ROOM FOR TWO: Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat, New Zealand

Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat, New Zealand by Ashley Maczenzie Villa and Lake Pukaki view

Reviewed by Matt Brace

In the foothills of New Zealand’s Southern Alps is a little hidden gem; a small mountain lodge offering spectacular views over glacial-blue lakes, restorative walks through peaceful forests, delicious gourmet food and some of the best stargazing opportunities in the world.


Whether through nature or design, Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat is a very peaceful place. With only four large and well-spaced villas and the option to eat all meals ‘at home’, couples get real privacy. They can spend their days doing yoga and having massages, forest-bathing among the pine trees, cycling or hiking the local area, or simply staying home and gazing at the placid, powder-blue surface of Lake Pukaki. The more adventurous can drive 40–50km north to the Aoraki Mount Cook Village and hike tracks around the base of the mountain.

Even in the misty, dark depths of midwinter when we visited, the retreat has a romantic magic about it. We strolled through the hushed conifer woods and warmed up in front of the roaring log and pine-cone fire in our villa’s sitting room.

Look and feel

Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat is built among the coniferous forests and glacial moraine boulders on the southern shore of Lake Pukaki. The Puaka and Ashley Mackenzie villas have stunning lake views while the Matariki and Tautoru villas look towards the towering Ben Ohau mountain range. All have outdoor hot tubs, which are perfect for romantic stargazing.

The owners Kaye and Luke designed the villas to resemble grand European homes transplanted to this very Kiwi landscape. They are spacious and ornate, and have special touches such as real log fires and complimentary whisky decanters.

The central Moraine Lodge acts as reception area, daytime wildlife observation post (very cosy in winter) and convivial dining room, while the little private observatory is perfect for after-dinner stargazing with a nip of whisky.

Best room for two

All four villas are great. We stayed in Puaka villa, which had a fabulous, clear view of Lake Pukaki. Eating our delicious breakfast on the outside terrace we got a tiny glimpse of what life might be like if we owned a hillside palazzo above Lake Como. Mind you, I think we’d rather have an NZ South Island landscape view.

Despite our villa’s large size it was also cosy, especially once we sparked up the fire in the evening and sipped our first whiskies.

Food and drink

If not the middle of nowhere, Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat is certainly at the edge of nowhere. Also, it’s built on glacial moraine and among coniferous forests so hardly an area of rich soil. Yet somehow the small lodge team manages to produce delicious and innovative food using lots of homegrown produce, including some aromatic herbs we had never tasted before.

You can dine in the Moraine Lodge or in your villa and we chose the villa, partly because I wanted to see whether the food would survive the bumpy track from the lodge kitchens. We’ve known plenty of restaurants that failed to deliver properly cooked food to our table when it was just a few feet from the kitchen but at Mount Cook Lakeside Retreat – despite the distance it had to travel – all our food arrived perfectly cooked and totally delicious. Even the breakfast poached eggs were done to a turn.

One night we indulged in what the retreat calls Billion Star Dining: a tasting menu in the Moraine Lodge followed by a stargazing experience in the Wine Cellar Observatory. The food was about as out-of-this-world as the stars, with spiced Whitestone halloumi with beetroot raspberry rose puree and Mount Cook salmon with shisho terrine being the stellar dishes.

At the observatory, the whole roof slides back, giving guests an armchair view of the Milky Way. And what a view! Because the lodge is in the Aoraki-Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve – the largest in the southern hemisphere – these are some of the darkest skies anywhere on the planet.


The retreat recycles and composts, manages a native restoration area and practices a garden-to-plate food philosophy using local produce. It minimises plastics in the villas by using refillable bathroom amenities, paper bin liners and reusable slides instead of disposable slippers (disinfected and thoroughly cleaned between stays). Also, because the lodge is in the Aoraki-Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, it adheres to strict lighting standards to avoid light pollution. 

Couples will love

Being at one with nature in this very tranquil and special place, luxuriating in their large villa, having numerous gourmet experiences and immersing themselves in a rare and truly awesome night-sky experience.

Book via the Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat website, call +64 274 370 820, or email

Read more about Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat and a fabulous off-beat tour of New Zealand’s South Island.

Scroll to Top