Last weekend the Touch of Spice team were lucky enough to head out on the Fiordland Jewel – the luxury yacht built by Fiordland Discovery specifically designed to offer guests the opportunity to explore Milford Sound in the comfort of high-end accommodation.
Our driver Hal picked us up in Queenstown to start the beautiful drive down through southland and into the Fiordland National Park. Upon arriving at the boat were greeted by the happy, smiling crew ready to welcome us on board.
A wonderful welcome
After a short welcome we were invited to tuck into a delicious platter of snacks as the boat headed out towards the west coast. We were underway for around five minutes when we decided to brave the elements and head up to the top deck (complete with heli pad) where we were greeted by a stunning view of a rainbow.
The onboard accommodation was better than any boat we have been on. With a mixed group of couples and friends between us we were able to test out the Endeavour Cabin (2 x king singles), Captain Cook suites (Queen bed) and last but certainly not least we were lucky enough to stay in the Governors Suite that occupies the full top deck of the boat. All cabins had ensuite facilities and brilliant showers – perfect for warming up after our dip in the fiord later that afternoon!
As we meandered our way along the side of the fiord we were wowed by the scale of the mountains that surrounded us as the skipper pointed out a waterfall three times’ the height of Niagra Falls! We got up close and personal with a few and went out on to the bow of the boat from where you could really appreciate the full scale and feel the spray as the glacial cascades hit the waiting water – quite the spectacle to behold!
Water sports and swimming
Having been out to sea and felt the swell of the Southern Ocean it was time to head back into our home for the night – a private mooring in Deep Water Bay. Here the team got out the kayaks and encouraged us to go exploring. This was probably our favourite part of the day as the sun decided to poke it’s head through the clouds and beam down on us as we paddled our way along the fiord. After this a few of us decided it was time for a dip – the sun was our after all! A number of the team jumped straight off the helipad on the top of the boat – a heady mix of adrenaline and glacial water meant they resurfaced gasping but with a huge sent of achievement and smiles from ear to ear.
Delicious three-course dinner
After showers and warming up it was time for our well-earned (or so we felt) three course dinner. We sipped on Wet Jacket rose to accompany our fresh Crayfish served with a curry crayfish bisque. This was followed by incredible blue cod and a delectable gluten free brownie. For the entire duration our dietary requirements (and we had a few) were accommodated with ease.
Unrivalled knowledge & sustainability
After dinner we were treated to a talk and a show about what the Fiordland Discovery do when they don’t have guests on board. This is a lot of exploration, diving, exploring and discovering of new species living in Milford Sound that aren’t known anywhere else in the world! The team had endless knowledge that kept us enthralled.
Winding down on the top deck
After this it was time to wind the evening down in the hot tub on the top deck. As we sat, sipping local bubbles from Quartz Reef, chatting to our shipmates (a multi-generational family all the way from Sydney, and the Grandparents Portugal) we all agreed there would be no better way to explore Milford Sound. The next morning we were treated to a brilliant breakfast on the way back to the dock, ready to start our unwelcome journey home!
Thank you, Fiordland Discovery team, for having us on board! If you have any questions about heading out on the Fiordland Discovery overnight cruise, or even one of their longer excursions down to Stuart Island, get in touch with one of our team who are now experts!
An unusual and exciting or daring experience.
Last weekend, myself and five others from the Touch of Spice team embarked on an adventure of a life time – a River Journey with the amazing team from New Zeal. Usually a team focussed on glitz and glamour, we were more than sold on a new kind of luxury – getting away from it all!
With weeks of planning gone by - all from Paul, our lovely guide from New Zeal (our only worry was packing warm socks!) we were an office of giddy children eagerly awaiting our trip into the wild by late Friday afternoon.
