A luxury holiday can mean different things, depending on who you ask. But for our writers, it means an unforgettable experience and memories to treasure.
To me, luxury is quiet and space. Most importantly, big skies, preferably covered in stars; secondly, only the sounds of nature - wind and water, birds and brooks. So Minaret Station was my dream location. There are no roads you can drive to reach this luxurious lodge high above Wanaka, so I was picked up in Queenstown and choppered across Otago's beautiful mustardy landscapes. The lodge sits in an ancient glacial valley 900m up. The showers and hot tubs are fed by a waterfall nearby. The service is unpretentious. There are just four cabins, an open bar full of winter warmers, a wonderful chef who uses what's available to him. And a canopy of stars.
Keep your high thread counts and your all-day spa treatments. Nothing says luxury like a historic farmhouse that contains a gigantic room that exists for no other purpose than eating. Marlborough's Rowley Estate Homestead has a superb kitchen and a cosy lounge, but it was the casually formal dining room that stole my heart. Chandeliers. A warm solid wood table. A room that demands 10 best friends for a long louche lunch and a late, late night - private chef optional and the best Marlborough wines an absolute given. In the morning, there are fresh pastries at the back door and a coffee pot on the stove. Bliss.
It's the place I came to my senses as a bachelor and it's the place where, almost exactly a year later, I got engaged. For those two reasons alone, Tauranga's French Country House will always be special to me. As the name conjures, this is elegance of the highest order. With marble floors, chandeliers, throne-like dining chairs, claw-footed baths, spiral staircases and wonderful old wooden beams, it is arguably the most opulent accommodation option in the Tauranga region.
But more than that, there's the connection guests feel with manager Kay and her dear little dog Freddie. Together they preside over this romantic, luxurious but somehow still homely 16ha estate.
At the bottom of the South Island, where the land ends and the sea disappears past the horizon, a path runs beside the coast. Hump Ridge Track heads west before setting uphill. The trust that runs the track will, for a fee, take your pack by helicopter to Okaka Hut at the bushline.
It's a tempting offer because the first and hardest day of the Hump Ridge loop covers 19km. At the hut, there's time for a hot shower - run on gas bottles dropped by the chopper - before a high-altitude dinner of Southland lamb shanks washed down with a Central Otago pinot. Tramping, with a high-end twist.
Houses in bush above a huddle of yachts in a bay, sun dancing on the water, it's so romantic we could almost be on the French RIviera. But we're only 15 minutes from downtown Rotorua at Okawa Bay on Lake Rotoiti. Tiua, 16m of pure, multihull luxury from Pure Cruise New Zealand, sits at the end of a short dock. Heading upwind on the lake, we nip over to one of Rotoiti's many bays for a close look at classic boats rafted up for their annual meet. They could have motored out of a 1950s film set. We lounge in the sun nibbling canapes as lunch is prepared. We hardly notice the sails drop or the motor purring, but suddenly our heading has changed and we float up to a jetty. It's Hot Water Beach. With the mercury pushing the mid-20s, why would you want to sit in a hot pool? But the geothermal spring water soon eases any tension from the body. Later, a quick jog down the wharf and dive into the lake revives the sense. It's time to go.
In 2003, a group of academics identified a four-step hierarchy of eating. At level one, the food we need to survive and grow. At level four, foods that are limited in supply, difficult to procure or very expensive. Luxury, by any other description. Dinner at Monique Fiso's restaurant Hiakai is next level.
It takes weeks to get a booking at the restaurant that doesn't even look like a restaurant until you climb the stairs to your plush and dimly lit booth. Seven set courses of Aotearoa as you've never tasted it before. Rēwana with titi oil. An oyster with horopito foam and sea celery. The pudding is made from Milo, wit and genius. Fiso's contemporary Maori cuisine is on multiple best-in-the-world lists and all I had to do was fly 45 minutes to Wellington.
Snow is not my natural habitat – I'm from Northland – but it turned our Routeburn Track walk in November 2018 into the most splendid adventure. We were with Ultimate Hikes, so we're talking private lodges, slap-up meals – and flushing toilets.
They say their staff strive to make sure your time off the track is as memorable as that on it. That would have been the case, had it not been for the snow. The lodges, the wine, the food were all spectacular, but they were trumped by the sheer splendour of the natural environment.
