If you could survey every fly angler for their bucket list of fly fishing trips, you’d end up with a cornucopia of diverse, coveted, fishy destinations. And, chances are, a small handful of locales would get scribbled down far more often than any others: Alaska, Patagonia, and New Zealand. Each of these world-class destinations has undoubtedly earned their countless appearances in the restless dreams fly fishers. But, for those who have had the privilege of visiting all of these magical places, New Zealand invariably rises to the top—thanks to its dramatic topography; its mind-bendingly clear, emerald blue-green waters; and its stunning, oversized trout.
Perhaps known best for its daily helicopter fly out program, Cedar Lodge is perched nearly smack-dab in the middle of New Zealand’s South Island, in the heart of the breathtaking Southern Alps. Despite being 25 percent larger than its northern counterpart, the South Island has almost 75 percent fewer inhabitants, and wilderness still dominates the landscape. Thanks to its helicopter access concession to Mt. Aspiring National Park, the lodge offers anglers unparalleled access to many of New Zealand’s least-pressured and most remote trophy trout streams. For many guests, the twice-daily helicopter flights over the glacier-flecked, greywacke spires and peaks of the Southern Alps is worth the visit alone.
Each morning, steps from the lodge, you'll board a helicopter flown by experienced pilots and head over the Southern Alps to fish a different river, stream, or creek. With easy access to the trout waters of the Makarora Valley, Mt. Aspiring National Park, West Coast, and much more — the lodge's guides and pilots have a seemingly endless supply of daily options to choose from.
For those that love sight fishing and dry fly fishing, there may be no finer or more heralded destination. Spot and stalk large brown and rainbow trout — fish of 3-4 pounds are average, 5-8 pound fish are common, and 10 pound fish are a real possibility — on waters of varying size and character, and hope for a well-presented cast that brings the fish of a lifetime to your fly and eventually to the net. Anglers that enjoy fishing nymphs will also find themselves at home in New Zealand, as both nymphing and "hopper-dropper" fishing are effective throughout the year and can shine during the early and late seasons.
Cedar Lodge guests fly on modern AStar (known in Europe as "squirrel") helicopters, which continue to serve as the worldwide standard for touring companies, law enforcement, medical emergency services, and more. Nimble, quick, reliable and known for their excellent high-altitude performance, AStar helicopters also offer a notably quiet ride, allowing for easy conversation in the cabin so your pilot and guide can point out highlights and points of interest as you fly.
But the best part about Cedar Lodge helicopters may be their value. Thanks to the full integration of the helicopters into the lodge's angling program, guests fly each and every day for a fraction of the price of other lodges where out-and-back helicopter fees can soar beyond $2,000 USD per day.
LODGING: Classy and comfortable, Cedar Lodge is home each week to no more than 8 guests spread throughout 4 guest rooms, each with private, en suite bathrooms. Relax in the lodge's main living room, on the deck overlooking the valley and the mountains, on the lawn, or gather around the lodge's fire pit to soak in the stars of the southern sky.
FOOD/DRINK: Meals are an event at Cedar Lodge. Local produce, seafood, and meats drive a delectable menu prepared by Gordon, the lodge's chef, which features hearty breakfasts like smoked salmon eggs Benedict, satisfying streamside box lunches, and unforgettable 3-course dinners served — when the weather cooperates — outside on the lodge's teak-paneled patio, overhung with string lights and offering stunning sunset views of the peaks of the Makarora Valley.
Each night, dinner is paired with a selection of fine New Zealand wines, most often local selections from the Central Otago district (where the lodge is located), which is famous for its award-winning Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
CONNECTIVITY: The lodge offers WiFi connectivity throughout common areas and its guest rooms. Most guests will also have cellular service while at the lodge.
Arrive to the lodge—which is nestled amongst the mountains of the Makarora Valley, a stone's throw from the river that bears the same name—mid-afternoon, drop your bags, and relax. Soak up the midday sun in the sheepskin-lined chairs on the deck or find some shade at the table under the big beech tree in front of the lodge. Or, for those that like to keep moving, head out to the lawn for some casting practice—or perhaps a casting competition—before your first day on the way. Golfers can even get some practice in on the lodge's 3-hole "course" which, rumor has it, was designed by Jack Nicklaus.
Within easy striking distance of the lodge are several “big” rivers. In truth, the rivers themselves aren’t all that large. It’s the valleys they call home that are, through which they course in countless braids and side channels as they wind their way by bucolic grassland meadows and easily walkable cobblestone banks. Typically the last part of the journey made by water originating high in the surrounding mountains before flowing into one of the region’s mammoth lakes, these rivers are known for their eager, unselective trout, which help make them perfect first-day destinations for New Zealand newcomers. Spend the day walking and spotting trout—especially with the help of your guide who will help you resolve out of smudge and shadow fish you’d never have otherwise known were there. Pluck dry fly-eating browns and rainbows from bend pools shaded in hues of turquoise so impossibly rich and vibrant, Caribbean permit flats would look on in jealousy and blush.
Throughout Central Otago, Mt. Aspiring National Park, and other nearby regions, rivers course through steep-walled, beech-lined, backcountry valleys. Normally of moderate size, some of these rivers can swell to gargantuan proportions and terrifying flows when heavy rains fall, due to the large catchments they drain. Most days, however, these rivers flows pleasantly through their valleys, running past boulder-lined banks in their upper reaches and braiding through cobble lower down before meeting the larger rivers they flow into. Throughout their twists and turns, rainbows and browns rise greedily to large mayfly and cicada patterns. Accessing many of these rivers can involve river crossings and long, difficult hikes, but helicopter access affords anglers the opportunity to reach their best fishing mere minutes from the lodge.
In virtually every direction from the lodge, backcountry streams and creeks flow through tight valleys, gorges, and canyons. Though diminutive in size, these backcountry creeks hold trout every bit as big, powerful, and healthy as those found in bigger rivers. Though many of these creeks are frequented by trampers from time to time, thanks to the ruggedness and beauty of the country they flow through, they see few anglers due to the overnight hikes and dangerous crossings required to reach many of them. Typically characterized by gin clear, placid pools punctuated by swift-flowing, high-gradient riffles and runs, their backcountry trout require stealth and care, but reward anglers handsomely for both.
What will your next day on the water bring? With a laundry list of rivers, streams, and creeks accessible within a short helicopter flight of the lodge, the menu of options runs deep.
- Lodging Lodging at Cedar Lodge
- Meals Three chef-prepared meals daily plus hors d'oeuvres
- Beverages All non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages are included
- Guided fishing Fully guided fishing each day
- Helicopter flights Helicopter fees are included in your booking
- Loaner gear Loaner rods, reels, boots, and waders are included
Most commonly, guests visiting Cedar Lodge first travel to New Zealand's North Island, to the capital city of Auckland (AKL), for a connecting flight to Queenstown (ZQN) on the South Island. From there, guests transfer via car approximately 2 hours to Cedar Lodge. The lodge can arrange ground transportation or travelers can choose to rent their own vehicle and make the drive through New Zealand's countryside.