We have a podcast! Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat is pleased to present our four-part podcast. It’s the story of where we began, and how our Retreat has grown and evolved. Available on all major podcast listening apps, or stream it directly from our website.

Our Journey

The Story of Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat

The Journey Begins

In 2010 we fell in love with the Mackenzie Basin, and after a long search, found this location to build our dream. The land was in its raw state – covered in pine trees, no roads, water or power, simply the smells of nature and quiet rustle of trees. It took us 18 months to gain approval to build on this special site, and in October 2011 we began to build access roads, drill for water and install services for our planned homestead and first luxury guest villa.

Crafting the Pukaki Homestead

We wanted our homestead to be “crafted” rather than “built,” and we wanted to do as much as possible ourselves. This included the design, build and decoration. We spent many nights pouring over designs and trawling the internet for ideas, and many days sourcing suppliers and materials. By November 2011 we had an approved plan and were ready to lay the foundations for our Pukaki Homestead.

At that time we were based in Wellington, where our family and events management business are located, and we began a regular journey from Wellington to the Mackenzie to manage, construct and shape our dream.

By September 2012 we decided to move from Wellington to live on site, building the Musterers Hut as our sleeping hut and the Garden Shed as our kitchen, dining and living room. With an outside toilet, bath and shower, we lived in true pioneering spirit for eight months as we set about crafting our beautiful permanent home.

With no water on site and very little rainfall, we needed to secure a good artesian water supply. The location for the drill site was determined by a local water diviner, and at this site we hit a good supply of water at 100 metres below the surface. The water comes from the glaciers of Aoraki Mount Cook, not the lake, and is estimated to be 10,000 years old! It is cold and pure. The water is referred to as the “Tears of Aoraki.”

A highlight of this time was installing the water tank that links to the artesian water supply. In December 2012, with the help of our daughter Kim, her husband Keith and their family, we installed the water tank and now had fresh water on tap!

Our plan was to stay in the Musterers Hut until the building was finished, but the first wintery blast of May 2013 drove us into the Homestead, which by this stage was enclosed, warm and ready for decorating.

Over the next four months we painted and learned to tile, spending hours each night laying the very beautiful Winkelmann tiles (each pattern has 21 individual tiles!) for three bathrooms. Our grandson Carter and granddaughter Ashley helped to lay the tiles. This was a great way to get to know each other! By November 2013 the Homestead was ready to offer bed and breakfast accommodation, and we warmly greeted our first guests with just a little trepidation.

We wanted to be able to grow our own fresh fruit and vegetables and offer “table to plate” cuisine. With our granddaughter, Ashley, we planted the orchard and at the same time developed an extensive vegetable and berry garden following a traditional Italian renaissance design. We could imagine a lush garden that would be an oasis in the dry brown surroundings, heavy with fresh vegetables, berries and flowers. A shade tree where we can sit and relax with a refreshing cup of tea during the day, or with a wine and a cheese platter in the evening.

Ashley Mackenzie Villa

Ashley Mackenzie Villa and Fantail Spa

Ashley Mackenzie Villa and Fantail Spa

In December 2013 we began construction of the Ashley Mackenzie Villa and Fantail Spa, based on the same design as the Pukaki Homestead. We wanted to create a luxurious and secluded place where travellers such as yourselves can take time out to relax, rejuvenate and experience one of the most beautiful and peaceful locations in New Zealand.

The Villa is named after our two granddaughters, Ashley Storey and Mackenzie Gwerder.

As travellers, Luke and I like to have opportunities for physical relaxation as part of our holiday, and decided it was a priority to provide these opportunities for our guests. To enhance your travel experience we developed the private Fantail Spa, the tennis court, walking tracks and Pukaki Wine Cellar and Observatory for low-impact recreation. There are also books, board games and petanque and croquet sets which can be set up on the lawn for you.

The Fantail Spa is named for the small fantails (piwakawaka) that regularly flit around the trees there. They are also likely to follow you when you walk, seeming to chatter and bring you the latest gossip. In reality, they are looking for grubs and bugs that you disturb as you walk.

The Villa and Spa were completed in October 2014, and we welcomed our first guests here the following month.

Pukaki Wine Cellar and Observatory

Pukaki Wine Cellar and Observatory

Pukaki Wine Cellar and Observatory

One of the unexpected delights of being in the Aoraki Mount Cook region is discovering how the lack of light pollution at night creates a spectacular big sky laden with stars. The skies here are so clear and special that the region has been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve. In fact, when the moon is in a dark phase, you are unable to see your hand when it is right in front of your face! This gave us an idea that led to our next (and we thought final) stage of development, the Pukaki Wine Cellar and Observatory.

Starting from the concept of an underground space, the Wine Cellar and Observatory has taken shape with thick concrete walls which maintain the cool temperature needed for the wine. Working with some of New Zealand’s leading wineries, we have put together a selection of superb wines to populate the cellar. Of course, being in the heart of the Mackenzie Country, it would have been a tragedy if we did not also include the beverage of the Scottish Highlands, whiskey, which some say is the “nectar of the Gods.”

