style lodge is by no accident; it has been owned since the 1970s by the former president of  Levi Strauss, Tom Tusher and his wife Pauline, who in 1998 opened it as a private lodge. The Blanket Bay Lodge is perennially voted among the world’s finest alpine lodges by the purveyors of luxury travel such as Conde Nast Traveler,  Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report, and The Robb Report to name a few.  

What’s most incredible about a stay in the Blanket Bay Lodge is the sheer remoteness of it and the ability to become lost in New Zealand’s Southern Lakes and Fjordland.  And boy, it doesn’t get much better than this. Expect copious amounts of fresh alpine air along with exquisite views of the Lake Wakatipu that, as the sun rises over the Humboldt Range, changes in color from black to emerald to jade. Nearby and just past the village of Glenorchy are enchanted rainforests with thousand year old trees that one must explore when in the area. Guests will immediately notice the lack of noise, save for the occasional helicopter bringing guests to the lodge, for a sightseeing tour, or perhaps for a heli-ski adventure. And there are no telephone lines as far as the eye can see. This is God’s country and the pristine wilderness of the area has made it the choice of Hollywood for filming blockbusters such as Lord of the Rings, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Game of Thrones.   

Lake Wakatipu and the snow-covered peaks of New Zealand’s Southern Alps are a haven for the outdoorsman offering horseback riding, fly fishing, or just long hikes on well-marked walking tracks of the area.  Queenstown boasts as being the “adventure capital of the world” with plenty of adrenaline pumping activities from skiing to 4WD, bungee jumping and even jetboating down a perilous Dart River.  

Inside the lodge exudes rustic opulence with a décor that one would expect in the finest of lodges in Aspen or Switzerland with wood panel walls, schist rock accents,  and comfortable furnishing that make it feel more like a warm home than a resort. Throughout are engaging antique paintings, objects d’art intermixed with keepsakes and personal treasure of the owners including Tom’s prized trout caught on these very rivers or Pauline’s, an accomplished artist, lifelike fine copper sculptures of horses and saddles, reflecting her lifelong love and anything equine. 

The central point is the 30’ high Great Room with vaulted ceiling with exposed timbers, a large stone fireplace with comfy leather sofas and a crackling fire. Guests frequent there to take off the chill during cold months,  enjoy a brandy or peruse a coffee table book. Yet the Great Room’s most attractive feature is beyond the floor to ceiling windows and the panoramic deck offering views onto the shimmering lake and snowcapped mountain ranges beyond.

Adjacent to the great room is The Den, a bar and lounge where pre-dinner canapes and cocktails are served each day hosted by the engaging GM or Tom and Pauline when they are in town. Here the lodge dwellers share their adventures of the day with fellow guests; regaling their horseback excursion through the mountains or perhaps a fish story about the one that got away. 

One floor below the Great Room is the game room with another expansive bar and billiards as well as a library of DVDs for guest use.  There is also a full-service spa, and toasty lake-view hot tubs with doors that open for a full view of the lake and mountains.        

What really ties it all together is the staff. Always approachable and ready to assist, service on a level akin to what you would find on a private yacht. It never feels forced or insincere, just switched on and personable care to ensure a fantastic holiday.

There are several categories of accommodations that range from the room to suites and chalets. There are five rooms and three suites in the main lodge, all individually designed keeping with the hunting lodge-style decor with natural wood floors,  plush bedding and upscale accouterments.   All are spacious uber comfortable and superbly appointed with all the amenities necessary to enjoy the stay such as an included minibar and homemade cookies delivered to your room on demand. The reason that you are here is to take in the amazing views and each room has an uninterrupted view of the mountains and shimmering glacier lake. The furnished balcony is perfect for that cup of tea in the morning and just sitting in solitude and marveling at the incredible scenery before you.

Next to the main lodge are the Chalet Suites, even more grand in size with a private courtyard, stone fireplace. A bit removed is the Owner’s residence which is ideal for families or groups traveling together with four bedrooms, country kitchen and dining room.

Breakfast, dinner, and cocktails and canapés each day are included in the tariff. The dining experience is exceptional with a five-course degustation meal led by an award-winning executive chef. Guests dine in intimate areas where fireplaces crackle, alfresco on the terrace,  or in a romantic candlelit setting in the Wine Cave. The menu is based on Pacific Rim cuisine with ingredients locally sourced such as the venison, delicious oysters and of course, fish.  This is world-class cuisine so expect dishes such as butter-poached crayfish tail with Cloudy Bay Diamond shell clams or farm-raised Wapiti venison charred short loin and bacon pannacotta. New Zealand is one of the top new world wine producers so expect an extensive offering of exceptional local wines as and international wines expertly paired with your meal. 

When it’s time to go out and about there are countless options for all types of travelers from the adrenaline junky to the couch potato.  This is the Otago region awash with National Parks and world-famous walking treks as well as fly-fishing, heli-skiing, kayaking, bungy jumping, mountain biking, hiking, 4WD tours, or a round on one of the area’s five world-class golf courses.  Oenophiles will not want to miss award-winning wines of the region and a day on the Queenstown Wine Trail with lunch at the area’s most heralded wineries  Amisfield Winery or Gibbston Valley Winery

A wonderful way to explore the area is by horseback with well-cared-for quarter horses from the resort’s private stables, exclusively for Blanket Bay guests. The Western-style horseback ride is pure back-to-nature heaven as guests horseback ride to the nearby Richardson Mountains, high country sheep farms and cattle station and along the rocky beachfront along the lake. The scenery is spectacular and being able to see it from atop your horse makes it that much more magical.

Another must have experience is a jet-boat ride along the lake with Dart River Adventures. These jet boats are more like a jet ski for 15 people as they whisk and zig and zag along the lake through the gorgeous scenery of the Dart River Valley and Mount Aspiring National Park.

When it is all done, you’ll want to head back to the lodge to soak in the hot tub and steam room, swim a few laps in the heated pool, or for an even more indulgent recovery, book a treatment in their full-service spa.

The Blanket Bay Lodge is a special place in a special place. It is the crème de la crème of luxury lodges in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Combine that with indulgent services, accommodations and staff and it’s a recipe for an unforgettable holiday surrounded by the splendor of the great outdoors. 



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