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Blanket Bay, Glenorchy. Words by Michelle Berridge.

What is luxury? Marble bathrooms, Italian bed linen and fine dining? Sure. All the fineries of life come almost without saying at an exclusive lodge like Blanket Bay in New Zealand’s South Island. But at a certain level of opulence, when every detail is just as you would have it, what makes the difference between a five-star hotel’s high-class fit-out and the absolute luxury of an exclusive lodge is the experience you have there.

Making the Sale
New Zealand Trade Manual Blanket Bay recommends that you do not pre-book activities as weather can be a factor. Encourage your clients to relax and ‘go with with flow’, making their selection when they arrive.
New Zealand Trade Manual Plan your clients’ itinerary so that they arrive before 6pm to allow time to settle in before pre-dinner cocktails.
New Zealand Trade Manual A helicopter tour of Fiordland is just one of the wonderful activities on offer for visitors at Blanket Bay. In winter, heli-skiing is an exciting option.
New Zealand Trade Manual The lodge is located approximately 40 minutes’ drive from Queenstown.

The sense of anticipation that builds during the drive to Blanket Bay could hardly be greater. Hugging the shoreline of Lake Wakatipu, 30 minutes from Queenstown, the road offers grand vistas of the lake every time it crests a ridge. We’re almost at Glenorchy when the landscape opens out to a gentle slope from the lake up into the foothills. This is Wyuna Station country – the lowlands of a 27,000-acre high-country farm growing cattle, deer and sheep, as it has done since this area was first named Blanket Bay for the woollen blankets that formed rudimentary shearing tents in the earliest days of settlement. And there on the left, a schist stone wall marks the entrance to Blanket Bay.

As we pull up at the lodge – a beautiful creation of local stone and massive old timber beams – our host appears through an impressive front door of timber slabs. It’s not the wide glass frontage you’re used to in a high-class hotel – but this is no ordinary high-class hotel. Instead, we’re greeted as if we’re visiting an old friend … an old friend with a house that surpasses all expectations!

Step inside and the entrance hall sets the tone for what is to come. An aperture in the wall frames a view down to the magnificent Great Room – with its chandelier of antlers and whimsical bronze animals on the lamp tables – and beyond, through double-height windows, to lawn, lake and mountains. These framed views set this lodge apart; pass through a passageway or stroll down a path and you’ll find your attentions arrested by the placement of a sculpture in an alcove or two trees bordering a vista of lawn and lake, each time an invitation to pause and absorb the magnificence of the surroundings. Behind the Great Room is the Wine Cave, a private dining room with a table surrounded by cabinets of wine and a multitude of candles for the ultimate in romantic dining. Opposite is the wine cellar proper, with rack upon rack of bottles (including numerous bottles of Amisfield – the winery on the road to Arrowtown that shares the same owners as Blanket Bay) – and in pride of place at the end of the hallway is a huge painting depicting sheep being shorn right here at Blanket Bay in days gone by.

To work off the indulgence, Blanket Bay offers an excellent standard of wellness facilities. Head to the spa pool, adjust the lighting, the jets and the music at the push of a button, then push back the doors and settle in to listen to the stream outside cascading over rocks and watch the mountains turn grey-blue as the sun sets. There’s also a well-equipped gym with what must be the best views enjoyed by any gym anywhere!

Outside, the green lawn curves gently to the lake, bisected by a rocky stream and overlooked by a pair of bronze deer fawns. A seat close to the lake is the perfect place to admire the lodge. Based on the North American fishing lodges beloved by the owners, amalgamated with touches of a European ski lodge and hewn out of local materials to ground it in the New Zealand landscape, Blanket Bay is a stunning example of architecture at one with its surroundings. Tonnes of local schist and immense recycled timber beams sourced from around the country further the impression of permanence; as one of the owners later tells us, the builder promised that the lodge is solid enough to stand here for 1,000 years.

There are rooms and suites in the main building, but we’re spending the night in a private Chalet Suite. Situated away from the lodge, in two stone- and-timber buildings, the chalet accommodation can be configured as two bedrooms or combined as a statesroom. Each chalet is approached via a thyme-strewn stone pathway and its own private entranceway shielded by stone walls and cottage gardens where native tussocks mingle with roses.

