February means summer in the Southern Hemisphere natural paradise of New Zealand…just the right time to take in the island nation’s favorite luxury getaway: “glamping”
Though there were considerable special effects wielded to produce Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, one of the reasons why the series had a relatively thrifty budget of $281 million was because a great deal of its otherworldly scenery was not in fact otherworldly, but instead simply a part of one of the most astonishing landscapes on earth: the canyons, fjords, rolling hills, and snow-capped mountains of New Zealand. Filming in the areas of Matamata, Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury, Mackenzie Country, Southern Lakes, and Fiordland, the films’ director, a New Zealander himself, described these wildly disparate areas’ relative proximity as emblematic of his nation being, “not so much a small country, but a large village.” Millions of tourists who have visited in the wake of the films’ success would agree, and one of their more interesting embraces of the stunning landscape is a refinement of a concept gaining steam in other naturally beautiful areas: glamping. A portmanteau of “glamorous camping,” the term describes a wish for travelers to be at once close to nature, but far from discomfort. (Think remote cabins or tens, but with a personal chef in tow).
There is no area on earth better suited to embrace the glamping concept. Yes, there are Borgia caliber accommodations (New Zealand has six lodges in the Relais & Chateaux collection, and eight listed with Small Luxury Hotels of the World), but many boutique lodges offer alternative accommodation throughout the country, often in remote locations, with spa treatments typically offered as part of the experience.
Thermal springs, resulting from the country’s location on the “Pacific Rim of Fire,” were favorite areas for Māori villages hundreds of years ago, and later became popular with Europeans who valued the healing properties of the mineral waters. Famous for its geysers and bubbling mud, Rotorua is New Zealand’s best-known spa town. Many hotels and inns there have their own glamping-associated wellness indulgences (at the Polynesian Spa, for example, after a day’s trek, you can choose from a range of temperatures and mineral compositions for its Purifying Mud Body Wrap).
LAY OF THE LAND
The country comprises two main islands (North and South) along with many smaller ones. Covering a total land area of approximately 104,000 square miles, it is roughly the size of Uruguay or Oregon (though maintains a remarkably small population of 4.5 million), and is 280 miles wide at its thickest.
January and February travelers will be cheered to note that, because of its position in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand experiences summer from December to February (winter from June to August), so a mid-February venture would be picture-perfect, with all manner of potentially romantic implications. At time of press, January 21-30 round-trip flights to Aukland departing from both Newark’s Liberty Airport and LaGuardia Airport on Air New Zealand were priced at $1,813 per person.
With availability in many parts of the South Island, Wildernest takes luxury camping to another level with a selection of private holiday options using New Zealand’s great outdoors to set the stage. It can transport and set up large tents in a variety of inspiring locations throughout the country, with services from arranging an entire itinerary to hiring a personal chef to prepping all necessary hiking gear…even building portable “pamper suites.”
“Or, we can create a perfectly-styled pop-up hotel and party for your wedding, craft an unforgettable team-building getaway for your colleagues and clients, or deliver an exceptionally luscious private holiday for you and your dream date,” explained Wildnernest founders Anita Rogers & Hayden Strom. “These ‘Glamping Villages,’ as we call them, are nothing less than the travel adventure of a lifetime.” wildernest.co.nz
Minaret Station, the first luxury tented lodge in New Zealand, offers one of the most opulent camping experiences on the planet. At the head of a glacial valley in the heart of the majestic Southern Alps (and only accessible by helicopter), this is simply an unrivalled experience in its remote alpine environment. And while the mountain landscape may be rugged, the accommodations are anything but. At the Minaret campsite, guests are housed under heated canvas tents complete with wall-to-wall sheepskin carpet and an ensuite bathroom. There’s even a hot tub on the private deck. Other facilities include the “Mountain Kitchen” with its open fire and comfy armchairs, where guests can enjoy a book from the well-stocked library before tucking into a meal created by world-class chefs. Private guides will help visitors explore the hiking trails and observe high-country wildlife, and just a short helicopter flight away (included, of course), the neighboring regions of Fiordland, West Coast, and Southland offer a multitude of active outdoor pursuits and spectacular sightseeing opportunities. minaretstation.com
Outside of the tent realm but still within the “luxe-rough” market is a wonderful outfit due east of Christchurch on the South Island’s east coast. PurePods there are just that—gorgeous, glassenclosed accommodations that provide safety, 360° views, and are just a quick hike down the Little River Rail Trail to nearby Manaia Bird Sanctuary. (Be sure to visit the world-renowned Little River Café while you’re there.) purepods.com
A fantastic blend of luxury camping and resort living can be had at the Tent Resort and Tree House Paradise above Karioitahi Beach. Located in Waiuku, just a 45-minute drive south of Auckland. The area is known for amazing beaches and expansive untouched natural areas, and its glamping site offers two different types of accommodations. The luxury tents are situated on cliffs overlooking Karioitahi Beach. They sleep a maximum of two, with a king-sized bed fitted with quality linens (all bedding and towels are provided). The tents also have a stunning outdoor bath with striking views of the surrounding wilderness. The resort also provides guests with a bottle of wine and a gourmet self-cook dinner and breakfast, along with instructions for preparing the meals. Each tent offers a full bath and shower, and is fully heated, so a stay is ideal at any time of the year.
The Tree House is available only for a two-night package. Suspended between two great Totara trees, it is accessible by electric bike, and features a stunning outdoor bath set amid New Zealand native bush. Alltherooms.com/waiuku
Another fascinating alternative adventure can be had in the Underhill Valley Earth House in the North Island’s Waikato region. As far from our city life as can be reasonably imagined, this place is stepping straight into a fairytale. Built into the hillside, the Hobbit-style house has been hand crafted with rustic native timbers and ironwork to create a sustainable and authentic space—the perfect romantic glamping retreat for couples. Huge timber doors open wide to overlook a picturesque pond and farmland beyond. Guests enjoy the warmth and ambience of an old coal range and the soft glow of candlelight, a glass of wine on a chaise by the pond under the stars…then snuggle into a luxurious, specially shaped bed with pure cotton linen, comfy pillows and thick, wool duvet. canopycamping.co.nz/listings/underhill.
Nestled in a private corner of a 150-acre organic farm overlooking a bend in the North Island’s beautiful Takou River is a spectacular and secluded luxury camping site called Magic Cottages. Designed exclusively for a couple or single family, it is an extraordinary place to relax, reconnect and rejuvenate. There, guests can gaze across the river (in a region known poetically as “the bay of islands”) or at the night sky from the deck of a white canvas safari-style tent (set on permanent timber floors). They’ll also luxuriate in the oversized king bed with cozy linen, feather duvets, and blankets, and enjoy the plush furniture and perfectly appointed vintage styled kitchen and bath with steam shower, then wake to the sun rising over the river, the sound of birds, and the gentle splash of fish in the river (a private jetty and fishing boat is standard). takouriver.com
It’d be cruel not to offer another Hobbittown-like option, so there’s also Minaret Lodge’s “Barlimans” house, with its oversized furniture and unique “Hobbit menu.” A special package there comes complete with New Zealand’s most comprehensive Lord of the Rings Tour, featuring 20 film locations in one day. minaretlodge.co.nz