From Queenstown, we boarded a nonstop Air New Zealand flight to Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. Internationally known as “The Garden City,” Christchurch’s well-established expansive parks and public gardens owe much to the planning and foresight of the city’s founding fathers. Bordered by hills and the Pacific Ocean, the city is situated on the edge of the Canterbury Plains that stretch to the Southern Alps. With a large internationally serviced airport, Christchurch is often considered the gateway to the South Island. Many of our clients chose to spend a couple of nights in this region.
An earthquake in September 2010 weakened buildings and infrastructure in the city. Unfortunately, a more potent earthquake followed in February. The ground shaking caused by the quake was measured to be amongst the strongest ever recorded globally in an urban area. After $25+ billion in rebuilding, Christchurch is still rebounding from the effects of that devastation. The resilience of the community is to be commended.
After leaving the airport, we visited the George Hotel, a member of the Small Luxury Hotel group, and we had a lovely lunch at their bistro, 50 on Park. The hotel is adjacent to the Christchurch Botanical Gardens with panoramic views of Hagley Park and the Avon River. The hotel’s other award-winning restaurant, Pescatore, offers some of New Zealand’s most innovative and exciting food, matched with superb local and international wines. In 2014, it was awarded 1 HAT in the Cuisine NZ Good Food Awards and Reon Hobson is one of the chefs for the Beef and Lamb Ambassador for 2015.
We also dropped in to see the newly opened contemporary Hotel Montreal, which is emerging as another boutique option for our guests who want to stay in town. The property offers 25 spacious rooms each with their own private balcony. We were especailly impressed with the three-bedroom penthouse suite, which would be perfect for families.
We then made the scenic drive of less than thirty minutes into the countryside to spend the night at Otahuna Lodge, one of our top accommodation recommendations in the entire country. Set in pastoral surroundings, Otahuna is a stunning Victorian mansion that is now consistently ranking as one of the top food and wine resorts and international hideaways in the world.
The home was built in 1895 for Sir Heaton Rhodes, a high-profile pioneer of Canterbury, and his wife, Jessie. The name “Otahuna” is Maori and translates as “little hill among the hills.” The owners have taken New Zealand’s largest private historic residence and have revitalized it with luxury accommodations, glorious gardens and sophisticated cuisine.
At this property, our guests can choose from seven spacious suites. Our favorites are the “Rhodes” and the “Veranda.” We stayed in the Veranda Suite, which boasts an incredibly large bedroom and adjoining private bath—larger than virtually any bathroom we have seen internationally. Off the bedroom, the second floor balcony porch offers splendid views of the manicured gardens and is a superb place to enjoy a hot coffee in the morning.
Due to its excellent location, there are lots of sights to see in this region. The gardens on property are stellar and the owners welcome the opportunity to give our guests a private tour. In addition, there is a pool, Jacuzzi and a tennis court.
A short drive away is also the Canterbury Wine Region. The first vineyard was planted in 1977, and the area is becoming well-known and appreciated for its Riesling and Pinot Noir wines. The soils of the region are stony and alluvial. The climate is hot and dry in the summer, and often cool, clear and frosty in the winter.
Another popular day trip is to visit Akaroa, a picturesque seaside town that has retained many of its 19th century public buildings and cottages. Akaroa, settled by French immigrants, offers charming shops and restaurants, as well as hiking and sailing. For the active guests, you also have the opportunity to swim with the world’s rarest and smallest dolphins, the Hecktor’s Dolphins.
As a Relais & Châteaux property, Otahuna offers one of the best culinary experiences in New Zealand. We had an incredible five-course tasting menu paired with top New Zealand wines, which was arguably our best meal Down Under. We particularly enjoyed the pan seared yellow fin tuna and Asian vegetable salad, complemented by a Gisborne Chenin Blanc. The Canterbury duck breast was also exquisite with a Waipara Pinot Noir.
As soon as you drive through the property’s gates, there is a level of professionalism and service that is unmatched. Despite Mother Nature presenting us with a few rain drops, we had an impeccable stay at Otahuna! Our only disappointment was the fact that we could only squeeze in one night there in our itinerary. We look forward to sharing this incredible experience with our clients.
By: Mike and Kristene Fitzgerald