Bay in the Otago region is rumoured to be a celebrity getaway.
Jack Yan sees a ﬁve-star
Splendid Isolation: Blanket Bay
photographed by Douglas
issue 16 of Lucire
AFTER 30 YEARS,
you’d think you’ve seen it all. Don’t leave town till you see the
country, and all that rot. The beaches of the Coromandel. Otago
Harbour. The Massey Memorial in Wellington. The windy road out to
Blanket Bay proved me wrong.
New Zealanders do boutique accommodation either
marginally well, or they beat everyone’s socks off. There seems
to be no middle ground. Blanket Bay falls into the latter category.
The preview was already amazing. I flew in to
Queenstown from Christchurch, to the tourist-resort town that I
had largely avoided since my arrival in Aotearoa in 1976. Queenstown
was what Aspen once was, I was told, and we all know what happened
to Aspen. No Coloradans seem to live there, unless you were particularly
rich. And the only rich Coloradan I knew of was Tim Allen.
However, the approach was one of the best I’ve
had. The Southern Alps made for a stunning view, and while in my
heart I knew there were taller mountains in Switzerland, these were
still a source of pride. For they were a mere, short plane ride
from our Wellington head office. I didn’t have to pay a €40
road tax at the Swiss border to see them.
John Grant at Venture
Southland had kindly arranged a Peugeot from Invercargill and
brought it up. Even though the Blanket Bay story was outside the
Southland jurisdiction—the property is technically part of the Otago
region—he was kind enough to have arranged the car. Photographer
Douglas Rimington and I filled up the vehicle with our gear, while
giving a lift to an elderly stranger who we spotted enquiring about
to get into Queenstown.
John had briefly explained that Blanket Bay was
further north. We would have to go through the resort town, now
so filled with American-style hotels (see Lucire March 2006),
its shops staffed by itinerant foreign workers speaking a multitude
There was one road to Glenorchy, winding and
well suited to the skilful. The editor-in-chief had warned me of
potential speed traps, though I seemed to have been lucky enough
to avoid them. The lake passed by serenely on our left, though the
road itself needs some concentration.
With Blanket Bay being one of the most exclusive
resorts in this part of the world, chauffeur-driven Ford LTDs,
helicopter rides and light aircraft and private jet charters are
catered for. Pacificjets presently flies from various locations,
including Australia, with prices on application (www.blanketbay.com/pacificjets.htm).
The 35-minute projected drive time on Blanket
Bay’s website from Queenstown was somewhat optimistic—perhaps this
is the time expected with clear traffic in a chauffeur-driven LTD,
but we took slightly longer in the Peugeot. But the drive was well
It was as though we emerged from a forest to
a clearing: ‘Blanket Bay’ appeared tastefully on a short wall, to
which an electric gate was hinged. It opened slowly, detecting our
presence. And we entered the promised land.
THE PRIVATE DRIVE down to the Blanket
Bay chalets already gave us a sense that we weren’t in Kansas any
more. The 45-minute drive to the gates was pleasant, but after entering
the gates, the air seemed to be clearer, the light brighter. Logic
would suggest this was just imagination, or a clouded recall, but
we were away from trees and hills as we headed toward the property.
Beyond the chalets was Lake Wakatipu, with mountains further beyond
A golf cart was parked at the main gates. I put
the Peugeot next to it, and walked inside to find Philip Jenkins,
the property’s manager.
Jenkins and his team were waiting, but we had
arrived some hours late due to a delayed flight. On seeing we were
there, the staff seemed to burst into activity, getting our luggage
from the car, while I briefly signed in.
I discussed how I found the property—a lengthy
story of friends of friends. Actress Jennifer
Siebel, a friend of mine and a Stanford alumna (see Lucire
June 2005), was acquainted with Angie Ruiz, a colleague who had
worked on one film with her. Angie’s husband Mark, a Stanford alumnus,
was friends with Greg Tusher, whose parents own Blanket Bay. Greg
got in touch with his father, who in turn contacted Mr Jenkins.
And yours truly was a supporter of the Hoover Institution and had
a few connections with the university.
Tom Tusher, Greg’s Dad, first found Blanket Bay
in the 1970s, when he was president of Levi Strauss. He wanted it
to be a place where he could retire to and intended to build a bach,
but the plans for the 65,000 acre sheep station grew. It was a wise
decision, because Blanket Bay deserves to be shared.
Architect Jim McLaughlin was responsible for
the design of the property, made in native timber (as well as some
from overseas) and reflecting the character of the area—a far cry
from the garish architecture of Queenstown’s Americanized resorts.
McLaughlin ensured that the chalets and state rooms all had views
of the lake. The five lakeside rooms, three lodge suites and four
chalet suites all took advantage of the lake and mountains.
Jenkins took us for a brief tour of the property
first while the Peugeot and the luggage were put away. It was also
briefing time for lensman Rimington, over the appropriate manner
of photographing the property. For instance, the Great Room, at
which guests would sometimes gather, was not to be photographed,
except when empty. We were to be discreet, unobtrusive—a request
that we honoured.
Privacy is assured at Blanket Bay. Rumour had
it at the office that this was where Mr Pitt and his former wife
spent their honeymoon, but no one would confirm it. I received a
polite no-comment from the waitress the next morning during breakfast;
tabloid journalists could look elsewhere. In fact, I doubt if any
tabloid journalist could ever venture there: there is too much private
property extending eastward, so much that even a telephoto lens
would find it difficult to be invasive; leaving only frogmen to
do the deed, and wet cameras just don’t operate quite as well.
