Why New Zealand has become the hottest destination for thrill-seeking billionaires…
When Condé Nast Traveller recently published an “illustrated guide to risking your life in New Zealand,” it was more incentive than deterrent. The magazine dubbed the remote island nation the adventure capital of the world, and though it has always appealed to rugged thrill- seekers, lately it has attracted a wealthier sort of adventurer, equally drawn to some of the most dramatic, unspoiled and challenging terrain on the planet as to spectacular luxury lodges offering world- class accommodation.
Far off on its own in the Southwest Pacific, New Zealand is the perfect destination for travel via private jet, and lately the top chartering firms have seen an uptick in demand for travel to the country via ultra-long-range aircraft, like the Gulfstream G550, that have the ability to get well-heeled passengers there in comfort and style.
A newly issued report by Tourism New Zealand shows spending at the 32 members of the Luxury Lodges of New Zealand grew by an astounding42 percent last year. With the best accommodations usually costing over US$3,000 per night, high-net-worth visitors could easily drop US$100,000 on pulse-racing activities. Devotees like famed hedge fund manager Julian Robertson like the fact that there are few impediments to doing whatever your heart desires and your bank account can afford when traveling to New Zealand, which has everything that more-frequented destinations can offer, minus the crowds. Robertson, who now owns three of the country’s finest luxury lodges (don’t call them mere “resorts”), recently put together one of the world’s most luxurious golfing excursions to the country, limited to just four couples, at US$28,500 per person. It takes place annually in the spring, although other, less opulent tours are available year-round. If hunting or heli-skiing is more your thing, that can be arranged as well.
Robertson isn’t the only American billionaire with interests in the “Land of the Long White Cloud,” which comprises two main islands — the North Island and the South Island — and around 600 smaller ones. Texan billion-aire William P. Foley II, executive chairman of Black Knight Inc. financial services and owner of the Vegas Golden Knights NHL franchise, owns one of the most lavish luxury lodges, Wharekauhau Country Estate, set on 5,500 acres fronting Palliser Bay. The opulence in New Zealand is never fussy or pretentious, however, and it’s the innate authenticity of the place, not to mention the world-class food and wine, that attracts those who aren’t interested in paying extra for frills or fawning service.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and other heads of state and royal families have stayed here. Foley also owns two incredible wineries for which the country has become increasingly well-regarded, and produces his own brand of copper pot, small-batch distilled gin as well. Dining at Wharekauhau, where the chef is a member of the competitive New Zealand Chefs National Team and the sommelier often serves up choice vintages from his holdings, is alone worth the trip.
Matthew Robertson of U.K.-based Momentum Adventure, who special-izes in luxurious customizable expeditions to remote parts of the planet for those who don’t want the same old experience and are willing to pay for the privilege, cites New Zealand as one of his favourite destinations, not least for its “incredible 90-mile beaches where wild horses roam.” Momentum offers the world’s first east-to-west crossing of the South Island — where portions of The Lord of the Rings were filmed — in a bespoke action-packed seven-day itinerary that starts at US$60,000 per person.
The trip takes in some 250 miles of stunning locales and travels on as few actual roads as possible, preferring high-performance dune buggies for transport or, for an additional (and not inconsiderable) cost, a custom Land Rover Defender that Robertson has converted into the ultimate luxury off-roader, shipped in for the occasion. Adrenaline junkies with large bank balances will also hike up and over the Southern Alps, perform death-defying bungee jumps, and raft through rapids on remote rivers,before catching a private jet boat out to the Tasman Sea on the west coast. Also de rigueur: an alpine helicopter trip to one of the South Island’s glaciers, with a fresh-caught lobster picnic in some inaccessible spot. You have to see it to believe it. A lake-view room at the Lodge at Kinloch. Right: The Wharekauhau Country Estate, on Palliser Bay, boasts world-class food and wine. ■
BY JARED PAUL STERN
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