I think we can all agree that luxury travel is great. It’s something we all want, whether it be a five-star hotel in Lake Como or a private villa in Hawaii.
That said, there’s a shift happening in the luxury accommodation space, where we’re seeing more high-end properties, offering travellers unique experiences that extend beyond an in-house butler and elegant decor.
This brings me to now. I’m travelling along The Great Alpine Highway, wedged between Springfield and Arthur’s Pass, with Andrew Cullen, the manager of Flockhill Lodge — our destination.
Flockhill Lodge is New Zealand’s newest luxury accommodation, situated in the diverse high country, just an hour and a half’s drive away from Christchurch. It’s been dubbed the chicest sheep station by publications around the world, but it’s much more than that.
The Dalai Lama once called this section of New Zealand “the spiritual centre of the universe,” said Cullen as we turned off the highway into the driveway. Flockhill Lodge sits on a working sheep station occupying 36,000 acres in the Craigieburn Valley. The property encompasses snow-capped mountains, winding rivers, glassy lakes, and mythical landscapes that were featured in The Chronicles of Narnia.
For the next few days, it was all mine.
The Flockhill homestead commands uninterrupted views from its hilltop position. Completed in 2019, the homestead was originally built for its American owners, but then became phase one of an expansion plan, which includes building 14 chalets, a spa, and a restaurant on the property. But for now, I’m only the second person to stay at Flockhill Lodge. “Luxury is something New Zealand does well,” says Cullen, who is no stranger to the luxury industry, having previously managed Aman properties.
The long barn-style building was thoughtfully designed by local architects Warren and Mahoney to capture views from every corner. The floor-to-ceiling windows provide clear, sweeping views of Sugarloaf Mountain down to Lake Pearson from the cosy living room, bedrooms, and dens. Its thin, long shape, blends into the hilltop, without disturbing the natural landscape, while taking advantage of the mountain views at either end.
A stay here doesn’t come cheap, at $ 18,000 NZD per night and a minimum two-night stay. Although, the entire homestead, which has four bedrooms, is exclusively yours to call home. This includes a private chef and attendant, who will cook a gourmet breakfast, a four-course dinner, nightly canapes and homemade snacks throughout the day. You can also choose to opt for a picnic or family-style dinner. The homestead’s wine cellar is deliciously stocked with a range of wines from New Zealand and around the globe.
In the bedroom, you will find a deep soaking tub, with views (of course). There is a king-size bed, ideal for two people, and all the amenities you would expect in a five-star hotel, and then some. The private terrace is a bonus. Although the homestead terrace has a tepid pool, a hot spa, and a fire pit. The hot spa is the perfect place to watch the stars at night. Thanks to its remote location, light pollution is next to nothing here. When the sun dips below the peak, a blanket of stars appears like magic. It’s a serene moment to savour.
Flockhill lodge fulfils the unique experience quota from the homestead alone, but it’s the moment you step outside, that you realise Flockhill Lodge is more than just a high-end stay, it’s a reprieve from the ordinary.
My first ‘experience’, as they call it, is a journey to The Flockhill Boulders. The last place you would expect to find world-class rock climbing would be on a sheep station, but here we are, standing atop an irregular limestone boulder, taking in the vista before us. My guide Markos, who has a sheep son, Quinoa, is an avid hiker, climber, and all-around adventurer, so I know I’m in good company. Cullen dropped us off as close as he could before the land became too rough. From here, we walked along the ridge, stepping through tussock grass, and enjoying a birds-eye view of just a section of the sheep station. It’s hard to believe this was only a tiny slice of the property.
At the top of the ridge, we emerged from the tall grass to a scene of countless boulders, scattered on the side of the hill. We spent an hour weaving and squeezing through boulders. From here, you can look across the mountain ranges, basins, limestone outcrops and pastures. It’s beyond breathtaking. Just as I’m coming to terms with the fact that I will never have a better view, we reach the rendezvous point, where Markos’ partner Lizette is waiting, with a picnic table perched on a hill. We sat, we ate, we drank margaritas, we laughed, and we watched the sun dip below the valley, exploding the sky with pinks and oranges, before giving into a starry sky.
This is just one of many unique and once-in-a-lifetime experiences afforded to guests of Flockhill Lodge. The property is home to Cave Stream, a subterranean stream disgorging from a 30-metre cliff. It meanders and twists between the two entrances, forcing adventurers to brave chilled deepening water, climbing over smoothed boulders and waterfalls, in the pitch black. The cave ends in a deep pool with a three-metre-high waterfall, which you have to climb to exit.
Although, not all experiences will have you abseiling into dark caves. You can embark on fishing expeditions for salmon and trout or pedal around the station on an e-bike, which will take you to the furthest reaches of the property, passing by curious cattle, sheep, and local wildlife. The possibilities are endless. Want to picnic on a glacier? No problem, they will organise a helicopter to pick you up from the lodge and set you on the Ivory Glacier for a picnic for an unforgettable experience.
Flockhill, combined with its friendly guardians, guides, and unique landscape, is proof a luxury stay doesn’t need to be boring and predictable. It can be a rugged adventure.