Food & Travel

Jun 12, 2001

Wrapped in Blanket Bay

Take a trip to the ultimate retreat in New Zealand's South Island where spectacular scenery, a lake teeming with trout, fabulous food and unequalled pampering await the discerning traveller.

For decades, Huka Lodge ruled supreme as New Zealand's only luxury country lodge. In 1997, Wharekauhau - the elegant estate in the Wairarapa - flung open its French doors and promptly upped the ante. And now there's a third contender, Blanket Bay, a no-expense-spared retreat simply oozing subtle sophistication and genteel taste.
Located in the South Island's marvellous Fiordland area, Blanket Bay is the vision of former Levi Strauss president Tom Tusher and his wife Pauline. In the early '70s, Tom was the executive wonderboy dispatched by Levi to unleash their ultra-hip jeans on the Antipodes. He and Pauline lived in Sydney for several years.
It was during this era that Tom was invited to New Zealand on a fishing trip. He ended up in Glenorchy, a one-pub town north of Queenstown on Lake Wakatipu. A typical rural area, there wasn't much there except sheep, a few rugged farmers and trophy-sized trout in the gin-clear waters of the lake. And, of course, there was all that spectacular scenery.

Blanket Bay

"I believed it to be one of the most attractive places on the planet. And I saw most of the world while working for Levi," says Tom. He immediately bought 22 overgrown hectares of lakefront land and left it untouched for 28 years. When he retired, the Tushers returned to New Zealand, snapped up the adjacent 24,300 hectares of sheep station and set about building a lodge that would attract the world's most discriminating travellers.
Glenorchy is still a one?pub town, the sheep are still plentiful, the trout still teem. The only thing that's really changed is the $US 12million (or more ... they won't say) lodge and the type of people coming to the area. When Blanket Bay opened in December 1999, the first guests were actor Robin Williams and family, who gleefully spent an isolated Christmas there.
The building (named after the makeshift shearing shelter early settlers erected from bedding), was designed by American architect-to-the-stars, Jim McLaughlin. He did what he does best and recreated the massive hunting lodges that can be found in Montana and Idaho. It's the sort of place where you'd expect to see Robert Redford sitting in a winged armchair wearing a fashionably unkempt suede coat, and sipping on a private label beer

Cuisine at Blanket Bay

Instead of the typical North American log structure, the Tushers used mostly native New Zealand materials. The facade consists of layers of stacked schist rock and native timber siding, topped with a dormered slate roof. The result is organic majestic. Inside, the focal point is the nine?metre?high Great Room, again with touches of the American West ? antler chandeliers (courtesy of local stags) and a giant log fireplace. There is also a formal dining room, a breakfast room, den, games room (with help  yourself bar), map room, wine cave (where romantics can dine d deux), fishing tackle room, boardroom,
gym, spa and steam room.

The Tushers took great pains to ensure that the lodge didn't look brand new, with massive roof beams salvaged from demolished wharves and railroad bridges, and floorboards milled from woolshed planks. Two Mexican craftsmen were flown in to Blanket Bay to professionally `distress' the doors and trims by nicking and denting them, even simulating termite damage with an ice pick. The effect is a been-around-for-generations casual refinement.

There are nine guestrooms (three suites, five lake -front rooms and a back bedroom for the guests' staff- butlers, personal trainers or pilots). Bedrooms have doors which swing out onto a wide balcony overlooking a reflection pond, the glacier-blue lake and the craggy Humboldt mountain range. There are also four private chalet suites situated above the heated lap pool.

Blanket Bay Great Room

One of the best features of Blanket Bay is that guests are permitted to dine at separate tables. Most New Zealand lodges expect people to pay, handsomely to be thxere and then eat en masse with a bunch of strangers. Although such random events can be enlightening and sometimes great fun, just as often they are utterly excruciating.
The food takes advantage of the `living Eden` aspect of New Zealand - all that fresh shellfish, meat and vegetables. Like the environment it stands in, Blanket Bay has a robust menu - roast pumpkin, grapefruit and green bean salad; marinated lamb with roast red onion in a chilli lime dressing; Cervena venison wrapped in bacon with shiitake couscous; coconut brulee. And it's nice to have a choice - at some lodges there isn't one. At Blanket Bay, even the vegetarian is well looked after.
Text: Amanda Jones

Blanket Bay Lodge, PO Box 35, Glenorcby, NZ
Tel 64 3 442 9442, fax 63 3 4429441,
Tariff includes breakfast, cocktails and dinner and use of all facilities

Travel notes

How to get there: Air New Zealand has a direct flight every Saturday from Sydney to Queenstown, and regular flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Christchurch with connections to Queenstown. The lodge can arrange transport from the airport. Alternatively, you can rent a car and enjoy the drive, which takes about 50 minutes.

When to go: From December to March is the best time to enjoy sunny days at Blanket Bay. April to May is usually clear but cool. Winter is also pleasant, but it is very cold and it can rain.

Reading: Blanket Bay has an extensive library of history books, guidebooks, maps, wildlife and flora reference books. The Lonely Planet guidebook to New Zealand is excellent.

Things to do in the area: Choose from fly-fishing, hiking. jet-boating up the Dart River, helicopter sightseeing, heli-hiking (the helicopter lands on the front lawn of Blanket Bay), horse-riding and shopping (Goddess at The Mall, Queenstown, tel 64 3 442 6696, carries a good range of New Zealand's top fashion designer labels). The Routeburn track, one of New Zealand's most scenic hikes, is a 30-minute drive from Blanket Bay, and well worth the trip.