Last year, we were collectively subjected to photos of President Obama living his best travel life in Tahiti after leaving the White House. The former president has just finished another dream vacation, spending a jealousy-inducing week in New Zealand.
Home to rolling hills, volcanoes, sweeping ocean views, and jagged mountainous peaks, New Zealand is one of the most famously gorgeous places on Earth — but it’s also home to some of the world’s most VIP lodges.
New Zealand doesn’t do normal luxury. In Middle Earth, it’s billionaire luxury. (There’s a reason all the Silicon Valley guys have built boltholes here, while celebs like Oprah call New Zealand “a place whose every crevice speaks to the soul.”) If you want a transformative five-star experience in a safe, stunning, mindful atmosphere, New Zealand is the place.
Here, eight of the best luxury hotels in New Zealand, for an over-the-top vacay fit for a president (or, you know, a potential president... looking at you, Oprah!).
1. Kauri Cliffs
Photo: Kauri Cliffs
Want to spot Justin Timberlake on the golf course or Bill Gates by the cozy fireplace lounge? Check into Kauri Cliffs. A five-star Relais & Chateaux property on 6,000 farmland acres, the colonial-style lodge is perfection: from infinity pool overlooking the Cavalli Islands, to destination spa hidden into a Totara forest, to world-renown par-72 championship golf course. (Naturally, Obama just played here.) Each of the cottage suites are tucked into the hillside, reachable by golf cart, and offer fireplaces and private balconies with ocean views. There’s also a terribly chic nightly cocktail hour where guests dress up and mingle over champagne in the study before retreating into the candlelit dining rooms for farm-to-table multi-course meals. It’s heaven.
2. The Landing
Photo: The Landing
While in the country’s stunning Northland region, President Obama chose The Landing for his accommodations — arguably New Zealand’s best new luxury lodge. The Landing features four privately owned residences, designed by celebrated architects Nat and Pip Cheshire, spread over 1,000 culturally significant acres — this is the landing spot where Maori and European settlers first met. With your own private chef, a vineyard, six private beaches, a boathouse, on-site gardens and orchards, tennis courts, and helicopters at the ready, it feels like the most fabulous personal residence on the planet — which is, of course, exactly the point. In addition to Presidential guests, the hotel has provided a posh pillow for celebs like Mick Jagger and Bryce Dallas Howard.
3. Huka Lodge
Photo: Huka Lodge
Is there a better endorsement for Huka Lodge — founded in 1924 on the banks of the Waikato River as New Zealand’s original luxury lodge — than the fact that Queen Elizabeth herself adores it?
It’s no wonder: equally glamorous and unpretentious (sort of like Her Majesty), the hotel is known for fly fishing and harling, and has evolved into one of the most coveted stays in the world. Obviously, it has all the trappings: suites and cottages with private terraces, heated floors and in-room massages; amenities like an underground wine cellar, helipad, tennis courts, and swimming pool; and to-die-for food with an extensive wine list to match. Dust up your curtsey, too: guests have included The Queen of the Netherlands, the Queen of Denmark, the King of Belgium, and Prince Edward.
4. The Farm at Cape Kidnappers
Photo: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers
It might have the word “farm” in its name, but Cape Kidnappers is anything but backwater. Located on 6,000 acres in the middle of New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay wine region, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers offers a slew of exhilarating activities: hot air ballooning, jet-boating, helicopter rides, wine tours, and 4x4 drives around the sprawling sheep and cattle farm’s craggy hills, not to mention another of New Zealand’s most renowned golf courses, plus 22 cottage suites and mouthwatering cuisine. (World-famous chefs Heston Blumental and Thomas Keller have stayed.) Rooms are impeccable, and The Farm excels at white-gloved service with a smile. Charming Art Deco city Napier is only an hour away, but when the lodge is this spectacular, why would you ever want to leave? And, yes: The farm boasts kiwi birds.
5. Wharekauhau Lodge
Photo: Wharekauhau Lodge
Another royal favorite, William and Kate stayed at 5,500 acre Wharekauhau (pronounced Ferry-ko-ho) during the first night of their 2014 tour of New Zealand. Rustic yet luxurious, Wharekauhau feels like an elegant Edwardian dream, complete with antique furniture, cocktail hour, and croquet and petanque fields. Its 13 Cottage Suites boast heated marble floors and sprawling bay views, while there’s an airstrip on property — for those private jets, natch — and an expansive front lawn where many guests arrive via helicopter. Neighbor James Cameron occasionally pops by for dinner, as you do.
6. Eden House
Photo: Eden House
With more sunshine than any other area of New Zealand, the emerald hills of the South Island’s Orinoco Valley are home to cozy gem Eden Lodge. Offering a stately, British country manor-feel, Eden Lodge is set on 48 acres and features a helicopter landing site, perfectly manicured gardens, a private two-bedroom cottage for guests (as well as two rooms in the main house), and activities ranging from private wine excursions to horse trekking to fly fishing to heli-tours and ziplining in nearby Abel Tasman National Park. New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas calls it “one of the most beautiful and magical hotels I've ever visited.” Garden of Eden, indeed.
7. Matakauri Lodge
Photo: Matakauri Lodge
If heart-pounding adventures are your thing — think bungee jumping, white water rafting, jet boating, and epic skiing — Queenstown is your mecca. Within the tiny Alpine-style village, the place to stay is Matakauri Lodge — so lovely and high-end that William and Kate graced it with their royal presence in 2014. Sadly, Prince George was left behind in Wellington with a nanny, but it’s no wonder the future King and Queen wanted a night alone in the Owner’s Cottage: It’s a four-bedroom, four-bathroom villa with a study, lounge, kitchen, dining room, outdoor barbecue courtyard, and a gigantic balcony overlooking Lake Wakatipu, complete with infinity hot tub.
8. Mahu Whenua
Photo: Mahu Whenua
Mahu Whenua embodies the word "privacy." Almost impossibly luxurious, it’s located on more than 135,000 acres (no, that’s not a typo) in the craggy mountainous high-country sheep stations between Queenstown and Wanaka. The entire property only accommodates 12 guests, with four sumptuously decorated suites featuring highlights like a game room, a clawfoot copper tub, wooden timbers, stone walls, glass-walled showers, and expansive private terraces overlooking peaks and valleys as far as the eye can see. Shania Twain’s former residence, it’s now helmed by her ex-husband, legendary music producer Mutt Lange, who has dedicated Mahu Whenua to conservation. (Its name means “healing the land” and 90% of the acreage is protected in the largest conservation effort in New Zealand history.) Here, guests enjoy pre-dinner canapés, locally-sourced meals whipped up by private chefs, and you-name-it-they'll-arrange-it activities from heli-skiing to yoga to 4X4 drives to wine tasting to paddle boarding. It’s paradise, Kiwi-style.
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