By the time Paul arrived at our Queenstown office we were amped to go. Rolling through the door with what looked like giant Santa sacks, we were given a very quick lesson in packing only the essentials – some struggled with limiting her glamourous wardrobe but Paul clearly knows when to pick his battles! After packing, it was time for our first team briefing and Pauls energy oozed into the room and you could feel the buzz in the air. We had a run through the plan of the weekend – jetboats, rafting, DOC huts and native bush were all on the agenda.
‘Adventure is out there!’ – Charles F Muntz (Up)
We were greeted by our second guide for the weekend Dan who helped up pack up the two Land Cruisers, split the team in two and hit the road heading south. With Queenstown in the rear-view mirror, car snacks at the ready and (sometimes questionable) music lined up, our adventure was underway.
After a three-hour drive and a quick pit-stop in Mossburn for dinner we arrived at Lake Hauroko – in complete and utter darkness! We were met by the amazing Roffy from Wairaurahiri Wilderness Jet who was ready to throw us into the deep end (although we’re glad this wasn’t literally) with a jet boat ride across the lake. If you’ve ever been Jet boating before, you know the thrills – but have you ever jet boated in complete darkness, on New Zealand’s deepest lake (1km deep) with only the moon and milk way to guide the way? No? We have! A once-in-a lifetime experience where I think my solid laughter and fit of the giggles kept everyone entertained.
30 minutes later and with a great level of skill Roffy docked the boat and we began to unload all our gear. Base for the night was a quintessential DOC hut – being from Scotland, I was excited to experience my first ever hut! Paul already had the fire roaring and drams of whisky poured as we got to the hut with our bags – it felt like a touch of Scotland in the New Zealand wilderness! We relaxed, chatted and enjoyed some nibbles before bunking down for the night.
‘Rolling down the river’ – Tina Turner
What’s the best thing about arriving in the dark? Waking up in the morning in absolute awe of the mountains around you. I’ve never seen snow capped peaks beside lush tropical forests and just to make it even more mesmerizing, a rainbow stretched across the lake with nature being the pot of gold at the end.
Paul cooked up a feast for breakfast, we prepped lunch, packed the rafts and got ready to rock and roll. We paddled across the lake to the mouth of the Wairaurahiri River learning the tips and tricks of rafting - Paul got a little too excited and before we knew it had managed to tip Pete and himself overboard. Within seconds they were back in the raft and managed to stay in for the rest of the journey – I think Pete was glad about that!
Being one of only a handful of groups to ever raft this river, it was an experience I’m sure none of us will ever forget. The bumpy rapids kept us on our toes but in between we got lost in the tranquillity, silence and depths of the native bush lining the river. It’s not very often in todays world that your head can feel completely empty - turns out my place of Zen is on a raft in the wild.
As we came around a bend in the river Paul decided it was lunch time. We pulled the rafts to the side to the river, to the bottom of a steep cliff face. Bit of a random place to stop I thought but before we knew it we were clambering up the rock face following a rope tied around a tree. When we finally made it to the top, we found a slightly creepy hut – that was out lunch spot! After warming up around the hut fire, a cup of soup and some delicious wraps (good job Stephanie!) we were ready to get back to the boats. As we wandered through the bush to get back to the river I was in awe of our surroundings – silver ferns (which I’d never seen before), glowing moss and everything you could imagine for a tropical forest – luckily no creepy crawly’s (that we spotted anyway).
We continued down the river challenging each other with our most mind-boggling riddles, dodging and diving under tree branches, bird watching and smelling the fresh ocean air coming up the river. By the time we reached our second DOC hut we had been on the river for nearly 5 hours. We unloaded the rafts and just as we finished pulling them onto the side of the bank we were greeted with a glass of mulled wine and a delicious gourmet cheese platter – with Touch of Spice there’s a slice of luxury even in the wild.
