New Zealand's natural bounty beckons us into the great outdoors, but by no means do travelers need to rough it to reap Mother Nature's rewards. Across the country, a smattering of sophisticated "super-lodges" have cropped up, intimate high-end (and high-priced) retreats basking in international accolades for their high service standards, superb cuisine, and stunning settings. Just back from a month on the ground there, I've vetted picks for five ultimate, uber-, ultra-luxury hideaways, each cradled by nature and oozing high design.
(Note all lodge rates are based on double occupancy and are inclusive of breakfast, pre-dinner drinks, and dinner.)
Matakauri Lodge: Best Room with a View
Queenstown, South Island
Located just a few minutes outside of New Zealand's adventure hub in Queenstown, the Matakauri Lodge unfolds on the shores of glacier-fed Lake Wakatipu, with the dramatic ridge of the Remarkables range in the backdrop. Sweeping vistas of the alpine landscapes are best enjoyed from the large windows and private terraces in each of the small lodge's 11 suites and villas. Light-flooded rooms with a crisp, clean design come with fireplaces, complimentary minibar, oversized bathtubs, and walk-in wardrobes. The panoramas continue throughout the property, from the main lodge area (with dining, lounge and deck areas) to the spa and gym, heated infinity pool, and eight acres of secluded grounds. The Queenstown area invites adventure, from the more casual hiking and biking (the resort offers complimentary loaners), to high-octane white-water rafting and bungee jumping. Rates from $999/night.
Otahuna Lodge: Best Cuisine
Tai Tapu, South Island
Set in a stately Victorian mansion dating back to 1895, the Otahuna Lodge, near Christchurch, oozes refined opulence, with public rooms coated in specially commissioned artworks and crackling fireplaces. Seven suites come trimmed with old-world accents like wood-burning fireplaces and stained-glass windows. Amble through 30 acres of century-old botanic gardens, sheep paddocks, manicured lawns, and the glorious garden and fruit and nut orchards, which power the farm-to-table cuisine. The kitchen churns out hearty breakfasts (have an omelet with eggs from the lodge's chicken coop) and world-class five-course degustation dinners, with most ingredients sourced on site—try dishes like sweet corn soup with avocado, lime, and prawns, followed by pan-seared local venison with quince jus and estate vegetables, all paired with fine New Zealand wines. Guests can sign up to harvest their own produce, or for private cooking classes. Dinners can be arranged communally under candlelight in the formal dining room, or in private venues like the sunken wine cellar or drawing room turret. Rates from $923/night.
Wharekauhau Lodge: Best Grounds
Wairarapa, North Island
Tucked away in a remote rural area, Wharekauhau's 5,000 sprawling acres of working farmland are home to roaming cattle and sheep (guided farm tours are available). Established as a sheep station in the 1840s, the estate turns over a mesmerizing array of landscapes from lake-speckled forests to verdant pastures, and the windswept coastline of Palliser Bay. Head out hiking, or sign up for mountain biking, horseback riding, or ATV quad bike adventures (for an additional fee) to take it all in. Or, try clay target shooting or archery, or go for a dip in the indoor swimming pool. Thirteen cottage suites offer gas fireplaces, double spa baths, and prime perches for surveying the rolling pastureland and seascape. After a long day out exploring, indulge in the spa, then retreat to the main lodge, with its antique furnishings and roaring fires, to sample New Zealand wines and canapés with fellow guests, followed by a four-course dinner. Rates from $1,091/night.
Huka Lodge: Best Lodge Atmosphere
Taupo, North Island
Since the 1920s, this grand-dame of the New Zealand super-lodge circuit has granted refuge for discerning guests (royalty, high-profile businesspeople, and celebrities have bunked down here, from Queen Elizabeth II to Bill Gates to Peter Jackson). Set on the banks of the Waikato River, a stone's throw from the roaring Huka Falls, the Huka Lodge has evolved from a fly-fishing retreat into one of the country's most lavish lodges, with 17 acres of manicured grounds bordering a park reserve. Guests will find diversions like a swimming pool and pétanque, croquet, and tennis courts within. With 25 well-appointed units granting access to the lush riverbanks, the lodge's greatest allure is its welcoming lobby space, where blazing log fires, antique furnishings, and well-to-do guests converge nightly for cocktails and five-course dinners. Choose communal dining or retreat to one of more than 20 private dining nooks scattered around the property, like the cozy library (Her Majesty's preference), romantic underground wine cellar, trophy room, riverfront jetty pavilion, and more. Rates from $1,334/night.
Kauri Cliffs: Best On-Site Diversions
Northland, North Island
On bluffs perched above the Pacific Ocean, the 6,000-acre Kauri Cliffs lodge (a 2011 Fodor's 100 Hotel Award winner) overlooks the beachfront landscape from the lounge, dining hall, and verandahs. Guests here will find plenty diversions to while away the days, including three secluded beaches (where picnics and BBQs can be arranged), an infinity pool, two tennis courts, fully equipped gym, and a spa with sauna, Jacuzzi, and indoor lap pool. Activities like fishing, guided bird-watching, mountain biking, horseback riding, and clay pigeon shooting can also be arranged (some at an extra fee). For golfers, the par 72 championship golf course trumps all, with a cliff-top course overlooking the sea, plus a practice range, putting and chipping greens, and golf shop on site. Choose from 22 suites (or a deluxe cottage), with private porches, fireplaces, and views overlooking the ocean and greens. Rooms from $1275/night.
Modern-day explorer, perpetual seeker, and diligent travel scribe Elissa Richard has set out circumnavigating the globe on an ambitious 14-month adventure. Tag along on her travels through Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, and Latin America—and on the high seas in between—as she reports back to Fodors.com on captivating cruises, hot hotels, and timely travel trends.
Photo credits: Matakauri Lodge courtesy of Matakauri Lodge; Otahuna Lodge courtesy of Otahuna Lodge; Wharekauhau Lodge courtesy of John Garay; Huka Lodge courtesy of Huka Lodge; Kauri Cliffs courtesy of Kauri Cliffs