The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs - perched above Matauri Bay, in New Zealand's beautiful Bay of Islands - is the centrepiece to a golfing dream realised by New York financier, philanthropist, golfer and Kiwi-phile - Julian R Robertson.
For Robertson, it all began in the 1970s during a happy family holiday in New Zealand's northern region, when he spotted the 6000-acre / 2500-hectare property. While others were awestruck by the breathtaking cliff top sea views, secluded beach coves, rugged coast and semi-tropical climate, he visualised golf course fairways and greens.
The result was an award-winning course that's become the sort-after destination of golf-lovers from around the world, along with the many Kiwis who also line up to tee off on a unique golfing idyll.
One golfing guest has written in the guest book: "Pebble Beach is boring." Another writes that "I’d much rather play this than Pebble because it’s more scenic and more challenging."
It's difficult to compare the two when Pebble Beach has been established for many years, but apparently Kauri Cliffs has at least one advantage - far fewer players on the course.
Carved into nature
Designed by David Harman and carved into the landscape, Kauri Cliffs features stunning ocean views, including several holes that are particularly testing on the nerves of the acrophobic golfer.
As well as a golfer, Robertson is a religious man - as he puta it: "We didn’t really do anything - it’s God who has given us this beautiful land; we just enhanced it."
And, very carefully, for the golf course at Kauri Cliffs fits perfectly into the natural lay of the landforms without evidence of any obvious earth movement. That natural element also pervades through the laid-back Kiwi style that the country is renowned for.
The Lodge came later in the plan, opened to offer a luxury experience for both golfers and many other visitors looking to stay and play. Famous names and the super-rich of North America, Europe and Asia have enjoyed holidays at Kauri Cliffs.
The grand Plantation-style spread occupies a tranquil setting with extensive coastal views. The vast property - which includes a private day spa, par-72 championship golf course, tennis courts, and a stable of horses - has the feel of a very exclusive country club. It is a member of the Relais & Chateaux group.
Accommodation is in 22 guest suites in 11 private cottages, and the restaurant serves world-class fine cusine.
British-born Dale Gartland - group executive chef for the three Robertson lodges - has won accolades for his food, including Conde Nast Traveller (UK) Gold List ‘Best for Food’ in 2009 (The Farm) and 2010 (Kauri Cliffs).
The 31-year-old chef learned his classical French techniques working at a series of well-heeled English country hotels before moving on to Gidleigh Park Hotel - where he worked under Michelin two-star chef Michael Caines - and then to Kauri Cliffs, New Zealand.
Golfing and fishing
Matauri Bay is four hours from Auckland by car, or 40 minutes by plane to the nearest airport at Kerikeri, and there's always a helicopter on hand.
Golf, along with food and wine, are just some of the lures. Fishing, in the bountiful seas of the Bay of Islands is another - something Robertson appreciated when he first visited around 35 years ago.
There is also relaxation at Kauri Cliffs spa - a superb facility in a secluded and tranquil indoor/outdoor setting sheltered beneath a forest of towering native totara trees.
The natural environment and sub-tropical climate are other attractions. There are three secluded beaches near the lodge, walking tracks, and the property has been carefully planted with native flora. The lodge's resident naturalist leads guided bush walks, and day excursions include scuba diving, fishing, and visiting nearby islands.
A forest of more than 300 kauri trees has been planted. This stately native New Zealand hardwood has played a significant part in the history of the Northland region and, where once it was sought after for beautiful timber and kauri gum, it is now a protected species. One 1300-year old specimen that sits on the Robertson’s land has been gifted to a trust to ensure its preservation.
Native birds abound, even kiwi live on the land that the Robertson family is determined to protect.
The attention to the environment extends to the care given to the golf course - a living creature that is nourished, maintained and constantly groomed.
Background: The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs - Matauri Bay, NZ
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs is a sister property to The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, which also boasts an acclaimed golf course, and Matakauri Lodge, near Queenstown. These three super luxury properties - owned and operated by New York-based financier and philanthropist Julian Robertson and family - are members of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux hotel group.
All three lodges offer world-class accommodation in some of New Zealand’s most picturesque locations and have been recognised internationally with a number of awards.
Executive chef Dale Gartland - one of New Zealand's best known and most influential chefs - oversees the menus for all three properties and provides world-renowned dining experiences.
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs - occupying an immense 6000-acre coastal domain in New Zealand’s most northern region - opened in 2001.
Kauri Cliffs' significant accolades include:
2013 - Condé Nast Traveler Gold List
2013 - Virtuoso Hotels & Resorts ‘Best of the best’
2012 - #1 ‘World’s Best Service’ resorts and lodges, Travel + Leisure
2012 - #19 Top 100 golf courses, Golf Digest (USA)
2011 - Fodor’s ‘Top 100 Hotels’
2011 - #1 ‘World’s Best’ in Australasia & South Pacific Travel + Leisure
2010 - #1 ‘Lodge/Resort in Australasia + Pacific Condé Nast Traveler (Readers' Choice)
2010 - #1 ‘Best Lodge/Resort in Australasia & South Pacific - Service’ Travel + Leisure (USA)
2009 - #1 ‘Best Lodge/Resort in Australia, NZ and South Pacific’ Travel + Leisure (USA)
2009 - #17 in ‘Top 100 Hotels’ Travel + Leisure (USA) World’s Best Awards