LucireLucire home page / Fashion / / Volante: travel features and news / Living / Lucire: Insider blog
News headlines / Lucire Reader Forum / Subscribe to the print editions of Lucire
Lucire Community 
Lucire feedback 
Subscribe to the Lucire Insider feed
Subscribe to Lucire

volante: new zealand

Splendid Isolation: Blanket Bay
Splendid Isolation: Blanket Bay

Blanket Bay in the Otago region is rumoured to be a celebrity getaway. Jack Yan sees a five-star boutique resort
photographed by Douglas Rimington

From 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 Piha.

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 of accents.

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 (

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 worth it.

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 that.

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 or not.

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 Concert Programme, 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 them down.

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 rooms.


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 Otago speciality.

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 school run.

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, or telephone 64 3 442-9442. Email






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

Related articles
Lucire 2005 | The Global Fashion Magazine The wild west
New Zealand’s west coast, with its stunning Pancake Rocks, is a destination for the adventurer by Jo Donnelly
photographed by the author and courtesy Hydrangea Cottages
Lucire 2004 | The Global Fashion Magazine Down south where I am free
We take in Dunedin and rediscover where the real, fair dinkum New Zealand attitude resides by Jack Yan
photographed by the author