Luxury Adventures are conducting a series of interviews with some of our key suppliers looking at the different aspects of their lives and how these influence the experiences they offer. Whare Kea Lodge is located on 70 acres of pristine farmland land nestled on the shore of Lake Wanaka, a 10 minute drive from Wanaka town centre.
What first attracted you to Wanaka and to build Whare Kea lodge there? I was introduced to Wanaka by my husband Martyn, who is passionate about the mountains and adventure sports such as heli-skiing. He enjoyed skiing in the Australian Alps, also cross-country skiing in the Victorian and Tasmanian Alps growing up, and later skied extensively in Europe, North America, and in the Canadian Rockies. A trip with his late father who was a keen fly fisherman, together with his brother and a cousin, to the trout filled rivers of the South Island when he was 13 – and then later, a heli-ski trip with a ski-friend when he was 30, sparked his passion for Wanaka and the Southern Alps. We travelled there together on several occasions in winter, and brought our daughters to the area in the summer of 1993. We were all amazed by its beauty at this time of the year, and this inspired us to search for land on which to build a holiday retreat. We found a site that was formerly part of a dairy farm owned by settlers of the late 1850’s, right on the edge of Lake Wanaka.
Why did you decide to share the property and turn it into a lodge? We realised Whare Kea’s setting overlooking the sparkling lake was quite unique, and we were fortunate to be building the property of our dreams. We wanted to share it with like-minded people, particularly those who have never travelled to the Southern Alps and been able to experience the array of wilderness activities they offer, such as resort and heli-skiing, mountain climbing, flight-seeing in vintage aircraft, walking in native beech forest, and visiting the surrounding vineyards of the Central Otago region.
Where does the name Whare Kea originate from? The lodge is named after the “Kea”, the cheeky native mountain parrot. The literal translation is “the house of the Kea”.
Whare Kea is set on 70 acres of farm land right on the shores of Lake Wanaka, is this a working farm? Whare Kea’s surrounds encompass stands of silver birch, larch, Douglas fir, chestnut, oak and poplar which were created with a tree-planting programme directed by local landscape designer Susan Mort. We also have extensive neighbouring farms.
Tell us about some of the awards Whare Kea has won and which you are most proud of and why? All of these accolades reflect the dedication of the Whare Kea team to the art of hospitality.
– In 2003 Whare Kea Lodge and Chalet became a member of the prestigious hotel and restaurant, Relais & Chateaux and won its environmental award.
– In 2011, a book we created, WANAKA Earth to Heaven at Whare Kea, words, Michal McKay, photographs, Kieran Scott, published by Godwit, an imprint of Random House, was named the winner for New Zealand, in the Gourmand World Cookbooks Awards, Cookbooks category.
– In 2012, the book was acknowledged as fourth place getter worldwide in the Gourmand World Cookbooks Awards, Cookbooks category.
– In November 2012, I was extremely honoured to be named Relais & Chateaux Woman of the Year for 2013 and presented with a special trophy by Champagne Pommery.
We understand Whare Kea has its very own book published, “Earth to Heaven”, tell us more about this and how it came about. We produced the book, WANAKA Earth to Heaven at Whare Kea, to highlight the story of the lodge, and to also reveal the beauty of Wanaka which is one of the hidden gems of New Zealand tourism. We spotlight the region’s glorious surrounds and the characters who bring it to life. The book also features more than 40 superb recipes by James Stapley, our talented executive chef. I am a passionate foodie and the menus we offer our guests at Whare Kea, are fresh, seasonal and well-balanced.
The lodge has a very unique selling point with the chalet set high in the Mount Aspiring National Park, what inspired you to build the chalet as an extension to the lodge? The idea of Whare Kea Chalet is to provide an eco-luxe base for our guests to enjoy outdoor pursuits such as hiking mountain trails with overnight stays in summer, and heli-skiing in winter with gourmet meals created the James Stapley and his team. It is accessible via a spectacular 20-minute helicopter flight.
It must have been a huge task to undertake to build at those altitudes, I bet there are some stories to be told?! My husband Martyn came up with the idea of the hut while on a mountaineering trip to Mount Cook with friends and guides, and they found themselves stuck in a blizzard in Plateau Hut. He was then inspired by the idea of a chalet as a base in the mountains, with the comfort of the lodge for such adventure pursuits. He sought out a site outside Mount Aspiring National Park that was remote from other huts, yet still easily accessible via helicopter from the lodge. The setting he chose is in Albert Burn Saddle on the north side of Dragonfly Peak, and is part of Mount Aspiring Station. This necessitated discussion with its owner, the late John Aspinall, a high-country farmer who generously agreed for the chalet to be realised. He also had to negotiate with the government. Martyn designed the chalet with architect Ken Warburton giving it the highest eco-credentials – and it was built over two summers and finished in 2006. As well as the elements, the building had to be kea proof! It had to be able to withstand the destruction of the kea, the alpine parrot that resides here above the snow line.
