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Hot spot: Minaret Station, New Zealand

Jeff Chu

 

What is it? A two-year-old luxury camp on New Zealand's South Island that will forever spoil camping elsewhere for you. Nestled deep in a pristine valley on the edge of the Southern Alps (far right), Minaret Station, which is part of a working farm, is so remote it can be reached only by helicopter.

When you say "camp" … We mean a five-star hotel room that just happens to have (industrial-grade) canvas walls. Each of the four heated, opulently appointed "tents" (right) houses a king-size bed topped with plush fur throws (made from non-native possums that are shot on the ranch), while the tiled bathrooms come with waterfall showers and heated towel rails. Wall-to-wall sheepskin rugs (also from Minaret) cushion every footstep and just outside your door is a wraparound deck with a private hot tub - the best place from which to enjoy the views.

How far off the grid are we, exactly? While there's decent Wi-fi throughout the camp, the rooms have no televisions. And, unless you bring your satphone, you'll get no cellular signals.

How did the camp end up here? Precedent. The Wallis family, which owns and operates Minaret Station, figured it was a good spot because a herders' hut had stood in the same place here for decades.

What is there to do? Nothing, if you're feeling lazy. Active types can tour the farm or the nearby fjords; hunt; fish; and, in winter, heli-ski. You could just sit by the fireplace and read or watch the sheep wander the valley. The helicopter can take guests on a tour of wineries (right) and there are guided hikes through Lord of the Rings-like landscapes (if you trek to the top of the nearest mountain - only four guests have made the arduous five-hour, off-trail hike - you'll be rewarded with spectacular views and, if your legs have had enough, a helicopter trip back to camp). After sunset, there's no better place than your deck to spot a shooting star or drink in the sparkling spectacle of the Milky Way.

What about food and drink? You'll be in the gifted culinary hands of chef Paulina Corvalan Tapia, who will cater to your preferences, though you'd be wise to let her have her gourmet way. Her cuisine is inflected by the flavours of her native Chile (never say no if she's serving flan for dessert) with nods to East Asia (her stir-fried abalone with ginger and scallion would satisfy Hong Kong's most finicky foodies). The well-stocked bar offers a taste New Zealand's famed vineyards. And you can dine at the communal table, alfresco on the terrace outside or in privacy on your own deck.

Where does the food come from? Almost all the meat - lamb, beef and venison - comes from the farm. If you choose to take a helicopter excursion to the West Coast, a diver might go with you; while you're strolling the beach, he'll dive for rock lobster and abalone for dinner that night. But many of the provisions do have to be flown in.

That's doesn't sound very eco-friendly. No, but a nearby waterfall powers the camp, via a mini-hydroelectric plant, for much of the year. (There's a back-up generator for the dry season.)

What's the bottom line? Minaret Station has a two-night minimum stay. The first two are NZ$3,500 (HK$21,500) per night; each subsequent night costs NZ$1,950. Lodging, all meals and drinks, helicopter transfers from Wanaka Airport, the services of a personal guide and taxes are included. For more information, visit www.minaretstation.com

 

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