Apr 9, 2001

In the Bad Old Days, when New Zealanders were thought of as unsophisticated folk who walked about in knee-length khaki shorts, spoke only of sheep and rugger, and splattered their food with tomato ketchup, lodges consisted of a couple of rooms let out by a farmer who wanted to make some cash on the side. Over the past few years, all that has changed. New Zealanders are keen to shed - or at least play down - their rather bucolic reputation. Their wines have acquired, rightly, a good name worldwide; there is much excited talk about Pacific Rim cuisine; and staging, and winning, the 2000 America's Cup has put the country at the more opulent end of the tourist map. It may be a Mecca for backpackers, and bungee jumpers, but it also appeals to the rich and the retired, from the US in particular, but from the UK and Europe as well.

Blanket Bay Lodge roomOn South Island. I made my Way along deserted roads to my first superlodge. Blanket Bay is perched on the edge of Lake Wakatipu; vast granite mountains loom up behind the lodge, which looks across the bluegreen waters of the lake to the jagged, vertiginous Humboldt Mountains. Some 4O minutes' drive north of Queenstown, the lodge opened last December. Its owner, Tom Tusher, is a former CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. Its manager, Philip Jenkins is a Sandhurst graduate, who once worked with John Ridgeway near Cape Wrath. Designed by Jim McLaughlin from Sun Valley, Idaho, it has a distinctly baronial flavour. It is built from great slabs of the local schist, with heavy, grey, overhanging eaves and - like the other superlodges - a porte-cochere to ensure guests arrive and leave under cover.

Blanket Bay Lodge

Blanket Bay differs from the other superlodges in that some of the guest rooms are in the main building, and diners are offered an a la carte menu, rather than a table d'hote that changes every evening. But, as in most superlodges, dinner was a nouvelle-cuisine combination of large plates and small if exquisite portions.

In this spectacular scenery it's enviably empty, litter and graffiti are in short supply, things work and - despite the adventure sports - it seems safe and unalarming, well equipped with benches, litter-bins, cautionary notices and thoughtfully positioned boardwalks with chicken-wire nailed on top to give extra purchase to the feet. Lodge-owners have been quick to recognise the worth of this exclusive and well-heeled market, and the last few years have seen the emergence of four 'superlodges' - essentially, small country hotels in remote and beautiful places.