Call off the search, I think I've found it: New Zealand's best bathtub view.
There's strong competition, no doubt; it seems great baths can be found all over the country - at hotels (Sudima Auckland), remote cottages (Ruapehu's Nightsky), and lodges (Christchurch's Otahuna) - but I find my favourite of the year so far in Queenstown at the ultra luxurious Matakauri.
The bath is one of countless exquisite features at this stunning property situated 10 minutes north of Queenstown just off Glenorchy Rd, but it's the one that sticks most firmly in my mind.
It's in front of a huge picture window, perfectly framing Lake Wakatipu and surrounding mountains. It's reassuringly private - the only ones that will see you are the native birds flitting in the trees outside. But, from the comfort of the tub, you can watch the Earnslaw chugging back and forth, just a tiny dot on the expanse of cobalt lake stretching out in front of you.
There's a conveniently placed stool to rest a book and a chilled glass of bubbles. Fluffy white towels and a sumptuous robe warm gently on the heated towel rail behind me. And, I'm not quite sure if it's coincidence or some kind of luxury lodge magic, but a generous squeeze of the specially created Robertson lodge bubble bath results in a mountain of foam in a shape quite accurately resembling the peaks of the Remarkables across the lake.
Great views are available wherever you look at Matakauri, whether it's from the bathtub, the day bed, the dining room, the lodge lounge, the gym or hot tub.
Like its sister properties - Northland's Kauri Cliffs and Hawke's Bay's The Farm at Cape Kidnappers - the lodge's interior design concept is from Virginia Fisher. It's effortlessly stylish and cosy throughout the property, with interesting artworks (including a wall-hanging Picasso-design rug), squishy sofas, oversized armchairs, open fires (some gas, some log), and lots of cushions and blankets so you can snuggle in and get comfy.
And honestly, if you kicked off your ski boots at the end of a day on the slopes, curled up on the main guest lounge sofa with a Central Otago pinot noir and a pile of books, none of the staff would bat an eyelid. Everyone we come across is warm and friendly, without a hint of the stuffiness us regular folk might be nervous of when enjoying the treat of a special luxury lodge stay. For example, not long after our arrival, restaurant manager Quinn Huber is proudly sharing photos of his friend's new puppy and, later in our stay, guest relations manager Connor Rogers assures us he'll absolutely find a way for us to move in forever. Everyone else consistently helps us feel right at home.
The professional team obviously have the ability to do this to every guest, no matter their personalities or particular needs. Our stay coincides with that of a certain Real Housewife of Auckland, who at the breakfast table next to us is loudly celebrating her birthday with her partner and two children. The restaurant staff manage to make a fuss around her so she feels special, while simultaneously being quiet and gentle with us, while we sedately read the morning papers.
At the table next to us there's a magnum of champagne and talk of helicopter rides and pampering experiences, but we're content to ease into the day over a leisurely multi-course breakfast. The menu is extensive - four pages of options, and almost everything seems customisable for my gluten-free, dairy-free companion.
Head Chef Jonathan Rogers has just returned to Matakauri after spending a season at Kauri Cliffs and he's excited about getting stuck into Central Otago living again. Dinner menus change daily to ensure guests don't get tired of the same options during multi-night stays. We are visiting during the lodge's one-month bed-and-breakfast-only period but dinner service resumes from August 15 and guests can expect elaborate, multi-course dining accompanied by fine wines and exceptional service.
We get a sample of Rogers' work not only at breakfast but also at the nightly cocktail and canape hour where I drink moreish local reds and my friend enjoys delicious mocktails spontaneously created by Huber.
We're sad we don't get to experience what dinner at the lodge is like (a reason to return), but it also gives us the opportunity to venture further afield and experience the excellent local dining scene.
Dinner at Aosta is an absolute must-do for all visitors to the region. Ben Bayly's Arrowtown outpost is warm, inviting and has a gently buzzing atmosphere. Aosta, Northern Italy, and Arrowtown, Central Otago, are geographically quite similar - both are seasonal alpine valleys lying at 45 degrees above and below the equator. Bayly and his team have been inspired by northern Italian cooking techniques for a divine menu packed with local produce.
Our second evening takes us to Boardwalk on central Queenstown's Steamer Wharf. The first-floor dining room allows us to look down to the winter crowds braving the cold, wrapped up in beanies and gloves and identikit black puffer jackets. Meanwhile, we're cosy inside, enjoying oysters and juicy salmon fillets and huge bowls of rich fish curries and we really couldn't be happier.
What makes it even better is knowing we'll be returning to Matakauri at the end of the night for more peace, quiet and total luxury. Winter has never looked better.
CHECKLIST: MATAKAURI LODGE
Stays at Matakauri start from $740 + GST per person, per night between August 15-October 14, and from $935 + GST per person, per night between October 15-December 14. Rates include meals, non-alcoholic mini-bar, Wi-Fi and use of lodge facilities, including library, gym, swimming pool, Jacuzzi and sauna. Stay four nights and pay for three until November 31. matakaurilodge.com
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