‘Adventure is not outside of man, it is within’ George Eliot
After drying off, warming up and unpacking we set off on a walk through the bush. First challenge – an insanely thin, patch worked, swinging wire bridge over a fast-moving river – “just don’t look down” became the moto. Once over the river we discovered all the native plants as we wandered towards the southern coast. Living in Queenstown but being the biggest beach lover, I couldn’t wait to see the ocean and wow was the journey worth it. We walked along the coast, found the perfect spot and took a moment to revel in the adventure gone by and the beauty in front of us. In the sound of the waves and fresh ocean air I think we all felt a feeling of achievement, team spirit and all-round happiness – simple luxuries!
Back at camp we settled in for the night, enjoyed some beautiful Central Otago Wine that Paul and Dan had carried along the way that was paired beautifully with a delicious home cooked dinner. With freshly hunted venison on the menu (caught and prepared before leaving Queenstown), fresh seasonal vegetables and chocolate filled bananas for dessert, it was a feast I think we all deserved! We spent the evening chatting, saying multiple cheers and most importantly, laughing. As the night slipped away we bunked down for our final night in the wild.
We woke up to clear blue skies and I took the chance to enjoy my morning coffee by the river – a moment of calm to really take it all in. After another delicious breakfast, we packed up our bags and took one last walk to the beach. The sun was on our faces and as we stood on the beach in the far south of New Zealand, we could spot Stewart Island off in the distance – wow did we come far!
From the beach front we once again met with our jetboat driver Roffy. He had come down the river just for us as it’s the only way to get out of the area – that’s how remote we really were. After packing up the boat and strapping everything down we set off upstream. It was amazing to see everything we’d seen the day before from a different perspective and speed. We bumped our way up the rapids like we were in a James Bond movie, ducking under a few tree branches and taking it all in for one last time.
As we blasted our way around the last bend in the river to the opening of Lake Hauroko, the snow-capped mountains were back in view and our adventure was nearing an end. The trip across the lake was bumpy to say the least – you know to prepare to get wet when even the driver stops to don his industrial waterproofs! We rolled with the waves on the choppy lake, everyone thankfully staying aboard, and appreciated the mountains around us.
Once at the jetty where our adventure began, we unloaded the boat and had our final team debrief before the drive home. Our adventure had started with excitement, laughter and a want for adventure and I think we can all say we got that and so much more. It was team building, relationship building and character building to an extreme. It was adventurous, empowering and inspiring but most of all, it was a once-in-a lifetime experience that will stay with every single one of us forever – a weekend of true happiness, ultimate smashing of bucket list goals and really, a weekend of the simple true luxury of getting away from it all!
Thank you again to Paul, Dan and New Zeal – I can’t wait for another adventure into the wild!
Last weekend the Touch of Spice team were lucky enough to experience a brand-new concept dinner tour brought to life by Lee and Emma from Alpine Wine Tours. These unique dinner tours aim to take in some of the top eating and imbibing experiences from Queenstown through to Arrowtown and the Gibbston Valley in one brilliant evening of food and paired wine.
A Trio of Entrees at Canyon Brewery
We began our evening with a cocktail at Sundeck Rooftop Bar where we met with Lee for a brief catch up before the tour began. From here we met our wonderful guide for the evening Rob who swiftly got us off to our first stop - Canyon Brewery. Sitting by the fire we sat down and were immediately greeted by the drinks that we had pre-ordered. Being a brewery for this stop we could choose from either paired wines or beers to accompany our delicious first course (a trio of goats cheese Bellini, mystery wonton and crispy pork banh bao bun). I opted for the wine which included some of the areas finest tipples from Quartz Reef bubbles to begin, through to Mount Difficulty’s famous Roaring Meg Pinot Noir.
Main Course & paired wine at Kinross Winery
The next stop saw us touring through the valley behind Arrowton through to the Gibbston Valley and our next stop at Kinross Winery. As well as producing their own wine Kinross works with local wineries that don’t have their own cellar door to offer tastings of their wine to visitors. Tucked up in the alpine chalet style dining room we sat and chatted whilst our wonderful host poured us a selection of wine from these wineries. Valli Pinot Noir was a favourite, as well as Kinross’ own ‘Liquid Gold’ Pinot Gris. All but two of the group had opted for the pork belly which went down extremely well. A new seasonal addition to the menu was the blue cod which I will certainly be trying on our next visit!
