Lake Pukaki
Lake Pukaki

Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat: Wellness, Wilderness, Wine, and Whisky…

Landscapes millennia in the making and skyscapes that stretch for eternity, stupendous splendour abounds at Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat. Bordering the Unesco-listed Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park and sitting beneath the ethereal national park that is the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, this isn’t just one of Canterbury’s best kept secrets, but among Aotearoa’s most eminent accommodations. 

Passion and Wellness

An ongoing labour of love, husband-and-wife team Luke and Kaye Paardekooper began building in the Mackenzie Basin in 2011, and within 18 months were welcoming their first bed and breakfast guests. Today, the sprawling countryside complex comprises a cluster of secluded European-influenced lodges and villas that boast private hot tubs and log fires all fed by the purest of waters—‘the tears of Aoraki’—courtesy of the surrounding ancient glaciers.


Kaye says that the couple were inspired by their own travels, as well as “guests who told us they liked our authentic Kiwi hospitality”. World-class services take the shape of yoga sessions, and wellness and massage treatments, as well as tennis and pétanque.


“Our wellness menu draws inspiration from our indigenous land and culture,” says Kaye. “The treatments are based on holistic therapies connecting our guests to their wairua (spirit) and to our natural environment, encouraging a sense of hauora (wellbeing).”


Spa experiences incorporate saunas and spa pools, while massages may be enjoyed in the privacy of your luxury villa. Yoga sessions may also be private and bespoke, conducted outside in the shadow of the Southern Alps if the weather allows, while the in-house chefs use foraged ingredients and produce grown in the garden on-site.


“We wanted to be able to grow our own fresh fruit and vegetables and offer table-to-plate cuisine,” continues Kaye. “With our granddaughter, Ashley, we planted the orchard while developing an extensive vegetable and berry garden following a traditional Italian Renaissance design.” 

Mt Cook Lakeside

They imagined a “lush garden” to serve as “an oasis in the dry, brown surroundings, heavy with fresh vegetables, berries and flowers”.


Luke reveals that the high-quality cooking and produce are regularly among the most complimented aspects of the stay by guests, as well as the retreat’s “unpretentious luxury”.


“We have two chefs on board who provide dinner, with guests able to dine privately, or with is and other guests if they wish,” he adds.


As well as its proximity to the national park and all its activities—think tramping and kayaking and heli-hiking and glacier exploration—the estate’s 66 hectares incorporate more than 5km of gentle trails that snake through forests and mediation gardens, past glacial remnants and waterways—including a life-affirming view of Lake Pukaki—all patrolled by the resident goats, ducks and fallow deer.


“We’re just 30 minutes away from some of the world’s best walks, like the Hooker Valley Track and the Tasman Glacier Walk,” says Luke. “There’s adventure for everyone—from those who want an easy walk through to more adventurous souls looking to get up to Sealy Tarns. And, of course, we can help arrange helicopter flights and glacier tours.”

With our granddaughter, Ashley, we planted the orchard while developing an extensive vegetable and berry garden following a traditional Italian Renaissance design.

Stars and Romance

The retreat’s pièce de résistance is arguably its on-site observatory, purpose built and replete with a well-stocked wine cellar adorned with some of the nation’s finest vinos—not to mention the occasional bottle of top-drawer whisky, too (it is Mackenzie Country, after all). 


“Every dark sky experience in our Pukakai Wine Cellar and Observatory begins in the wine cellar,” says Kaye. “Guests enjoy nibbles and a glass of wine or tot of whisky whilst being introduced to the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve.”


When bestowed with Dark Sky Reserve Status in 2012—owing to its pristine, pollution-free heavens—the region was not only the southern hemisphere’s first, but the first in the world to also be given Gold Tier status. 


“We encourage visitors to take the time to step outside, look up, and gaze into one of the world’s purest, clearest, night skies,” says Kaye.


“We can also do deep space photography through the telescope, which is a real coup for us, as well as astrophotography,” says Luke. “We have the knowledge of what is really good to see in the Dark Sky each month, taking photos of clusters and nebulas such as Orion, and the Tarantula, which is basically up here throughout the year.”


The southern lights—or aurora australis—may also be viewed, though this heavenly phenomenon is less regular and even more difficult to predict.


“I really enjoy taking photos of the moon, too,” says Luke. “The deep space photography is fantastic for capturing the craters.”


And with the colder months approaching there is no better time to marvel at the likes of the Milky Way and its surrounding majesty.


“It’s the stillest, clearest time of the year,” says Luke. “And each of the villas have their own open fires and underfloor heating.”


That sure sounds romantic!


“Yes, we do get a lot of honeymooners, as well as those celebrating special occasions such as birthdays or wedding anniversaries, and those just wanting to take time out. It’s a great mix.”