A couple of weeks ago myself, Sammy and Will were picked up from our office by Lee from Alpine Adventures for a Central Otago Wine Tour.
We started the day heading through the Valley of the Vines towards Cromwell, a quick drive in Lee’s luxurious Land Rover where he kept the banter flowing as we all got excited about tasting some beautiful local wine.
First stop: The Shed at Cloudy Bay
On arrival at Cloudy Bay we were met by Marine who took us on a tour of the cellar door before escorting us to the private tasting room. Marine oozed passion and knowledge for the wine – I would have believed her if she had told us that she made the wine herself! She guided us through the Cloudy Bay Pelorus range – a stunning sparkling wine from Marlborough, the New Zealand famous Sauvignon Blanc to the beautiful Central Otago Pinot Noir - we all found our favourites.
I could imagine returning here with friends, sitting by the fire, grazing on a platter of local cheese and meats whilst sipping amazing wines and admiring the stunning scenery. The Shed is a dreamy spot with the cellar door and the private tasting rooms beautifully enhancing the whole experience.
Next up: Mt Difficulty
Next on the agenda we made a quick stop at Mt Difficulty cellar door at Bannockburn. Overlooking the magical views of Bannockburn’s dramatic rugged rock and thyme landscape, it was a truly special place to visit. On arrival we were met by the entertaining Ness. With great passion, Ness catered to all our tastes before finishing the tasting by converting us all to dessert wines, pouring us “the nectar of the Gods”. Visit the cellar door and taste this delight for yourself.
Final stop: Mt Rosa
On our way home we squeezed in one last visit to Lee’s personal favourite - Mt Rosa. Overlooking the vines, we tasted a beautiful Pinot Blanc, an unusual variety for Central Otago but none the less it was amazing, along with some great Pinot Noirs which the region is renowned for. We finished the wintery day off with a lovely surprise of rose mulled wine – now this is one to check out this winter for sure!
It was truly wonderful day spent with Lee and the passionate staff at each of the cellar doors – I’m already planning my return to the region to sip, sample and savour more of the local and international favourites.
Last Friday I had the pleasure of ticking off one of the quintessential Queenstown experiences.
Where to start?
From the moment we took off, I am already extremely excited to look down and recognize places I have visited in Queenstown and the surrounding areas, including my own home! Our pilot is great at pointing out both popular and off-the-beaten spots as we make our way to Glenorchy, flying over Ben Lomond saddle and past untouched landscapes and mountain slopes.
Once we reach the Glenorchy region, the views open below us, and I can’t stop taking pictures of the braided channels formed by the Dart and The Rees rivers flowing into Lake Wakatipu. My excitement grows as we fly past picture-perfect glaciers, snow-capped peaks and icy alpine lakes, leading us closer to Milford Sound.
And here it is, just around a sheer cliff
Milford Sound shines in all its splendour below our feet! As soon as we land, I take the chance to snap a picture of the fiord with the iconic Mitre Peak in the background before boarding a scenic cruise along the fiord.I can’t believe how lucky I am with the weather – the sun shines for us the whole way out to the Tasman Sea and I treat myself to some fabulous scenery from the outdoor boat deck. On our way back, the cruise stops by the seal rock where sleepy New Zealand Fur Seals are sunbathing by the gushing Stirling Falls, one of my favourite moments as the cruise gets really close to the waterfall and you can witness it in all its power (while getting soaked too if you’re watching from the bow!)
Back at Milford Sound base, we lift off again in our helicopter for the final touch of the day: a landing on one of the wonderful mountain tops. This time, our pilot takes us on different route, partly along the main road that leads to Milford from Queenstown and partly along the stunning Hollyford valley. My camera battery is almost flat because of the amount of pictures and videos I am taking!
As soon as Glenorchy comes into sight again, the moment has finally arrived for the most awaited experience of the day: a snow landing with a sunlit Mount Earnslaw in the background!
Every time I think about this trip I cannot wipe the smile off my face, such a great not-to-miss experience for visitors in the Queenstown area.
Thank you to the team at Glacier Southern Lakes for the great day!
Spice up your Spring with a Short Break by Touch of Spice
Whether it’s a celebration or simply a good old excuse to get together with friends and family, our exclusive villas combined with experiences only available to you on a Touch of Spice break, will have you making memories in no time.
Be inspired with our exclusive Short Breaks
Need some inspiration? Peer into wine barrels at an exclusive cellar door not open to the public, enjoy a day in the Southern Alps that’ll take you from fish to fork and farm to table all in a day, with plenty of action along the way. Check out our new series of Short Breaks exclusive to Touch of Spice to inspire you. The best part? Combine these packages with one of the villas in this offer and receive one nights accommodation free - read on to find out more.
