This review of Azur Lodge in Queenstown is taken from our guidebook Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection Australia/New Zealand.
It’s a testament to the sublime comforts of Azur Lodge that, in the renowned Adventure Capital of the World, this keen skier was unable to leave her private villa for the better part of 24 hours. Even snow falling heavily outside didn’t make me muster the energy. OK, so I managed to meander up the path to the main lodge at 3pm for an afternoon tea of melt-in-the-mouth brownies and still-warm choc-chip cookies whipped up by our host Maria (very handily a pastry chef in her former life). But that was the extent of my outdoor adventures. Like Gollum and his cave, I quickly slunk back to savour the delights of my sumptuous cavern.
On arrival, I confess to some foreboding as our courtesy car turned off the road hugging Lake Wakatipu and instead headed up into the suburban estate of Sunshine Bay. Any fretting was quickly allayed when we swung onto a dirt track and up the driveway of the Azur. Perched on the crest of the hill was the main lodge, with its nine private villas scattered down the hillside. And not a provincial house – or any other distraction for that matter – in sight. Only the breathtaking panorama of snowcapped mountains and the grandeur of New Zealand’s longest lake.
At risk of succumbing to scenery fatigue so early in our stay, we relaxed with a latte in the main lodge where we were introduced to the delightful Keiko, resident chef and conjurer of breakfasts and any other daytime food requests. With Mr Smith itching to hit the slopes for a few afternoon runs, we went down to our villa (number 5), where Maria tried in vain to explain the various amenities on offer. In vain only because our attention was consumed by what Mr Smith astutely referred to as the ‘living wallpaper’ around us: Cecil Peak, front and centre, the Remarkables to the left and Lake Wakatipu below.
Mr Smith recovered his composure more quickly than I and was soon whisked away in his snow gear by Corey, a big-mountain skier and relatively recent addition to the Azur team. Having eyed the Central Otago sauvignon blanc on ice, I contemplated spending the afternoon in the jaw-dropping bath with a wine glass for company. But instead I put on my hiking boots and headed off along the Sunshine Bay track for the 40-minute lakeside walk into Queenstown. The fragrant wet track in winter evoked a rainforest, which is an appropriate segue into my afternoon appointment, as I’d arranged to meet with local tea expert Michelle Casson to discuss all things leafy and infused. (I’m into tea.) After taste-testing numerous exotic concoctions and purchasing some must-have brewing paraphernalia, I scurried back to the lodge laden but feeling virtuous enough to now indulge in my bath fantasy.
The Azur bath experience would be hard to eclipse. The deep spa-for-two is set against large bi-fold windows that open to create a Japanese onsen-like effect by letting in the sense of the elements – in this case relentless rain – without the accompanying reality. From this stage I watched the drama of the weather unfold, from wild gusting winds that helped a Titanic-era steamboat, the TSS Earnslaw, on its voyage across the lake, to a misty fog that settled in to blanket nearby Cecil Peak. My emotions watching this natural theatre rode an equally wide range from blissful to exhilarated, especially when a bird attempted a sortie through the open windows. (The fact that Damien Rice was rotating with David Gray on the iPod might also explain the mood swings.) At any rate, as a psychologist, I can easily recommend this as the ultimate stress antidote.
Each Azur villa has clearly been designed to maximise the drama outside by keeping the interior luxe but subdued – Queenstown’s wilderness is the headline act in the decor here. The beechwood palette never competes for attention, and the furnishings, including the super king-size bed, are comfortable but refined. Photographic prints of mountains and water by Christchurch artist Doc Ross are both fitting and stunning. Topping off the comfort are heated tiles throughout and a gas fireplace in the lounge. But lest I give the misleading impression that the Azur is in any way ‘homely’, all the mod-cons are available, including wireless internet. Plus, there’s a deck for outdoor dining and lounging around when the weather better reflects the Sunshine Bay tag.
The thing that distinguishes the Azur from traditional lodges, and which apparently leads to some confusion among guests, is the decision not to cater dinner. Since Queenstown’s finest eateries are only five minutes away by car, this struck Mr Smith and I as reasonable. Instead, the Azur offers the best of both worlds. The first night we mingled with other guests and staff over pre-dinner drinks and canapés, where we gleaned local insights from Corey about skiing options and jostled with Elvis, the resident pooch, for prime position at the fireplace. Ready for dinner, we were then driven by Sharon to Wai restaurant in Queenstown where we feasted on seafood, lamb, cheese and more wine. Treating us like indulged teenagers, Sharon duly collected us after we’d called to say we’d finished. On our second night, when I shamefully couldn’t bring myself to leave the Azur grounds, we instead ordered in Thai, which Sharon brought to our villa (with complimentary pinot noir) and artfully assembled with candlelight at our own dining table.
We floated out the next day, resolving that it would be remiss of us not to return in the summer. Just to see what those snowcapped peaks look like when it’s a little warmer, of course.