Martyn and Louise Myer of the prominent Melbourne retail family have just unveiled a stunning new book, Wanaka: Earth to Heaven at Whare Kea. This captures the extraordinary beauty and spirit of one of the more hidden gems of New Zealand’s tourism landscape, which won the hearts of the Myers and led to the creation of their striking Whare Kea Lodge and Chalet.
Breathtaking images by top photographer Kieran Scott (Cuisine, Australian Gourmet Traveller, and magazines from the Condé Nast stable) show this spectacular adventure playground rivals better-known Queenstown and bring to life a cast of talented locals – from Everest-grade mountain guides to artisan food and wine producers.
As vintage plane pilot Peter Hendriks says, “We have lots of colourful characters here. It’s what makes Wanaka and gives it a great sense of largesse.”
Their stories are laced with more than 40 recipes from the lodge’s award-winning executive chef, James Stapley, based on the superb produce of the area, making Wanaka: Earth to Heaven at Whare Kea both a first-ever travel book on the region and a recipe book.
Produced by the Myers in collaboration with highly regarded editor and journalist Michal McKay (a former editor of New Zealand House and Garden and Vogue Singapore), who also devised the concept, the book unfolds in four sections following Wanaka’s distinctive seasons. Each uncovers a wealth of experiences available on the doorstep of Whare Kea Lodge, on the banks of Lake Wanaka, and the mountaintop chalet.
Adventures include alpine hikes in Mt Aspiring National Park, heli-skiing, flight-seeingover the lake, Mt Aspiring, Mt Cook and the Franz Josef Glacier, jet-boating on the Matukituki River, skiing at Cardrona and Treble Cone fields, and canyoning for the real adrenalin junkies.
In his foreword, Martyn Myer AO recalls walking the Milford Track with his late father and enjoying fly-fishing for trout in the pristine rivers. It was not until he was 30 that he returned to New Zealand on the advice of a great ski friend that it offered amazing terrain for heli-skiing. This sparked the family’s love of Wanaka and in 1993 the couple found the location on the edge of Lake Wanaka that is now the setting of Whare Kea Lodge.
Martyn describes the role played by top-notch designers, such as local landscape designer Susan Mort, who devised the shimmering forest of more than 10,000 trees on the surrounding land. Melbourne-based architect John Mayne understood Martyn’s wish for the building to draw on a Japanese concept of simplicity and elegance and, importantly, to bring the view of the landscape inside via vast windows. Interiors, designed by Chris Hansson of Melbourne practice Inarc Architects, include six spacious guest suites, several lounge areas with log fires and a dining area, all accented with a mix of modern furniture and antiques, vivid fabrics, and paintings by New Zealand artists.
A vital part of Wanaka: Earth to Heaven at Whare Kea is the evocative way food features – both in the recipes and in fascinating profiles of some of the region’s artisan producers. This is a focus for Louise Myer. The book reveals her family’s involvement in food and wine: her father helped to establish vineyards such as Taltarni, Warrenmang and Landsborough Valley in the Pyrenees region of Victoria. She studied at La Varenne cooking school in Paris, and nowadays has a close involvement with the kitchen team at Whare Kea.
In producing his light, flavourful menus, British-born James, who has worked in the kitchens of luxury London hotels, as well as New Zealand’s Pegasus Bay Winery, takes great care with the provenance of the food (see his engaging portrait with his hen Princess Layer), sourcing the best of the region. And the quality is impressive. The saffron, for example, grown locally by pioneer producer Maurice Watson, is of such quality you need only a fraction. “It’s fresh and perfect,” says Maurice.
To complement the superb food, Louise and Martyn prevail over wine selections for guests and here share some of their favourite varietal wines of the Central Otago region – in particular, the renowned Pinot Noir.
In 2003, Whare Kea (“house of the kea”, the cheeky alpine parrot) became a member of Relais & Châteaux, the prestigious Paris association of hotels and restaurants.
A 20-minute flight from the lodge, clinging to a mountain face opposite the peak of Mt Aspiring at 1750m, Whare Kea Chalet – with two double bedrooms, and creature comforts such as central heating and comfortable beds covered with crisp linen – was added two years later to offer comfort and luxury in a dazzling and remote alpine location.
Wanaka: Earth to Heaven at Whare Kea is published by Godwit, an imprint of Random House New Zealand, $65. It is available online at www.wharekealodge.com and at leading bookstores in Sydney including Lesley McKay, The Bay Tree, Potts Point Bookstore, Kinokuniya Book Store; and in Melbourne at Coventry Book Store, My Bookshop, Lorne Beach Books and The Avenue. Also select Myer stores in Sydney and Melbourne.