As the chalet is only accessible by helicopter this must be quite weather dependant, how achievable is it for guests to spend time here, and what provisions are made should it not be possible? Because of the altitude of the Whare Kea Chalet of 1,750 metres, all visits are weather dependant. All guests are accompanied by an experienced mountain guide. If it is not possible to visit the chalet due to weather, guests enjoy the comfort of Whare Kea Lodge.
How many guests can the chalet accommodate? Whare Kea Chalet sleeps up to 6.
Tell us more about some of the experiences guests can have at the chalet. Leisure pursuits that may be enjoyed at the chalet include hiking in summer, a 3-to-4 day hike through temperate rainforest to the summits of alpine peaks; flightseeing over Wanaka and the peaks of the Southern Alps with a gourmet lunch at the chalet; heli-skiing in winter.
You are fortunate to have two excellent ski fields on your door step, tell us about Cardrona and Treble Cone ski fields and your proximity to them? A half-hour drive away brings you to resort skiing at Cardrona or Treble Cone, both of which feature wide basins and an abundance of powder. Cardrona has 345 hectares of skiing and snowboarding terrain, with more than half the runs in the intermediate category. There are also plenty of beginner’s runs and advanced slopes, with multiple ski-lifts designed to accommodate up to 11,000 skiers every hour. An average annual snowfall of 2.7 metres, creates beautiful coverage. Treble Cone boasts 550 hectares of skiable terrain, the largest of New Zealand’s South Island. While it has less infrastructure in terms of lifts than Cardrona, the runs are longer and more exhilarating, up to four kilometres. The Whare Kea team will arrange half-day or full-day ski passes for either resort.
Other than the chalet experiences, what other top three outdoor activities can you recommend in the Wanaka region?
– Local naturalist, Chris Riley’s Eco Wanaka Adventures offers a fascinating four hour excursion with a boat trip over the iridescent lake and a hike to the top of Mou Waho Island, a nature reserve at the lake’s centre.
– Legendary Pilot Peter Hendriks will take you on a Classic Flight in a vintage Tiger Moth aircraft that will give you a perspective of Lake Wanaka and the area surrounding like no other.
– The Central Otago region is celebrated for its world-class vineyards, that in particular, create exceptional pinot noir. The Whare Kea team arranges half-day and full-day bespoke tours of some of the region’s scenic wineries, such as Mount Maude, Aurum Wines, Rockburn, Quartz Reef, Wooing Tree, and the actor Sam Neill’s Two Paddocks.
What would be a signature dish of Whare Keas award-winning chef James Stapley? Tea Smoked duck salad with persimmon, Feta and pomegranate with fresh smoke.
Many of our clients have only two weeks to try and see and experience as much of New Zealand as possible, other than Wanaka where would you recommend? I am definitely biased towards the South Island of New Zealand due to the dramatic landscape carved by the mountains. I am also more familiar with the South Island.
– Fishing is a quintessential sport for New Zealand and the nearby rivers and streams are brimming with salmon and trout. Expert local guide Ian Cole offers a range of tailor-made fly-fishing packages, from hourly lessons, to full-day excursions, with the option of accessing spectacular remote spots via helicopter with camping overnight.
– Queenstown is beautiful and of course boasts the bungy jumping – it is fun to watch if you are not brave enough to partake. The area also hosts an exhilarating jet boat ride on the Shotover River, near the picturesque old gold mining town of Arrowtown.
– Milford and Doubtful Sounds, with their spectacular fiords are a must.
– There is a colony of “royal’ albatrosses near Dunedin, and with their wingspan of 10 feet they are spectacular as they fly in to land.
– Mt Cook the highest mountain in New Zealand (and the surrounding glaciers).
– Whale watching in Kaikoura.
– There are many great vineyard areas including Central Otago, (Wanaka/Queenstown area), Marlborough in the north of the south island.
– Kayaking or sailing in the sounds between the North and South Islands. You may trace part of Captain Cook’s voyage by walking the Queen Charlotte track.
Louise & Martyn Myer are the owners of Whare Kea Lodge and Chalet, Wanaka, New Zealand
Tony Townley is a luxury lifestyle specialist and owner of Luxury Adventures. Talk to us about planning your next visit to New Zealand, Australia or the South Pacific Islands.