Offbeat Romantic Tour of New Zealand’s South Island


Words: Matt Brace

Soaring peaks, luxurious lodges, wine, wilderness, gourmet food and some of the best stargazing in the world – there’s nothing like Aotearoa New Zealand’s South Island.

Imagine walking hand in hand down Ward Beach at dawn and scanning the waves for dolphins, spending the day touring wineries in Marlborough and dining together by a roaring fire in your private villa, tucked away in the highlands.

Picture you both climbing the foothills of Mt Cook, gazing at the serene wonders and majesty of Milford Sound, and holding each other up in a Force 10 gale on The Bluff south of Invercargill.

My wife and I have done many of the South Island’s big-ticket items so we wanted something a bit different this time. We turned to NZ tour operator Southern Crossings who organised the perfect offbeat romantic itinerary.

Related article: An itinerary for the ultimate driving holiday in New Zealand’s South Island

Modernist marvel

After an easy drive south from Christchurch through Motukarara and Little River on the Banks Peninsula we arrived at one of the most remarkable places we have ever visited: Seascape. Our Southern Crossings contact said it was mind blowing and she was not wrong. It is a super-luxurious, modernist, glass-and-stone villa on a black-pebble beach in a secluded cove. It’s built into the hillside and looks like a millionaire’s futuristic, space-age escape; a very groovy Austin Powers shag-pad with glass walls, indoor and outdoor fires, hot tub and a replica 1968 Eero Aarnio hanging bubble chair.

Related: Read Matt’s full review of Seascape here.

The nearest neighbours are the management team, a 40-minute drive over the hills and down the valley in Pigeon Bay. Seascape is one of several accommodation options on the Annandale estate, which include a cosy and romantic Shepherd’s Cottage with a huge log fireplace. Seascape does come with a significant price tag but for a one-night, special-occasion, über-luxe blow-out, it’s worth it.

After a seriously delicious meal and a serene night amid all that splendour we headed south west to the small roadside pit-stop of Rangitata for excellent cake at the very welcoming Oasis Tearooms. We then wound our way inland towards the snow-capped Southern Alps, where we ended our day sipping whisky and gazing out over glacial-blue Lake Pukaki to magnificent Aoraki Mount Cook beyond.

Romantic mountain retreat

We were at the Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat, a lodge built among coniferous forests and glacial moraine boulders on the southern shore of the lake. The place has four huge and luxurious private villas. Puaka and Ashley Mackenzie have lake views while the two Moraine Villas – Matariki and Tautoru – have views of the stunning Ben Ohau mountain range.

Even in the misty, dark depths of midwinter when we visited, the retreat has a romantic magic about it. We rugged up and took restorative forest-bathing walks through the hushed conifer woods, then warmed up in front of the roaring log and pine-cone fire in our villa drawing room.

Possibly the most thrilling and unexpected thing about the Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat is the food. Out there, in the middle of pretty much nowhere, the kitchen produces culinary marvels using lots of local produce, including some aromatic herbs we had never tasted before. You can dine in the main lodge or in your villa. It’s hard enough to get the timing of food right in a restaurant when there are only a few metres between oven and guest but somehow the team managed to deliver perfectly cooked and totally delicious food all the way down the bumpy track to our villa. Even the breakfast poached eggs were done to a turn.

Related: Read Matt’s full review of Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat here.

Stargazing under the darkest skies

Southern Crossings specialises in personalised luxury travel experiences and tailor-made itineraries, and one of our stipulations had been stargazing in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, the largest reserve in the southern hemisphere. It includes Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin and was formally accredited as a reserve after years of collaboration between Māori and non-Māori communities.

The tour operator came up trumps with not one but two stellar experiences. First up was an evening with Alpha CruX, a mobile operator who can move his telescope around to different secret spots to offer guests the best views. On our second night we joined Mt Cook Lakeside Retreat’s owner Luke in his small observatory for nips of whisky and more views of the heavens.

Both experiences were breathtaking. Neither of us dreamed skies could be so clear and that we would see so many millions of stars – billions, perhaps – with the naked eye. It was yet another reason to fall in love with Aotearoa New Zealand’s South Island.

Matt Brace travelled courtesy of bespoke luxury travel specialist Southern Crossings (, which tailors personalised luxury travel in New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific.

Related Article: 9 Romantic Things to Do in New Zealand

Scroll to Top