Sitting proudly in the centre of town, occupying a prime location on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Eichardt's Private Hotel is a Queenstown institution. Anyone who's visited the town will know it; will have walked past it, stopped for a drink and tapas at its well established bar, perhaps peered into the windows and thought "one day I'll treat myself". Do it. Everyone deserves to spend some time in luxury.
Like many prominent locations in the area, Eichardt's was born out of the Central Otago gold rush. Early settler William Gilbert Rees built a homestead on the lakefront and erected a woolshed on the site in 1859. He quickly turned to the hotel-keeping business when the discovery of gold in the Shotover River brought prospectors and opportunists to the region, turning the woolshed into hotel named the Queen's Arms. Rees entered into partnership with Albert Eichardt in 1866 before Eichardt became the sole owner three years later and renamed the property. The building suffered significant damage in the Queenstown floods of 1999, which allowed the owners to restore, renovate and reopen as a luxury boutique hotel. Eichardt's now has a category two listing from the Historic Places Trust, is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and is owned by Melbourne-based businessman Andrew Cox, whose company also owns the Rebels Super Rugby team.
If the brief was "understated elegance, with a taste of the gold-rush era" in its reinvention as a luxury hotel, Eichardt's has nailed it. Walking into a lake-view suite, I half expected George Clooney to be standing by the fireplace with a glass of Central Otago pinot noir, offering his hand for a dance to the strains of the Concert station filling the room. Alas, no George, I instead happily settled for the warm embrace of the room itself, which almost immediately enveloped me with a sense of calm and banished city stresses.
Larger than my Auckland apartment, the room is effectively spread over four areas; lounge, bedroom, bathroom and kitchenette/dressing room. With the November weather still chilly enough to make use of the fireplace, the lounge area has space enough to work at the desk (free Wi-Fi), take room service at the small dining table, or stretch out on the couch for a doze (which may have occurred once or twice). Throughout the suite, it's the little personal touches that make this hotel experience different to others - homemade biscuits, the variety of teas and coffee, water and non-alcoholic drinks without charge, the Molton Brown bathroom products replenished daily, candles and salts waiting by the bath and more towels than you'll need on heated rails. The bathroom is so lovely I'd have quite happily slept in there. But the real treat is walking back to the room in the evening to find the curtains drawn, lamps on, music playing, the blankets of the enormous bed turned-down and two home-made chocolates waiting by the bedside.
Away from the wonders of the suites, Eichardt's offers a number of superb dining options.
After taking pre-dinner drinks in the upstairs parlour, venture down to the bar for tapas and you must try the famous seafood chowder. They also do an excellent breakfast with the best green smoothie I've tasted.
From the perfectly plumped cushions to the music selection, everything is in order and nothing is out of place, yet the atmosphere is relaxed and casual enough that it would feel totally acceptable to curl up on the couch with a book.
Executive chef Will Eaglesfield oversees the food in the bar and the newly opened Grille, a 130-seat restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows looking straight out to the lake. It is bistro fare done superbly, with an emphasis on local produce, an extensive wine list to suit both the quaffers (me) or a more discerning palate, and set in a stylish space that somehow fits with the old stone of the hotel.
Of course, without the right people in place it would all fall down. Led by group general manager James Cavanagh, the staff at Eichardt's are unfailingly friendly and efficient.
Of course, without the right people in place it would all fall down. Led by group general manager James Cavanagh, the staff at Eichardt's are unfailingly friendly and efficient. Although they say they haven't had too many bizarre requests, they can arrange access to any of Queenstown's adventure activities, excursions to local wineries, fishing trips, nature walks or call ahead to the famous Ferg Burger to help avoid the lengthy queues.
The nature of the requests may ramp up a notch with newly opened penthouse. Part of a multimillion-dollar expansion of the property, it commands three floors, including a penthouse with perhaps the pre-eminent vista in the country - an unobstructed view across Lake Wakatipu to the Remarkables. The Penthouse comes with a butler, personal chef, access to a fleet of vehicles, afterhours shopping experiences and an eye-watering price tag.
The issue with all of this however, is you won't want to leave your room, yet you're in Queenstown where adventure awaits. I would suggest forgetting the feeling of obligation to throw yourself off a perfectly good bridge or plunge around the river in a boat, just stay indoors and let Eichardt's take care of the rest.
Air New Zealand flies nonstop to Queenstown from Auckland with up to eight daily return flights. One-way Economy Class fares start from $83.
For information and bookings at Eichardt's Private Hotel, go to eichardts.com.