“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Or so Jane Austen wrote in the opening sentence of her novel Pride and Prejudice In real-life a former Prussian Guard put that “truth” into gender reverse. Around 1865, Mr. Albert Eichardt arrived in New Zealand to try his luck on the gold fields As fate would have it, he met a single woman in possession of a good fortune. Miss Julia Shanahan owned a hotel on the edge of a picturesque lake in Oueenstown. Albert and Julia married, and Eichardt’s became the name of their now jointly owned hotel.
Their marriage and the hotel prospered. By 1873, a landmark building of stone and brick, Italian in design, was in place. It was described as “very ornate, and really superb in appearance.” Eichardt’s was the first building to have electricity in Oueenstown, some 30 years before the rest of the town. In 1890, Mr. and Mrs. Eichardt could boast a hotel with “70 rooms all lighted by electricity.”
They would have not foreseen the glittering and electric town that Oueenstown is now, nor that their hotel would become the gem that it is. Eichardt’s Private Hotel no longer has so many rooms, but it is still the lakefront landmark. Queenstown is now often described as being the “adrenalin capital” of the world. It certainly started with a rush. In 1862, gold was found and within six months the population escalated from just 12 to 8,500 people. There was soon a sea of tents by the waterfront – Canvastown was its early name. The town’s setting, flanking a beautiful lake edged by majestic mountains, was considered spectacular. It was said to be a view and place “fit for a Queen.” The tribute became its lasting name.
Eichardt’s began in a simple building. When the bustling tent town sprang up, a woolshed was turned into a hotel to cater to thirsty gold miners. It soon became too small, and a tent was put up beside it as extra space. However, the tent leaked when it rained, customers complained, and so a more solid building program began. Additions and renovations were made as the town and Eichardt’s business thrived. The hotel became the center of the town’s social life. But, over time, the hotel’s fortunes waned. It survived neglect, competition, floods and demolition plans. When the present owners bought it, it was a rundown tavern. A huge restoration program was put in place to restore it to its once “superb appearance.”
The iconic structure is now spruced up inside and out. A glass and steel atrium extension gives a contemporary entrance with a historical reference: its style alluding to both the classic shape of a woolshed and the openness of a lent. The original building’s facade was restored, the interior transformed. Now there are just five suites. Eichardt’s is a small luxury hotel with a history, and a sense of space inside that belies its exterior. Its prime corner and lake front frontage means that guests step outside straight into the lively night and day scene of Queenstown. The best restaurants, cafes and shops – and a cinema – are all but a minute or three’s walk from the front door.
The striking black, brown and white theme of the light-filled lobby is a crisp, smart foil to the steel framing and glass. Its layering of textures, symmetry and detailing is a first sign that this is an interior that has been deftly designed.
The suites and a guest parlor are upstairs in the original building. In the suites, a soft dark-chocolate background with shots of cream and orange makes a soothing and rich environment. The rooms are classical, but have a definite opulence A fire adds glow, and from the balcony the view across over and far down Lake Wakatipu to the mountain peaks of the Remarkables is simply stunning.
There is a great interplay of textures; metal and velvet, fur and wood are all combined. The suite is detailed and layered but not to excess. Comfort is paramount. The eagle insignia you might notice on the sofa cushion is a subtle link back to Albert Eichardt; it is the emblem of the Prussian guards.
The private parlor is vibrant, luxurious and Victorian in feel, with clever references to the town’s and the region’s histori.c gold mining heritage. Breakfast i.s served here, or in your room if you prefer. French toast with lemon and maple syrup, scrambled eggs: whatever you would like is cooked for you.
Downstairs, the House bar – and cafe – is one of the best places to be, out of your room. It is a stylish yet casual meeting spot, a favorite with locals, and popular for lunch, serving tasty dishes like risotto – confit of duck with mushrooms, snowpeas and parmesan – and wild venison pie with a blueberry relish. For dinner, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, just as there is plenty to do when you are here.
Hurl yourself off a bridge or cliff if you must, or go hang-gliding, jet boating, white-water rafting. Take the “trilogy trail” to tour some of the Lord oJ the Rings movie locations. You can go on day trips, or stroll up the street to joe’s Garage for a shot of coffee. Craft galleries, design and clothing stores are just on and around the corner. For skiers, the fields at Coronet Peak, the Remarkables and Cardrona are all within an hour’s drive from the hotel. Apres-ski, or instead of, pay a visit to the vineyards. This is the most southern wine making area in the world, and renowned for its pinot noir. An excursion on the vintage steamship TSS Earnslaw gives a great view of this very scenic location.
“Staying in” is a tempting option, cosseted in your very attractive room, away from the external action options. Inside, you can explore peace and quiet; the farthest you need leap is up and down the stairs. Still in pride of place, Eichardt’s is a jewel, the gold that Albert Eichardt truly found, and worthy again of its special setting.