Luxury Adventures are doing 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. Riverrun Lodge is a boutique property located in Wanaka, South Island, New Zealand.
You purchased 500 acres of land in Wanaka in 1995 and built the lodge in 1996. Why Wanaka and why build a lodge?
I had been coming to Wanaka for summer holidays as a child growing up in Dunedin, so saw it as a town with perhaps 400 residents at most, one shop, no banks and mainly gravel roads. It was idyllic. Then later John and I came here skiing and hiking. In January 1995 we hiked from Queenstown/Glenorchy over Cascade saddle to Wanaka’s Matukituki Valley in Mt Aspiring National Park. Wanaka is an absolute mecca for the outdoors (hiking, skiing, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, fishing, sailing… ) and we began to think about a holiday house or moving here. John sold his share in Kathmandu, had a year off enjoying himself and we started looking seriously at the Wanaka option. We purchased Riverrun farm in October 1995. The farm is 500 acres bordering both the Clutha and the Cardrona rivers. We had both travelled widely and John was also interested in architecture and designing a house from reclaimed timber. We had already decided that we wanted to build some kind of small hotel, bed and breakfast or lodge and Wanaka and Riverrun seemed the perfect place to do it.
I understand you are linked with the retailer ‘Kathmandu’ what was your past involvement there?
My husband John Pawson co-founded Kathmandu, in 87-88 I think it was. Kathmandu is an outdoor clothing and equipment retailer and manufacturer, a little like Patagonia in the USA. Prior to that he had a company called Alp Sports with stores in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Kathmandu was originally established in Melbourne, Australia (where we lived for almost nine years) and then expanded to have stores in New Zealand as well. It was very exciting being involved in such a fast-growing company. In the course of 6-7 years we went from one small inner city shop and warehouse in Melbourne to retailing and wholesaling throughout Australia and New Zealand. At that point in its history Kathmandu was very family run. John and his father designed and built the main shops in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra and in Wellington also. Typically, John used a lot of wood. John became involved in Kathmandu through his love of the outdoors, and I very much got my experience in the outdoors from him.
When you have free time what do you enjoy doing?
Any number of things – mountain biking, hiking, skiing, occasionally hiking, lots of day walks and if I can slow myself down I love sitting on the verandah and reading a good book.
Why is Riverrun called Riverrun?
The property was called Riverrun when we bought it. It was the river run block of a much larger farm at one stage – the run refers to a sheep “run”, i.e. a large area of land where sheep graze. But some guests think it refers to a James Joyce novel.
I understand Riverrun is a working farm, tell me more?
We farm merino (fine wool) sheep. Approximately 1000 ewes with lambs or 2000 stock units. Occasionally there are cattle on the farm also. Merino’s suit this area – they do best in dry climates. Merino lamb is also becoming increasingly popular as meat. It is a little leaner and smaller than the lamb most New Zealander’s are used to.
When guests dine at Riverrun do you use produce off the farm and whats your specialty?
We use local produce and we most frequently serve lamb, venison, beef, rabbit, hare, local salmon and sometimes pork or duck. Whatever is good that we can get. We also use a lot of stonefruit in summer. The same areas that are now planting pinot noir and pinot gris vineyards have always had apricot, plum, cherry and peach orchards. The cherries are at their peak around Christmas. My sister-in-law has a vegetable and herb garden on the farm and we get herbs and lots of vegetables from that also. Karen, our chef, is a forager – and often arrives in the kitchen with watercress or walnuts or blackboy peaches that she has “gathered” from around Wanaka. We have wild elderflower growing all over the hillside which we make into cordial for a summer quencher and sorbets. Then there are also hives on the farm from two local honeymakers.
I’m sure most of your guests are wonderful people but have you ever had any ‘nightmare guests’ you must have a story or two?
Actually there have been very very few “nightmare guests”. We have had some people I got very excited about staying, the writer Ian McEwan was one. We also do some small but fun weddings here. Mainly people are just a lots of fun to have stay and I get a buzz out of people enjoying themselves and frequently getting on tremendously well with the other guests. If guests are dining in town they usually end up arriving late at their restaurant as they can’t bear to leave the conversation on the lodge verandah on long summer evenings!
Tell me why people should stay at Riverrun and what sort of experience can they expect?
The wonderful thing about New Zealand’s lodges is that they are all completely different, they reflect different environments and different owners, so guests get a unique journey through the country and a very personal experience. Riverrun is architecturally designed but has the feel of a very hand-crafted lodge, built almost entirely from reclaimed hard wood timbers and most of the furniture has been individually designed for the lodge. The guests enjoy the sense of space here. We are close to town (only 5kms) but they have 500 acres of land around them, riverside walks and running and bike trails. They can sit on the verandah and look at the mountains, wander down to the river or drive into town for a restaurant meal if they prefer. Guests generally feel very relaxed and we get many many returning guests here.
Are there good hiking opportunities on the property and what else can you do at Riverrun?
Guests can walk, run or bike for 20mins to several hours on the riverside tracks which are just out the front of the lodge. Occasionally guests will borrow one of our fishing rods and catch or try to catch a trout. We have mountain bikes for guest use. Activities in Wanaka run the gammitt from sky diving to winery tours, high country station excursions, heli-hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, birdlife and eco tours, rock climbing etc. The day hikes and bike trails are some of the best in the country; lakeside, riverside or in Mt Aspiring National Park. For those who just want to stroll or picnic by the lake or river, the scenery is incredibly beautiful.
Where are most of your guests originating from?
From the UK, USA, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore.
And finally what are your three favourite places in New Zealand?
Nelson (Takaka, the Motueka Valley and Golden Bay), Stewart Island for its amazing birdlife and remoteness, The Routeburn Track. Sorry these are all South Island! I do like Wellington best of all New Zealand cities, and I would love to do the Tongariro Crossing.
Meg owns Riverrun Lodge in Wanaka.
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.