Inside the chalet, a wall of glass affords spectacular views across the lawn to lake and mountains beyond. There’s a terrace where you can sit in a wooden rocker to enjoy the vista or simply sink into one of the armchairs arranged in front of the window and soak it all in. A coffee table is adorned with a vase of fresh flowers and a selection of books should you ever tire of the view – highly unlikely though this sounds!

Completing the accommodation, the bathroom is a stone-clad sanctuary with windows opening to an uninterrupted view of the mountains, a large bath and a shower that doubles as a private steam room. It’s very tempting to stay in that Chalet and not emerge for hours, but it’s a hot summer afternoon, the sun is still shining and it’s time to find the swimming pool.

Surrounded by eight-foot-high stone walls, the pool is an oasis amongst the rugged mountains that soar in every direction. A window of glass punctuates the wall at the far end of the pool, affording yet another perfectly framed view to the lake. After a swim, we head back to our suite to dress for dinner. Cocktail hour begins at 6:30pm every evening, so we assemble in The Den and sink into a couple of armchairs by the window while the Champagne is poured. Two other couples are joining us for drinks – Blanket Bay accommodates a maximum of 26 guests at any one time and even near capacity, with 20 guests currently visiting, the scale of the property means you only ever see a handful of people. The owners, Tom and Pauline Tusher, flew in from their home in San Francisco earlier today and they’re here too, sharing a drink and chatting with their guests. It turns out that the bronze sculptures dotted around the property – including the deer fawns on the lawn – are actually created by Pauline herself. She and Tom bought the land where the lodge sits way back in the 1970s, when the road to Glenorchy was just gravel. Later, the road was sealed and their original idea for a personal summertime retreat evolved into the concept of an exclusive lodge which took shape in the following years.

Our waitress takes our orders for dinner and we stroll through to the dining room, where we’re seated at a table before a crackling open fire. Windows either side of the fire offer views of the darkening landscape as the five-course degustation menu unfolds – somewhere in the middle we feast on a wonderful main dish of cervena with Marsala jus and we conclude with the best lemon tart, encrusted with caramelised sugar. It’s all accompanied by a delicious Amisfield Pinot Noir, of course.

The acclaimed Executive Chef, Steve Best, has a career liberally seasoned with awards and his talent ensures that the cuisine at Blanket Bay is of a standard equalling anything you might experience in a metropolitan capital. As one of the guests comments, you expect fine fare in a New York restaurant, but to find it here, ‘in the middle of nowhere’, is a delightful surprise. She asks her waitress whether she can take the chef home to New York with her – and she was probably only partly joking.

The next morning dawns with a perfect blue sky. I’m up early to see the sun coming up over the mountains and the morning light shimmering across the lake. We stroll across to the lodge for breakfast and sit down to coffee and French toast while we wait for our ride. Minutes later, our helicopter arrives with a roar and touches down on the lawn before us.

Once aboard, we lift off and rush across the lake, up the Humboldt Mountains and into Fiordland for a tour of the region’s remarkably varied landscapes, landing alongside a mountain-top lake, on a west coast beach and in the snow on the mountains above Lake Wakatipu, in places that can’t be accessed any other way. We spot wild deer, hover within arm’s reach of immense waterfalls and skim along a river that zigzags through untouched rainforest. It’s the perfect complement to an unforgettable stay at Blanket Bay, but for those that don’t want to leave terra firma, other options include fly-fishing, hiking and horse riding at Wyuna Station.

When we arrive back at Blanket Bay, we’re greeted with the offer of a hot drink, so we take a seat on our favourite couch in the Grand Room, sipping tea and recounting our adventures to Pauline, who has come to say goodbye. Only when we’ve run out of excuses to delay our departure do we reluctantly head out to our waiting car, promising to return for another visit soon. At the last moment we pause to capture one last glimpse of the lodge and realise that we’ve just discovered what luxury really means.

Blanket Bay
PO Box 35, Glenorchy 9350
t: +64 3 441 0115

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