The absolute best luxury lodges in New Zealand

New Zealand has a spectacular selection of luxury lodges. Stunning places that spoil and pamper, allowing guests to relax and rejuvenate in five-star style. In some, it is the service that makes it stand out, and in others, the location or the backstory. Sue Wallace and Helen Hayes have been travelling, and writing about it, for over four decades, and here are their top 10 places to stay in New Zealand.

North Island

Kauri Cliffs, Bay of Islands

Kauri Cliffs, New Zealand, golf resort, luxury lodges

The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs

It’s one of those views that stops you in your tracks – tiny islands rising from the sea in Matauri Bay, framed by towering pines on the most perfect of days.

I can’t take my eyes off the views. No wonder the course guide for the par-three seventh green at the luxury lodge Kauri Cliffs, which overlooks the Cavalli Islands in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands, warns about view distractions.

Set on 1620 hectares of farmland, the lodge overlooks the manicured golf course and the Pacific Ocean. It brings to mind grand houses in the Hamptons, Long Island-retreats with huge fireplaces, sofas you sink into, beautiful artefacts and fresh flowers aplenty. Interior designer Virginia Fisher, of the North Island’s award-winning Huka Lodge fame,  created a decor that’s elegantly understated and where the dramatic landscape takes centre stage.

Our suite, in one of 11 double cottages, set on the edge of a native forest with ocean views, has a fireplace, spacious bathroom, walk-in wardrobe and veranda, where you can wrap yourself in a robe and gaze out to sea.

Six-thirty is cocktail hour at the lodge. During summer, events are scheduled most nights, including a performance by the local Maori tribe, a putting competition and a weekly barbecue at beautiful Pink Beach, covered in minute pink shells.

After drinks, dinner is served in the elegant Tiger room, where the menu may feature orange-scented crayfish with toasted almonds, cumin wafer and white wine foam, followed by a salad of pickled beetroot with cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and salad greens; a tasting plate of salmon, with a finale of tapioca pudding with blood orange sorbet, created by head chef  Dale Gartland.

Non-golfers are encouraged to walk the course to enjoy the wonderful views from the tees and fairway. Or they can laze by the pool, play tennis, head to the fitness centre or indulge at the day spa. Nestled on the edge of a totara forest, the spa overlooks ferns and a stream.

A farm tour is also a must. You’ll see farm dogs following whistle commands and herding Angus cattle and flocks of Coopworth sheep, a pretty waterfall, a woolshed where you may even catch shearers in action, and an enormous 900-year-old kauri tree.

It’s heaven.

The Farm at Cape Kidnappers


Cape Kidnappers, Hawke's Bay, New Zealand

Owner’s cottage at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers

The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is a working farm that sits atop rolling hills and rugged cliff tops at Hawke’s Bay in the North Island.

There are luxe cottage suites and a palatial owner’s cottage with dazzling views plus a fabulous golf course and spa.

Each twist and turn of the long drive from the front gate to reception at the Farm at Cape Kidnappers heightens the anticipation of arriving at this resort.

The scenery—towering red gum forests and the rugged coastline of Hawke’s Bay—only improves from the perspective of the main lodge and guest cottages, which opened on this extensive sheep and cattle station in November.

Owners, the Robertson family, worked with Aspen–based designer Linda Bedell to create contemporary farmhouse interiors in the cottages and lodge.

In the main building’s silo room, guests can feast privately on the cuisine of chef Dale Gartland, who sources many of his ingredients from local farms. Visitors can tour the resort’s farm and go golfing on its cliff-top, Tom Doak–designed course.

Helena Bay

Helena Bay, New Zealand, lodges, luxury lodges

The location of Helena Bay is spectacular. Image by Chris McLennan Photography

Secluded super lodge, Helena Bay Lodge matches its glorious setting nestled on a private slice of pristine coastline north of Whangarei, near the Bay of Islands.

The five sleek beachside villas with luxurious details and shimmering mosaic-tiled ensuites, overlook forest-framed Helena Bay Cove, where dolphins often play.

The secluded retreat features a grand three-winged main house with spa, dining, gallery and library areas and an outdoor heated pool that takes centre stage. Feast on estate-to-plate dining created by the team from Italy’s Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890 restaurant with produce plucked from the vegetable garden on the 800-acre property home to Wagyu cattle and sheep. Cycling, hiking and fishing are offered or just revel in those million-dollar views with a sunset cocktail in hand.

