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Four years of hard work has paid off for a Lake Pukaki couple after their lodge has been officially recognised by Qualmark as a New Zealand Luxury Lodge.
Luke and Kaye Paardekooper, who own Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat, were thrilled to receive the accreditation, which has seen the lodge join an elite group of around 30 properties throughout the country with the accreditation, including Blanket Bay, The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs and The Farm at Cape Kidnappers.
Tourism New Zealand describes lodges in this category as, “in a class of their own. Luxury Lodges are extremely accommodating and cater to the most discerning visitor. These unique properties offer the pleasures of things from spa treatments, helicopter flights, wilderness adventures and more – almost whatever your heart desires. A New Zealand Luxury Lodge is utterly luxurious and offers an exclusive, unforgettable holiday experience”.
The Retreat is located under the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky and beside Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Park.
The Paardekooper’s story began in 2010 when they were based in Wellington where their family and events management business are located.
“We wanted to develop a more relaxed lifestyle. The criteria we used to evaluate our options were in hindsight pretty romantic, we were looking for mountains, a view over water and snowfall in winter,” Mrs Paardekooper said.
After a long search and on their way back from a tramping trip on the Routeburn, they detoured through the Mackenzie to look at a piece of land beside Lake Pukaki.
They fell in love with the vast landscape of the basin and the piece of land met their criteria, despite being covered in pine trees, with no roads, water or power.
Planning permission to build was difficult to obtain and it took them 18 months to gain approval to build on the special site overlooking Lake Pukaki towards Aoraki Mt Cook and the southern alps.
Initially they commuted between Wellington and the Mackenzie to arrange and build the Homestead, however by September 2012, the pace of building had increased and the distance to commute became too much.
“So we decided to live onsite and Luke built a small insulated shed as our sleeping hut and another small shed as the office, dining and living room,” Mrs Paardekooper said.
“With an outside kitchen, toilet, bath and shower, we lived in true pioneering spirit for eight months.
“When you have no running water, electricity, or proper toilet facilities, each new development is so exciting. For me, a highlight of this time was installing the water tank that links to the artesian water supply (fresh running water from 100 meters underground) with our daughter Kim, her husband Keith and their five children, helping to install the water tank. We now had fresh water on tap.”
Designed by the Paardekoopers, the Homestead is passively thermal optimizing the architecture for heating and cooling of the building.
Quality materials such as Perrin and Rowe tapware, Winkelmann tiles, sandstone flooring, plush fabrics and New Zealand rimu and cedar were used in the design.
Mr Paardekooper said they wanted to craft the Homestead themselves so it could be a part of them. "As well as constructing, painting and decorating, we also learnt how to tile, spending hours each night laying the very beautiful Winkelmann tiles (each pattern has 21 individual tiles) for three bathrooms. This was a great way to get to know each other.”
By November 2013, Kaye and Luke had moved into the Homestead and were ready to offer bed and breakfast accommodation, warmly greeting their first guests with just a little trepidation.
The second stage of the project was the construction of the two bedroom Ashley Mackenzie Villa and Private Spa, based on the same design as the Homestead, and located on the clifftop overlooking Lake Pukaki.
The couple had a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve - to create a luxurious and secluded place where travellers could take time out to relax and rejuvenate and experience one of the most beautiful and peaceful locations in New Zealand.
“In our own travels we like to have opportunities for physical relaxation and decided it was a priority to provide these opportunities for our guests. We developed the private Fantail Spa for relaxation, the tennis court and walking tracks for low impact recreation,” Mrs Paardekooper said.
By October 2014, the Villa and Spa were completed and all that was left was to name the facilities. “That was an easy decision, we named the villa after our two beautiful granddaughters, Ashley Storey and Mackenzie Gwerder and the Fantail Spa after the small birds (piwakawaka) that flit around the buildings”.
Seeking to accredit and authenticate their facility, they found the New Zealand Luxury Lodge qualification to be the one that best reflected what their guests were experiencing at the Retreat.
“We have loved welcoming and hosting guests from all over the world and their feedback about the Retreat and the surrounding area has been amazing. Choosing The Mackenzie was, in hindsight, the absolutely best decision we could have made."
“For us, the Luxury Lodge qualification gives us confidence that we are on the right track.”