THE first thing you see when you arrive at Matakauri Lodge - other than the view of Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkables and Cecil and Walter peaks - is an eccentric wall made of stacked pine logs.
Be sure to admire it because it is the pride and joy of the boss, Jay Robertson, an American who with his dad, Julian, also owns two other luxury lodges: Kauri Cliffs and The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. Pah. I bet they haven't got a wall.
Jay manages to imply that he built the wall. I later quizzed his fabulously irreverent staff about this and they snorted and said he may have stacked a couple of logs.
Still, he can talk about this wall for some time. His staff assure me that he has pictures of it on his bedroom wall. The pictures are from a magazine feature in which the wall - but not Jay - features. You get the impression he is rather miffed about this so I took a picture of him leaning, lumberjack style, on the logs.
You are unlikely to see such a thing at any other posh lodge anywhere else in the world. I'd have loved to know what Matakauri's posh visitors think of it - it is resolutely un-poncey, that's for sure - but I didn't see anyone except some bridge-mad Americans.
I'd also have liked to ask some mad-moneyed Russians but there were none. I'd have liked to have met the ones who paid for a week and left after a couple of nights because they wanted to go snorkelling. Snorkelling! Matakauri Lodge is in Queenstown.
I was offered a jet boat ride, or a long paddle in a kayak, or a massage at the spa, or a glacial facial - to which my response was glacial. Some of these things I regarded as boring, but I mention them because you can do these things in Queenstown and you, like the Russians, perhaps, might like to fill in some time.
What did I want to do? Nothing, thanks. I wanted to lounge about in my room - or any room, the bathroom is big enough for a party of Russians - go to cocktail hour at one minute past 6pm every night, eat my way though the degustation menu, then go back to my room and look at my view while ordering flat whites.
They are enormously accommodating at Matakauri Lodge, even if you decide to behave as madly and demandingly as is possible. I did my best.
I said that, yes, I would like to have my degustation dinner in the library at the top of the stairs, on my own. The library is a beautiful place to have dinner because you overlook the lake (it's the best place from which to look at lakes; the worst is from a seat in a horrid, noisy jetboat).
The stairs to the library are steep and narrow. The degustation menu, with matching wines, is long. I felt a bit mean - or would have, had I not been in character - at the number of times the staff had to clamber up and down to serve my many courses. They managed it with charm.
The food at Matakauri is good without being silly or pretentious, which is also the way with the service. I bet they can do fawning, should it be required.
The place has down-to-earth charm which does not lessen the excellence of the service, but it is somehow lodge-y, as opposed to five star hotel-y, say. In other words, you can swank about if you care to but I think you'd feel a bit of a twerp.
Dinner jackets are required for dinner, for chaps, which is a good thing. Who wants to arrive in the dining room and find louts in jandals? What happens should a chap turn up sans dinner jacket? "We taser 'em."
Here is an example of how they adapt the service to the clientele at Matakauri. The wonderfully cheeky Jodi said, while showing me my bathroom: "There's a double shower. In case you pick up a stray in town." You don't pay extra for the cheek.
I had my arm twisted to go on an outing: a lunch at the Amisfield winery, where they run a lunch called Trust the Chef. I should think so, but it was terribly good and you can get as toffed up as you like - there was a 90th birthday with old chaps in blazers and ties. There were also young things in jandals.
Then I went back to my villa - although it feels like a swanky bach - for a rest before pre-dinner drinks. By then I was starving. Jodi said: "I don't know how you do it, girl!"
I had worked up an appetite lying on the couch, snacking on the free home-made brownies I found in the superior mini-bar, just down from the Moet (not free and just as well).
From your room, all you can see is the lake and the peaks and the journey of the TSS Earnslaw steamship, which I fancied might be treated to the occasional flash of a rich (or in my case poor) bum from the bathroom window, which is large and uncurtained (the window, although possibly in some cases also the bums).
That's about as stressful as it gets. If you want to have your pud and port back in your room, they'll not only bring it over but offer to carry you as well. I can't think why they thought this service might be required. I did seem to have rather a few glasses of wine lined up.
"Hurry up, Michele," said Jodi. "You're double-parked." I liked that.
I have only one complaint to make about Matakauri: somebody stole the top of my boiled egg. I had a beautiful soft-boiled egg the first morning and it came with the top already cut off and popped back on. I was so taken with this that I ordered another the next morning.
I've never stayed anywhere that made me feel richer than having some unseen minion put the top of my egg back on.
But the second morning: no top. Where, I said imperiously, is the top of my egg? A hunt was carried out but no top.
Other than that, and the lack of Russians, I can't think of anything about the place that isn't expensive heaven - which is what heaven ought to be.
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