By Susan Kurosawa
A two-storey white building has been sitting small on a corner site by the Queenstown waterfront for 150 years. Its demure size suggests a pub or inn, but don’t be fooled by such petite proportions. Eichardt’s
Private Hotel is a surprise package, a sum of many parts, and an institution in this NZ South Island settlement. Originally the site of a wool shed, fortunes changed when gold was discovered, and a Welshman named William Gilbert Rees opened a hotel that later passed into the hands of Albert Eichardt and his new bride Julia Shanahan. Tourism had arrived. When Albert died in 1882, Julia gathered her skirts and took over, ensuring the building was the first in town to be connected to newfangled electricity.
Her legacy is honoured still, most significantly in the female-led management team and distinct feminine touches. And I feel Julia would approve of the creative curation of items that were unearthed in 2016 when the next-door site, which originally housed the stables, was excavated to make way for the annexe extension. She might also have liked to eavesdrop, I reckon, to my conversations about life and travel with spa therapist Rina from Hokkaido in The Vault, now a scented, curtained sanctuary with two massage couches- es and an atmosphere of utter removal from whatever lies beyond.
On suite tables or desks, sepia-toned postcards of the hotel “by Muir & Moodie of Dune- din’s copyright series of views” show chaps in hats standing by Model T Fords or similar snazzy roadsters of that era. There’s a square to place a one-penny postage stamp. It’s rare to encounter a property that carefully honours its heritage while incorporating all the elements of modern design. Sometimes such combinations can be just overlays or odd mash-ups.
To totally throw out the old in favour of the new? Plenty can go wrong, particularly in a small property where, as it were, there’s no- nowhere to hide. It’s my third visit here over a couple of decades and, to my eye, a recent re- refurbishment and series of additions have enhanced the look. As ever, there’s an emphasis on materials and references, from Bremworth woollen carpets and local timbers and stone to a gallery-like array of historic items from the original years of Albert and Julia. Rugs, cushions, antique clocks, flowers, traymobiles, books, tableaus of jugs and decanters. It’s homely and generous.
The bar, with its exposed brick walls and well-tended fire, embodies the snugness of an old-fashioned inn. It’s open to all-comers to settle on leather sofas, stools and low chairs. All so cosy for breakfast (pastries arrive warm from the oven) and light tapas-style meals, bright cocktails and bowls of sustaining seafood chowder. For more substantial evening fare, cross the lobby to the annexe, where The Grille by Eichardt’s dishes up big plates and a casual vibe in a low-lit brasserie-style space.
Above this buzzy venue are two newish Lake View Suites and a Penthouse; the latter suits the status of its name with a hot tub and barbecue on its deck. All are detailed with gas fireplaces, huge bathrooms, various seating configurations, and front-row panoramas.
There’s sheer alchemy in the setting of NZ’s acknowledged adventure capital, ringed by mountains of otherworldly beauty and de- fined by Lake Wakatipu, all mirror-shiny on a sunny day, bobbing with vessels of all purposes. Just one quick scan reveals jetboats, pad- paddleboats, speedsters equipped for “para- flights”, cruises aboard the vintage Earnslaw steamer, kayaks for hire and HydroAttack es- capades in a semi-submersible “shark” which
There’s sheer alchemy in the setting of NZ’s acknowledged adventure capital, ringed by mountains of otherworldly beauty and defined by Lake Wakatipu, all mirror-shiny on a sunny day, bobbing with vessels of all purposes. Just one quick scan reveals jetboats, pad- paddleboats, speedsters equipped for “para- flights”, cruises aboard the vintage Earnslaw steamer, kayaks for hire and HydroAttack es- capades in a semi-submersible “shark” which zips up to 80km/h and then dives down and roars up. Guests of Eichardt’s surely would refrain from such malarkey, especially since the recent return of the hotel’s refitted 80-ft cruising yacht, Pacific Jemm, on standby for excursions and events.
“Next stop … Antarctica!” laughs a shopkeeper as I purchase gloves. They are made from possum, which reminds me how much I love our trans-Tasman neighbours and their lawful right to turn these critters into clothing and, at Eichardt’s, bed throws.
I stroll a jigsaw of laneways, squares, arcades, promenades, walkways and weekend markets (look for the stall with all-natural ma- nuka honey bath bars by Bridget of Soap Kitchen Wanaka). Appetites are sharp in this so-called adventure capital and the produce comes fighting fresh from shores, slopes and lake. Over just one street of the village-like precinct, I spy joints offering handmade dumplings, curries, noodles, “authentic” New York pizza, Turkish kebabs, paella and sushi.
Hottest new act in town is SODA, a Mediterranean transplant, but the best food is at No5 Church Lane, around the corner at Ei- chardt’s sister Spire Hotel. Its share plates feature triumphantly local cuisine and if you can resist purple kumara panna cotta with elderflower gel, kumara and berry whip, and lavender meringue, then you’re made of very stern stuff indeed. The South Island on a plate with a side of luxury? It’s all here.
Susan Kurosawa was a guest of Eichardt’s Private Hotel. Read the original article at https://www.theaustralian.com.au