How the other half holiday: the New Zealand retreat for the rich and famous

Celebrity spotting isn’t just for the suburbs of Los Angeles.

Movie stars and millionaires are glamming it up at their own A-lister’s paradise in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds.

The Sounds Retreat, run by owners Tony and Anne Brooker, offers guests their own Mini Cooper, a private yoga teacher and a masseuse on standby.

It’s so exclusive, only one couple stays at a time.

Shake It Off star Taylor Swift was rumoured to have stayed there in 2015, but Anne Brooker refused to comment.

The lodge prided itself on privacy, she said.

“There have been some Hollywood couples, an Oscar winner and characters with interesting professions in the background of the movie industry,” Brooker said.

“On the evening of the US election a personal friend of Hillary Clinton was staying at the retreat, and was inconsolable during dinner after the US election results were reported.

“A box of tissues and a generous amount of award-winning Marlborough wines helped her get through the evening.”

Brooker said it wasn’t just household names from the big screen who visited the retreat, but acclaimed individuals from other walks of life as well.

“We were honoured to host the Commander of the SEAL Team Six who was responsible for capturing Osama Bin Laden,” she said.

“We consider him and his colleagues to be heroes who put their own lives at risk to protect their country and its citizens.”

The lodge’s location on the hills of Anakiwa made it the perfect secluded vacation for A-lister guests.

“As The Sounds Retreat is exclusive and totally private, guests who may be concerned about being [watched] or overheard can relax in anonymity,” Brooker said.

Brooker said the retreat’s exclusivity was also a strong deciding factor.

“We are the most exclusive luxury lodge in the region and possibly in New Zealand,” she said.

“We cater to just one couple per booking, which means our total attention is to this couple alone. Whatever their wish, we try and fulfil their needs and expectations.”

For the price of $1850 per night, guests could make use of a variety of onsite amenities.

“If they are interested in health and fitness, a fully-equipped gym is available, and also the opportunity for a 90-minute private yoga session,” Brooker said.

“A massage therapist is available to offer treatments in our cabana, a beautiful tranquil setting, al fresco whilst listening to the birds.

“Guests can enjoy soaking in the large hot tub overlooking the Queen Charlotte Sound or just relax on the multi-level decks.”

Guests could also book their own private experiences, whether that was a guided kayak tour, a private cruise on a launch or a helicopter trip.

“Sometimes a Michelin-trained chef will be hired by guests to accompany them to a secluded spot in the Sounds and prepare a lunch for them while the guests take a stroll or even fish for lunch,” Brooker said.

For guests with a certain theme in mind, The Sounds Retreat offered packages that focused on romance, adventure or rejuvenation.

There was also a gourmet food and wine package.

“Many guests are ‘foodies’ who are very knowledgeable about wine and cuisine,” Brooker said.

“Some have loved being ‘hands on’ enjoying a private cheese-making tour, even making their own cheese which has been delivered for them to take home the following day.

“Private wine tours are also popular and we try and plan which vineyards to visit after discussing their particular wine preferences before they arrive.”

Meals were made on demand by Tony Brooker, who moonlights as a chef.

“Dinner is a special affair as a personal menu is created for each guest showcasing Marlborough produce, also taking into account any dietary issues the guest may have,” Brooker said.

“Dining by soft candle light and attended to by their personal host, guests can enjoy a variety of Marlborough wines, carefully paired with each course.”

The British husband and wife team built the retreat to act as a “safe haven” after being involved in a number of unfortunate events.

“Tony was in the Twin Towers [in New York] just before 911 working with Morgan Stanley on a business trip from Hong Kong. We’ve lived through the SARS virus at ground zero in Hong Kong, and we lived in Japan during the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis,” Anne Brooker said.

“We realise this part of the world is truly paradise, we are privileged and thrilled we can now call it home.

“We hope to share Marlborough with visitors from all over the world, by introducing them to its beauty.”

It was rumoured Swift stayed at the Sounds Retreat while in New Zealand filming a music video for the single Out of the Woods from her album 1989.

But it’s not just celebrities The Sounds Retreat hoped to woo, but everyday people too.

“Many of our visitors are honeymooners, younger couples enjoying a ‘bucket list’ trip or older couples enjoying retirement,” Brooker said.

“We’ve also hosted many entrepreneurs who’ve built companies which they’ve then sold before retirement.”

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