High winds are whipping through New Zealand's North Island yet somehow the helicopter bringing guests to Kauri Cliffs still seems to land elegantly enough. Kauri Cliffs is one of the county's most luxurious lodges, with an international reputation so somehow you'd expect it's helicopter transfer to cope with adverse conditions with a certain style.
The wind does however make playing golf on the already challenging Kauri Cliffs golf course even more of a challenge. But nothing is going to stop my husband. Kauri Cliffs has one of the top resort golf courses in the world (its sister property Cape kidnappers has another) and it's been on my husband's (golf) hit list for a while now, so a little minor gale isn't going to stop him.
Nor most other players it seems. I watch from the main lodge's wide verandah as a succession of carts bearing pastel cashmere clad golfers make their way out onto the windswept course. One intrepid golfer has such a striking pair of large diamond patterned trousers that I am concerned he might frighten the Black Angus cattle on the Kauri Cliffs farm.
Despite the standard of the Kauri Cliffs breakfast and the very decent coffee I'm drinking I can't stay watching from the verandah any longer, the beauty of the course beckons me. This has to be one of the world's most scenic golf courses. Undulating hills so green they are almost fluorescent roll towards the cliff edge and beyond them the Cavalli Islands and a turquoise sea. Entranced by the view I agree to cart-myself around too. By the time we reach the 15th the sun is out and the views across to Cape Brett are spectacular.; the sea, which is an iridescent blue at the 16th is even more beautiful by the 18th . Then it is up hill all the way to the lodge which perches on the peak of the hill, king of all it surveys.
It was a love of golf and the wild New Zealand countryside that first brought legendary US hedge fund manager Julian Robertson and his late wife Josie here some years ago. When you see the beauty of the property's
6,000 acres (2428 hectares) it is easy to understand why a family that could travel anywhere in the world fell in love with these particular emerald green hills.
They brought the land from the local Williams family, which includes rolling farmland with Black Angus cows and sheep who have grown used to the perils of the odd stray golf ball. Like everything else at Kauri Cliffs even the livestock are photogenic, with lambs gambling round the hillside like little white clouds. At the edge of the cliffs elegant Norfolk pines pose silhouetted against the sky and a forest of native trees is Kodak-green. In the forest we stare up at an ancient Kauri, one of the oldest in New Zealand that has stood sentinel over the land for over 700 years.
The lordly main lodge has wide-planked pale totara floorboards, baronial fireplaces, wrought-iron chandeliers and carefully placed antiques. As befits its American owners the look of the interior, designed by
Virginia Fisher (who also interior designed Huka Lodge and the Robertson's newest super-lodge,
Matakauri) has a hint of the Hamptons about it with a little Cape Cod thrown in for good measure.
Individual grey-roofed villas are dotted cross the hill overlooking the golf course. Sun dapples through the greenery and makes little freckles of light on the deck of our particular balcony-with-a-view. When the sun goes in and the wind whips up again we sit by the open fire and play board games (supplied by the lodge) through a long, lazy afternoon.
A retreat created with so much love and attention to detail by one of the worlds' wealthy is bound to appeal to others of the same ilk. So it is really no surprise that Bill Gates and his extended family, Warren Buffet and.. .[insert name of chosen billionaire here] have stayed and tee-d off.
A retreat created with so much love and attention to detail by one of the worlds' wealthy is bound to appeal to others of the same ilk.
Ironically, say the management, it is only when the likes of golf-lover Justin Timberlake check in that the media helicopters hover, unaware that the rest of the time the world's REAL movers and shakers are in residence. But then, Kauri Cliffs isn't about show, it is about privacy and seclusion whoever you are.
It does make for some interesting evening's entertainment though, like the time Bette Midler sang for an audience of just 12 lucky guests who also happened to be in residence.
In the popular imagination the par 72 championship golf course (ranked in the world's top 100 since 2004) over shadows much else. But there are endless things to do at Kauri Cliffs without ever setting a Gucci-loafered foot off the property. You can mountain bike or sea-kayak, fish, ride horses or simply take a picnic to one of the three private beaches or the waterfall . Pink Beach, with its tiny rose-coloured shells is popular with guests but
The Luxury Travel Bible's favourite is Waiaua beach, reached down a long winding track. The return trip takes two hours on foot (coming up is the killer) so I opt for a sedate transfer by 4WD.
If you must leave Kauri why not charter Mission Hills, a 72 foot sea-going vessel to cruise the Bay of Islands. The charter includes a skipper, deck hand and chef as well as use of all the usual water toys like kayaks and jet skis. Although those little words 'price available at reception' means the experience won't come cheap.
Or you could take a helicopter tour
up to the very tip of the north island, to Cape Reinga where the Tasman sea and the Pacific Ocean collide.
Then of course there is the Woodland Spa, set in a forest of papery totara trees, where treatment rooms open on to terraces with outdoor fireplaces. As I walk down the spiraling corridor that leads to the centre of the spa it feels as if I am walking deep into a nautilus shell. As befits a spa on the edge of the Pacific Ocean on offer is a shell and ocean therapy massage using finely crushed sea shells, sea essences and mineral rich salts. There is also a massage that incorporates the energies of New Zealand jade (green stone) and bloodstone crystals and a Kiwi mud wrap (and no, that isn't an afternoon spent on a rainy rugby pitch with the All Blacks). I opt for the two-person massage. Its an out of body experience, disoriented by two sets of hands instead of one I am never quite sure which part of me is going to be pampered next.
In the evening we head to the main lounge for cocktails and a gourmet dinner with Te Awa wines from the Robertson's own vineyard. The muted table-talk appears to be of ornithology; birdies, and eagles are mentioned frequently and the rumour of an Albatross has one group of dining golfers in raptures.
And did someone say they spotted (a)Tiger? Now I'm really confused. At Kauri Cliffs golf it seems is never far away.
The Luxury Travel Bible Insider says ...
Stay at the Owners Lodge and you'll see touches created by the Robertson's such as the spiral shell montages by the pool that Josie Robertson sat and patiently created one relaxed afternoon.
Many people 'copter in and out either to Cape Kidnappers or Auckand . There is also a transfer available to Kauri Cliffs untra-luxe rival Huka lodge, Taupo.
Check in: Kauri Cliffs, Matauri Bay Road, Matauri Bay, Northland, New Zealand
Ultimate Luxury:The sublime Owner's Cottage
Most Indulgent Moment: There are so many...
Insider Secrets:The Robertson family spent up to four months of the years at the Owners Cottage when the their children were growing up
The Little Things: Whims catered to before you even know you have them
Junior Luxies: indulged. Nothing as crass as a kids club, just the personal touch
Dress code:Smart and labeled. A jacket for dinner isn't out of place
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Resorts Link: www.kauricliffs.com
Hilary Doling 1/11/10