Old Nugget’s new shine

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A small, award-winning accommodation chain is taking over Queenstown’s original boutique hotel.
The 40-room Nugget Point, opened 22 years ago, will be managed by Southland-owned Distinction Hotel Group from December 1.

Distinction owns properties in Te Anau and Rotorua and has looked to add Queenstown to its portfolio for some time.

“It’s a strategic destination, you can’t not be there,” Distinction boss Duncan Fletcher says.

His firm is leasing the Arthurs Point property from owners Barry and Salina Walters, who bought it for about $6 million seven years ago.

“We’ll be taking full operational control of it,” Fletcher says.

“[Barry and Salina] are stepping aside for several years” – last year, the couple also bought Awaroa Lodge in Nelson’s Abel Tasman National Park.

But Distinction also has the option to purchase: “This will be discussed down the line, well and truly,” Fletcher says.

He expects the hotel – to be rebranded Nugget Point, a Distinction Hotel – will feed off the firm’s other properties.

Owned by Invercargill developer Geoff Thomson, the chain owns two key Te Anau properties.

After buying the former THC hotel 11 years ago, Thomson has spent millions refurbishing the Distinction Te Anau Hotel and Villas. His other Te Anau property, Distinction Luxmore Hotel, has also been done up and won the Inbound Tour Operators Council Operator of the Year award in August.

Thomson also owns the four-star Distinction Rotorua Hotel & Conference Centre.

“We’ve been looking for some time to find a property that fitted our brand [in Queenstown],” Fletcher says.

What attracted the chain to Nugget Point is its stunning location overlooking the Shotover River: “It has that little bit of difference to it.”

Graham Smolenski, who co-developed Nugget Point, says when it opened in 1987 it was Queenstown’s first boutique hotel.

“There were only two in the country – Huka Lodge [near Taupo] and Nugget Point.

“They were the blueprint that other lodges started going from.”

He thinks it’s good Nugget Point will now be part of a chain.

“The game is centred around boutique hotel chains now.

“The days of single ownership are really hard unless you’re a [Blanket Bay owner] Tom Tusher with a lot of money,” Smolenski says.

Smolenski concedes that as luxury lodges go, Nugget Point’s been superseded by the likes of Glenorchy’s Blanket Bay, Queenstown’s Eichardt’s Private Hotel and Arrowtown’s Millbrook Resort – which he also co-developed.

But he’s pleased to see his Arthurs Point baby is “alive and well”.

In the early 1990s, Nugget Point hosted then Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating during high-level talks with Kiwi PM Jim Bolger.

A bonus for Distinction is that Nugget Point’s owners are to build a spa and beauty facility, due for completion in March, which Fletcher says will be top of the line.

He’s appointed Ken Edwards as manager – the Queenstowner was inaugural boss of the resort’s upmarket Spire Hotel and has latterly run Lake Tekapo’s new Bluewater Resort.

Fletcher suggests Nugget Point “has a good name, we’re just reinforcing that”.

“Queenstown’s got a good coverage of quality [products] at all different levels. It’s just got to continue to maintain that quality approach, particularly if the summer’s not as strong as we all want.”