Delectable dessert at Aosta
Last, but certainly not least on our terrific tour was the newest addition to Arrowtown’s buzzing food scene – Aosta. Marrying local produce with cooking techniques from the 45th Parallel in the northern hemisphere (which happily happens to be northern Italy) Aosta has created a truly unique dining experience.
We were thrilled when we found that the tiramisu many of us had opted for was going to be made at the table. In a truly theatrical fashion we watched, mesmerized as our host carefully wrapped the base and scoop of ice cream in a cream as the dessert span on a spinning plate. The dessert was then hollowed out as real espresso was poured to soaked in. The worst part was watching and waiting before we got dig in – but we certainly weren’t complaining as we sat, watching, waiting with bated breath to see if it tasted as brilliant as it looked.
After Aosta it was back into Queenstown we went! What a brilliant night.
What did we think, and would we do it again?
This is a truly brilliant concept that means if (like many) you only have a short time in Queenstown you can squeeze three completely different dining experiences into one evening. Usually this would be too much and involve all sorts of logistical challenges you wouldn’t want to think about on holiday. Happily, Lee and the team make it incredibly easy, with simple pickups, convenient drop offs and pre-ordering that means the whole evening flows without a hitch.
It’s not very often you can say you started with beers and wines by the fire at a brewery, before dinner with three paired wines from three different vineyards, before finally being treated to a theatrical show and one of (what must be…we suspect) the best desserts in town. It is certainly something we would consider doing again, even as locals for a birthday, celebration or get together with friends. It would also be a brilliant option if you have friends visiting and want to showcase the regions food and wine all in one evening without having to lift a finger yourself!
Thank you to Rob and Lee for a brilliant evening and showing us what it is all about. Thank you to Canyon Brewery, Kinross Winery and Aosta for putting on a brilliant evening. It is safe to say the Touch of Spice team may certainly be back!
Leaving Auckland I head North towards Warkworth heading to Te Arai Lodge, a stunning eco-friendly oasis only 1hour 15 min from Auckland central. Surrounded by over 20 acres of ancient podocarp forest and native bush and birdlife, the lodge had an easy and welcoming atmosphere.
I was greeted by the lovely owners and operators Vince and Kathy who oozed passion for everything in Te Arai. Having spent 10 years traveling the world on adventures and explorations in over 100 countries, the couple along with their adult children settled here on this piece of paradise overlooking the Mangawhai heads and coast. This sustainable lodge has embarked on a long-term pest eradication initiative - trapping possums, stoats and rats, which has resulted in a regeneration of native bird life that now thrives in the region (keep up the good work!).
I enjoyed a tour of the Lodge - the garden was simply delightful with many private dining options for breakfast and dinner overlooking a gorgeous sunset. A 20-metre-long heated pool sits directly below the terrace, and a cedar hot tub set into the edge of the bush. The rooms offer intimate gas fireplaces, air conditioning, complimentary minibar and hot drinks, panama hats and soft bathrobes.
It was a true please to meet Vince and Kathy and imagine the beautifully quaint experience that would follow a weekend getaway to Te Arai Lodge.
Next, I drove further north to the Tututaka Coast where I visited Makoha Retreat, a private villa and oasis of peace and tranquility.
With the beach only a short 5 min stroll directly from the villa, you can paddle in the kayaks, SUP and marvel at the Waka Ama fleet (dragon boats) slicing through the idyllic waters of Tutukaka Harbour.
The master bedroom is situated on the upper level amongst the native Pohutukawa trees and views over the bay with another two bedrooms downstairs with a large lounge area. The main living, kitchen and dining area is also upstairs with beautiful views of the bays and garden.
From there I took the short drive and a quick stop at Whale Bay. The villa is perfect for a summer vacation with family/friends and has amazing views of Whale Bay itself.
