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Stories from our backyard: Discover New Zealand’s premier wilderness lodge

May 28, 2022 | New Zealand, South Island

New Zealand's premier wilderness lodgeDr Gerry McSweeney was a university student in the 1970s. He helped fund his studies by guiding tourist walks in the National Parks of New Zealand. Now, 45 years later, at Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki he still guides rainforest walks and kayak trips almost every day. Gerry is an eco-warrior who has been deservedly recognised with a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to conservation. He was most notably involved in efforts for the establishment of Te Wahi Pounamu/South-West New Zealand World Heritage Area in 1990 which protects 10% of New Zealand stretching from Westland/Tai Poutini National Park south to southern Fiordland. What an incredible achievement!

NZ family-owned boutique nature lodges in beautiful natural surrounds…

New Zealand's premier wilderness lodge

Kayak, Lake Moeraki

Gerry remains just as fascinated by the wonders of nature today. Together with his wife Anne Saunders, they established New Zealand’s premier wilderness lodges in 1989 (Lake Moeraki) and 1996 (Arthur’s Pass). The main focus is to experience nature in style in the stunning natural surrounds of wild New Zealand. The lodges are the perfect place to relax, unwind and explore New Zealand’s wilderness. Expect stunning mountain lands in which to explore, kayak and fish in lakes and rivers. View penguins, seals, parrots, rare birdlife and experience merino sheep shearing, sheepdogs displays, and a working high country farm. All of this and more is teamed with stylish accommodation, gourmet food, fine wine, and warm Kiwi hospitality.

Both Wilderness Lodges are situated in stunningly wild and scenic parts of the South Island; the untamed West Coast and the wild heart of the Southern Alps.

Explore World Heritage Rainforests, Lakes & Wild Seacoast…

Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki

New Zealand's premier wilderness lodge

Seacoast hiking, Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki

Few places on earth can match the magnificent natural setting of Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki, surrounded by lakes, rivers, rainforest and seacoast in the heart of Te Wahipounamu, the southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area.  This is a paradise for nature lovers, active travellers, and wilderness seekers in a wonderfully quiet and remote location. Join a team of naturalist guides led by Dr Gerry McSweeney and Anne Saunders. On foot or by kayak, explore a natural paradise, almost unchanged from the time of first human arrival. Search for wildlife, explore untamed rainforest and wild seacoast, kayak pristine lakes and fish for brown trout. Learn all about New Zealand’s fascinating natural history and see penguins, seals & other wildlife. After dinner take a stroll to learn about the stars of the southern sky and see glow worms light up the rainforest.

New Zealand's premier wilderness lodge

Tawaki Penguin

Lake Moeraki boasts a number of native wildlife encounters. Most recently Gerry and Anne discovered that NZ fur seals have taken up residence in the freshwater lake, right in front of the Lodge. Guests can enjoy watching the fur seals feeding on trout and eels. See the world’s smallest dolphin, Hector’s dolphin, frolic in the nearby coastal waters. (year-round). Tawaki, or Fiordland Crested Penguins, are the star of the Lodge and are called the “rainforest penguin” because they nest in warm temperate rainforest in the South West corner of NZ. They can be seen most easily along the Lake Moeraki coastline when they return each year to breed in coastal rainforest between September and early December. These penguins are the 3rd rarest of the world’s 18 penguin species with their total world population only about 7,000 birds. Lake Moeraki is the best place to view them in their natural environment. Imagine yourself sitting quietly on a remote coast as penguins emerge from pounding surf, hop across the sand & make their way into the jungle-like rainforest. Marvel at their comic antics and ‘rockstar’ appearance and capture that photograph of a lifetime. This is wildlife in the box seat!

Explore a Working Sheep Farm in the wild heart of the Southern Alps…

Wilderness Lodge Arthur’s Pass

New Zealand's premier wilderness lodge

Arthurs Pass Lodge

Wilderness Lodge Arthur’s Pass is on a 4000 acre nature reserve and sheep farm encircled by snow-capped peaks and glacier-fed rivers of the spectacular Arthur’s Pass National Park. Join naturalist and sheep farmer guides to explore the heart of the Southern Alps. Discover alpine valleys and mountain lakes, search for rare wildlife and experience life on a working sheep farm. The Wilderness Lodge is run by Michael McSweeney and his wife Hannah McSweeney. Michael was raised at the Wilderness Lodges by his parents, Lodges owners Anne Saunders and Dr Gerry McSweeney. Michael is an ecologist and his wife Hannah a mathematician and teacher and both have a lifetime of experience in wild New Zealand. One of Michael’s favourite antics on the Wilderness Lodges guided sheep trips is to offer $20 to any child who can catch a sheep – needless to say there is much action but no success!! For many guests the highlight of their stay is the High-Country Sheep Station Discovery Tour. Here every second afternoon you can hand-feed sheep, see sheep dogs in action, cuddle lambs and see the blade shearing of a merino sheep to produce renewable, beautiful merino wool for the fashion industry.

