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Culinary Peaks

Culinary Peaks

From the wind-swept waters of Lake Wakatipu to the snow-draped peaks of The Remarkables, Matakauri Lodge combines Queenstown’s world-renowned views with divine dining, discovers Cathy Wagstaff.

The grand panoramas surrounding Queenstown are considered the finest views in the world – and I can admire it all from the warmth of my bathtub with a glass of champagne in hand.

Matakauri Lodge is, of course, renowned. Resting gently on the edge of beautiful Lake Wakatipu just out of Queenstown on the South Island, it has been designed to draw the dramatic surrounding beauty inward with floor-to-ceiling glass windows enticing nature into all the rooms, with even my bath offering a close encounter with the great outdoors.

A view with a room

I am staying in the resort’s latest addition – the five-million-dollar Owner’s Cottage – a four-bedroom private lakeside hideaway separate from the main lodge (Prince William and Catherine recent eminent guests) where the views envelop virtually every room.

Leading New Zealand designer Virginia Fisher has added her exquisite touch – flickering flames of large open fires adding warmth and colour, flat-screen TVs smartly hidden behind paintings, sheer white curtains, beautifully crafted items of furniture from the likes of Citta Design, C.C. Interiors and French Country Collections, rustic floorboards, all creating the ambience of the most stylish and relaxing of getaways – and I am right at home.

This is a gourmet weekend and delicious, fresh and creatively combined local foods packed with unique flavours is one of the other key enticements of Matakauri Lodge and the Central Otago region – famous in foodie circles. I am in for an impeccable culinary experience.

Tonight’s menu, a sample of local produce and wines, is all the brainchild of Group Executive Chef Dale Gartland, Matakauri’s Head Chef, Jonathan Rogers and the rather delicious Sous Chef, Steven Tosh.

The food is delectable; pan-roasted groper served with bouillabaisse, chicken breast with mustard gnocchi, fillet of beef accompanied by soubise, pumpkin, kale and a seasonal herb jus. A warming dessert of winter fruits, quince, apple, almond financier and cinnamon ice-cream was perfectly matched with a Noble Pinot Gris from Amisfield, one of New Zealand’s most prestigious vineyards.

The next day we explore the region’s vineyard gems with Grant Banhidi of upmarket Black ZQN – our well-informed driver and guide – dropping in on three of the most recognised cellar doors in the region. First is Peregrine, a stalwart of the area, and then on to the impressive Brennan Wines. This vineyard had the gall to take on France’s pinot noir, ‘the prince of wines’ and come out on top, taking home the International Wine Challenge’s most prestigious award in 2013, the third Central Otago pinot noir to do so since 2000. I sample the award-winning B2 Pinot Noir 2011 and immediately taste what all the fuss is about.

It is then on to the well-known, and highly respected, Gibbston Valley winery – the first winery outside of France to claim the International Wine Challenge award for the Best Pinot Noir in the show. And, yes, it is up there with the best and hard to beat on a wintry afternoon, accompanied by a platter of tasty local cheeses purchased from the nearby boutique.

I complete the day in the spa with uninterrupted views across the lake. This sanctuary embodies the Matakauri ethos, blending refined natural style with its uncompromising high standards. Alejandra Mires is my highly skilled therapist, who takes the time to find out exactly what I need and then focuses on all the right areas to treat me to one of the best massages I’ve ever experienced.

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Striking gold

Next stop is Arrowtown, which once lured thousands with the promise of glittering gold. The odd nugget still appears but my golden finds in this town are the Blue Door Bar and Dorothy Browns. Dorothy Browns is a cinema with a difference: on arrival you order a cheese platter and bottle of wine and pick it up in the intermission (yes, some cinemas still champion the intermission) and simply enjoy as you sink into an oversized armchair with just enough of a side table to fit your mini feast.

After the movie, roll on to the popular Blue Door Bar and kick back with a drink by the roaring log fire and a chat with the locals and visitors alike. It sparkles with old-world charm and conversation flows as freely as the drinks.

The next day we participate in Queenstown’s newest tradition: tucking into a ‘Ferg’. After a mention in the Lonely Planet guide book, Fergburger went from unknown hole-in-the-wall to the first destination for everyone from backpackers to corporate executives flying in by private jet. The institution has expanded into a shopfront that has queues right around the corner, but the wait is well worth it – I demolished a ‘Sweet Julie’ of grilled chicken tenderloins marinated in ginger soy; delicious.

Not far from the hungry hordes we discover The Winery – and I am in absolute wine heaven. The best of New Zealand’s wines can all be sampled here, alongside the most highly regarded single malt whiskies and coveted champagnes. Just purchase a bar tab – a white card to insert into the dispensing machines – and try whatever your heart desires. What I love most about it is the ambience: open fires, oversized leather chairs and mohair rugs to wrap up in on a cold day. Just choose a bottle, sink into the fireside chairs, order a cheese platter and enjoy.

Local inspiration

From here we head to Rātā, and a feast prepared by Michelin-starred chef, Josh Emett. Although he made his name in London, New York and Melbourne, working with Gordon Ramsay, it has always been his homeland that has inspired Emett. This love is evident in his food, each dish warming, balanced and elegant.

Indeed, that is precisely how to summarise Queenstown. There are few places that can balance high-octane adrenaline with the exclusive cocoon of Matakauri Lodge, or hearty burgers with award-winning wines, but Central Otago pulls it off with inimitable style.

Travel file

Matakauri Lodge

Air New Zealand

Black ZQN

Queenstown New Zealand