The chopper cuts through the mountain pass, soaring above the jagged terrain that fades from green to brown to white. It’s destined for Minaret Station, a private ranch on a glacial valley in the southern Alps that’s accessible by helicopter only. Set outside of Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island, Minaret is as lavish as it is remote. The pilot is the first clue that the destination is unconventional: It’s Richie McCaw, the chiseled former captain of the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team and an early visitor to the property, one of New Zealand’s best-kept secrets and maybe the most dazzling spot in the Southern Hemisphere that no one’s ever heard of. High above the Southern Lakes region and fenced in by Mt. Aspiring National Park, Minaret sits on the crystalline shores of Lake Wanaka—on land that belonged to the British Crown during Queen Victoria’s reign.
After a 20-minute journey from Wanaka, McCaw’s helicopter lands on the pristine glacier, gingerly joining a dozen other choppers in formation on the snowy ridgetop. Together, they form a semicircle around a snowbank topped with overflowing Champagne flutes. At 8,000 feet above sea level, it’s easy to drink too much too soon, but the atmosphere naturally lends itself to jubilance.
After changing hands over the past 150 years, the 50,000-acre property is family-owned and -run by four brothers who inherited the land from their father. Together, Toby, Jonathan, Matt, and Nick Wallis serve a bespoke experience to a select few visitors at New Zealand’s most exclusive overnight lodge. Since opening for business on Christmas Day 2010, the quartet has forged their own brand of high-country hospitality while introducing guests to the secluded landscape’s rugged beauty. The brothers also operate a farm near Minaret’s Alpine Lodge with thousands of deer, sheep, and cattle. An agricultural marvel, the lodge and its four guest chalets draw their electricity and drinking water from a nearby waterfall. Goods are transported by barge across Lake Wanaka and then up the mountain by air. “We’re hydro-electric,” says Matt, Minaret Station’s general manager. “We’re completely off the grid.”
The homestead can only accommodate eight overnight guests at a time, but day-trippers willing to pay $1,075 per person (including the chopper flight to and from Queenstown or Wanaka) can dine at its gourmet Mountain Kitchen Lodge, one of the best farm-to-table restaurants in New Zealand. The kitchen’s lamb, venison, and beef comes from Minaret’s farm, and its seafood is sourced from Stewart Island and Fiordland National Park slightly farther afield. Minaret Station is also a founding property and key shareholder in a newly established breed of sheep, which this year includes the Te Mana lamb. “We started breeding 10 years ago, and it’s finally ready,” Matt says. “It has more omega-3 than salmon.” The Alpine Lodge houses a world-renowned wine cellar with New Zealand’s finest vintages, a trio of wood-burning fireplaces, and a rambling library where bibliophiles can discover the unmatched tranquility of reading on a glacier.
Overnight guests are treated to an expansive, sheepskin-clad chalet ($1,815 per night, including helicopter transfers) with a private deck and freshwater outdoor hot tub. For those seeking adventure, there’s hiking, jet boating, heli-skiing, heli-biking (“We just strap the bikes to the helicopters and bring you up the mountain,” says Matt), and fishing where the glacier’s rivers join the Tasman Sea. Minaret’s fleet of choppers can also fly guests to Fiordland’s remote beaches, where they can picnic on barbecued crayfish, or to Stewart Island to visit with sea lions. “The four of us are incredibly fortunate to have grown up exploring the Southern Hemisphere with our father,” Matt says. “Now we take our guests on tailored experiences throughout the remote southern regions of New Zealand with the expertise we gained from two generations of flying helicopters.”