Like most people, I love a bit (or a lot) of indulgence, especially when I’m on holiday. However, being married for 18 years to a man whose perfect day includes hiking, skiing, swimming and canoeing (ideally all in the same day), I have learned to embrace the great outdoors, too. At The Dacha, the newest and most likely the most sumptuous private lodge in the region, I was thrilled to discover you can have both.
It’s never been easier to get there, with direct flights from Perth to Auckland, connecting through to picturesque Queenstown. The total flight time is less than eight hours, and from there, it’s about an hour’s drive across the Crown Range to the beautiful town of Wanaka. Alternatively, you can arrive in true alpine style, taking a scenic helicopter flight from Queenstown. It really is the best way to get
a feel for this majestic Lord of the Rings country, and after a glorious flight to Wanaka airport, it’s a short drive to the haven that is The Dacha.
Gateway to the Southern Alps and Mount Aspiring National Park, with all the accompanying glaciers, forests and alpine lakes, Wanaka is truly nature’s playground. First settled in the gold rush of the 19th century, it has a permanent population of around 7000, swelling considerably during peak times. There are no fast-food outlets (the council outlawed them), the main streets are manicured, and there’s an increasing nod to organic architecture, with very few brick dwellings. If you love design, this is the place for you, a picturesque hamlet where everyone seems healthy and happy. And why wouldn’t they be, with the region’s numberless activities, breathtaking natural beauty, and superb food and wine?
Wanaka has some of the best hiking and walking trails in NZ. If you’re after a serious trek, try the Rob Roy Glacier Hike. It’s widely regarded as the best half-day walk in the country.
For overnight walks, the choice is similarly impressive. Mount Aspiring National Park has a wide range of diverse trails, whether you take your own tent and cooking equipment and sleep under the stars, or opt for a well-equipped hut with a hot meal at the end of the day.
Visit lakewanaka.co.nz for more information.
STAYING AT THE DACHA
When choosing accommodation, the allure of a private villa is hard to resist, offering luxury, seclusion, wonderful amenities and something most hotels can’t – a tailor-made experience.
The Dacha (meaning ‘second home’ in Russian) was built by a local Perth couple who wanted to create a home away from home for their family. Having fallen in love with Wanaka, they purchased an incredible 6000sqm of superb land and built on it what is, arguably, one of Wanaka’s finest residences.
Completed in December 2015, The Dacha was designed by a local architect, and is simply stunning. Sitting on high ground, it seems to float above the landscape, walls of glass in every room offering uninterrupted views that sweep 180 degrees across Lake Wanaka and the majestic Mount Aspiring National Park.
Local schist stone has been used throughout, providing texture and interest, and the foundation for the predominately grey theme, against which timber-lined, soaring ceilings and wood panelling deliver warmth and contrast.
With three king-sized rooms with ensuites, plus two large bunk rooms that can sleep eight to 10, depending on their configuration, The Dacha can easily accommodate four families. In addition, the property features a separate, lavish cottage for two, which is perfect for a couple’s getaway.
Everything in the home is built to the highest standard. The kitchen, fully appointed with double oven, steam oven, warming trays and large scullery, lies at the centre of a magnificent living space. The indoor/outdoor area, which can be fully enclosed, once again seems to melt into the landscape. And while there is under-floor heating throughout, the large open fireplaces are impossible to resist. Factor in that the property has its own staff – including a chef and concierge – and a stay at The Dacha becomes a truly luxurious experience.
THINGS TO DO
For a quintessential New Zealand experience, Wanaka has it all, and with the mountains and lakes on your doorstep, The Dacha is the perfect base from which to explore and experience the best of Central Otago and the Queenstown-Lakes District. Your biggest problem will be deciding what to do each day… kayaking or paddleboarding on the lake, mountain biking and rock climbing, or just reading by the heated lap pool with Lake Wanaka for company.
Whatever outdoor activity you’re into, regardless of your skill or level of bravery, there’s something to suit everyone. The shoulder months of March to May and September to November offer warm days and cool nights – perfect for any number of land- and water-based activities. There are numerous walking trails, ranging in length from a few hours to days – even weeks – so you can tailor your hike to suit your fitness. Most wonderfully, there is no risk of any deadly creatures along the way – no lethal snakes, spiders, or super-nasty crawlies of any stripe.
