You can escape the real world at Minaret Station, writes Sue Wallace
It's simply breathtaking skimming over snow-dusted mountains, emerald green valleys and spotting tumbling waterfalls and meandering streams on the way to the South Island's luxury Minaret Station Alpine Lodge.
The lodge fits snugly on the western side of Lake Wānaka between Minaret Burn in the south and the Albert Burn in the north.
Head swivelling is in full force on the 30-minute helicopter hop from Queenstown Airport to the remote highland retreat among some of the world's best scenery. You just don't want to miss anything.
Nature in all her glory stars here and as you climb from the helicopter, the full brunt of the magnificent landscape stops you in your tracks. It's one of those moments in time that you want to remember forever as you stand still and soak up the grandeur of the vistas.
Bordered by national parks, mountains and Lake Wānaka, there are no roads at all leading to the lodge – helicopter is the only way in.
Alpine Group sales general manager Penny Hayes is used to seeing startling reactions from guests who come from around the world to experience the secluded lodge and unique experiences.
"It is hard to describe the feeling guests experience flying into Minaret Station for the first time, and truly getting a feel for this special and unique place," she says. "It is the sense of time standing still, as you escape the 'real world' in the truly extraordinary location. It provides guests with some of life's most precious elements – time, fresh air and open space."
We settle into our home for two days, one of four secluded luxury chalets with a king-size bed, en-suite, a hot tub that beckons and a private deck with magnificent views. In no time, a desire to connect with these mountains creeps up and we are in luck, the weather is promising as we plan our excursions.
There's much to appeal to the adventurous traveller and those who just want to savour the landscape from their deck or stride out along the raised wooden boardwalks.
A day hike takes guests from alpine environments to waterfalls, through native beech forest, and high-country farmland. While a day helicopter experience can whisk you from glaciers to fiords and ancient beech forests, viewing unique wildlife and dining on fresh seafood in locations that are usually inaccessible.
Minaret Station is a working farm owned by the Wallis family, who farm deer, sheep, and cattle. It rises from 304m at Lake Wānaka to 2194m at the towering Minaret Peaks. The Alpine Lodge itself sits at 914m up a spectacular glacial valley on the property.
Every season provides its own surprises that allow guests to enjoy the location year-round. "The longer days of spring and summer allow for further exploration, as the snow melts from the surrounding mountains by November, returning in May," Penny says. "Winter is when our heliskiing kicks off, and we can share the best of more than 800 heli-ski runs through our Southern Lakes terrain."
In other words, it's the ultimate treat come what may. "Each of our trips goes beyond the beaten path to allow guests to experience the very best of the region, and view some of the world's most spectacular scenery, without a doubt," Penny explains.
Fancy deeper adventure? There's backcountry fly fishing, heli-skiing, hiking, mountain biking and guided hunting available.
Our Fiordland Heli Traverse excursion is a day of viewing astounding nature from majestic glaciers, ice formations, alpine lakes, wildlife and fiords. Fresh barbecued lobster from the West Coast is a lunch highlight, accompanied by stunning views.
We later land in the snow at the beautiful, isolated mountain lakes and next we are skimming over wave-battered beaches as we follow the coast home.
There are many "pinch me" moments from the time we take off to our return. Later we enjoy canapes and bubbles fireside, followed by an amazing dinner at the Mountain Kitchen in the main lodge.
Star chef Alistair Wilson uses the freshest produce and seafood from the rugged West Coast, including paua, crayfish, kina, blue cod, groper, and albacore tuna. Tender Minaret Station Te Mana lamb, grass-fed Angus beef, and wild alpine venison are often served.
It's a culinary adventure devoid of foams, gels, soils, or anything unrecognisable, instead it's all about delicious tastes matched with some of the country's best wines.
Back at our chalet, I can't resist the bubbling hot tub as I gaze at the clear night sky carpeted with twinkling stars that light up the dark shadows of the towering peaks. Regardless of what you choose to do here, the mountains have a great physical and spiritual charm and you just want to reach out and touch them.
When you visit Minaret Station, it doesn't take long to realise it's the striking unforgettable landscape that takes centre stage and is well-deserving of a standing ovation.
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