Helena Bay Lodge was the next stop, where uber luxury and pristine coastline meet.
The styling ideas were taken from the early European buildings with the use of modern materials. The Main House is decorated with its eclectic artwork and treasures, which have been collected by the owners during their travels around the globe. The spa is simply divine and a true place or relaxation and tranquility. Service is impeccable and onsite activities endless – you will never be bored.
The final stop and overnight for day one was at a little slice of paradise in Opua – Marina Cove
Wendy and Mike have created two beautifully appointed apartments with breath-taking ocean and harbour views. Do allow yourself plenty of deck time to sip a glass of complimentary wine and enjoy the spectacular sunset.
After waking up to a glorious sunrise I was delivered locally sourced breakfast provisions - delicious toasted muesli, seasonal fruit, yogurt (lemon curd is my favourite) , delicious honey, jams, condiments and freshly baked croissants – what a way to start the day!
I set off on a walk to Paihia (40 min) where I stopped by Charlotte’s kitchen which is still a great local favourite for lunch and dinner. I enjoyed a lovely eggplant ravioli with season greens – delicious!
For day two’s visits I started by stopping somewhere on Inlet Road - a newly added home to our exclusive Residence Collection portfolio.
The owners, Georgie and Mark have had the property in their family for many years and now wish to have everyone else experience this slice of heaven that’s only 10 mins from Kerikeri town centre. The interiors are done impeccability and the house can sleep up to 14 which makes this a favourite for multi gens celebrations, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and family holidays. With direct beach access, a jetty, spa pool and pool it allows you to stay onsite, relax and simply enjoy.
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs was my next destination and overnight accommodation at the end of day two.
It’s here that I discovered the beauty of panoramic views across the untouched coastline and deep blue ocean. With so many onsite property choices like farm tours, heritage tours, nature walks, land based fishing, picnics at pink beach, surfing – you will be spoiled for choice. The spa is nestled at the edge of a Totara forest, overlooking a verdant fern glen and winding stream and here I enjoyed a very relaxing massage by the lovely Spa Manager, Monika.
Dinner was hosted by our dear friend and assistance lodge manager, Tatsio. With an emphasis on local produce and providers, Frith and his brigade of chefs maintain relatively low food miles with fish often caught and cooked on the same day.
On day 3 I visited the lovely villa, Otaha Beachfront Lodge
A combination of exceptionally well curated and presented contemporary New Zealand design complemented by calming views of the ocean perched in the centre of New Zealand's most historically rich environment. The villa has 5 beautifully appointed bedrooms all with ocean views and may I add that the views are simply stunning. Enjoy a day on a secluded beach with a family picnic or you may like to do a short on property hike through the valleys.
My next stop was at Donkey Bay Inn in Russell which is everything which you never expected.
The rooms are exotically styled with wide views of the bay from your balcony or terrace. Enjoy a glass of the owner’s acclaimed wine, or a Donkey Bay gin while soaking on the two hot water outdoor baths overlooking the bay. This is the ultimate honeymoon getaway, romantic and private.
My last stop and overnight was at Eagles Nest, which has been a favourite for years now in New Zealand.
Eagles Nest is also a multi-award winning New Zealand luxury hotel & retreat is set within a 75 acre estate atop its own private ridge line offering spectacular views of the Bay of Islands.
Four of the five world class villas offers its own private heated horizon edged lap pool, all offering private Jacuzzis, air conditioning, original artworks, home theater system, Eco-store amenities and fully equipped gourmet kitchen. I had the pleasure of a private in villa chef which prepared a delicious tuna tar tar followed by beautifully pan fried Hapuku.
For only a three day getaway, I saw and experienced some of the finest accommodation and luxury lodges in the North Island. With all the amazing onsite experiences, eco-qualities and welcoming hosts, a stay in any of these stunning stops will make for memories to last a lifetime.
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!