Stay for 4 Nights and only Pay for 3 Nights
Save up to 25% this Spring on bookings of four nights or more (terms and conditions apply*).
- Book a 4 night stay & only pay for 3 nights
- Book an 8 night stay & only pay for 6 nights
- Book a 12 night stay & only pay for 9 nights
What homes can I book?
This offer applies only applies to certain homes in our Private Villa Collection which you can view here.
When can I book this offer?
Book any time between 1st August and 27th November 2019.
When can I stay if I book this offer?
To stay any time between 1st September and 30th November 2019.
The (not so) small print
Here are our full Terms & Conditions of the offer.
- Applicable to certain villas only in our Private Villa Collection
- Offer applies to bookings made directly with Touch of Spice or via a travel agent
- Only applies to bookings of four nights or more. Every fourth night is free
- Applies to bookings made between 1st August 2019 and 27th November 2019
- Applies to stays between 1st September 2019 to 30 November 2019
- All bookings are subject to availability and our standard terms and conditions for villa rentals apply
- We will provide our standard terms and conditions at the time of bookings
‘Michael Hill and Ben Bayly invite you to attend a special evening to taste food and drinks at our new restaurant Aosta’
I’d heard whispers about a new restaurant in Arrowtown for months and was very excited to hear the new chef was renowned chef Ben Bayly.
First impressions first; Aosta looks stunning. Designed by the Architect Anne Marie Chin, the genius behind the award-winning Lodge at The Hills, the fit and interior look amazing. Meeting Anne-Marie and her team over a glass of bubbles – its clear they love their work and wow does it show!
So why Aosta?
Aosta is a valley in Northern Italy with many similarities to Arrowtown. With four defined seasons, similar growing conditions and on the parallel latitude, the Aosta valley and Arrowtown have more similarities than you would ever expect. Ben Bayly declares that "We're focusing on the marriage between Central Otago and Southland ingredients and Northern Italian technique and philosophy."
As the evening went on, we served tasting dishes of some of the menus highlights.
KINA PAPPARDELLE SHAVED PAUA Fried leeks, Terra Sancta’s yolk
FLAME GRILLED SARDINES Cromwell dried cherries, pickled shaved fennel & pinoli
TORTELLINI Wairiri buffalo curd, brown buttered chestnuts, wild mushrooms, Soave raisins
WILD SHOT RED DEER CHEEKS Pickled black walnuts, Colatura di alici, potatoes & calvolo nero
Whilst they were all delicious, my favourite was the Paua pasta. With fresh pasta made onsite and Paua shavings too, this was a dish to remember and I would recommend anyone to choose this.
Special mentions must go out to the deer cheeks and to the Tiramisu. Both amazing and I’d choose it again in a heartbeat. I’d never been a huge tiramisu fan until that evening – That has certainly changed.
You will not be disappointed!
For anyone wondering whether to go, do it - you will not be disappointed. I’ll leave you with one highlight of the evening:
Mid way through Sir Michael Hill leapt onto one of the benches to welcome everyone and declare their intention that this would be the best restaurant in New Zealand.
It’s early days yet, but the combination of driven owners, an amazing chef, beautiful architecture and stunning food means it can’t be far off.
Exploring the North Island
Early July I was lucky enough to spend a week exploring the North Island, visiting our villas and luxury lodges and experiencing some of the best activities on offer in the regions!
A touch of Tuscany at Ataahua Lodge
My first stop was Ataahua Lodge, a villa that is new to our Residence Collection and located just outside Tauranga. The villa has 7 bedrooms and is Italian inspired in its design, I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of the property! It looks out over the golf course and water and has such a large outdoor area with a stunning pool. It is the perfect retreat for family groups wanting somewhere really special to stay!
Traveling on to Rotorua
I then took a drive down to Rotorua to check in to Solitaire Lodge which is on a peninsula looking over the glass-like Lake Tarawera, such a beautiful setting! I was warmly welcomed by Wayne and Ingrid and shown around the property, including the private jetty with kayaks, perfect for a day exploring the lake!
I spent the afternoon relaxing in my suite, which had an outdoor bath overlooking the lake – absolute bliss! In the evening I was kindly hosted by Wayne for pre-dinner drinks and canapes, followed by dinner. We had a five-course meal - the courses were all delicious and complimented each other well.
