Justine Tyerman comes across a ‘talking landscape’ on the outskirts of Wanaka in the South Island of New Zealand
I’ve made the pilgrimage to Wanaka hundreds of times since the days of my youth and we’ve always stayed within sight of the lake.
The panorama of Lake Wanaka, Central Otago, South Island, is without doubt magnificent but it’s a busy, bossy view which demands to be looked at all the time – jet boats, para-gliders, water skiers, kayakers, rowers and swimmers.
The lake is seldom quiet and even when it is, it exerts a magnetic force that compels one to watch it. Hours can be lost just gazing at its changing moods from satin smooth to grey and stormy.
But on this occasion, we needed a quiet hideaway to prepare for a family wedding, a place far enough away from the lake and the township to ensure privacy and deter well-meaning friends from ‘just popping in’.
Te Ariki Nui – the peaceful rural retreat
On the outskirts of town, we found Te Ariki Nui, an idyllic, peaceful rural retreat surrounded by the wild and rugged Central Otago landscape I’ve loved since my childhood days.
Mountain ranges gouged by ancient glaciers, tussocks flattened by the wind and the snow, sweet-smelling pastel-hued lupins growing wild along the roadsides, sun-ripened sweet apricots and tart green gooseberries, lizards basking on the warm schist rocks, the shimmering dry heat of the Central Otago sun, pink sunrises and golden sunsets, the long dark shadows cast by the late afternoon sun…
We were only 10 minutes from Wanaka but Te Ariki Nui felt like a luxury lodge in a remote wilderness. Apart from invited guests, we saw no other human beings. Our only neighbours were the sociable alpacas in the paddock next door and a large family of bobtail rabbits.
Te Ariki Nui exceeded all our expectations. Designed by award-winning architect Paul Clarke and runner-up in the 2005 New Zealand Home & Entertaining Home of the Year Award, it is the Wanaka home of New Zealand fashion icon Robyn Hall.
The long, low concrete, glass and timber house sits quietly in its surroundings, allowing the landscape to take centre stage.
I loved the simple, clean lines of the house – the dull sheen of the natural polished concrete floors, the warm glow of the tall beech doors and cabinetry against a predominantly white palette, the floor-to-ceiling glass walls, and the minimal adornment.
“The landscape does the talking,” as Hall says.
Four bedrooms and three bathrooms including a lovely detached, self-contained studio provided ample private space for eight of us while the large open-plan kitchen, dining and living area was perfect for family dinners and socialising.
The kitchen was equipped with every imaginable high-end appliance and utensil along with a generous array of pantry essentials.
The massive floor-to-ceiling glass walls on both sides of the house slid aside to unite inside and outside living areas. Double-glazing, underfloor heating and a raised gas fireplace in the lounge would make Te Ariki Nui super-cosy in winter.
The luxurious master bedroom at the far end of the house had an Agape tear-shaped bath by the window where you could bathe while communing with nature.
The bathrooms in the main part of the house featured glass-walled showers and unencumbered views of the landscape through full-height windows.
An impressive gabion wall made with stones smoothed by the nearby Cardrona River provided a visual shield between the entrance pathway and the house. Rectangular steel inserts in the wall allowed light to filter into the hall and master bedroom without sacrificing privacy.
A Jacuzzi in a sheltered courtyard offered hydro-therapy to soothe the nerves. It was quite surreal to soak in the pool surrounded by mid-summer snow on the peaks and ranges, the aftermath of an unseasonal ‘weather bomb’.
Nearby, a table and chairs with a large shady umbrella was an ideal spot for alfresco dining.
I liked to sit on the swing suspended from the terrace roof at the front of the house and watch the antics of the alpacas in the paddock next door. Hand-feeding the quizzical creatures provided a welcome distraction from wedding preparations.
I also loved exploring the stunning collection of sculpture Hall, an enthusiastic supporter of New Zealand art, had scattered around her 4-hectare property. Large sculptures were cleverly placed outside to catch the eye while smaller pieces quietly adorned the interior but did not challenge the dominant feature, the landscape… art framed by the windows.
To the right of the house, Hall has planted an impressive orchard of fruit and nut trees including hazelnuts, plums, peaches, pears, nectarines, redcurrants, cherries, apricots and gooseberries. The trees have to struggle to survive so Central Otago fruit has an intensity of flavour like no other region.
And beyond the artworks, orchard and alpacas, a spectacular 360-degree necklace of majestic mountains – Black Peak, the Buchanan Mountains, Mt Maude, Mt Iron, Mt Barker, the Cardrona Mt Pisa Ranges – encircled the house.
We seldom ventured into town, which was hectic with mid-summer madness, but spent our time rebonding as a family after too long apart, entertaining guests who had travelled from afar and buzzing to and from the lakeside venue with checklists of things to be done for the marquee wedding.
It was like constructing a small village in a bare paddock from scratch, bringing all the infrastructure onsite.
That’s when our friends at JUCY Rentals came to the party, literally. JUCYs were out in force, ferrying people and equipment to the venue. Our eight-seater JUCY wagon was invaluable as a people, drinks and flowers-mover.
And at the end of a busy day, soaking in the spa pool under the stars at Te Ariki Nui, was a magical way to unwind. Lounging amid the bubbles with a glass of bubbles was sheer bliss.
Te Ariki Nui certainly lived up to its name – translated from the Maori language, it means ‘Above all others’…
* Te Ariki Nui is an ideal base for pre- and post-wedding events and holidays at any time of the year.
* Pick up a JUCY Rental at Queenstown Airport and drive to Wanaka – 60 minutes over the Crown Range or 90 minutes via the Kawarau Gorge, both magnificent scenic experiences. The convenience of being able to pick up a vehicle at Queenstown Airport and drop it off in Christchurch, Wellington or Auckland makes JUCY a super-convenient choice for travellers arriving from overseas.
* Air New Zealand flies daily to Queenstown from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch with connections available across the domestic network.