Australian travel writer John Corbett casts his eye across the Tasman in search of the places zillionaires go to get away from it all

If you have a minimum of $1000 (a person) to spend every day, you can gain entry into a very exclusive world.

You probably won't be mixing with royalty because they like to have places all to themselves, and you may or may not glimpse international celebrities because they tend to be shy as well. But trust me: when you stay at one of New Zealand's top luxury lodges, you'll be enjoying the same menus, boggling at the same landscapes and sliding in between what feels like million-thread-count sheets at night, just like them.

New Zealand's top lodges feature often on international "best" lists for good reasons. In a country that's known for knock-your-socks-off scenery, they occupy some of the best spots. The food and wine are sublime and the service standards and facilities start where many luxury hotels leave off. The design and decoration of New Zealand's top lodges are also gorgeous - they're Instagram-perfect in a way that makes you resolve to go home and live more stylishly. Accommodation doesn't get any better than this.

Ninety minutes up the coast by road, the hugely successful The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs (est. 2001) has been joined by multiple award-winning sister properties The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay, and Matakauri Lodge near Queenstown. All are members of the international Relais & Chateaux group of hotels and resorts.


Kauri Cliffs includes a posh working farm and The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is a mecca for golf aficionados with a spectacular Tom Doak-designed par 71 clifftop course set 140m above the ocean. World-famous chefs fly in regularly to The Farm at Cape Kidnappers to host culinary events.

A few minutes' drive from Queenstown but a world away, Matakauri Lodge is a serene retreat with jaw-dropping lake and mountain views. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) are among the most famous guests to have stayed in the Manager's Cottage, a beautiful four-bedroom, five-bathroom, self-contained house at one end of the estate.

Speaking of famous, the Queen, the Obamas and a who's-who of presidents, potentates and the merely extremely rich have all enjoyed the impeccable style and comfort of Huka Lodge (Relais & Chateaux) and its riverside setting near Taupo.

There is plenty to do in the immediate area from fly fishing to golf, but the on-site presence of Michelin-star chefs, personal butlers and blissful spa treatments makes it very tempting to just stay put.

Want a bath on the wild side?

The 13 freestanding cottage suites at Wharekauhau Country Estate (Relais & Chateaux) near Wellington offer a rugged Pacific coastline view from their massive bathtubs.

Another attraction is the lodge's proximity to the superb boutique vineyards of the Wairarapa wine region. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George also stayed at Wharekauhau during their visit to New Zealand in 2014.

The British do posh better than anybody in the world. North Americans excel at 21st-century amenities like good heating and plumbing. Put them seamlessly together and you have Otahuna Lodge (Relais & Chateaux), a heritage-listed colonial-era mansion 30 minutes from Christchurch that combines the super-grand style and scale of an aristocratic English country estate with blissful creature comforts. The meticulous care of Otahuna's resident North American owners extends to its 12 hectares of landscaped gardens.

Take a stroll among the formal parterres and enjoy the vistas of the Southern Alps and you'll understand why Otahuna features often on international "best" lists.

You might have seen Blanket Bay (Member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World) in TV aerial shots, or in interior design magazines. And what's not to like when you can walk out of your chalet or suite, cross the lawn, step into a helicopter and zip off to go heli-skiing, wildlife spotting or do a quick bit of shopping in nearby Queenstown? Inside, the luxurious, antiques-filled lodge is a welcoming haven, especially when it snows.


One of the pleasures of staying at a top New Zealand luxury lodge is the huge range of local experiences, from bungee-jumping to heritage tours, they can swiftly arrange for you.

Some lodges specialise.

In keeping with the emergence of the South Island as a spa destination, Split Apple Retreat near Abel Tasman National Park in the northwest South Island offers a blissful range of spa, massage, meditation and wellness facilities. In the past three years, it has twice been voted international Best Destination Luxury Spa by Conde Nast Johansens, and as Best Spa in New Zealand 2015 by Spafinders.

If immersive eco and cultural experiences are your thing, they're the forte of Treetops Lodge & Estate near Rotorua. Set in 1000ha of 800-year-old indigenous forest complete with lakes and trout-fishing streams, Treetops offers Maori food and heritage trails, and cultural tours of New Zealand's Maori heartland.

If eco-marine tourism appeals, Hapuku Lodge + Tree Houses in Kaikoura (northeast South Island) has a grandstand seat at the world's "maritime Serengeti".

The oldest lodge specialities - and the ones that began New Zealand's lodge tradition - are hunting and fishing. At Solitaire Lodge (Small Luxury Hotels of the World), Huka Lodge (Relais & Chateaux) and Poronui Lodge (ranked in the top 10 fishing destinations by Forbes magazine), anglers and hunters flock to the famous rivers, lakes and back country of the central North Island.

Not to be outdone, the South Island also offers superb trout fishing and hunting and, among a clutch of quality lodges for the deep-pocketed, Fiordland Lodge near Te Anau is a perfect base for discovering the UNESCO World Heritage wilderness of southwest New Zealand. Minaret Station Alpine Lodge, set at the head of a remote glacial valley north of Wanaka, is widely considered the nation's premium alpine experience, with four luxurious chalets and guided fishing, hunting and heli-skiing excursions.


If rubbing shoulders with wealthy fellow guests doesn't appeal to you, some lodges let you stay like royalty by having the place all to yourself.

At Eagles Nest in the Bay of Islands and The Penthouse at Eichardt's Hotel in Queenstown, you can hole up in an ultraluxurious modern pad and pretend you're a Bond villain.

At Annandale coastal farm escape near Christchurch and at Whare Kea Lodge near Wanaka, you can enjoy small-group privacy and relaxation with the knowledge that optional extras are just a phone call away.

Perhaps the peak king-of-the-world experience in New Zealand is recently opened Mahu Whenua Ridgeline Homestead & Eco Sanctuary in the hills between Queenstown and Wanaka.

Here, guests have the run of more than 550sq km of mountain ranges, glacial valleys, alpine lakes and rivers and four working sheep stations.

At a cool $15,500 a day, Mahu Whenua isn't cheap, but since it sleeps up to 12, you don't necessarily have to be a zillionaire to stay there. It's a pretty fair bet though that you will feel like one.