We spent a couple of mornings walking along Lake Wanaka (a two-minute drive from the house and the fourth-largest lake in New Zealand) towards the mouth of the Clutha River. It was easy going, and a lovely introduction to this part of the world. We also took the kayaks out on the lake for a magical couple of hours. If you’re keen, the staff at The Dacha can pack a picnic, and you can kayak to Ruby Island across the lake for lunch. It’s also possible to charter a boat to Mou Waho island, a pest-free sanctuary to several types of birds and insects gone from the mainland.
If you’re after more high-adrenalin pursuits, paraglide from the aptly named Remarkables mountain range, walk the Wanaka waterfalls on a wire, or skydive from a fixed-wing plane or helicopter. New Zealand is also the home of the first commercial bungy jump, opened in 1988 on the Kawarau bridge. The Nevis bungy is the highest in NZ and is not for the faint hearted!
The concierge at The Dacha can discuss activities with you, from mountain-bike riding to heli-skiing, as well as handling the bookings. And, if you’re there in winter, it’s just 30 minutes to Treble Cone ski fields, widely regarded as home to some of the best skiing in Australasia. Indeed, the area hosts many world-class European skiers during the winter months, in the region to keep up their training during the northern off-season. For the same reason, Wanaka’s superb mountaineering makes it an off-season home for a number of Everest guides.
If you prefer your pursuits to be more leisurely, the region’s famed food and wine will be sure to keep you occupied. A day’s tour through the wine region is highly recommended, with many drops only available from local cellar doors. Pinot noir comprises 70 per cent of the grape plantings in Central Otago, the region’s dry, cool climate perfect for the cultivation of this notoriously tricky variety. If you’re more into whites, however, you shouldn’t stop with the celebrated sauvignon blanc – there are many other, unheralded varieties that are sure to please. Our favourite was the crisp Grüner Veltliner from Bannock Brae. This little-known Austrian grape has been garnering a bit more attention lately because it pairs well with so many things, from fish and lighter meat dishes to spicy curries.
In addition to its wine, the region is bursting with magnificent produce. Local dairy products are superb, from yoghurts and milks to a huge array of cheeses. The famed Bluff oysters, grown slowly in the cold, clean waters of Foveaux Strait, are big, plump and juicy and absolutely fantastic. Locally caught lobster, freshwater trout and an array of seafood such as blue cod, salmon and green-lipped mussels are all on offer.
And then there’s the meat. As a die-hard carnivore, I went from one happy meal to the next. While Wanaka offers a wide range of fine places to eat and drink, we found ourselves enjoying many meals at The Dacha, its chef producing some of the finest meals we had enjoyed in a while. We breakfasted on local dairy products and Central Otago’s legendary stone fruit (seen by many as nature’s confectionary; naturally clean and intensely flavoured cherries, apricots, nectarines and peaches). In the evenings, we dined on local beef, venison and, naturally, lamb, washed down with the region’s finest.
The historic gold rush village of Arrowtown is a must-see. Nestled along the Arrow River, and only 35 minutes from Wanaka or 20 from Queenstown, it is a charming, quirky destination popular with skiers and hikers for its proximity to the mountains and more than 100km of walking trails.
The main street is a gorgeous collection of small-town heritage buildings, with not an international chain store in site. Check out the Lakes District Museum, or relax at one of the many cafes or ice-cream parlours. The old-fashioned lolly shop is definitely worth a visit.
If you want to mix your stay at The Dacha with something completely different, organise a day or overnight trip to the renowned Minaret Station Alpine Lodge. Accessible only by helicopter, it offers an authentic alpine experience.
Run by the Wallis brothers – who were born and raised in the area – the award-winning lodge forms part of the 50,000 acre Minaret Station. A working farm, the
station houses 10,000 deer, 7000 sheep and 1000 head of cattle, and offers guests a bespoke mountain getaway.
If you’re a lover of the outdoors, the high country luxury of Minaret Station is for you.In the winter, explore the backcountry and do some heli-skiing – the guides are experienced and will tailor the difficulty to your level. Contrary to what I had thought, you don’t have to be an expert.
In the warmer months, the same mountains and valleys are perfect for heli-biking. Again, the tours are guided and tailored just for you, so all you have to worry about is staying on the bike!
Uniquely, Minaret Station also offers guided hunting for game animals, with world-class trophies taken and the meat used at the lodge. You can also hike to one of the station’s waterfalls, do some fly-fishing, or just relax in your beautifully appointed chalet. Meals are a highlight, with the chef using predominantly local produce – our lobster lunch was caught that morning! Activities are available as part of the visit, so why not chopper in from The Dacha just for the day?