The Observatory itself has a retractable roof providing a large window to the stars. The 6-inch refractor telescope is capable of seeing the rings on Saturn and bands of Jupiter! And it can be used for astrophotography, capturing astounding photos of your favourite stars, galaxies and planets.

The Wedding Lawns

The Wedding Lawns

The Wedding Lawns

As we continued to remove the wilding pine trees which covered the property, we found more spaces to explore, and ideas just seemed to flow. One of these ideas was to develop two large grassy wedding lawns, one above the tennis court (the Lavender Lawn) and one overlooking Lake Pukaki below the Memorial Garden (the Lakeside Lawn). Both lawns have views over Lake Pukaki towards Aoraki Mount Cook and are lovely green spaces to relax or picnic. As the names suggest, they are extraordinary sites for your wedding or special celebration.

Moraine Lodge

Moraine Lodge

Moraine Lodge

We began to notice that there is a shortage of purpose-built wedding and conference venues in the Mackenzie, and in late 2017, we embarked on another development, Moraine Lodge.

The lodge sits at the top of the ancient moraine outwash that cascades down the western side of the estate (the outwash is an estimated 20,000 years old). Because of the age of the moraine, we felt that it was appropriate to reference ancient design in the architecture and décor of the Lodge.

Architecturally, the Lodge is a modern take on classical European architecture and includes some beautiful ancient Greco-roman features. The entrance to the Lodge features a hand-crafted mosaic which relates our whakapapa (the story of our family within the context of the Mackenzie region). Inspiration for the design of the mosaic came from the 6th century Heraclea Lyncestis in Macedonia.

The Great Hall is at the heart of the Lodge and has a huge fireplace of classical antiquity design. Travertine marble floors, hand-crafted tiles and furniture, antique lighting and New Zealand Douglas fir sarked ceilings work together to suggest an ancient setting within a New Zealand context. We love the solidness of European design and have continued the theme of thick solid walls for the Lodge.

We wanted to create more than a venue. For us the Lodge needed to be a space where family, friends and colleagues can come together, often from long distances, and make the most of their time together.

With commanding views of the Ben Ohau mountain ranges, Moraine Lodge has become a destination for people seeking a spectacular backdrop for their wedding, special celebration or corporate event. A destination where festivities can extend to a whole weekend and where businesses find an inspirational space for dialogue, planning and reflection.

Moraine Villas

Moraine Villas

Moraine Villas

Of course, to complete the destination we needed to provide more accommodation, and this led us to the next stage of development, two additional luxury villas which we have called the Moraine Villas. The Villas are nestled beside Moraine Lodge at the top of the ancient moraine outwash that cascades down the western side of the estate.

The Villas share the same two-bedroom design and layout. They are luxuriously decorated in a style reflective of the Ashley Mackenzie Villa. They each have a stellar name in acknowledgement of both the Dark Sky Reserve and ancient Māori interpretation of the stars.

Villa Matariki (Pleiades)

Matariki is the Māori name for the open star cluster also known as the Pleiades. This cluster rises in mid-winter and for many Māori, it heralds the start of a new year. Matariki literally means the “eyes of god” (mata ariki) or “little eyes” (mata riki). According to myth, when Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatūānuku, the earth mother, were separated by their children, the god of the winds, Tāwhirimātea, became so angry that he tore out his eyes and threw them into the heavens. Traditionally, Matariki was a time to remember those who had died in the last year. But it was also a happy event – crops had been harvested and seafood and birds had been collected. With plenty of food in the storehouses, Matariki was a time for singing, dancing and feasting.

Matariki, or Māori New Year, celebrations were popular before the 1940s and after a lull were revived in 2000. Today the celebration of Matariki is now celebrated throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. A special feature of Matariki celebrations is the flying of kites – according to ancient custom they flutter close to the stars.

Villa Tautoru (Orions Belt)

Many astronomers consider Orion the grandest of all the constellations. Certainly, it is the one most easily identified, even more so than the Southern Cross. Those three stars in a line forming the Belt, and the great stars vertically above and below, are as famous among Māori as they are in the pakeha science of the sky. Tautoru is known as the three friends or travelling companions of Puanga/Puaka (Betelguex).

The appearance of Tautoru and Puaka in midwinter, when the constellation is at a sufficient distance from the sun to be visible at rising, along with the moon phase, appearance of Matariki (the Pleidies) and other indications, is a sign that nature is stirring for the approaching spring and it is time to begin the preparation of the ground in readiness for the early spring planting. This is celebrated as Matariki, the Māori New Year.

Looking to the Future

This may not be our final stage of development, but this brings our story to the present. One of things we have discovered is that we love sharing the beauty, wonder and peace of our environment with you.

Your stay here is a chance to relax and take time out from a busy lifestyle full of distractions. We have created an opportunity for you to visit us, to relax, to rejuvenate and to simply be.

Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help make your stay here a treasured lifelong memory. We are looking forward to sharing this special piece of pure paradise with you.

Ngā manaakitanga (best wishes),

Kaye and Luke Paardekooper