Indulge in isolation
Brook Sabin and Radha Engling
How many places are there in New Zealand where you can wake up, step outside and not see a single other person? That is the kind of solitude you will find at New Zealand’s newest adults-only retreat, tucked away in the South Island.
I have been lucky enough to travel to every region in New Zealand, and this is my all-time favourite place to stay. Here are six reasons Fallow Ridge is set apart from the rest.
This extraordinary escape sits on a vast farm of rolling hills between Dunedin and O¯ amaru.
Many people will get there by first landing at Dunedin Airport, before a scenic hour-long coastal drive north. Alternatively, you can head south from Christchurch, passing the charming town of O¯ amaru. The Victorian architecture reminds me of a a small Italian village with narrow streets lined with ornate buildings.
But arguably the best way to get there is via Queenstown, taking one of the country’s lesserknown highways: SH85.
It is commonly referred to as the ‘‘the Pigroot’’, and passes some of the country’s most remote mining towns.
Whatever route you take, the beauty only magnifies as you ascend the 13km gravel road towards a property known as Mt Watkins, an enormous 1436-hectare hill country farm, bordered by mountains.
The metal road, which weaves around the side of the sacred Mt Watkin/Hikaroroa, slowly reveals a landscape of stunning isolation.
The final stretch sees you enter the farm that is home to 4000 Romdale ewes and 300 Angus cattle. The sprawling property belongs to Dave and Sarah Smith, who have long wanted to share their slice of paradise. Dave’s brother meticulously built the retreat, and Sarah brought the vision to life with her spectacular sense of style.
Calling it a cabin is a understatement – it is a masterpiece. As you walk from the car park, you first notice a living roof. It is essentially a layer of dirt, grass and tussock that sits on top of the building to give the impression the retreat is tucked into the side of the mountain. It is like a lair of luxury.
You descend a set of stairs into the retreat to reveal what looks like a five-star hotel: there is a designer kitchen, a suspended sphere-shaped fireplace and an enormous bed with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains.
But it is the little details that are truly impressive, such as being able to turn on the gas fire with the flick of a button.
There is underfloor heating in the opulent bathroom and kitchen, alongside blinds that can make the room dark with another flick of a button.
It gets even better when you step onto the deck. The location was picked because it offers one of the best views of the farm; the rocky outcrop it sits on was once used by shepherds who would survey stock in the distance.
Outside, on the edge of the deck, is a bath with one of New Zealand’s best views. It overlooks a deep riverlined gully surrounded by peaks.
The bath is big enough for two: perfect for a couple’s retreat. As soon as you arrive, an unofficial uniform is waiting for you: slippers and a dressing gown. Get into them, then set your phone to ‘‘do not disturb’’. Relaxation is under way.
One of the many remarkable features of the retreat is its warmth. It is from a combination of premium building materials, built into the ground, a roaring fire and underfloor heating. In the unlikely event that doesn’t keep you toasty, there is also an airconditioning system.
What makes this all astounding is that the cabin is off-grid. But despite being remote and solarpowered, comfort isn’t sacrificed. It also means a visit in winter is something to look forward to.
The treats and eats
Once you have got past the initial awe of the location and amenities, your eyes will no doubt be drawn to the treats prepared for you.
The first is a bowl of milk chocolate-coated hazelnut toffee from a confectioner in Auckland. It is delicious and unlikely to survive the night.
There is also a sumptuous breakfast. If you are only staying one night (a mistake), your morning meal includes granola, muesli, fresh bread, pastries from the local bakery, compote, juice, teas, plunger coffee and an elaborate seasonal fruit platter – ours had six fruits, including cherries, blueberries,
strawberries and pineapple. If you stay two or more nights, your breakfast is upgraded to include all the ingredients you need for a cooked breakfast – alongside everything already mentioned.
Don’t miss ordering the The Fallow Ridge Celebrator, which is a selection of goodies to make your stay even better (remember, it is a 20-minute drive to the nearest store). The package includes bubbly, an antipasto platter (complete with Whitestone Cheese from O¯ amaru) and chocolate bonbons.
After you have settled in and had a bath, snuggle up on the outdoor couch to watch the sunset across the mountains. You are so high you will get a bird’seye view of animals down in the gully, including hawks looking for dinner.
If you are lucky, clouds will begin rolling over the mountains and give the impression you are floating above it all.
We were even treated to a dramatic thunderstorm that swept across from the Southern Alps, with giant forks of lightning streaking across the sky.
The retreat is designed so that no matter the weather, you can unwind in style and solitude.
Fallow Ridge Retreat has only recently opened, with a special introductory price that is incredible value for money. It is $500 a night, including breakfast, which is the best-value luxury escape I have experienced. I have stayed at other retreats of similar quality that are more than $1000 a night.
But the best feature about this place isn’t obvious at first. It is so isolated, yet comfortable, that it provides the perfect place to indulge in doing nothing. That is the best luxury of all.
The writer’s trip was supported by Fallow Ridge Retreat.