By Evin Priest

THE legend of Kauri Cliffs has its origins in America in the early 1990s – dark times for the US. In 1992, widespread riots erupted in Los Angeles following the acquittal of four police officers filmed savagely beating taxi driver Rodney King. A year later, a truck bomb exploded in the car park under the World Trade Center in New York City, killing six people and injuring thousands.

Billionaire Julian Robertson had accumulated enormous wealth on Wall Street with a hedge-fund empire in the 1980s, but felt the US was in decline. Robertson wanted a safe haven – an exit strategy if the land of the free and the home of the brave suddenly became neither. New Zealand was a relocation possibility after the North Carolina native lived there for two years in the 1970s, writing a novel he never published.

So, in 1995, when a friend recommended real estate on the North Island’s far northeast coast, Robertson didn’t hesitate. He purchased a 6,000-acre property in Matauri Bay, complete with grazing sheep, rolling green paddocks and panoramic vistas over the Pacific Ocean. The plan was to settle down with his late wife and children and build a golf course for friends to play while visiting his Northland abode. But Josie Robertson saw infinite potential and wanted to share the experience with the world. Sitting on the balcony of your room overlooking the golf course, farmland and the Bay of Islands, you will appreciate her immeasurable foresight.

The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs is arguably world golf’s greatest four-day holiday destination. Sure, stay longer if you can, but 96 hours here mounts a case for golf’s most complete getaway – and here are seven reasons why:

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1. Play The No.39-Ranked Course In The World

Many believe this golf course would rank higher on the World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses list had the designer held a bigger profile in golf architecture. While notable US architect Tom Doak designed its sister course Cape Kidnappers (also on the North Island), the mastermind of Kauri Cliffs was an unheralded Florida native, the late David Harman. This layout is arguably superior to Kidnappers, particularly in the routing – 15 holes play with views over the Pacific Ocean.

The opening stretch plays down to the ocean with three solid, short par 4s before a strategic par 5 named ‘Cambo’ after 2005 US Open champion Michael Campbell. Then the stars of the opening nine arrive – two breathtaking par 3s on cliff edges. The fifth has been shortened considerably with a thoughtful new tee facing east, where the golfer hits to a tight green while looking at a native forest and the Bay of Islands. The seventh is the most intimidating hole on the card and is brutally exposed to the wind. The blue tee requires a 170-metre gorge carry to a green perched in front of the spectacular Cavalli Islands.

The back nine begins with four holes tastefully tucked into a hillside pocket of the farm, as Kauri Cliffs winds up to one of the greatest four-hole stretches in world golf. Put simply, you will never forget these holes. The 14th is a stunning par 3 measuring 160m, and resembles a flatter version of Pebble Beach’s famed seventh. It is a simple, straight hole with 180 degrees of ocean views and the only hazards are two greenside bunkers, and a 200-foot cliff drop to the left and behind the green. The 15th is a boomerang-shaped short par 5, while the 16th [above] will tempt longer hitters to cut the corner and land on a green seemingly placed on the edge of the world. The 17th is a deceptive par 4 that invites the golfer to bite off the edge of the fairway, but be warned: the carry is longer than it looks. Sadly, Harman died in 2004 of tongue cancer. Kauri Cliffs was his finest achievement and a moving plaque on the 14th tee has enshrined his dedication and professionalism.

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The majestic, par-3 14th.

2. Incredible Food, World-Class Wine

New Zealand is renowned for its wine-growing regions and fresh produce, and the latter is delivered paddock-to-plate in The Lodge’s restaurant. The chefs have the luxury of handpicking ingredients from around the property, and general manager Garth Solly believes this adds a formidable element to the guest experience. “Our food is locally sourced and lovingly prepared – that you can play golf and then eat grass-fed Angus beef or Coopworth lamb farmed on the same property never ceases to amaze guests. Particularly those from busy, urban cities,” says Solly.

The Pacific Rim fine-dining here will have you eating everything from succulent New Zealand lamb and tender gaming meat (venison) to mouth-watering fresh seafood prepared by classically trained, fine dining chefs. The menu changes daily and the tasting menu is essential at least one night during your stay. “Pacific Rim is a wonderful incorporation of Asian cooking techniques, blended with the local fish style of Pacific cuisine, as well as that colonial throwback to traditional meat-and-veg dishes,” says Solly.

A sommelier will ensure each course is matched perfectly with the country’s finest wines, and Solly promises every palate is catered for. “If you love your sauvignon blanc, you’ll enjoy the award-winning Marlborough region wines in our cellar such as Craggy Range and Villa Maria. But the South Island also produces some amazing pinot from the Gibbston Valley region,” says Solly. “And the Martinborough pinot and shiraz wines are simply out of this world.” The interior decor of the restaurant has a cozy, classic American lodge theme complete with a crackling fireplace. The service is also world class.