Paroa Bay, Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands, Paroa Bay, New Zealand, luxury lodges, absolute best luxury lodges

Paroa Bay is near Russell in the Bay of Islands. Image by Stuart Jeffers Photography

A blood-red sunset streaks the sky over Paroa Bay amid rolling hills near the charming town of Russell in New Zealand’s pretty Bay of Islands.

Charred local octopus with tomato and capsicum, chorizo crumbs and fresh greens plus a fabulous burrata with crostini, house-made tapenade, tomato confit, dukkah and rocket drizzled with local oil, are the perfect entrees to watch the sunset and toast a new day with a 2016 Paroa Bay Rose.

Sage Restaurant that’s a 15-minute drive from Russell in the North Island has a great following with locals and visitors alike and with good reason – there’s an emphasis on fresh local produce, seafood and meat served with a Mediterranean twist.

Next course we settle for New Zealand Wagyu rump with porcinia crust, carrot puree and crisped braised beef with jus and confit duck with cauliflower, lentils, toasted pistachios and plum gastrique accompanied by a Paroa Bay Syrah.

After the fabulous two courses, the tempting dessert menu appears and even though we know we shouldn’t, we do.

Sage restaurant with its broad balcony that boasts killer views is part of Paroa Bay Winery that specialises in sustainable handmade wines. Traditional viticulture and dry grown vines create distinctive wines of character in low yields, reflecting the white clay soils and warm climate of the Bay of Islands.

The winery, restaurant and three houses are part of the Lindis Group’s luxury hospitality collection. The South Island’s Lindis lodge was added last November.

Luckily, we don’t have far to go home after dinner- it’s a short buggy ride to the luxury Vineyard Cottage, one of three superb villas. The other two options are Tarapunga, a luxury property with all the trimmings, and the Weka Cottage which is right behind Tarapunga. The sprawling two-bedroom cottage overlooks manicured vines, the vineyard and landscaped gardens. It’s well fitted out and perfect for families or two couples. Breakfast is supplied with fresh fruit, eggs and bacon, coffee and teas.

There’s a pool, sauna and heated jacuzzi as well as two spacious bathrooms, a sitting room and dining area with a fireplace and extensive decks that are perfect for chilling. A golf buggy comes with the accommodation and you can head down to the beach via the winery.

Russell is a 4.5-hour drive from Auckland and if you take the coastal road the views are stunning. For fun, we picked up a Nissan 350Z sportscar from SportsCar Rentals in Auckland and carefully zipped around the twisty bends.  Owner Tom Rosentreter, who has a love of classic sportscars, says his cars are perfect for exploring the countryside.

It’s a short ferry ride from Paihia to Russell with amazing views of peaceful bays with colourful yachts and small boats bobbing around.

It doesn’t take long to discover Russell’s charm. The historic town was New Zealand’s first seaport and first European settlement. It is home to the well preserved Roman Catholic building Pompallier Mission built in 1842 and used as a printing hall, tannery and storehouse. Christs’ Anglican Church is the oldest in New Zealand and Flagstaff Hill boasts fabulous views.

Enjoy a drink at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, dinner at The Gables or fish and chips on the beach – you’ll soon discover it’s one of those places you wish you could stay longer.

South Island

Blanket Bay, Glenorchy

Blanket Bay, Glenorchy, New Zealand, Relais Chateaux, luxury lodges

Blanket Bay Lodge near Glenorchy

Blanket Bay makes an impression from the second you arrive at the front gate. The scenery is overwhelming – like something Peter Jackson might have conjured up for discerning, well-to-do hobbits. Located just out of Glenorchy on Lake Wakatipu, the lodge has jaw-dropping views over the Humboldt Ranges opposite, often reflected in the calm waters of the lake. On the other side sits the Richardson Mountains and lush, green meadows where happy sheep are grazing. I swear they are smiling.

Then there is the lodge itself. The Great Room features soaring ceilings, comfortable lounges and huge windows that allow the views to dominate. Deservedly so. Blanket Bay has rooms and suites in the Main Lodge, the Owners Cottage, Villas and Chalet Suites. I am in the Mt Earnslaw Suite in the main lodge, with a lounge area, push-button fire, beautiful bed and an outdoor area with seating, area for dining and views over the lake. The bathroom is stunning, with a shower that can turn into a steam room, heated floor and heated towel rail. 

