If you admired the natural beauty depicted in the first filmed installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you will love seeing the real thing in New Zealand, where the Oscar-winning film was shot. And there's a lot more to love. New Zealand's wines, especially its whites, are winning top prizes in international competitions. And its outdoor delights--beaches, ski slopes, trout streams, vineyards--are increasingly within reach of luxury accommodations. During a recent visit, my wife and I discovered three sumptuous lodges worth the 12-hour flight.
Blanket Bay Lodge
A stunning interpretation of an Alpine resort, Blanket Bay faces Lake Wakatipu, 35 miles north of Queenstown on the South Island. The nearby Humboldt Mountains, snowcapped year round, are known as the Southern Alps and offer excellent heli-skiing in the winter (which corresponds to the U.S. summer). My wife and I took a helicopter tour of the mountains, jet-boated up the Dart River, ascended 6,000 ft. in a hot-air balloon and trekked undisturbed in a vast beech forest. We also toured one of New Zealand's most impressive wine regions, Central Otago.
Open two years, Blanket Bay is the dream project of Tom Tusher, 61, a former president of Levi Strauss. The lodge's nine spacious rooms and four secluded chalets offer spectacular views of the lake and the mountains. Each room and chalet features a private terrace, the finest linens and a huge bathroom with sauna. Blanket Bay's five-course dinners include such native specialties as venison medallions and scallops from the Tasman Sea. And the all- New Zealand wine list features delicious reds from Central Otago. Visit blanketbay. com for more information.
Nestled in a 17-acre park bordering the trout-filled Waikato River on the North Island, the Huka is a plush refuge for royals (Queen Elizabeth II visited in March) and fly-fishing enthusiasts. Anglers return year after year to explore the dozens of trout streams that flow into nearby Lake Taupo. Guides should be booked in advance.
The lodge offers sophisticated dinners that include such local delicacies as organic salads, rainbow trout and kiwi sorbet. The wine list includes top-rated vintages from the Hawkes Bay region, just a short helicopter hop toward the Pacific coast. Want more? Visit hukalodge.com
The Lodge at Paratiho Farms
Like Blanket Bay and Huka, this lodge, located near Nelson on the north end of the South Island, offers superb accommodations. Each of the six private suites is outfitted with computerized mood lighting and a wet bar. The main lodge features a day spa and a collection of modern sculpture and paintings by New Zealand and American artists. Be sure to visit the neighboring Nelson and Marlborough wine regions, including Neudorf and Cloudy Bay wineries, both of which welcome visitors. Hiking enthusiasts rave about the 30-mile coastal track at nearby Abel Tasman park. Learn more at paratiho.co.nz.