3 Dream Places to Stay in New Zealand
Aotearoa (New Zealand) has some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world, which still feel remote and untouched. Wondering where to stay in New Zealand? Nestled amongst these landscapes are three unique and very different accommodations in off the beaten track locations, which we love to show off to our guests for our adventure tours. We think these are truly some of the best places to stay in New Zealand.
1. Lake Ohau Shearers Quarters
Winding your way along a dirt road skirting the picturesque Lake Ohau, you make your way up the pristine valley; mountains rising up either side, you eventually find civilization slipping away behind you and this unassuming lodge appear in the distance as you come up and over a rise in the road. Tucked away on a remote station (the New Zealand version of a ranch) at the head of Lake Ohau is where you will find this gem of a lodge. Season after season, without fail, this delightful hideout has been a favourite of our guests here at New Zealand Trails and here are some reasons why.
You can’t help but feel like you have been swept away from everything when you end up at Ohau Quarters. Surrounded by mountain ranges and rugged farmland, sheep grazing out the front door and a beautiful lake stretching out to the horizon, you can’t really ask for more from one place.
Unique stargazing opportunities
The Quarters are located in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. In 2012 a 4,300 square kilometre (2,672 square mile) area in the Aoraki/Mackenzie Country region was declared a dark sky reserve. This means that on a clear night, the stars will seem to stretch as far as the eye can see. With so little light pollution, constellations that you can find only in the Southern Hemisphere will appear before your eyes. Keen stargazers can spot everything from the Magellanic Clouds to the Milky Way, and not forgetting the iconic Southern Cross. Don’t forget to ask your guides to show you how to find true south using the stars.
Lack of digital distractions
The Quarters have purposefully provided a digital detox. With little to no cellphone reception (don’t worry, there is a landline available for emergencies) and no internet available, you will truly escape the world. Trust us when we say that you won’t miss it at all. With opportunities to go on scenic walks, soak in the hot tub, sip wine by the roaring fire or just sit and stare out the window, time and stress will just slip away here.
A lovable local pup
In one word: Stella. Stella is a rock-loving canine (yes you read that right...) who will steal your heart during your stay at the Quarters. A little Jack Russell that doesn’t bark and loves cuddles and games, she quickly becomes one of the highlights of our trip. She makes friends easily and as much as we would love her to travel with us on the rest of our journey, we always check to make sure no-one has stowed her away in the van! Stella’s parents are Mel and Mark who are the mangers of the Quarters. Locals who grew up on farms in the South Island, sometimes they join us for dinner and regale us with stories of growing up in remote areas of New Zealand.
Covering 8,322 hectares (20,564 acres), Lake Ohau Station’s terrain ranges across lush, green pastures around 550 metres (1,805 feet) above sea level, through to the dryer, golden high country up to 2,100 metres (6,890 feet). The area is steeped in history dating back to the 1850’s and you can see the remains of the old family homestead which lies a short walk from the Quarters. The rugged conditions of high country sheep farming meant that the station passed through several families and changed in size over the years. The triumphs and struggles of farming the Lake Ohau Station are laid out in a book called Frugal Country and Hard on the Boots by Eileen McMillan. This book is available to read during your stay at the Quarters.
2. Lochmara Lodge
Hidden amongst lush sub tropical rain-forests is a quirky and unique location. This wonderful lodge is found in the breathtakingly beautiful Queen Charlotte Sounds and is only accessible by water or by hiking or mountain biking via the famous Queen Charlotte Track. With no road access, Lochmara Lodge is a special treat only for those who work to get there.
On our Masterpiece tour it is a well deserved oasis after an exciting and scenic kayaking adventure. Soak in the wildlife as we explore the coastline on our way to Lochmara, watching moon jellyfish slide effortlessly under the kayak, to stingrays taking in the warmth of the sun on shallow rocks – it will be hard to keep moving with so many things to see. However, don’t think the adventures stop once you get to Lochmara Lodge... there is still plenty more to see and do!
Here are some of the great things you can do at Lochmara Lodge:
Admire the local wildlife
At Lochmara Lodge there is a Wildlife Recovery Program in action, to help to save New Zealand’s unique fauna (by staying at Lochmara we are indirectly contributing to these endeavours). In 2014 Lochmara Lodge started by helping injured wildlife and have developed from there to create breeding programs for endangered species, such as the Yellow and Red Crowned Kakariki (a native parrot), Weka (flightless bird) and the Marlborough Green Gecko as well as building nest boxes for Little Blue Penguins in the hopes that they will increase the population of this vulnerable species. Fortunately many of these birds can be seen during your stay at Lochmara Lodge – just watch your gear as you just might find some of it running away in the beak of a cheeky Weka!
Fantastic art galleries
Supporting local and international artists is a mainstay at Lochmara Lodge, and the way they have integrated this art is truly a part of the masterpiece. You can wander at your leisure through the art galleries that are located in the lodge area or you can truly immerse yourself in the landscape and explore the art trails looking for sculptures that range from the obvious, to the well hidden.