In the afternoon I stroll around the grounds, turning away from the lake to admire the glory of the lodge itself. Magnificent with its stone and timber, the lodge is a work of art. When I join other guests for drinks in the Den, the conversation is all about the lodge, not something that is commonplace amongst experienced travellers. Every single one was impressed, and that was even before we all sat down to an exceptional dinner in the Dining Room. Blanket Bay’s spa is another plus, with the hot tub boasting the most spectacular views, and the on-site masseuse was world-class.

There are so many activities to enjoy from Blanket Bay. There is horseriding at Blanket Bay’s own stables, helicopter flights with Heli Glenorchy to Milford Sound, hikes that take you through some of the incredible scenery, or do one of the many Lord of the Rings-based tours, as Peter Jackson filmed numerous scenes for the trilogies around here.

Or, just stay at Blanket Bay, enjoying the beautifully manicured lakeside grounds, the hot tub, the Great Room or your own room. When it is as good as this, it is the ideal choice.

Matakauri Lodge, Queenstown

Even the drive south from Queenstown to Matakauri along the side of Lake Wakatipu, is so beautiful you need to blink. Arriving at Matakauri, it feels like you are part of that view, immersed in the landscape. Matakauri has 12 suites, each with a private balcony, or you can stay in The Owner’s Cottage, a separate private residence with four bedrooms and a stunningly situated Jacuzzi.  Four of the 12 suites are in the main lodge which was designed by Virginia Fisher. The other eight are on the banks of the lake, but all are elegant, welcoming and with those outstanding views of the Remarkables Range which are so watchable at all hours of the day.

Guests come together for pre-dinner drinks and canapés, followed by dinner from head chef Jonathon Rogers. 

Part of Relais & Chateaux, Matakauri Lodge is the perfect place for a winter vacation with the Remarkables and Coronet Peak skifields within easy reach. Not to mention wineries, restaurants and the plethora of activities in and around Queenstown. HH

The Hermitage Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Resort

The Hermitage, Aoraki Mt Cook, New Zealand

The Hermitage is dominated by Aoraki Mt Cook

The Hermitage ranks highly for me because it so beautifully fits into the landscape. And not just any landscape. It is located in the truly wondrous Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, a World Heritage wilderness playground. The hotel is ant-like, overlooked and completely dominated by Aoraki Mount Cook – the highest mountain in New Zealand.

There has been a Hermitage here since 1884, in one form or another, with the first one accessed by horse-drawn coach on a two day trip from Fairlie. The Hermitage as we know it today, opened in 1958, with that original wing, the Mount Cook Wing, still standing. The Aoraki Wing was added in 2001.

The Hermitage offers 164 guest rooms and when I visited, we stayed in a Premium Plus King room. The room is lovely, with a dreamy bed, but it is not the fittings or the artwork, or the bathroom that live on in my memory. It is the views out the enormous window. The room could have had the Crown Jewels in it but my focus would still be Out. That. Window. Aoraki is mesmerising from every angle, in every light, and even without light late at night, you can see her snowy top glistening. This is a Dark Sky Sanctuary, as nature truly dominates here so hotel guests have stars and mountains for neighbours.

The alpine views also take top billing along with delicious cuisine in the Alpine Restaurant. And the panoramas from the Sir Edmund Hillary Cafe & Bar are also all-encompassing.

When you can tear your eyes off the vistas surrounding you, take time to have a good look through the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre. It showcases the history of the Mount Cook region through transport, climbing, The Hermitage Hotel and Sir Edmund Hillary himself. There is also a custom-designed theatre with 2D, 3D and a digital dome planetarium.

Outside the hotel, you can go on a Glacial Explorer tour that takes you on a boat past icebergs to the Tasman Glacier ice wall. You can enjoy a guided hike of the Hooker Valley or McNulty’s Tarns in Mt Cook National Park. You can learn about the night skies with astronomers or choose from an array of stargazing tours. You can do a 4WD tour of the Tasman Valley. Or you can do a once in a lifetime helicopter flight landing on the Tasman Glacier and giving you a bird’s eye view of this incredible landscape.

The Lindis

The Lindis, architecture, New Zealand, Luxury lodges

The views from The Lindis are phenomenal

It’s a toss-up when it comes to the best vistas at The Lindis – the billions of brilliant stars that puncture the clear night skies above or the magical mist that rises from the trout-filled braided Ahuriri River below.

Both are worthy of standing ovations at this luxury boutique lodge that is nestled in the South Island’s remote Ahuriri Valley amid grand terrain that simply makes you swoon – day or night.

A 2.5-hour drive from Queenstown, it’s an adventure getting there traversing some of the country’s most dramatic scenery through the Lindis Pass that is surrounded by stark tussock-covered peaks and deep gorges. A short-lived gold rush to the Lindis River opened up the area in the 1860s.

