Rumours have it that Australians will be able to travel to New Zealand in the not-too-distant future. And if social distancing is still a worry, surround yourself with 55,000 hectares of space at this luxury eco sanctuary.
Of course you are going to arrive by helicopter. It’s not just that the chopper flight cuts the transfer time from Queenstown Airport to Mahu Whenua Ridgeline Homestead and Eco Sanctuary from two hours to 10 minutes. Nor is it about the spectacular view that unfurls beneath as you soar above the snow-covered peaks.
No, the real reason to opt for the helicopter transfer is because that’s what a rock star would do. And at Mahu Whenua, you are firmly in rock star territory.
Set in New Zealand’s South Island alpine country, above the pretty lakeside town of Wanaka, Mahu Whenua was built as a home for singer Shania Twain and her former husband, record producer Robert “Mutt” Lange. Hutt is known for his work with a who’s-who of performers from AC/DC to Lady Gaga. When you step down from the chopper onto the lawn in front of the homestead, you know you are in for an eye-opening experience. At last, you are going to find out how music legends live.
Spoiler alert: what you will find is probably not what you are expecting. There are no leopard-print sofas, no mirrored ceilings above the bed. Instead, this inviting homestead is pure farmhouse chic with its stone walls, weathered beams of reclaimed timber and log fires blazing in every room.
The heart of the lodge is the sprawling kitchen. It’s a place people naturally gravitate to. Wander down first thing in the morning and one of the team will rustle you up a coffee just the way you like it. Pop in at almost any other time and help yourself to one of the jars filled with freshly baked cookies.
Beyond the kitchen, there is plenty of room to stretch out. Living areas flow into each other, one after another until you reach the dining room; the house is oriented to the mesmerising view that stretches out, almost endlessly, like a carpet unfurling. There are countless sofas on which to curl up, and plenty of books to browse through while you do. Since the lodge has just five suites, including two self-contained cottages, your favourite perch will almost always be free.
The point of checking in to Mahu Whenua is not to stay indoors, however. The surrounding landscape showcases nature at its most epic – a valley unfolding before you, glittering lake far below, mountains rising high on either side – and you are going to want to get out and explore.
With so much to see and do, the trick is knowing where to start. Perhaps with the eco-sanctuary.
The name “Mahu Whenua” means “healing the land”. Robert Lange, who still owns the property, bought four adjoining sheep stations to create a vast conservation zone. He has overseen the planting of more than a million trees, shrubs and grasses, as well as launched preservation programs targeting endangered birds such as the weka and the pukeko.
There are many ways to explore the vast property. You can jump onto a mountain bike, go rock climbing, or clamber into a four-wheel drive to spend a day exploring its far corners.
Or you might take the four-legged option. The lodge has its own stable of high-country horses; staff can tee up a beginners’ session or, for the more experienced, organise a trail ride through the area’s pastures and beech forests, splashing through the rivers along the way.
Alternatively, you can always order up the helicopter and ask the pilot to drop you in a particularly scenic corner of the property. Throw a bike in the helicopter rack or ask for a picnic to enjoy in splendid seclusion. Or, take a daypack and hike all the way home.
During the winter season, even more possibilities open up. It is a short drive to the Treble Cone and Cardrona ski fields, but you can enjoy ski touring, snow shoeing, snowmobiling and even heli-skiing without ever leaving Mahu Whenua’s boundaries.
However you choose to spend the day, it is wise to try to work up an appetite, as dinners are a highlight. You can choose to dine privately with your partner or family group, but often guests decide to dine together to continue the conversations they started over the nightly cocktails. The three-course dinners are a fuss-free zone: expect comforting classics, expertly executed. From French onion soup to whitebait omelette and the perfect chocolate mousse, it is an appetising way to finish the day.
Get there: Fly to Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island. From there, the lodge is a 90-minute drive or 10-minute helicopter flight (you’ll need to pre-arrange this with the hotel).
Stay there: Suites start from $2,250 per night (twin share), or $10,500 per night for exclusive use of the lodge for up to 10 guests. The rate includes all meals prepared by the in-house chef, pre-dinner canapes, non-alcoholic beverages and Wi-Fi.