The ease of spending money on arrival into another country is a well-documented phenomenon. A combination of foreign currencies making conversions in your head a bit tricky, coupled with a devil-may-care "I'm on holiday" attitude, all helps turn that coin tap to full. The same New Zealander might treat that faucet like a restricted Auckland garden hose at home but, abroad, suddenly $28 cocktails seemed like a perfectly sensible use of the kid's inheritance. Or at least that's how it used to be.
Scientists and human geographers will be studying the unwitting control environment of Covid restrictions for decades. Our spending habits, an area rich in data, is already throwing up fascinating results.
New Zealanders spend more than $9 billion each year overseas, annual spending money that is currently circulating in part domestically. In just my field, I've been hearing plenty of anecdotal stories of abnormal sales. Things like dive shops that can't sell dry suits fast enough, fishing tackle companies having to air freight goods to keep up with demand, boat builders now with eight-month minimum lead times, second-hand boats including launches going up in value, and outboard motors unable to be freighted in fast enough. It would appear that the annual trip to Fiji or Europe looks like it's being converted into marine purchases and upgrades.
I'm also hearing the same thing about luxury travel in NZ. A stunning case study would have to be Minaret Station between Wānaka and Queenstown in the South Island. To be honest I knew of it only vaguely until researching an episode for Fish of the Day. That's because until recently Minaret was booked almost exclusively by foreigners enjoying the lodge and the impeccable staff who work there. While Kiwis have certainly never been excluded, there was no shortage of offshore interest to keep beds full.
As a helicopter-only access stay that is tucked away in a valley on Minaret Station, inland from Lake Wānaka, it's been a case of out of sight, out of mind. The trip in alone is nothing short of breath-taking. The take-off from Wānaka airport has you roaring over the Clutha River to the lake in mere minutes before tracking the shoreline and taking a hard left at a small river and heading up the excluded valley. As the heli climbs from lake to snowline, you're watching the lush alpine rainforest turn to sparse tundra below and you are presented with a sharp lesson in the stunning environmental diversity we are so spoilt with here in New Zealand.
It is described as one of the most secluded and private lodges in the world so it's no wonder Minaret's guest list is rumoured to include the odd royal. At nearly 1000m above sea level, the accommodation consists of four luxury chalets that can take up to two couples each. These extend off wooden walkways connected to the main lodge, with staff accommodation tucked away behind. All building materials were lifted in by helicopter, including the mini hydropower generator harnessing all site power off a nearby waterfall.
The lodge has the obligatory roaring fireplaces and a full commercial kitchen visible through a large window bar. Interaction with the chef preparing world-class meals is encouraged as Minaret works hard to exemplify that laidback Kiwi attitude for which we are so well known.
However, the adventure experiences on offer here are limited only by budget. Helicopters and flexible staff attitudes make this a real-life pick-a-path adventure.
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Want to hike a ridge you can see in the distance? No problem. How about a flight to the West Coast to dive for pāua or pick up some whitebait from a salty old baiter on a river bend? Or perhaps a morning's heli-skiing, followed by a heli-mountain bike adventure then an evening deer hunt? A trip to Fiordland – "would that be Milford or Dusky, ma'am?". Perhaps even a surf trip with mates then a gourmet chef serving you lunch on a mountain glacier high in the Southern Alps. Again, none of this is a problem, for the right price of course.
There's no way of dancing around the fact that this isn't a cheap experience. However, when considered against say the total cost of a trip to Europe, and helicopter flights that can be divided among invited friends, it starts to make sense for a lot of people.
As it now operates as a destination much more visible domestically, plenty of New Zealanders are taking up the offer. It's right up there as a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you unbelievably proud at the beauty we have right here on our doorstep. In a nod to the abnormal sales I mentioned earlier, Minaret reported a busier September than the year prior. Remarkable when you consider the near-complete absence of foreign tourists.
Clarke Gayford is the host of Fish of the Day, tonight at 5.25pm on THREE