Executive Escapes - Quintessential QUEENSTOWN

Nov 18, 2008

SNOW coats the mountain tops like icing sugar, rabbits frolic on the lawn, deer meander around paddocks as lush as a Sydney socialite, and then there's the requisite sheep, of course.

Neither Tolkien nor Peter Jackson himself could have scripted a better setting in which to be inspired to film the Lord of the Rings.

Welcome to Queenstown, New Zealand's own "alpine escape" where the plane landing itself – which weaves around snowcapped mountains, is as picturesque as the emerald paddocks below.

Situated at latitude 44 (compared to Brisbane's latitude 27), the southern cross sits so low in a sky as studded by stars as an Oscars ceremony, it feels like you can almost pluck it from above.

While Frodo, friends and foe may have been searching these peaks and valleys for a certain ring, the real gem – Blanket Bay luxury lodge - sits some 35 minutes drive from Queenstown itself, at the end of the sparkling Lake Wakatipu.

So luxurious is this lodge, that American actor Robin Williams has spent a night or two under the goose down doona and New Zealand actor Sam Neil (who amorous Aussies have claimed as one of their own) lives not far away.

Offering views across the lake to Greenstone Valley and the peaks of the Humboldt Mountains, this is luxury with a capital L.

While it was built in 1999, so devoted were the owners to making the lodge an authentic experience, artisans were flown in from Mexico to teach the local craftsmen how to make the timber look "aged".

Parochial Brisbane travellers searching for a connection with home, will no doubt be delighted to learn that the timber was imported from the CBD's docks.

The owner and former CEO of Levi Strauss Tom Tusher and his wife Pauline first bought 22 hectares of secluded wilderness 35 years ago on the site on which Blanket Bay now stands.

For the curious, the property is so named, as the site used to be sheep shearing country and to keep the wool dry, the shearers used to erect blankets.

Tusher still owns the property, but these days it's managed by Philip Jenkins, who, with his wife Karen, spent a wayward youth sailing the globe.

So safe are guests in their hands, according to their tale told over a candlelit dinner deep in the wine cellar, that Philip once fired an AK47 straight at an approaching pirate ship while in Philippine waters.

Things are far more sedate at Blanket Bay where the only dilemma is which activity from which to choose.

While a helicopter ride over Milford Sound is a must-do, coming in at a close second is a jet boat trip up the Dart River with Dart River Jet Safaris, who then spend a leisurely afternoon guiding the adventurous back down the river in canoes as part of their Fun Yakking adventure.

So pristine is this country, that it has formed the backdrop for a multitude of movies, including the blockbuster Vertical Limits – where it doubled as the Nepalese mountain K2.

Back at the lodge, guests can indulge in massages, hot spas overlooking snowcapped mountains, or simply reading by the fire while admiring the antler chandelier courtesy of a local stag.

Guests take their pre-dinner cocktails in the Great Room at 6.30pm where Moet is included among the many complimentary cocktails and canapés on offer from an international platter of bar staff whose accents are as exotic as the food itself.

Among the nightly five-course menu, expect to dine on local delicacies such as Canterbury Quail, Hawkes Bay Lamb Short Loin, Milford Sound Crayfish, Farm Raised New Zealand Venison, and Char Grilled Mahi Mahi.

Creamy New Zealand cheeses make nightly appearances on the dessert menu, washed down with some of the finest wines for which this country has become famous.

Blanket Bay, which caters for just 26 guests, offers a number of accommodation choices, ranging from The Main Lodge Rooms (starting from $950 a night in winter) to Chalet Staterooms (from $2050 in winter).

Each offer luxury and privacy and boast timber stone and period style furnishings with modern twists such as gas fireplaces, heated bathroom floors and luxury bath amenities.

The water is so pristine it runs straight from the spring, and guests are encouraged to drink straight from the tap.

Frodo and his friends may have traipsed these mountains searching for a certain stone, but at Blanket Bay, the real "precious" is right under your nose.