It was recently crowned New Zealand’s leading hotel at the 30th Annual World Travel Awards, beating out 11 other big-name hotels in Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown. So what is all the fuss about? Does it really live up to all the hype? Channelling my inner-Curious George, I zipped to Queenstown to sample the supreme comforts of The Rees Hotel. And she didn’t disappoint. Perfectly poised above Lake Wakatipu’s Frankton Arm, with a ring-side seat on the mountain magic of the Remarkables, The Rees Hotel is what indulgent escapes are all about. From the moment you arrive at this landmark property, you’ll be swept up in the warm, authentic embrace of unrivalled hospitality.
It’s chic and stylish, without being stiff or pretentious. And it’s the effervescent, outgoing and attentive staff who set the benchmark for exemplary guest service. They’ve mastered the perfect blend of impeccable professionalism and personalism, attending to your every whim with natural charm and friendly, relaxed informality. And that sets the tone for The Rees experience. You’ll bask in the splendour of luxurious bliss, but the stylish, spacious trappings exude an unmistakable atmos of stress-free, spoil-yourself relaxation. The lobby melds with the Bordeau Wine Lounge, where the gorgeous schist fireplace is crowned with a striking painting of William G. Rees, Queenstown’s pioneering explorer and settlement founder.
Photo / Mike Yardley
The hotel’s namesake was searching for quality pastoral land in 1860, and established a high country farm at the site where Queenstown is today, as the first European settler. But farming life was short-lived, with Rees finding himself at the centre of a gold rush two years later. Even his homestead was declared an official goldfield. In the early days of the rush, William Rees was the only source of food for miners working around Lake Wakatipu, who would have otherwise died of starvation He is regarded as the founder of Queenstown. Frankton is named after his wife, Frances. The gold rush enticed Rees to demolish his woolshed and replace it with a hotel which is the site of the Eichardt, today. “This town is beautiful enough for the Queen to live in.” History has not recorded who said those words which gave the name Queenstown to the gold mining canvas town. But many suggest the honour should go to William Rees.
The Rees Hotel offers an array of fabulously spacious fully-serviced, air-conditioned and luxurious accommodation options, ranging from hotel rooms and apartments to lakeside residences. It’s the private balconies, reaching out to the glacial-fed lake and the serrated tiara of the Remarkables, that will soon become your happy place, lingering in the elemental glory. My Executive Lake View Hotel Rooms was loaded with goodies, from the cloud-comfortable super king Rees bed to the opulent bathroom, featuring an Italian designed spa bath.
Photo / The Rees
The hotel has developed a private cellar of one of the most expansive collections of fine Bordeaux wines in the Southern Hemisphere complemented by some of the great names in Burgundy, in addition to the great local winemakers. The Bordeau Lounge Bar is named for Jules Bordeau – the eccentric old storeman and packer who plodded up and down the Skippers Canyon road for over 50 years, providing a lifeline to the goldminers working in its remote reaches. Another great nod to history.
If you can tear yourself away from the Bordeau Wine Lounge, True South Dining Room is destination dining par excellence, under the command of Executive Chef, Benjamin Moon. The views alone are to die for. Celebrating the genuine taste of the True South, the artfully executed menu of dishes is strongly anchored by local produce. Sourcing high-quality suppliers primarily from Central Otago, buying local not only delivers freshness, it curbs food miles and encourages sustainable practices. They serve a fabulous buffet breakfast, but dinner is the real deal. For my entree, I devoured a delectable confit free range pork belly with miso cauliflower and caper raisin puree. I plumped for the market fish as my main, which was accompanied with a distinctive medley of parsnip puree, prosciutto and confit smoked leek. Divine.
Photo / The Rees
The on-site herb farm is eagerly deployed by the kitchen, which is just one of dozens of initiatives that underpins the hotel’s rock-solid sustainability credentials. I particularly like how they source their farm-fresh milk from Windy Ridge Farm, in stainless steel kegs – eliminating the use of thousands of plastic milk bottles every year. All bathroom amenities are purchased by Forest & Bird, while right outside the hotel, The Rees has preserved, protected and enhanced the beech grove adjoining the Frankton foreshore walkway.
I loved walking through that glade and taking a head-clearing stroll on the walkway, to kick-start the day. The hotel also offers a complimentary shuttle service to the town centre, or ferry service from the hotel wharf. There’s a library of rare books and art to explore; complimentary high-speed Wi-Fi, movies and local telephone calls; conference rooms, a fully-equipped gymnasium, secure undercover parking, electric car-charging station and mountain bikes for hire.
The hotel offers a wide-range of packages, from the art of relaxation and a spot at golf at Jack’s Point, to full-day excursions to Milford Sound. With so many legendary wineries in this part of the world, I plumped for the Rees Grape Escape. This full-day private tour in the hotel’s luxurious Land Rover Discovery, was like a curated highlights reel of Central Otago wine – Pinot’s greatest hits! Our first stop was Felton Road in Bannockburn, for a private tasting, before sampling more delicious Pinot Noir at Quartz Reef. Biodynamic and organic are the norm – not the exception, to winemaking in these parts. Felton Road is considered by many wine buffs as New Zealand's benchmark Pinot Noir. It was a thrill to sample their prestigious Pinot Noir, given most of it exported worldwide.
Wine tasting at Domaine Thomson. Photo / Mike Yardley
Then we headed south to Domaine Thomson, rising up on the terraces above Lake Dunstan. Our final stop was one of the most decorated wineries of all – the panoramic splendour of Rippon Vineyard, on the slopes above Lake Wanaka, which also is a fully organic, biodynamic winemaker. Domaine Thomson, a family-owned organic wine producer with vineyards in Central Otago and Burgundy, was the biggest surprise. Sensational wines and a dreamy setting, with a colourful backstory. The owner, David Hall-Jones is the great-great-grandson of John Turnbull Thomson, aka “Surveyor Thomson.” Thomson explored and mapped Central Otago in the 1850’s, naming many prominent landforms in the region, including Mt Aspiring, Mt Earnslaw and Lindis Pass. He also named the beautiful mountains overlooking the vineyard, notably the Pisa Range. Treat yourself to an escape in excelsis to The Rees Hotel, Queenstown. It’s as dreamy as reality gets. www.therees.co.nz
Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.
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