Anticipation builds as we arrive at the striking front gate, press the buzzer and follow the 2km road to the lodge.

Soon a sweeping whimsical roofline resembling a manta ray shape appears, but it is not until we see the lodge that’s encased in a hardwood shell from the valley below that you appreciate the eclectic design.

The lodge seems to hover gently over the undulating hills of the Huxley Range and fits in so well with the landscape that it is almost invisible from a distance.

Located on 2428 hectares on Ben Avon Station and surrounded on three sides by the 49,000-hectare Ahuriri Conservation Park, you will find beech forest, wetlands and tussock grasslands. Merino sheep and Angus cattle from neighbouring farm Longslip Station are seen as well as wild tahr goats climbing impossibly steep slopes.

Complete with snow-dusted saw-edged mountains framing the horizon, the lodge has five chic suites named after neighbouring properties and several glass pods.

Executive chef Cesare Stella who moved from northern Italy decades ago and had his own restaurant, The Italians in Kerikeri, spoils guests with his innovative menus featuring offerings from his much-loved vegetable garden and local produce.

Activities include fly fishing in the Ahuriri River which is ranked in the world’s top five fly-fishing locations, horse trekking, mountain hikes, electric biking, buggy tours, gliding and heli-skiing in winter. We stride out to the nearest pond where we spot trout and a busy birdlife on a perfect autumn day returning to enjoy our sprawling contemporary suite named Ben Avon.

It is understated with an appealing earth-toned decor, timber floors, and every comfort. The king-size bed is positioned to capture vistas from the floor to ceiling windows whether it’s that rising morning mist or starry night skies. There’s a rain shower and bath with a view beside the fireplace.

The sitting area has comfy chairs and there’s a television and a minibar with a treats box filled with nuts and Minties and jetplane lollies that awaken childhood memories.

After dinner, I can’t resist one last look at those night skies where there’s zero light pollution and the Milky Way and other stars, comets, planets and galaxies take centre stage.

Olivers Lodge & Stables, Clyde

The Naylor Room at Olivers Lodge

A long, hot shower was all we could think about after a hot and sweaty few hours riding the final leg of the Central Otago Rail Trail. We spent the previous night in charming country cottages, woken by the excited yap of working dogs herding sheep by our front door, and were expecting more of the same.

Olivers Lodge and Stables, in the historic town of Clyde, delivers an unexpected ‘wow’ factor. It is the perfect blend of yesteryear – with many touches from the 1860s when it was built – and modern, clean design. If the walls could talk, they would spin you a fantastic tale, about gold, about hardship, riches and above all, determination.

After gold was discovered by the Clutha River in 1862, up to 40,000 miners descended on the rocky, treeless hills by the Clutha – most of them deserting the fields of Victoria and California. Some did strike it rich, but they earned every carat of it, living rough in rocky shelters. Others made money the easy way – providing supplies to the miners.

Benjamin Naylor was one of the smart ones. He established Naylors Victoria Store in Clyde in 1869 to sell provisions, and over the years, added several more stone outbuildings.

It changed hands many times, until Fleur Sullivan, one of New Zealand’s prominent chefs, bought the property in 1981 and turned the Victoria Store into a top restaurant – calling it Olivers. She also used the outbuildings for lodge accommodation, building up quite a name for Olivers before selling to set up her famous restaurant Fleurs Place, in Moeraki.

When David and Andrea Ritchie saw the property in 2010, they fell in love with it and saw its potential, wanting to faithfully restore all the buildings, the original courtyard and gardens.

The original homestead, built by Naylor for his family of seven children, was lovingly restored, with the six lodge rooms given a name that ties in with the property’s history. I am in the Dunstan Room, one of the Deluxe Standard Rooms, and admire its magical half-heritage, half-modern design. All the bathrooms have been done in a contemporary, elegant style, but the heritage side is not forgotten, with old jars used as light fittings. The bedding is like sleeping in a cloud, and I like being able to step out into the courtyard, complete with strategically placed items from yesteryear.

Also flanking the courtyard, David shows me the renovated outbuildings, which now house five rooms, all delivering a heritage experience. The schist rock walls, stone floors and timber beams work perfectly with the dreamy beds and opulent ensuites, and I adore the stable door entry.

