News & Reviews Rest of the World New Zealand Review: Matakauri Lodge, Queenstown

Matakauri Lodge, Queenstown
Room type: Deluxe Suite
Duration: 21st > 23rd March, 2018

Arriving into Queenstown is enough of an adventure that it could well belong to the endless Lord of the Ring reminders you receive thereafter.  As we descended between the mountain range that would make up the view for the next 3 days, the airport seemed to appear like a ghost through the fog.  Denzel Washington on smack could have given us a smoother landing.  Like a thump in the night, we suddenly found ourselves on dry land – yet in a wet, dreary looking New Zealand.  It is no surprised the English were so fond of this country; it was just like being at home – the end of Summer, but inevitably raining and not willing to surrender any of the misery.  Matakauri tried to keep up English traditions, but not in punctuality, for arriving was like into a ghost town –  there was no one waiting to collect us, leaving me to frantically check I’d not made some great balls-up.  Not that I’d ever do such a thing.  10 minutes later someone shows up, and within 20 minutes we’re being greeted at Matakauri Lodge.

Matakauri is so English, that it had all the same traits as our countryside property, with the exception that the food was superb.  You know what I mean: the prices slightly too high, rooms that are lacking class; the clientele being older than most of the nearby lakes.  There is much to enjoy about this property, but the interiors are definitely not part of it.  The furniture is the type that your nan would buy, thinking that she’s keeping with the times, whilst it’s already 30 years out of date.  It very much reminded me of the stale countryside properties I’m forever reluctant to visit that my country offers up in abundance, such as Whatley Manor.   But there’s something quaint here, helped by the manager offering a masterclass in personalised service.

Matakauri is the latest property within Robertson Lodges – the child of US billionaire, Julian Robertson.  Joining the gang in 2009, it now enjoys Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs as sister properties – both on the north island.  Having just 12 suites and a 4 bedroom Owners Cottage, it is as small and intimate as you may imagine.  With this few rooms, it should be expected that they can tailor the experience for the guest.  Setup a room perfectly, understand food preferences, suggest activities and focus on the guest experience.  Yet I assure you, it is the rarity.  Everything was beautifully executed here.  The manager even gave us a show around with a printed out list of all my preferences, so she could kinda pretend to know it all.

Excluding one miserable receptionist that must have accidentally won a coupon to work there for the day, the service here was exemplary.  I really appreciated how they thought of their guests, such as offering free transfers into town (approx. 10 minute trip), and providing a card to give to a taxi driver on the way back so it can be charged straight to your room.  During the evening, turndown included tomorrow’s weather and recommended activities.  With the weather as it was, the activity list was just a blank piece of paper and a crayon provided to fill in the rest.

Stare at this until something good happens.

For such a small property, the facilities aren’t bad either.  I just wish walking to any of them during the rain wasn’t like ice skating in sandals.  Their wellness facilities offer a spa, outdoor pool, sauna, and, of course my personalise favourite a gym.  Only kidding, I mean a hot tub.  There is a gym, but I get hives when I see one.  This is the only part of the hotel where WiFi was not available, so I could not last more than 8 minutes.

Our chosen package included daily breakfast, a 5 course dinner, pre-dinner drinks and canapés, and a minibar excluding wines and spirits.  Dinner is offered between 6-9pm, most likely so the majority of guests can be tucked in by 7.  As with everywhere we went in New Zealand, the food quality was superb.  I truly could not fault it and thought it was the best of our trip – until we went onto Cape Kidnappers.  Breakfast offered a small buffet and a la carte.  The only challenge was lunch, where they seem to expect you to eat elsewhere as it’s restricted to sandwiches and other uneventful food.  Luckily Queenstown offers plenty of options.

The only reason I fail to love Matakauri, is just the feel of the place, and in particular the rooms.  The first impressions were not great, and they never changed.  Even though the space offered is actually rather generous, I didn’t feel any sense of luxury in any of them.  The surroundings are what is luxurious here, but if I wanted beautiful surroundings then I could stay in any number of lodges nearby.  I expected better, and I feel they owe it to themselves and their group name to offer better.  The materials were not impressive, such as old sofas and cheap tables, with poor attention to detail on the furnishings.  The selling point: the view, but you could not see it from the bedroom without a telescope, so you would either have to be in the living room or balconies.  The only element that felt classy was the fire place in the living room, plus the TV being hidden behind a painting on the wall.

It is the type of place that if the weather is good you do nothing, whereas if it’s bad you do nothing.  Except maybe nitpick over everything.  With the fog having absorbed the surroundings, it was not prospering in the area of enjoyment.  The weather was as disappointing as a piss-up at a supervised monastery, so our only moment of enjoyment was during the final morning – a hike trail that revealed the beauty of what is nearby.

Matakauri is worth going to for the views, sticking around for the food and enjoying for the silence.  There’s room for improvement, and if it comes it will be a thing of beauty.

I awoke on the final morning to see sunshine. Not since Jack Nicolson in The Shining has someone ran around a hotel in such a frenzy.  This time just shooting pictures instead of people.

The Good

  • Excellent food
  • Slick service

The Bad

  • Already feels in need of a refurb

The Luxurious

  • The scenery


If you wish to be in Queenstown, your choices are Matakauri or Blanket Bay.  As we didn’t have time to check out Blanket Bay, but I have to write a conclusion, I will have to spin a bottle.

Right, Matakauri it is.  Congrats to all the participants.

I would not go to Queenstown for Matakauri, but if you want to explore the region, it offers a solid, without being entirely spectacular, option.

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 17th Sep '18

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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