A morning of relaxation
The next morning, I met up with Tu from MDA Experiences for a day of adventure in the Rotorua region! Our first activity of the day was to enjoy a boat cruise on Lake Rotoiti with Pure Cruise, on board their 53ft catamaran. This lake is just beautiful and there are so many coves and interesting spots to stop, their skipper Matt is so knowledgeable of the area and was explaining the history and all the fun things that could be done on the lake, such as geothermal springs, glowworm caves, paddleboarding and good old Kiwi fun – climbing a tree and swinging on the rope swing! We then stopped at the Manupirua Springs, only accessible by boat, for a soak in the hot springs, super relaxing!
An afternoon of Adrenaline
The afternoon was less relaxing – more adrenaline fueled – as we took on the Kaituna River for some white-water rafting! This river has multiple waterfalls, including the largest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, at 7m high! I have done white water rafting before but nothing that comes close to this, feeling fear at the top of the waterfalls then such excitement at the bottom once we conquered them! Tu was incredible and really encouraged me to take on all the additional parts such as cliff jumping and swimming down a waterfall, so much fun!
Huge thanks to Tu at MDA Experiences, Pure Cruise and Rotorua Rafting for showing me what this region is really all about!
A stay at Treetops Lodge
Following my exciting day, I drove to Treetops Lodge and Estate for the night. I was welcomed by Andrew and Sandra, who showed me around the property and then to my room. I was staying in a Valley Villa and was blown away! The villa is really very large with a living area, bedroom with walk in dressing room and a beautiful large bathroom. The villas are located a short drive from the main lodge itself, and each one is provided with their own golf cart to get you to and from, which adds to the experience!
In the morning, I got up early and had breakfast then headed out on the walk to Bridal Veil Falls. There are so many walking tracks on this property, you really need to spend a lot of time here to get out and explore them! It was absolutely pouring all morning, but Treetops provided me with a coat and gumboots and off I went, and I am so glad I did, after around 40 minutes of walking through beautiful bush I reached the falls, which are absolutely stunning, well worth the walk!
A spot of lunch at Huka Lodge
I then drove to Taupo for a site visit at Huka Lodge. I was met by Hannah and shown around the property, including the stunning Junior Lodge Suites which overlook the Waikato River. Even though I have looked at photos of this property so many times I was still blown away by the setting on the river, it is so beautiful with the fast-flowing colourful water! I then enjoyed a beautiful 3 course lunch looking out over the view.
The stunning Farm at Cape Kidnappers
For my final stop, I drove to the Hawke’s Bay for a stay at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. I was full of excitement for this property as I’d heard so many wonderful things, and it absolutely exceeded expectations. From the moment I arrived, I was greeted by the lovely friendly Averil who gave me a walk around the main lodge building then took me down to my room and showed me around and gave such a great arrival experience. I was staying in a Ridge Suite, of which there are 8, just a short distance from the main lodge. The suite was absolutely beautiful, overlooking the vast property, a beautiful bedroom with large ensuite. I couldn’t fault it if I tried!
I was hosted for dinner by James, the assistant lodge manager who was great company, so friendly and really helped me learn even more about the property.
Conservation is everything
Whilst here I got to explore the property, visiting the Cape Sanctuary and learning about their conservation efforts, do a property tour to the outer edges of the farm and the dramatic coastline and have a site visit through all the room categories (that Owners Cottage, WOW!). The Farm at Cape Kidnappers was just voted the #1 lodge in New Zealand and Australia and #4 in the world, and I can definitely see why!
After departing Cape Kidnappers, I went for a site visit to Summerlee Luxury Retreat. This is a large 8-bedroom home with beautiful coastal views. It has a large outdoor area, pool, croquet and tennis court. It’s the perfect spot for a family retreat!
A beautiful ending to the week
Finally, to end my time I had a visit at Craggy Range Winery. I met with Georgia and Kristine who showed me around all the accommodation options here, such a great spot in amongst the vines! The newly built River Lodges and the four-bedroom Lodge are just stunning, so well done! I then had lunch at the restaurant here which was just beautiful, this winery is really high end and definitely a must do when in the Hawke’s Bay!
This was such a wonderful week visiting some top spots in the North Island and some truly spectacular properties!
A truly quintessential New Zealand Lodge
Myself and my partner were very lucky a couple of weeks ago to experience a stay at the beautiful Lindis Lodge.
Nestled in the pristine Ahuriri Valley here in the South Island of New Zealand, The Lindis captures the purity and stillness of nature alongside a modern and sophisticated luxury lodge.