New Zealand's premier wilderness lodge

Arthurs Pass shearing

Both Lodges are family-friendly and offer interconnecting rooms. Children from 5+ years of age are welcome, and a minimum 2-night stay applies. A stay at either of New Zealand’s premier wilderness lodges will be the highlight of any Kiwi holiday and is perfect for those looking to escape the tourist trail. The primary focus is to help visitors enjoy the wild and natural land on foot or via a kayak. The rates are all-inclusive per person and include accommodation, a four-course Lodge dinner, full restaurant breakfast, and two shorter (1 hour) guided nature/farm activities each day. Guests can also choose to join the full or half day guided longer trips (charges additional) and enjoy the use of the walking trail networks at either lodge as well as the fleet of kayaks at Lake Moeraki.

Practical nature protection…

New Zealand's premier wilderness lodgeThe focus of the Wilderness Lodges is on caring for those guests who want to experience the wild New Zealand of their dreams. Both of New Zealand’s premier wilderness lodges work hard to manage their environmental impacts & educate their guests. Both Lodges run renewable energy systems (hydroelectricity, solar hot water), have an active tree planting and forest regeneration programme and have been regenerating parts of the Arthur’s Pass property which is now legally designated for carbon storage. Other efforts include establishing a wildlife refuge, protecting the Tawaki Penguin, and safeguarding wildlife from introduced pests. Of course, we cannot forget the very impressive successful campaign to protect the West Coast wilderness during the 1980s. Both conservationists, Gerry and Anne have been at the forefront of conservation efforts & nature tourism throughout New Zealand ever since.

New Zealand's premier wilderness lodge

Night sky Lake Moeraki

New Zealand’s premier wilderness lodges were established as living examples of how eco-tourism can help protect nature. So, with the combination of a luxurious lodge experience in spectacular wilderness surrounds whilst supporting the protection of nature, the wilderness lodges of Lake Moeraki and Arthur’s Pass are a perfect choice. Make sure to include at least a  2-night stay on your next visit…. I know it will be the highlight of your New Zealand adventure!


The summer season (November-March) is traditionally the most popular time to visit. The daytime temperatures average 22 degrees Celsius and the nights are cool. The shoulder seasons just prior and after summer are also good times with less crowds but expect the daytime maximum to drop to 18 degrees. If you want to catch the elusive Tawaki Penguins at Lake Moeraki, then you are best to visit between September and early December. New Zealand's premier wilderness lodge

Good to know:

Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki is located midway between the West Coast Glaciers and Wanaka/Queenstown, on the famous State Highway 6, which traverses the breadth of the west coast of the South Island. Just 3 hours north of Queenstown, or 1.5 hours south of the Franz Josef Glacier, it’s location is perfect for a stopover between the 2 iconic destinations. A top scenic drive, The Haast Pass, is just south of Lake Moeraki and features dramatic landscapes including the towering Southern Alps, aquamarine glacial lakes and wild shorelines carved by the Tasman Sea. Don’t miss the spectacular roadside waterfall, the Gates of Haast, a jetboat ride on the Haast River and a hike in the Mt Aspiring National Park. For more information on neighbouring destinations and activities, please click: Franz Josef Glacier, Wanaka, and QueenstownNew Zealand's premier wilderness lodge

Midway between Christchurch and the South Island’s west coast, Wilderness Lodge Arthur’s Pass sits on a 4000-acre farm & nature reserve surrounded by spectacular Arthur’s Pass National Park. Perfectly positioned as a mid-way point on the Great Alpine Highway, expect a diversity of stunning scenery ranging from the Canterbury river plains, the alpine grandeur of the Southern Alps and the lush rainforests of the West Coast. Wilderness Lodge Arthur’s Pass is less than 2 hours from Christchurch and the towns of Greymouth and Hokitika, and a comfortable 5.5 hours to Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki. The TranzAlpine train also stops in Arthur’s Pass and transfers to/from the lodge are available.

And finally:

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