Helen van Berkel:
Any kind of holiday is a luxury on some level but how about one that's all about YOU. Resolution Retreats, now in Karapiro, gives you the chance to take a good look at yourself – what you're eating, what you're drinking and how you are looking after YOU. I spent three days doing all of the above – you can stay for as long as three weeks. It starts with a goody bag on arrival and then during your stay, other people will prepare your meals according to a nutritionist-designed meal plan drawn up just for you – then teach you how to do it. Enjoy the virtuousness, and improved physical wellbeing of daily fitness and yoga sessions, while experts who talk about hormones and motivation will give you a whole new insight into YOU. No kids, no pets, no partners. You.
The speck in Cromwell's sky grew larger in both size and volume as it hovered nearer. My fellow diners at the previously tranquil Mt Difficulty Winery restaurant all put down their forks to glare - upwards. Even after the passing helicopter touched down, the noise did not subside. The engine stayed on, the blades kept spinning. Who was arriving in such dramatic fashion? Someone rich? Clearly. Someone famous? Maybe. But who? Well, me. Only I wasn't arriving.
I stood up and walked toward the 'copter as heads turned and jaws dropped. My clothes betrayed the fact I was obviously not rich and my face was not famous. But as people gawked, I got a glimpse as to what it must feel like. I clicked myself in and away we went, towards the craggy snow-capped ranges. Landing on a peak in the Pisa Range, at a spot only accessible by chopper, there was nothing but blindingly white snow. I breathed in the purest air I've ever encountered, soaked in the views, and when his back was turned, threw a snowball at the only other passenger.
It was October and the second week of the school holidays. I had a child being assessed for ADHD and a looming uni assignment. Desperate for a break, my son was flung across the ditch to see his Sydney cousins, and my partner and I loaded the car with research books (for me) and fishing gear (for him) and headed north. We booked four nights at Sanctuary Palms in Paihia. It was paradise. We woke early and stumbled over rocks to a surfcasting hotspot, lugging my laptop, breakfast, and great expectations. The only thing we caught was the sunrise, but it didn't matter. The biggest challenge was an over-achieving bathbomb that had us frantically piling fluffy clouds of bubbles into the shower cubicle before we could see the bathtub again. I abandoned my study aspirations and succumbed to days lying on a hammock, serenaded by music from the Food and Wine Festival below. We returned home with a chilly bin full of snapper (thanks to Days Out fishing charters), and promises to return.
Golfers might relish an autumn pilgrimage to the Millbrook Resort course. Three nine-hole layouts - The Arrow, The Coronet and The Remarkables – are kept in such regimented condition that even the warm-coloured leaves around tree trunks appear contracted not to break ranks.
A round of 116 vouched for the fact I saw plenty of the landscape, hacking at the ball like I was auditioning for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Still, what's not to love when your frustration is framed by vistas of the Queenstown-Lakes District. The scene is further enhanced at dusk. The scent of burning macrocarpa leads to residents supping pinot noir around fireplaces in chalets dotted along the fairways. For one glorious weekend, that was me.
My father in law had been diagnosed with a terminal illness but instead of dwelling on the awful news he chose to treat his partner, two boys and their young families on a secluded luxurious getaway. What a guy! Quality family time plus ultimate relaxation - the best medicine.
The destination was Poronui Lodge located in the central North Island's beautiful Taharua Valley. The estate is predominantly used as a luxury sporting retreat. Fly fishing, hunting and the like. I'm not sure they'd catered for an extended family with four preschoolers before. But they excelled.
We were given free reign of their private villa, Blake House (a mansion by my standards), which overlooks the stunning countryside and the Taharua river.
It's more than an hour's drive to any civilisation and well and truly out of cellphone coverage so we felt properly off-grid. But this was definitely not roughing it. I've never seen such a well stocked liquor cabinet and fridge, not to mention the wine storage. Every meal was beautifully prepared by our personal chef and glasses never empty thanks to our on-call waitress. A luxury we had trouble getting used to at first - having to constantly resist the urge to offer help... but we quickly adapted.
The 4 day experience was filled with horse treks, cooking lessons, spa treatments, hikes and general r&r ... there was even an onsite playground for the kids and an in-house library where we could escape them.
A once in a lifetime experience and the memories could not be more precious. RIP Pop.