In an equally majestic panorama that sweeps from mountains to ocean, the landscape completely changes on the road from Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown to Otahuna Lodge in Canterbury, the last leg of our New Zealand excursion.
After soaking up the stunning scenery surrounding Matakauri Lodge, on the banks of Lake Wakatipu, we set off for our next destination. We traverse Lindis Pass, a spectacular passage between the Lindis and Ahuriri River valleys at an altitude of 3,186 feet, and take a trip to Ahuriri Conservation Park, north of Lindis Pass, through more than 15 miles of spectacular mountains. Thousands of merino sheep graze in the valley near the Ahuriri River. All of them (4,500 head!) are raised for their wool and not their meat. The Ahuriri River is also revered as one of the world’s top ten fly-fishing sites (the season runs from November through April).
From Ahuriri Conservation Park, follow the road north along the awe-inspiring Pukaki Lake, the largest in the region. The waters are an astonishingly bright turquoise blue, an effect created by glacial flour, extremely fine rock particles from the surrounding glaciers. When the sun shines on the lake’s surface, these rock particles reflect the light, creating the beautiful bluish tint. With New Zealand’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook, as a backdrop, it is a place of astounding beauty.
Another highlight of this itinerary: the exquisite Lake Tekapo, a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, the ideal location for star-gazing.
Christchurch and the Canterbury region form a remarkable land of contrasts, offering everything from fertile vineyards to rugged coastlines, vertiginous peaks to waterfalls to crystal-clear lakes. We spend an afternoon in Christchurch to see the Cardboard Cathedral, designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban and built after the 2011 earthquake destroyed the Christchurch Cathedral. We recharge with a coffee break at the best roastery in New Zealand, Allpress.
The property of the 19th-century, Victorian-built Otahuna Lodge comes into view, with its immaculately manicured grounds and views of the Canterbury Plains and Banks Peninsula. As we travel the long, twisting drive that leads to the building, we immediately sense the magic of the site. It is surely this feeling that attracted Hall Cannon and Miles Refo, the two charming Americans who bought Otahuna in 2006 after falling in love with it on a New Zealand stay a few years earlier. The two decided to restore this extraordinary property, taking care to make it as inspiring and captivating as it was when first built by Sir Heaton Rhodes in the late 1800s. Here, the new seamlessly blends with the old: Woodwork, stained-glass windows, and fireplaces (some in the bathrooms) share space with a superb collection of New Zealand contemporary art.
Otahuna’s impressive garden is without a doubt one of the estate’s most captivating amenities. The organic vegetable garden is home to more than 120 varieties of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and mushrooms and the henhouse provides the eggs for breakfast. In the kitchens, Australian Christian Bochsbichler focuses on freshness, giving great attention to guests’ specific desires. Every evening, we have the luxury of choosing the room in which we’ll take our meal. On the first night, we pick the cozily romantic library; the next day, we set our sights on the restaurant’s large dining room, with its table for twelve guests. All the wines they serve are from New Zealand and are exceptional; the service, exemplary.
You can book an excursion with Canterbury Guiding Co., the agency that Otahuna recommends. Operated by a boundlessly enthusiastic New Zealand couple, Fiona Newsome and John Ellis, Canterbury Guiding Co. specializes in designing outstanding private tours in the Canterbury area. That’s how we ended up taking the KiwiRail TranzAlpine train trip, a thrilling rail adventure that takes you through some of the planet’s most spectacular landscapes. The train leaves Christchurch for Greymouth on the west coast and travels 138 miles in four and a half hours. We passed through 19 tunnels and over four viaducts, traversed the Canterbury Plains, ran along the Waimakariri River – with its gorges and interlacing, glacier-fed streams –, then crossed mile upon mile of primary beech forest in the Southern Alps. On the return trip, Canterbury Guiding Co. met us halfway at Arthur’s Pass to bring us back to Christchurch. The last segment of our journey was therefore by car and equally fantastic, stopping at magnificent sites, each more exquisite than the last, all chosen by Fiona and John as treasures to be discovered.
While breathing new life into Otahuna Lodge, Miles and Hall managed to elevate the experience of luxury the lodge offers. Magic is at work everywhere at Otahuna.