Each room is unique and all are magnificent; the Stone Stable housed the horses and hay, while the Tack Room held the harnesses and other equipment for the coaches. The Soap Factory held carts, but was then used to make soap, while the Smoke House was where Naylor smoked the meats for the general store. The Coach House speaks for itself with its roomy interior.

The Heritage-listed property has a relaxed air, with the guest lounge very homely. The hallway features many of David’s antique maps, while the breakfast room exudes warmth. The communal table is beautifully set, with side tables creaking under the weight of home-made jams in cloth-covered jars, baskets of apples, muesli, yoghurt and other tasty treats. The piece de resistance is what Andrea calls “Olivers Eggs”; an egg baked in bacon and topped with finely chopped pieces of tomato, chives and drizzled with melted cheese. They are irresistible.

One of the most beautiful buildings on the property is Olivers Restaurant, the original Naylor’s Victoria store. David and Andrea worked their magic on restoring it, turning it into a restaurant, bar and function centre back in 2012. Its vine-covered walls make a stunning backdrop for photos, and indoors, the restaurant itself is exceptional in the capable hands of head chef James Waite. I also love the buzzing Merchant of Clyde Cafe and deli, as well as the Victoria brewery.

Olivers Lodge is the perfect place to base yourself for a few days to explore the area, visiting some of Central Otago’s fine wineries, going for a cruise up the Clutha River to see how and where the gold miners lived, and browsing through nearby Cromwell’s old town – a character-filled historic precinct that has some excellent galleries and craft shops.

And if you are going to spend a few days cycling the wonderful Central Otago Rail Trail from Middlemarch to Clyde, there is no better place to rest and recover than at Olivers.

The Rees Hotel Queenstown

The Rees, Queenstown, award winning hotel

The Rees has jaw-dropping views over the lake in Queenstown

I have a huge soft spot for The Rees, ever since first staying there over a decade ago. From the first glimpse of the glorious views from the lobby, I was hooked.

The Rees has 60 hotel rooms and 90 stunning apartments all with private balconies. I always opt to stay in an apartment. As soon as I am shown inside by the always friendly and helpful staff, I feel ridiculously at home.

The apartment is style all the way, with a gas fire switched on by remote, lush lounges, a swish kitchen custom-built by Arclinea of Italy, large bathroom with Globo porcelain vanities, Spanish tiling and Gessi tapware and a lavish master bedroom with a super king-size bed. I love how you can keep the bedroom open to the view or close it off if you wish. The other huge plus is the balcony is large, and at any time of day you can admire the changing shades of the sunlight on the Remarkable Ranges reflected in the mirror-calm Lake Wakatipu. It is also quite entertaining watching the planes sweep in over the lake, wheels down ready for landing.

The Rees also offers The Residences, comprising of five luxury Lakefront Villas and four stunningly appointed penthouse apartments. This addition to The Rees has its own gated access and offers the convenience of being part of a fully-managed five-star hotel.

The Rees has serious credibility on the gourmet scene with the award-winning restaurant, True South Dining Room, a regular at the top of award lists. It is very elegant inside and is not cavernous, so the ambience is intimate and refined. Executive Chef Corey Hume has built up a following and no wonder. His food? Delectable. The Rees also presents some very popular Culinary Series events, which are always very popular.

When you come back after a day out, relax in the Bordeau Wine Lounge. This little gem is the first thing you see when you walk in the front door thanks to its huge windows that frame the view over the lake and the mountains beyond. Order a wee drop from The Wine Lounge, which stocks wines from world-renown chateaux in Bordeaux – including Latour, Margaux, Mouton Rothschild, Gruard Larose, Malescot St Exupery and Lynch Bages. Or go local and order one of the delightful wines of Central Otago and New Zealand.

You can also order a platter of appetising selections of New Zealand’s finest in-season foods, vegetables, cheeses and condiments. Just to tide you over until dinner.

The location is another big plus for The Rees. It is a lovely walk along the lake side into town – or use the hotel’s bikes. There is a wharf that can be used for water taxis, jet boat or fishing charter boat pickups and is a lovely spot to just sit and take in the majesty of the mountains and lake. If all else fails and you are wearing heels, there is a free shuttle from the hotel into town, or grab a taxi.

In winter, it’s easy to get to The Remarkables or Coronet Peak – excellent places to ski or snowboard, and for golfers, this place has some world-class courses. Then there’s the endless array of tours and activities in this area – from heli flights over Milford Sound to bungy jumping, horse riding and of course, wine tasting.

Whatever you do around this amazing place, you can smile at the knowledge that at the end of the day you are going back to The Rees. Back to your Queenstown home.