Everything from mosaics to traditional sculpture and the infamous “punga people” (faces carved into the trunks of tree ferns). This is a walk to delight the senses, searching for art amongst the rain-forest with the occasional treat of being visited by the various birdlife that frequent the area.
Unique swimming opportunities
Feeling a little more adventurous? Then put on your ‘togs’ (Kiwi for swimwear) and jump off the jetty for a brisk and invigorating swim. If you happen to bring a mask or goggles, then the aim of the game is marine spotting, from numerous small fish through to sting-rays darting away, swimming along the shore line offers plenty of places to explore for the curious and intrepid alike.
Famous New Zealand glowworms
The fun doesn’t end after dark. The banks beside the bush trails are home to glowworms, there are around five species that are only found in Australia and New Zealand, with the most well known being the Arachnocampa luminosa (it almost sounds like a Harry Potter spell...), also know as the New Zealand glow worm. Wander through the bush as it lights up like a night sky with these tiny little worms.
The glowworm is the larval stage of a native gnat and lasts between 6–12 months depending on available food. They attract food via the light they emit with the hopes that their prey will be caught on sticky threads (fondly nicknamed ‘fishing lines’). Hungry glowworms glow more brightly than those that have just fed and with the help of a flashlight you can see just how intricate this system of capturing prey truly is.
3. Okarito Beach House
Located in the sleepy little beachside village of Okarito this accommodation boasts a real ‘Kiwi’ flavour. This is what we Kiwi’s call a bach (holiday home) with a large dining room table for all of us to sit around, sipping on a tasty beverage and looking back at the incredible adventures we have had so far and what fun lies before us and the only thing to worry about in Okarito is who gets to sit in the throne!
Situated just off the tourist trail Okarito is typically a place where Kiwis go to have a holiday. With a population of around only 30 permanent residents, Okarito reached its peak population of around 4,000 during the gold rush of the mid to late 1800s, and you can still see remnants of that era with historic buildings scattered throughout the village.
Our guests love the Okarito Beach House for its homely atmosphere, its remote location and its Kiwi vibe, plus there are some great highlights to staying in Okarito.
New Zealand's largest unmodified wetland
The town of Okarito is conveniently located at the mouth of the Okarito Lagoon, which covers an area of 12 square kilometres (4.6 square miles). It is home to a number of native and endemic wading birds, including the rare Kotuku (Eastern Great Egret). The Kotuku is sacred to the Maori and to see a Kotuku even just once in a lifetime was considered to be good fortune (our New Zealand Trails guides must be very fortunate indeed) and to be likened to a Kotuku was paying someone a great compliment. If you are fortunate you will also get to see these great birds by kayak as part of our Masterpiece, Kiwi Classic and World Heritage tours.
Wild seas and epic sunsets
Experience the ‘Wild West Coast’ of New Zealand. This area is synonymous with wild seas and epic sunsets. With the beach only a short walk away, it is the perfect location to sit and watch the sun drop below the horizon and the stars take its place, or wander along the beach looking for unique driftwood or colourful stones.
With such a small population it is a surprise that Okarito is home to some famous names – probably the most notable is Kerry Hume, who won the Booker Prize in 1985 for her novel ‘The Bone People’. Another notable local is landscape photographer Andris (Andy) Apse. Andy showcases his incredible landscapes in his gallery in Okarito and if you visit his gallery you may just get to meet him. Andy will usually talk about the painstakingly precise methods that go into creating these images and answer any questions you may have. Andy also has an incredible personal tale of his journey to New Zealand after being displaced by World War II from his homeland of Latvia. For those who love historical biographies you can read about Andy’s story in the Ron Crosby book ‘Andris, Where Are You?’
Okarito is also home to our rarest of 5 species of Kiwi, the Rowi (Okarito Brown Kiwi) with their breeding habitat located in the forest surrounding the Okarito Lagoon. There are only around 450 birds left and programs such as Operation Nest Egg have been working hard to help the Kiwi come back from the brink of extinction. If you are really lucky, sometimes you can hear their call at night time from the deck of the Beach House, but for those night owls (as Kiwi are nocturnal) who are keen to try their luck seeing these elusive birds in the wild, there are Kiwi tours available. The key to good Kiwi spotting is being quiet, dressing warm, having patience and most of all a great deal of luck, don’t be upset if you don’t see a Kiwi as most New Zealanders have never seen one in the wild either.
Meet the locals while wandering through the village, most of the village is familiar with New Zealand Trails (with our Masterpiece, World Heritage and Kiwi Classic tours all staying here) and quite often like to stop and have a yarn and hear about your adventures in New Zealand. Sometimes locals will join us for dinners at the Beach House, this location will really feel like a home away from home.
If you are interested in visiting Andy Apse’s gallery or doing a Kiwi tour then make sure to give your New Zealand Trails guides advanced notice, so you have a greater chance of being able to participate in these activities.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, as there are many great locations we frequent on our tours, these are just a few of our favourites and we are sure they will be yours too.
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