Arriving at the lodge
Driving through the vast surrounding land, we were instantly made to feel at home upon arrival. The hosts were warm - their love of their surroundings really showed and it was clear to see why. The snow peaked mountains and sound of the Ahuriri River gave a sense of tranquility that we were more than ready to enjoy.
Let the Views wash over you
After we were shown to our Master Suite at the end of the building, we took advantage of the clear blue skies to explore the valley. We jumped on the e-bikes and worked up our appetite whilst discovering the many trails and tracks that led to the working farm.
To ease the cycle pains, I sunk into the bath and got lost in the valley views. Who knew a dip in a tub could be so scenic – a must for any stay!
Dinner was served in the main room and it was simply magical. Italian chefs pay homage to the abundance of local produce – a true sense of farm to table dining at the highest standard.
A truly beautiful and exquisite stay - everything we know to define New Zealand.
Thank you to The Lindis for a stay that won’t be easy to top!
It's simple – great ingredients make great food...
This week I was lucky enough to be invited to experience the degustation dinner at Amisfield Bistro. Set just beyond Queenstown (about a 15-minute drive) on the way to Arrowtown you can find the truly beautiful Bistro and Winery of Amisfield.
With a glass of bubbles on arrival, the venue came to life
Floor to ceiling windows framed the vineyards and the crackling of the wood burning fireplace reminded you of the wintery evening outside. From the 24-seat private dining room to the courtyard and main dining area, the high ceilings and open space had a rustic charm that oozed finesse.
The trust was in the chef and the menu was set
The seven-course menu was paired with a selection of Amisfield wine – each beautifully crafted to really showcase the best of the best in New Zealand. As each course was served, the pairing between the food and wine really started to come to life. The Paua Pie, the Amisfield signature, was named New Zealand dish of the year for 2017 and 2018 - and wow was that a standout! Between the buttery pie, the hidden truffle dug out of edible soil and the Cardrona Valley lamb shoulder, it was a real taste of sea, land and earth of the highest quality.
As the evening flowed, the surprises kept on coming
The eye was in the detail from start to finish with every course delicately constructed with flare. I wouldn’t want to give them all away but… have you ever seen truffle butter that looks like a rock? Better yet, have you ever tasted truffle butter that looks like a rock? As each dish and wine was presented to the table, the knowledge of the staff really came out - passion flowed through the food, to the waiters and into the venue leaving you feeling like you’d caught the Amisfield buzz.
An evening that will be hard to top
As three small desserts were served (the deer milk ice cream was my personal favourite) with a beautiful 2018 Amisfield Lowburn Terrace Riesling, I can safely say I felt utterly spoilt. An evening of delicious dishes, a passion for produce and amazing company left me planning my return before I’d even finished my wine.
Thank you again Amisfield. I'll be seeing you again soon!
We believe time is one of the last true luxuries.
With festive season fast approaching, it’s all about spending more time with the family and exploring as you do it.
Which got us thinking…
What better way to get the family hyped up for a festive getaway than the thought of hopping from the beaches in the north to mountain top lakes in the south?
And here we have it!
From Ataahua in Bay of Plenty to The Dacha in Wanaka – seven days that are rare to find and impossible to forget.
Day 1: Arrive at Ataahua - Relax, unwind and enjoy a chef prepared meal in the antique dining room.
Day 2: Rise and shine with an espresso on the terrace. Fly to White Island and hike an active volcano before white water rafting in Rotorua. An adrenaline fueled day for the whole family.
Day 3: Explore Mount Maunganui and experience a fighter jet flight along the coast. Back at the villa, share a pizza with the family and get those marshmallows toasting on the outdoor fire.
Day 4: Enjoy the villa in the morning – yoga, in-house massage or game of tennis perhaps? Fly to The Dacha in Wanaka for a family al fresco dinner prepared by a chef.
Day 5: Take to the air and fly into the depths of the Fiordlands. Why not land on an alpine peak for a family picnic lunch before going back at The Dacha to unwind with a movie in the cinema with the children.
Day 6: Today is about adventure! Explore the adrenaline capital of the world, Queenstown. Bungy, jet boat, or SUP on a mountain top lake – the sky is the limit! Rest easy on your last night in The Dacha – watch the sunset over the lake before the stars come out.
Days 7: Depart wondering when you can come back and do it all over again
Sink into tranquility in the spa or smash through the silence and bomb in the pool – this private Italian-inspired oasis is all yours.
We are thrilled to introduce and announce that the stunning Ataahua Lodge is the latest addition to our Residence Collection.