The only information I gleaned was that celebrities
would be wise to choose Blanket Bay, whether they are the Pitts
There are still signs that this was once going
to be a bach. The Den, an upstairs room, had a bar, but also a model
ship and books that suggested this was an intimate home shared with
those willing to pay for the privilege. The Great Room was decked
out with seasonal decorations, but it could be a larger lounge at
a hunting lodge—indeed, the style reflected the lounges in the four
private chalets. I would write to Angie later that the setting reminded
me of a Swiss chalet, but there was still something distinctively
New Zealand about it all. Perhaps it was the space in the Great
Room, space that made best use of the sharper natural light found
in the antipodes.
We went downstairs and were shown several other
rooms: the Wine Cave was an intimate place where wines and food
could be sampled. But the piece de résistance was the spa pool,
with doors that opened up to show the lake and mountains. It was
a pity that I was there as an unaccompanied bachelor, not that I
would have had a chance to use the spa bath. After advising Doug
that he could shoot it later, we were never able to return: it proved
popular with guests, continually.
The tour of the main building completed, Jenkins
took us to my suite via golf cart. He had opted for a suite, the
middle offering of the three types of accommodation, so I could
get a reasonable feel for the amenities— in case one day I got rich
enough to get a chalet.
His background was interesting. A Kenyan, Jenkins
had trained at Sandhurst and served in the British Army. He did
not feel that the military experience related directly to hospitality,
though as with all experience it gave him a sense of discipline.
He had worked on yacht charters for around 12 years, and was instrumental
with the success of other resorts in New Zealand, leading him to
manage Blanket Bay.
The golf cart was just wide enough for the path
leading to the suite, though we checked out Blanket Bay’s lap pool
first. The signage, in a humanist Swiss typeface, reminded me more
of Europe again, and upon entering the suite I had the same impression.
This self-contained suite featured large windows
and doors looking out toward the lake, the best view I have ever
had staying anywhere in the country. It was beaten probably, and
only, by another suite on the property, or maybe the spa room. It
would take travel to a secluded Pacific island to get a better view.
Classical music played—a useful trick these days
for upmarket properties. New Zealand was perhaps blessed with the
a radio station that had nearly continuous classical music, though
a few other pre-set channels could be selected, as Jenkins demonstrated.
In my usual habit I switched off the music after Jenkins’ departure,
and that evening I would switch on to cnn.
The bed in the suite looked inviting, and while
I was tempted to rest on it, I knew I had to keep it pristine for
the photography—for now. A gas fireplace roared—softly crackled
might be a better adjective. The bathroom had its own surprise:
a shower that doubled as a steam room, which I was able to put to
use later that night.
Broadband is available in the room, which allowed
me to stay in touch with the office. In other words, it combined
the best of an isolated getaway with modern features, which is exactly
what the traveller wants—whether he has Jennifer Aniston in his
bedroom or not. A large television was also present, on which celebrity
honeymooners might be able to see whether the paparazzi had tracked
I was unable to join Philip and his team for
dinner, due to an engagement at Peregrine
Winery some 60 minutes south. However, Blanket Bay’s Corsican
food and beverage manager Eric Contrucci and former New Zealand
Chef of the Year Jason Dell are known for world-class food. Even
while we were working on the story, we were offered food by Contrucci.
Blanket Bay is proud of its cuisine, its menu changing nightly.
Blanket Bay’s guests typically do not remain
at the property, and activities from fly-fishing to golf are arranged.
However, with my short time there, I saw little point indulging
in anything off-site. I could easily imagine having a romantic weekend,
or week, there, never needing to depart. A civilized stay indoors,
the occasional jaunt to the Great Room for conversation, popping
in to the Den or the private dining room for a meal. The Wine Cave
would be intimate, candlelit. Or the outside terrace, where dinner
is often served.
There is a gym, of course, as well as a games’
room and, for the overstressed publishers among us, massage treatment
BREAKFAST AT BLANKET
BAY was a pleasant experience. The
menu is comprehensive, and after having experienced some of the
world’s best pancakes in Dunedin, I had to see whether it was an
It probably is. The fruit-filled, sauce-rich
pancakes came fairly quickly, while the next table of rich Californians
chatted among themselves. I could walk about while I waited, if
I wished, checking out the different westward views of the property.
The mountains, at that time of the year, did
not have much snow on them, but still looked spectacular, rising
from Lake Wakatipu. I can only imagine how enticing it must appear
in winter, making Blanket Bay appealing year-round: at the ends
of the year, its majority American clientèle would escape
from the winter to the solitude of the place; in the middles, skiing
holidayers, including some from Australia, but still largely from
the us, would come for a getaway.
It was with some sadness that I knew my next
accommodation on this tour would be inferior to Blanket Bay. And
that I get these opportunities to visit these places but as a bachelor.
I spied the Peugeot parked in the car park as
I headed back to my suite, noting it was parked next to a BMW
X5, appropriately dirty from a prior
ski season. I wasn’t sure which guest had this vehicle, but thought
it was appropriate to see it used on Otago mountains and not the
As I said my goodbyes to Judy Bartlett, the guest
relations’ manager (Jenkins had a family appointment), I remarked
how serene the place was. And I could not spot any town or city
near there. This was splendid isolation in paradise; close enough
to the resort town of Queenstown and close enough to home—but just
far away to make it a true destination.
Blanket Bay can be reached via www.blanketbay.com,
or telephone 64 3 442-9442. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.