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Queenstown - a discreet destination
Author: Niki Schuck
"This can't be it, we must have turned down the wrong way," my husband mutters. "No, the directions say MacKinnon Terrace, at the end. We need to go right to the end and there should be a gravel driveway," I reply. "I thought you said it was secluded and quiet, look at all these houses?" I sigh. "Let's just wait and see," secretly crossing my fingers.
And sure enough, at the end of MacKinnon Terrace, there is a gravel driveway and at the end of that is Azur, discreetly nestled on the edge of Fernhill, on the Glenorchy side of the Queenstown township.
As we park our rental car, Tim greets us and we head into the welcome area and main part of the lodge for a drink and some freshly baked scones, real fruit conserves and cream!
As our drinks are brought to us, I'm fascinated by some shiny gemstones in a small dish on the table in front of me. Everyone is into Feng Shui, I think to myself. "It's Italian rock candy,"
says Tim. "Sorry?" I answer questioningly. "It is Italian rock candy, we have it imported - try it." I look at the shiny pebbles and then at my husband. "Really?"
I'm half laughing, mostly to hide my embarrassment at not being sure if I'm the subject of a standard joke for newly arriving guests! As I look at them in my hand, I'm still convinced they look just like gemstones. They are cool and smooth but they are light and - oh, wow, they break sooooo easily as I chew them.
What's that divine flavour, ah yes cinnamon and chocolate!
Azur is built over three levels. Levels two and three are on natural platforms on the hillside and house six of the seven freestanding lodges. The upper level comprises the seventh lodge and the main building - a converted family house - which encompasses the welcome area, the on-site manager's lodgings, the breakfast and bar areas, a library, games and a computer (the whole property is wireless). There is also an outdoor area for relaxing and soaking up the expansive and uninterrupted view, which is visible from virtually any point on the property.
I wander past my husband and whisper "quiet and secluded enough?". The location of this six-star lodge is one of its main attractions. Although literally a four-minute drive from the heart of Queenstown, Azur is ALL about peace and tranquillity.
Designed by Queenstown architect John Blair, the lodges are identical and built with the best of materials, sourced from New Zealand wherever possible. The interior design is the work of Singapore-based LTW, a company renowned for its work in many Asian hotels and resorts. The interior is also strongly infl uenced by joint owner Anthony Ross's time working and living in Asia. They have done a superb job. I loved the simplicity, the space and the soothing colours. I especially admired the fact I felt at ease in this luxurious nest where many of the world's rich and famous come for time out.
Of course I had to ask - "Who is the most famous person you've had to stay?" The only information I could prise from any of the staff was that there are many more rich people in the world than famous people! They admitted to having many famous people stay at Azur but try as I might, not one name passed their lips. As I told my husband, discreet and quiet was what Azur was all about.
We were left to settle in after they took our order for drinks and canapés to be brought down in 30 minutes - I could get use to this! "Come and check this out" I call to my husband.
I challenge anyone to find me a better view from a bathroom.
Sitting in the bath I looked straight out to Cecil Peak, the Remarkables mountain range and across the vast expanse of Lake Wakatipu. I was sure at any moment I'd see Gandalf appear on his white horse (well, if truth be told I was hoping for Legolas).
My point is that, despite growing up and being fortunate to spend a great deal of my holidays in these parts, the scenery is mind-blowing. It's dramatic and almost surreal.
There was a discreet knock at the door and Josh arrived with a picnic hamper of treats. Vodka and tonics were poured into long glasses, which he'd circled the rim of with a freshly cut lime accompanied by caviar, salmon and cream cheese tarts freshly made by Azur's in-house chef. Nothing is too much of a problem for Anthony and his team, in fact they are the South Island's first Les Clef D'or concierge.
On Azur's recommendation we booked for dinner at the Bathhouse restaurant, situated right on the edge of Lake Wakatipu. It's a magic place to watch the sun set as local children dive off the swimming pontoon, ducks glide effortlessly across the lake and the Earnslaw puffs smoke as it heads off for its evening cruise.
It goes almost without saying that the food, wine and service were outstanding.
On Josh's advice we were dropped off and picked up by Azur's complimentary car service, it took the hassle out of finding a park in peak season and meant we could enjoy the local viticulture on offer - you just can't go past a Central Otago pinot, now can you?
"What about a nightcap" Josh offered. Well it would be rude not to, we thought! Swiftly brought to our room in a picnic hamper and poured were the biggest Baileys I'd ever had and a Johnnie Walker Green Label whisky.
Just before Josh left he asked what we would like for breakfast.
"What's on offer?" we inquired. "Anything you like" "Anything?
Wow - what's the most unusual request you've had?" - I couldn't resist asking! "Kippers, from a Canadian woman" he said, smiling as he recalled the occasion.
And, yes, they delivered. I thought briefly about requesting a roast chicken and a couple of dozen oysters just to see if they'd cook it but the thought of having to eat it at 9am was too much for me!
Being made to feel special is all about attentiveness - and attention to detail is something that Azur has perfected.
Bottles of sparkling water by our bed for during the day replaced with bottles of still water for the nighttime; Linden Leaves products, including lip balm to sooth your lips after a day in the Central Otago sun; up-to-date glossy magazines to read; the daily newspaper tucked into an Asian silk bag and hanging on your door handle; a miniature toy sheepdog (replicating Dog from Footrot Flats) to be placed outside your door if you didn't want to be disturbed; fresh native flowers in the room; and staff who are knowledgeable, friendly and attentive but let you have your own space and, of course, whatever you want for breakfast!
As we placed our overnight bag in the car, we heard the crunching of gravel under tyres as the courtesy vehicle arrived with two new guests in their mid to late thirties. We overheard one of them saying, "Wow, look at that view, I wondered where on earth we were coming as we drove through those houses." I turned and smiled at my husband: "Ah, Azur - secluded and quiet, now that's what I call luxury."
in the know
Fly or drive to Queenstown. Azur Lodge is situated approximately five minutes from the city centre. Courtesy shuttle from the airport can be arranged to meet flights.
Experiencing Azur Lodge has been made easier with House of Travel. Stay between 01 June and 31 October 2006 from only $845 per room per night and enjoy all that is Azur Lodge for less.
Rate includes breakfast, afternoon tea, evening drinks and canapés, airport transfers and transfers to/from town. If skiing is your passion, Azur Lodge will include return luxury transfers to Coronet Ski field.
Feast it up
Azur Lodge provides you with daily breakfast (see article - anything is possible) small delights during the day, evening drinks and canapés in the evening. With prior notice Azur can cater for small private dinners otherwise they have vast knowledge of where to go in Queenstown to suit the most discerning foodie.
The 18th Annual Conde Nast Traveller Readers' Choice Awards voted Queenstown the third best Pacific Rim City behind Sydney and Melbourne. Queenstown, Arrowtown, Glenorchy and the Wakatipu basin have a permanent population of approximately 20,000. At the height of the summer and winter seasons visitors can outnumber locals by as many as three to one.
For more info
For further information on visit www.houseoftravel.co.nz.
About the author:
Niki Schuck is the PR manager at House of Travel.
Whenever possible, she loves holidaying in Wanaka and Waiheke Island. She's planning her next adventure trip later this year to Peru.