In Good Charlotte’s 2002 lyrical opus, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, it’s suggested that the ultra-wealthy are “always complaining.” After having experienced, for a few short days, this exact lifestyle, I can safely assure you that the one per cent are not complaining. They’re too busy drinking and heli-skiing their way around the South Island of New Zealand.
The Elms on Lake Hayes is a new private luxury villa complex from The Imperium Group, which owns a collection of boutique hotels and superyachts (as well as Melbourne’s recently opened beachfront diner Elwood Bathers. It’s owned by Andrew and Sarah Cox, who have their headquarters in Melbourne.
The group’s most iconic property is Eichardt’s Private Hotel, which it purchased in 2010. The Queenstown institution rests at the edge of Lake Wakatipu with inarguably the region’s most breathtaking views of The Remarkables mountain range. The penthouse suite, which sits above a Louis Vuitton store, has a nightly price tag of $10,000 NZD, paid happily by guests that include tech billionaires, Saudi royalty and Hollywood A-listers.
General manager James Cavanagh gestures casually to the view of the sunset-kissed mountains behind him. “As you can probably guess,” he says, “it’s a pretty easy sell”.
The newest addition to the Group’s collection of luxury accommodation is The Elms on Lake Hayes, a three-storey villa nearby. It was designed by Patterson Architects (who also designed New Zealand’s first Aesop store) and shares the spectacular views of its older sibling. But the jaw-dropping alpine vistas quickly take a back seat once you step inside.
The interiors, by Auckland designer Virginia Fisher, are akin to a Grand Designs-themed dream. The Kardashian-esque kitchen is so exquisite, its knick-knacks so artfully curated, that I begin to suspect they’re decorative. The foyer and main hallways are wide enough that you could maneuver a Bentley from suite to suite. There’s even a doggy door, through which your designer pooch may come and go as they please. And in the master bathroom a freestanding tub allows you to gaze out upon the mirror-like surface of Lake Hayes through enormous glass windows while you lather up with Molton Brown skincare.
There’s a very real temptation to plonk in front of the fireplace clad solely in the supplied robe and drink local whiskey ‘til your cheeks glow red. After a few of those whiskies, there’s an even bigger temptation to take dozens of selfies while posing on the couch, wearing the possum-fur rug like a regal cape. I assume.
Rates start at $6000 NZD per night, with a personal butler available for another $600 per day, and a private chef for $500 per meal. And that’s just for one floor of the villa, which has three bedrooms. Many guests, Cavanagh says, opt to take over all three storeys.
Guests of The Elms are encouraged to partake in the adrenaline-packed activities for which New Zealand is famed internationally – some accessible only by helicopter. Wanaka-based helicopter company The Alpine Group tailors heli-experiences for guests.
“People think that heli-skiing is just for extreme sports junkies, but it doesn’t have to be,” Alpine Group’s David Hiatt tells me from the cockpit of a six-seater AS350 Squirrel helicopter as we float serenely past snow-dappled peaks. “Half the fun is getting up to the mountain in the chopper and cruising your way down. We have plenty of beginner-level skiers and snowboarders who regularly heli-ski.”
The Alpine Group also operates Minaret Station, an ultra-secluded alpine chalet. It’s tucked high up on a mountain plateau that was once a mighty glacier, so you can only get there by helicopter. The station has three lodges, runs entirely off the land (and strategic helicopter grocery runs), and landing on the helipad feels much like the swooping camerawork you’d see in the final scene of a Bond film. Not one for sports, I’d instead suggest spending as much time as possible on the patio of Minaret Station’s private restaurant, drinking pinot noir from Central Otago and hobnobbing with the handful of select guests.
Unsurprisingly, checking out of The Elms feels like waking from a dream. You’ll find yourself Googling things like, “Kiwi sugar daddy database” and “Is it hard to become a venture capitalist??”
Alas, for the vast majority of us, such luxe experiences will always be once-in-a-lifetime. They feel much sweeter for it, too.