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3. It’s A Four-Day Hotspot For The Rich And Famous

Microsoft founder Bill Gates counts Kauri Cliffs as one of his favourite getaways. Rumour has it that when the American billionaire heads down to the land of the long white cloud, he hires out The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in its entirety. Another name more familiar with our friends across the ditch is New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, a self-confessed golf tragic who visits Kauri Cliffs regularly. But it’s not just billionaires and politicians who visit; in fact they are the minority – each guest is treated as though they are family friends of Robertson.

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Kauri Cliffs’ Pink Beach.

4. ‘Pure New Zealand’ Recreation Has Something For Everyone

The outdoor recreation at Kauri Cliffs contributes as much as the golf to the overall experience.

This rare taste of ‘Pure New Zealand’ is headlined by Kauri’s three private beaches – Pink Beach, Takou and Waiaua Beach. Fish for snapper and cod off Pink Beach [pictured above] or take your partner for a romantic picnic while watching the waves lap up against Waiaua Bay. A tour of the farm is also essential – seeing a couple of two-day-old lambs walking alongside their mothers is unique. Particularly when you discover they are all sets of twins born from the Coopworth ewe.

Guests wanting a bit of adrenaline will enjoy hiking, tennis and mountain biking, while clay bird shooting and archery are also enjoyable. Thrill seekers are also in for a treat with Kauri Cliffs now offering a 2.5-hour quadbike tour of the property.

“We’re really excited that guests can now ride quadbikes and see parts of the farm you can only discover on four wheels,” says Solly.

“Ride through native New Zealand forests, across rivers and up to locations where you can have a picnic lunch looking out over Matauri Bay. It’s really special.”

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The plush interiors of the the spa [above] and The Lodge [below].

 5. There’s A Luxury Kiwi Spa

The most impressive aspect of Kauri Cliffs’ spa is its authentic New Zealand experience, as opposed to southeast Asian spa treatments so common in modern holiday resorts. This sinks in as you make your way down a tranquil pathway meandering through a native Totara forest en route to the facility. Enjoy a sense of escape through a range of treatments, including a waterfall massage and Kiwi mud wrap, or the Silver Fern and Kauri Comfort Zone packages. But the spa isn’t just for the women at Kauri Cliffs – there’s an excellent men’s range including a heated deep tissue golf massage or stress-release back treatment. There’s also a sauna, hot tub, heated indoor lap pool and fitness gym.


6. You’ve (Almost) Got The Property Completely To Yourself

The maximum number of guests at Kauri Cliffs barely exceeds 50 across its 23 suites. For a 6,000-acre property, that’s not a lot of people. There are no queues or waiting times on the course and customer service is highly personal. This private feel is part of owner Robertson’s mantra – guests feel they have the resort to themselves. “We have the advantage of being a smaller property, so we can individualise your holiday,” says Solly. “With only 50 guests, we can give each a completely different experience to the couple in the suite next to you.  You can’t do that in, say, a 500-room hotel in Thailand or Fiji.”

As a former general manager of InterContinental Hotels Group, Solly claims the tourism on offer at Kauri Cliffs is unparalleled by anything he’s come across as a hotelier.

“I don’t know of any golf destination in the world where you play a world top-40 golf course in the morning and in the afternoon enjoy a quadbike ride or horse trek through farmland and along beaches. Where you can go fishing on gorgeous beaches or go hiking before sitting down to food you’ll never forget.”

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The par-3 seventh is Kauri Cliffs’ most photographed hole from the air.

7. Matauri Bay’s History Is Fascinating

Depending on how many rounds you want to squeeze into your four days, there are several historic towns around the Bay of Islands that must be visited. On one side of Paihia sits Russell – New Zealand’s first capital and initial place of European settlement. Once dubbed the ‘hell hole of the Pacific’ for the rowdy atmosphere visiting whalers and Europeans created, Russell is now an upmarket seaside village littered with cafes, gift shops and boutique accommodation. A beer at the Duke of Marlborough is essential – it was the first hotel in New Zealand to be licensed after the colony was formed in 1840. On the other side of Paihia sits the birthplace of the nation, Waitangi. Explore the Waitangi Treaty House, where Maori chiefs first signed their accord with the British Crown.

While you’re up in Northland, be sure to head to the Waipoua Forest to see Tane Mahuta,  NZ’s largest kauri tree – estimated to be between 1,250 and 2,500 years old. Why not see it all by helicopter?  Kauri Cliffs can arrange to see this stunning stretch of coastline by chopper – luxury at its finest.

Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand’s Matauri Bay is a luxurious, boutique resort only a 45-minute flight north of Auckland. Overnight accommodation starts from $NZ775 (double) and $NZ1,165 (single), which includes pre-dinner drinks with canapes, a la carte dinner, full breakfast, complimentary mini-bar and use of all lodge facilities (excluding golf and spa treatments).

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