On a trip this year to New Zealand, we were fortunate to stay in some amazing hotels on South Island. I did my own research to find these gems, but also relied on my travel agent when making the final decisions. I think we picked well. We spent 10 days traveling South Island after flying from Aukland into Blenheim where we rented a car. From there we hit a must visit location for me - the Marlborough region and home of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc - my absolute favorite wine. That's when we stopped at our first hotel, the Marlborough Lodge, for a three-night stay.
When we drove onto the property, down a tree-lined gravel road and came upon the lodge, we knew we were in for a very pleasant stay. It resembled a grand country estate set amid literally acres,16 in fact, of park-like grounds and fields of flowers. And the whole property is surrounded by the Marlborough vineyards. I couldn't wait to see what was inside...
When you enter the lodge, it is as if you are staying at a friend's house, it is that warm and inviting. Greeted by the manager, we were welcomed with a cold beverage and a tour of the lodge and grounds, then shown to our room. Of note, the property operated as Old St Mary's Convent B&B until May 2016 when it was sold and underwent an extensive refurbishment. It opened in November 2016 as The Marlborough Lodge, which explains the church on the premises.
It is small property with only 10 rooms, all suites. They are very contemporary in style and in muted colors of grays and whites. Some of the rooms even have balconies and can be arranged to accompany families. The suites come with all the amenities you would expect of a luxury hotel of this caliber. We did not want for more. The bathroom is huge, bigger than most people's bedrooms. And if you like peace and quiet, well this is it...
The dining experience for all meals was unparalleled. The menus were based around local ingredients, including many grown on the premises. They even had a lovely patio where you could take in the sights and smells of the gardens. We started the day with a fresh everything breakfast, enjoyed canapés and drinks served in the lounge or in front of the outdoor fire in the late afternoon, and finished the day with a seasonal a la carte dinner that accommodated all of our requests. Of course, the meal was accompanied by an excellent selection of Marlborough wines.
There is no shortage of activities both on and off property. From wine tasting to kayaking to hiking to massages to tennis to Marlborough Sound cruises, the lodge offers it all and will arrange anything you'd like help with. We chose a a walk and wildlife tour in Queen Charlotte Sound and a private wine tasting tour for our two main activities.
There was nothing I didn't love about our stay at Marlborough Lodge, but a few of my favorite amenities included:
- the nightly cocktail party before dinner
- the impeccable and discreet service
- the gorgeous grounds to take a lovely wall
- bikes for guests' use
- the outside brick fireplace and seating
Just a note about the service...My husband went for a swim one morning and when he finished his last lap and took off his goggles, he looked up and saw a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, a bottle of water, and two towels. He never saw anyone...the items just appeared! Now, that is how lifetime memories of a vacation are made.
Next, we headed out to Franz Josef, but had a one-night stop at the Punakaiki Resort on our way. This resort is surrounded by the Paparoa National Park and is home to the famous and absolutely stunning Pancakes Rocks and blowholes. You do not have a lot of options in this area for where to say and Punakaiki Resort is probably your nicest bet.
You can stay in the standard rooms or the Eco Suites, which by their name are environmentally friendly. Located across the street from the main resort, this is where we stayed. The room was very nice and served the purpose. The biggest complaint was not having AC, just a fan. It was a bit warm, but we survived. The rooms were equipped with all the essential amenities, including wi-fi. There is a rustic, ski lodge-type restaurant on premises which was good and had gorgeous views of the sea.
We were off the next day for a two-night stay at the Westwood Lodge and a breathtaking visit to Franz Joseph. The lodge is actually located just a few minutes north of the village and if you wanted a good hike, you could walk into town. Again, I like being a bit outside of any hustle and bustle, so the location was ideal. Plus, there was no problem finding parking when we went in for dinner.
Another small property, there are only 12 rooms. The lodge has a cabin-type feel with lots of wood. Again, very basic accommodations that totally met our needs. While there was no restaurant on the premises, a really nice breakfast was included with the room rate and they had a self-serve bar. Being so small, the staff function in many capacities, such as reception, waitress, and concierge. They handled all jobs equally well and booked us a last minute kayaking trip.
Alas, we were off to our last stop on this stupendous journey, Queenstown and the Milford Sound. The hotel of our choosing was Azur Lodge, which sits just outside of the city above the water. When we were driving through the area, which was all residential, I was having second thoughts about my choice. Then, we came to the end of a street and wound our way up a gated road to the lodge. I relaxed and knew we'd be in good hands.
When I booked this hotel, I originally was looking at properties like Matakauri Lodge, but it was so ungodly expensive I just couldn't justify it. Besides, the New Zealand native who booked our trip said the Azur Lodge was actually his favorite. I took his word for it and totally agreed. The jaw-dropping lake and mountain views alone made this worth the visit, but when we saw our gorgeous accommodations and the main lodge, just WOW. We also came to appreciate the fact that we were enough outside of Queenstown to avoid the crowds.
Azur Lodge is a stunning luxury accommodation featuring nine beautiful freestanding villas. They are huge with every amenity you could need. We particularly loved the Linden Leaves bath products which I have since bought online. The bed faces a huge wall of windows which overlooks the lake and the mountains. Then you have an outdoor patio where you can enjoy the same view while soaking up the sun. You honestly could make your home in this suite.
The hotel does not have a restaurant on the premises, but they have a small kitchen where they prepare your breakfast and canapes in the afternoon. For dinner, they have arranged with many local restaurants to deliver to your room. We used this service on our last night. The food is delivered to the staff who then sets it up in your room just like you were having room service. It was perfect.
A young, friendly knowledgeable staff attended to our every need from dining reservations to calming our fears when they were having a monsoon electrical storm on the day we were flying out. They made great dinner recommendations at places they eat at and love and even have a car service to take you anywhere around town so you don't have to drive and park. You seriously can not go wrong with Azur Lodge. Book now!
Queen Charlotte Track
We did not actually stay here, but took a day walk and wildlife tour along the Queen Charlotte Track. It was one of those must-do activities and was only 20 minutes from the Marlborough Lodge in Picton where we caught a ferry. The track is renowned for its stunning views, historical landmarks, and amazing array of native bush and wildlife.
Several people on the walk were, however, staying at hotels while they hiked during the day. You can stay at one as long as you like and then they take your luggage and move it on to the next location and so on... The hotels that looked really nice were Furneaux Lodge, No Road Inn, Bay of Many Coves, and Bluewater Lodge. We actually had drinks at Bluewater Lodge. If we are ever lucky to get back, we would put this on our to do list. I would have loved to had more time hiking the Queen Charlotte Track.
I have to say the Marlborough Lodge and Azur Lodge are two of my favorite hotels from all of my travels. They really were perfection from ambience to comfort to service to food. While the Westwood Lodge and Punakaiki Resort were not up to the same caliber, they were certainly perfect for their location and purpose. We were quite pleased and I am sure, so will you.