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Our recent journey to New Zealand’s North and South Islands took us to the famed Robertson Lodges. Founded by New York financier Julian Robertson and his late wife, Josie, when the Wall Street giant embarked on a second career as a hotelier, these lodges are infused by the Robertson’s deep affection for all that is New Zealand.
We first visited Matakauri Lodge on the South Island. Perched on the side of a cliff overlooking Lake Wakatipu, our suite’s floor-to-ceiling glass walls offered a mesmerizing panorama of the rugged peaks climbing out of the glacier lake and reaching toward the sky. Matakauri’s public spaces—dining room, spa, pool, and gym—provide breathtaking views of an ever-changing landscape.
In the course of a day, the peaks altered their appearance from lush green to fog-shrouded to snow-capped (a reminder that the Southern Alps are just down the road). Decorated by Virginia Fisher, the Auckland-based designer, Matakauri Lodge has an airy, homey feel grounded in sophisticated luxury. No wonder Condé Nast Traveler included Matakauri Lodge on their 2018 Gold List.
Matakauri Lodge is fit for royalty as evidenced by Prince William and Duchess Kate’s visit in 2014. The lodge’s location just minutes from Queenstown, New Zealand’s capital of adventure, makes it equally attractive to the adventurous nonroyals as well. Queenstown offers the ultimate adventure travel bucket list—heli rides over vast fjords, bungy jumps from the Kawarau Bridge (the birthplace of commercial bungy), jet boat rides on the Dart River, and hikes on New Zealand’s most famous trails in the Mount Aspiring National Park (where myth, heritage, and fantasy come to life). As each thrilling day came to an end, we looked forward to pre-dinner drinks and canapes with our fellow travelers and hotel manager before sitting down to an exquisite meal enjoyed as the last bit of color drained from the sky.
A quick flight to Auckland, followed by another short flight north to the Art Deco town of Napier took us to our next Robertson Lodge, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. Upon arrival, a huge metal fence yawned open beckoning our entry. We later discovered this fence descends several feet below ground to keep out unwanted animals harmful to the native species. Traveling past acres of pine trees, we reached the hillcrest stone and timber main lodge. It was impeccably decorated from top to bottom with unique flair from Thai flatware to an antique coffee table repurposed from a pigeon coop.
The 6,000-acre property can be explored via an all-terrain vehicle with a professional driver who guides visitors over rolling hills dotted with sheep, through pine forests, down to the sprawling Rangaika Beach, over rugged cliffs and prairies with a stop at the world’s largest mainland colony of the Gannet seabird.
The Farm also boasts an award-winning Tom Doak-designed golf course, a working sheep and cattle farm, and a sanctuary for some of the country’s most precious flora (Manuka honey plants) and fauna (the darling endangered Kiwi bird). The Farm’s Sanctuary is also a haven for the Tuatara, a lizard unchanged since dinosaur times.
Mr. Robertson’s tireless efforts to bring New Zealand’s ecosystem back into balance are reflected in the Kiwi Discovery Walk, which provides an up close and personal encounter with the Kiwi bird. Our guide picked us up at the lodge for a thrilling ride into the forest. Upon arrival, we learned a bit about the Kiwi bird before suiting up with our Kiwi locator equipment. Once we found a young male bird, we watched as our guide carried out a wellness check—a treat most New Zealanders could only imagine as it is estimated that only ten percent ever see a Kiwi bird in the wild. Proceeds from this experience go to the Sanctuary to ensure the continuation of their conservation efforts.
Dining at The Farm was a sensual delight. Exquisite courses were paired with delicious wines in a candlelit atmosphere framed by views of rolling hills that descended into the sea and accompanied by the happy whispers of delighted guests. Evenings like these are what inspired readers of Condé Nast Traveler to rank The Farm within the top 20 best resorts in the world in 2018.
After bidding farewell to our friends at The Farm, we headed to the Lodge at Kauri Cliffs located in the Bay of Islands. The first of the Robertson Lodges and the first luxury lodge to open in New Zealand since 1924. The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs sits on the northern tip of the North Island where rugged cliffs fall away to three secluded private beaches near Matauri Bay.
The main lodge’s blond woodwork and Nantucket-type décor are the result of a close collaboration between the late Josie Robertson and designer Virginia Fisher. A raised wraparound porch serves as the perfect gathering platform for pre-dinner canapes and cocktails. The mixologist was an absolute genius who could whip up cocktails ranging from the divinely simple to the daringly decadent—depending on the connoisseur’s mood. The main dining room’s ample menu is best enjoyed fireside while the outdoor patio was perfect for breakfast and lunch. A culinary must is the Tuna Trio. Beautifully plated with a whisper of wasabi and hints of tender greens, this dish was our daily delight.
One morning we headed to the Pink Beach with our fisherman guide Simon. With shell-covered stretches reaching out to a necklace of lagoons, Pink Beach is regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches making for a beguiling location for our morning outing. Shore fishing was something we had never attempted so we were especially excited to catch an iridescent snapper. We savored our success over dinner when our fish was beautifully prepared by the chef.
Our cottage at Kauri Cliffs sat on a hill overlooking a portion of the David Harman-designed golf course with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Like the main lodge, the cottage’s decor was at once comfortable yet sophisticated. We began each morning the way a morning should be savored—with coffee on our terrace listening to a birdsong symphony and watching the ocean wake to a grand new day.
In November, Kauri Cliffs will welcome a new addition to the luxurious property with the launch of The Residences at Kauri Cliffs. The three, four-bedroom private Residences will offer a stay compiling the very best in accommodations for larger guest groups. Walking into their Residence, guests will face a spacious living and dining room, accompanied by a family-sized kitchen complete with a casual dining island, a butler’s pantry for exclusive chef service, and a mini-bar carrying New Zealand’s finest wines, beers, and spirits. Stepping out, guests will have access to an expansive veranda and a 25-foot saltwater swimming pool.
We couldn’t agree more with Conde Nast Traveler’s recent Gold List inclusion of the Lodge at Kauri Cliffs. What are you waiting for? A dreamlike Robertson Lodge golden getaway is just a phone call or keystroke away.
For more information, visit robertsonlodges.com.