Otago: High country luxury

By Belinda Henley

Belinda Henley discovers a unique five-star accommodation offering on a working high country farm near Wanaka.

Minaret Station, on the western shores of Lake Wanaka, offers four tented 'suites' where guests can relax in luxury while taking in the magnificent scenery. Photo / Supplied
Minaret Station, on the western shores of Lake Wanaka, offers four tented 'suites' where guests can relax in luxury while taking in the magnificent scenery. Photo / Supplied

The South Island high country is home to some of the most stunning natural landscapes that New Zealand has to offer.

It's also one of the most difficult parts of our country to access, so I relished a recent opportunity to experience life on Minaret Station, a working high country farm.

Bought in 1995 by the Wallis family from Wanaka, Minaret covers 55,000 acres and is home to a mix of livestock including deer, cattle and sheep.

With a number of successful tourism and agriculture businesses already to their name, the four Wallis brothers were looking for an opportunity to offer their "guiding" guests an experience staying overnight on a high country farm.

"We would take guests up into mountains and get to the end of the day and we would have to make a run for home. They never wanted to leave the hills because the mornings and evenings are the most beautiful time of day," says Matt Wallis.

"The real challenge for us was to offer people the chance to stay overnight in the hills but with the level of luxury and comfort they would expect."

Matt says his idea was further fuelled by frustration that the South Island high country was largely bypassed by those on the tourist trail.

"A lot of visitors were just joining the dots... there are great lodges here but none truly in the high country and so much of the South Island culture stems from the high country; it's why many of the towns exist in the first place."

After a lot of research, the brothers were inspired by the tents used on luxury African safaris, but they needed to be modified for New Zealand alpine conditions.

"[In a tent] you don't lose the feeling of being in the hills that you would if you were in a cabin," says Matt.

"You can hear the wildlife, see the walls move, feel the breeze - all things that are tied up with being in the high country."

The luxury tented lodge at Minaret Station is only accessible only by helicopter. The 20-minute trip from Wanaka takes you over lakes, plains and vineyards before descending into the depths of the high country. The lodge itself is nestled in a spectacular glaciated valley with mountains on all sides.

The four tented 'suites' offer five-star accommodation complete with sheepskin carpets, possum throws and luxury ensuites. Each suite also has its own deck and hot tub.

Depending on the individual visitor's interests and the time of year,

Itineraries are tailor-made to suit each guest depending on their personal interests and the time of the year. Guiding and hunting is available year-round, with heli skiing in the winter and hiking and fly fishing in the summer.

Guests are also able to observe life on the station, to get to terms with the challenges and the rewards.

"It gives me a huge sense of pride being able to share it," says Matt.

"I had some idea of what people would get out of it but it turns out it's the little things. Seeing children who have grown up entirely in urban areas damming up creeks and figuring out which bark is the best to use for kindling... the uninterrupted night stars which make people literally stop in their tracks..."

One of their biggest achievements is the hydropower operation the Wallis' have set up, harnessing the energy from a nearby waterfall to supply power for the entire lodge.

If you don't want to stay over (which almost seems like sacrilege) they also offer day packages, including a 'Mountain Kitchen' experience which involves a wonderful three-course lunch prepared from local produce by in-house chef Leungo.

The lodge has been open for little more than a year but it's already received rave reviews from some of the world's top luxury travel guides.

The Minaret offering is constantly being expanded, but the property is already well on the way to establishing itself as one of the leading lodges in New Zealand, and the world.

As Matt says: "If I still get a buzz from it and I am there all the time, what must it do to people who are seeing it for the first time?"

Further information: See minaretstation.com.

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