A touch of Amalfi - just outside Tauranga
Only 25 kilometres from Tauranga Airport, enter through the wrought iron gates and drive the palm lined drive towards the villa. A natural oasis to unwind, relax and accept carpe diem.
Lined with world-class artworks, antiques and venetian furniture, fall into an Italian inspired world where family, food and beauty form the heart of the home.
Aperitivo on the terrace? Buon appetito
An open gourmet kitchen leads to the living area and onto the first of the two dining rooms. A step further takes you to large bifold doors leading outside. Enjoy alfresco antipasto or tear apart a pizza from the woodfired oven with the family.
A hideaway for adults and children alike
Feeling fancy? Indulge in a chef-prepared meal in the formal antique dining room before following the curved staircase down to the wine cellar and tasting room. Let the children wind down with a movie in the cinema while you sip a digestivo or glass of New Zealand’s finest.
A dreamlike spot for morning coffee
Ataahua has a total of six suites spread between two floors as well as the separate Pavilion. Sink into the plush beds that all feature views of the luscious grounds. Separate from the main villa is The Pavilion – a private sanctuary with ocean views where rolling out of bed will feel better than ever.
Do you prefer to drink your bubbles or sink into them?
From the bedroom to bathroom – whether you choose to drink your bubbles or sink into them, let the mind unwind as you gaze into the gardens and accept feelings of la bella vita (… the good life).
Let them dream of adventure
The spacious shared room is lined with motorbikes and surfboards letting the imagination run wild. Travelling with entourage or friends? The guest suite has a lounge, bathroom, kitchenette and is separate from the main house – the key to privacy.
Step outside into your own private oasis
In the private pavilion, a step beyond the villa, wake up in a secluded oasis. As the sunrise pours through the terrace doors, take in the picturesque garden and ocean views – mornings you can’t wait to wake up to. No bad thing when you have a hot yoga studio, adjoining gym and walks with endless sea views.
Roll out of bed into a whatever activity takes your fancy
Roll out of bed and straight into an active day. The private gym, tennis court and bikram yoga studio will get you working up a sweat before jumping in the pool.
Alfresco dining with a difference
A real taste of Italy – prepare, bake and enjoy your own pizza straight from the outdoor oven, served with a glass of wine from the cellar. New Zealand meets Italy - Alfresco dining just like at Nonna’s house in Verona.
Submerge yourself in stillness
Float into tranquillity and get lost in the clouds - an afternoon soak in the spa pool will calm the mind and relax the body. Or feel like smashing through the stillness and bombing in the pool? Go ahead – it’s your space after all.
Get competitive and find your champion
Singles or doubles? Get your whites on and battle it out in your own Ataahua Tennis Open. Observe from the side-lines before sinking some hoops on the basketball court – a tournament to keep everyone entertained.
Tropical gardens just a stones throw away
Take a tour or meander through the tropical gardens and discover the botanical variety. With world-class artworks placed throughout the gardens and villa, explore the local Maori art and sculptures on display.
During the month of April our team spent a couple of afternoons pulling wiling pines on Queenstown Hill. After a breathtaking ride up the Queenstown Gondola and a short walk on the Ben Lomond track, we find the Touch of Spice plot that we take care of each year to make sure the Douglas Furs don’t take over our beloved mountains.
Why pulling and not planting?
Normally you would think environmental sustainability would be about planting trees, not pulling them out of the ground, but in this case, the pines self-seed and grow wild. Not only do they take over the mountains, once the non-native trees form a thick canopy, nothing else can survive, threatening many New Zealand species. A recent article in Stuff provides a more detailed overview of the threat to our biodiversity.
Pulling pines literally consists of us scrambling over our plot on the mountainside, pulling out little seedlings by hand (protected by gardening gloves of course) or for larger pines, using some loppers flexing our gym formed muscles to get rid of the offending pine.
Together we can do so much
Not only is an afternoon pulling pines a great way to support our wonderful community and help to sustain the beauty that is Queenstown, but it’s a fantastic way for the team to spend some time together out of the office, in our high vis vests. This year, the sun was shining both afternoons, and of course the backdrop is spectacular. Our patch is now looking rather clear of wilding pines, but they will be back, so here’s to Autumn next year for another go at pulling pines.
A special thank you to Tom who we arrange our yearly trips with. Tom has the fun job of using the chainsaw on the larger trees and even taught us how to enjoy the variety of coprosma berries (for those brave of us to try).
Pines to pints
And of course, what better way to finish off an afternoon of hard labour, than a well-deserved cold pint at Frank's Eatery (a second home to some of the team here at Touch of Spice).