Sixteen years ago, my girlfriend and I cruised south to Queenstown for the first time. We had an old stationwagon, a couple of sleeping bags and enough coin to get us back to Auckland. Well, almost.
Sixteen years later, I decided it was time for a return visit. I chose to go with that same girl funnily enough; it seemed only fair since we're married now. It was heartbreaking to leave the kids back in Auckland, but surprising how luxury eases the guilt.
On a still, clear day, gliding down through the mountains into Queenstown is a sight you won't get anywhere else. You feel like you're soaring into a scene from Lord of the Rings, except Mt Doom is replaced by Mt "Hello Pinot".
Our host, Sean, greeted us at the airport, took our bags, then whisked us off through town. Ten minutes later he pulled up at our destination. Kate looked at the surroundings. "I'm home," she said with a sigh.
Matakauri is the newest luxury lodge in a group that includes Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers. Like its sister lodges, Matakauri wears its luxury in an understated way. It's quality minus the bling. The gardens, paths and surrounding outdoor area all look groomed for a Vanity Fair photo shoot. Yet the star of the show is the spectacular view across Lake Wakatipu to Cecil and Walter Peaks. I spent a lot of time over the next two days just watching the colours change on Walter's hills while the old steamship TSS Earnslaw cruised by, celebrating its centennial year.
Sean showed us to our king suite. Crikey. This place is pure indulgence. Our lounge faced the lake with floor-to-ceiling windows so we felt like we could step off into the water. A huge fireplace with gorgeous lounging chairs in front of it were perfect for mountain gazing. Even in the bathroom you could gaze at the view from a tub of epic proportions.
By coincidence it was my birthday, and Kate and I decided the best way to celebrate would be for her to experience the 90-minute massage at the Matakauri spa (funny, that). She came back a changed woman, so I explored the spa too. It has beautiful treatment rooms, a jacuzzi and a huge gym, which looks like it never gets used. Why would you when you've got an infinity pool with a spa overlooking a view you normally see only on canvas?
Dining at Matakauri is truly special. I could have spent all evening in the lounge with cocktails and canapes if it weren't for the four courses still to come. We dined in the library. The service was excellent and the surprise birthday cake even better.
The next morning Malcolm, from Black ZQN, arrived in his Range Rover to take us out for the day. Malcolm was full of information, pointing out where certain scenes were shot for Lord of the Rings as we cruised past Lake Hayes. Being autumn, we picked the perfect time to see the lake and its trees in all their fiery colours.
The Arrowtown Autumn Festival was on and we were blown away by how pretty the town was. It's like a historic Disneyland with its main street dotted with little mining cottages, hidden under rows of golden red trees.
Malcolm took me to see his mate Scott Stevens at Dudley's Cottage. Scott teaches gold panning with a guarantee that you will find gold on every visit. I wanted to explore this further so Malcolm bundled us into the car, then, just like in the old Barry Crump ad, flew off the road into a river and roared upstream to one of his many favourite panning spots. It was a crazy, fun ride and, sure enough, we found a bunch of people panning in the river. Fantastic.
After I found my gold, we asked if we could do something even more adventurous. In a flash, Malcolm had us down to High Country Horses in Glenorchy. They ride across Rees Valley Station, which borders Mt Aspiring National Park. We were kitted out in full length Driza-Bone jackets, so I looked rugged as. Luckily, they gave the horse called Peaches to Kate and a wild-eyed giant named Zac to me. At first it was just like an episode of Country Calendar, forging rivers on horseback with the sun setting behind misty mountains. Then I ruined it.
I thought I would go for a canter along the river. Why I thought I could handle an ex-racehorse I don't know.
Oh dear. Within seconds, I was questioning the wisdom of downing a half-dozen Bluff oysters for lunch, so I reined big Zac in to a slow stroll.
Those last few hours were a good excuse to get back to Matakauri and that massive bathtub.
Our last evening at the lodge was spent over dinner deciding when next to visit Queenstown. Maybe skiing this winter, as Matakauri do fantastic winter packages, though, as Kate pointed out, who needs skiing when there's the lodge to relax in.
Next day I promised myself I wouldn't let another 16 years go by before returning. Sean suggested we bring the kids ... yeah right.
Where to stay: Matakauri Lodge takes a maximum of 22 guests at its exclusive resort.
Matakauri and its sister lodges, Kauri Cliffs and The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, have a winter special running until September 30, which includes accommodation, the choice of a day of green fees (at Kauri Cliffs or Cape Kidnappers) or a 50-minute massage per person a night, pre-dinner drinks and canapes, gourmet dinner, breakfast and use of all lodge facilities, for $700 a person per night.
How to get around: Black ZQN will take you anywhere and, if you're keen to tour the vineyards, I can't think of a more luxurious way to travel between drinks.
Where to taste:
Mt Edward winery is a must. Its inspirational owner Duncan has a passion for organic wines which left me wanting to sell up and move to Central Otago. The Mt Edward riesling will knock your socks off.
Amisfield wine company produces pinot noir, whites and sparkling wines. The winery is stunning. It houses a beautiful wine tasting room and bistro. Try the Bluff oysters and the pinot.
Where to ride: High Country Horses will give you the ultimate South Island riding experience.
Rob and Kate Cox were hosted by Matakauri Lodge.