After leaving Lake Tekapo we drove nearly 7 hours to the Franz Josef Glacier on the West Coast of New Zealand. Hotels in this area of New Zealand are limited in both service and scale so there are very few affordable options. Couple that with the fact that we were arriving in summer peak season, which meant that you had to book your accommodation well ahead of time to secure an overnight.
Background (Yes the Story is a Bit Long):
Well I drove in thinking that I had a confirmed accommodation at the Aspen Court Franz Josef, which came out to around 235 NZD including taxes for the 2 bedroom apartment. I walked in confidently and handed in my ID as well as credit card for the gentleman at the front desk to check me in. (My parents and sister were waiting in the car while I took care of check in). To my absolute surprise and horror there was no reservation under my name. Apparently the AMEX Travel agent had booked me in accommodation for December of 2018 not 2017 and unfortunately they were completely sold out for the night.
Luckily the man allowed me to use the hotel Wi-Fi to look for alternative accommodations. I found myself frantically searching for hotel accommodations, while looking out the window to make sure that my dad didn’t get the notion that there was a problem. Low and behold, the only accommodation available in town was a five star forest retreat, which cost 500 NZD per night (more than quadruple what I had planned on spending). It was either this or drive 3 hours down or up the coast to the nearest hotel.
I was actually thinking about doing so if not for my dad who insisted that we drive no further and just spend the money. So we got the few bags we had unloaded back in the car and drove down a few miles through town to the Te Waonui Forest Retreat, which was in a walled compound of its own. It appeared to be secluded from the outside, but most rooms faced the parking lot.
While it did sting to pay over 500 NZD/room per night, the rate included both breakfast and a 5 course dinner at the hotel. The breakfast and dinner menus can be found here on their website.
ARRIVAL AND CHECKIN (WOW THAT WAS FAST)
Right from our arrival, we could tell that the hotel catered to premium clientele and had abided by high service standards. Before I could even open the door, it was opened by the bellman and all my bags were unloaded. We were whisked away to the front desk where we were offered a “Kiwi Cooler” welcome drink and my keys were handed to me in minutes after presenting my ID. This all took less than 5 minutes and we found a lovely associate waiting for us while we finished our drinks to escort us across to our rooms.
As I mentioned all the hotel rooms at this party face the exterior parking lot or other areas so it kind of gave it this motel feel. Our rooms were fairly standard issue for a full service property: beds, tv, restroom with walk in shower, desk, and a pair of chairs by the window.
The quality of the room was certainly not what you would expect of a $500/night property. The carpet was showing its wear and tear and the restroom was kind of meh when you compare it to other five star properties.
It was perfectly clean and fairly modern but some of the vibes the room gave off didn’t scream luxury property, but rather a higher end Holiday Inn. Maybe that’s just the way things are in this part of the world (minimalist without the bling).
And oh yeah Wi-Fi was fast and free throughout our stay at the hotel, which can be challenge at times when in this part of New Zealand.
If taken independently, the dinner at the restaurant itself was worth up to ~200 NZD for 4 people based on the rates they charged at the hotel. Being New Zealand, they had good vegetarian options on the menu. Do note however that no drinks are included in the deal except for still water.
For the starter snack they brought out some bread, breadsticks with guacamole, mint chutney, and salsa. The waiter alos brought us a larger number of olives to snack on while we waited. They were really good as far as olives go ( I don’t really like them)..
For the appetizer we were brought out roasted sweet potatoes and bread with fresh honey. They were absolutely delicious!
For the main course, I ordered the mushroom risotto topped with spiraled zucchini, while the rest of my family had some spaghetti and tomato sauce. This was by far the best mushroom risotto I’ve ever had in my life. Though I must note that the serving size was fairly small.
For desert, I had the chocolate fondant topped with peanut butter ice cream. This cake was absolutely life changing is all I have to say. The chocolate inside the lava cake was warm and just oozed out with every bite. My mouth is watering just writing about it here.
My sister and parents had the orange cream cake with strawberry sorbet as a palate cleanser. They gave me a bite and it was absolutely delicious. Normally orange cakes are too fruity for my taste, but this struck the perfect balance by just hinting at the orange flavor. The presentation was also lovely with it being served on a record label plate. Apparently this was the house made special dessert.
Service was excellent throughout the meal service with the staff making sure that we always had something to nibble on while we waited for the next course.
After licking every last bit of dessert, we signed the $0 bill and headed back up to our rooms to retire for the day. After all, if i was going to visit Lake Matheson the following morning, it would be an extremely early start to beat the crowd and get the iconic morning reflection shot (more on that later).
Breakfast is served from 6:30am to 10:30am every morning at the hotel’s restaurant (where we had dinner the previous night). The breakfast spread is quite large and features an a la carte menu from which you can also choose items from. There were various hot dishes as well as all kinds of pastries, bagels, yogurts, nuts, cereals, fresh fruits, fresh juices and breads available in the buffet.
After the morning’s hikes and walk around Lake Matheson, I was extremely famished and probably had a bit of everything in the buffet. The hash browns and freshly made muffins were probably my favorites.
Everything was top notch in quality as you would expect from the category of hotel and service was prompt and friendly. One of the ladies working the breakfast had a long chat with us on where we should go for the day’s activities and insisted that we try some champagne before leaving breakfast as an early Christmas toast. Who could say no to champagne? (THAT’S ME NORMALLY). You guys can tell me how good this stuff is:
Anyway, I was just thankful that I didn’t have to keep driving and miss out on going to the magnificent Lake Matheson (more on that later). While I don’t mind staying here again, it is a bit more pricey than some of the other perfectly decent options in the area (like an Airbnb). With that being said, you certainly get what you pay for with the food and service being top notch. Oh and you do have that lovely balcony with a view of some ferns and rainforest trees that New Zealand is known for. I guess just sitting in that area is supposed to really dial back the stress?
Food is the highlight of a stay at the Te Waonui Forest Retreat. Both the dinner and breakfast were extraordinarily tasty even if the portion size wasn’t that huge. Service was a step above anything you would find at most five star resorts anywhere in the world and staff members as well as associates were beyond helpful: they were cheery and extremely friendly. I suppose New Zealand is known to be the friendliest place on Earth after all. The rooms themselves were fine, but they were altogether too much like an upscale Holiday Inn to me rather than a property in the league of a Ritz or similar. It’s not that it bothered me, but I would expect something better given the nightly rates.
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AirBnB Review: Lake Tekapo
Focal Point: Tekapo
Great Drives: Lake Tekapo to Franz Josef Glacier (West Coast of NZ)
Hotel Review: Te Waonui Forest Retreat: Franz Josef Glacier
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