Nestled in the South Pacific and untouched by modern civilization until the 1800s, New Zealand is still relatively “new,” which makes for a fascinating geography of wonders and a country unlike anywhere else in the world. Prior to becoming part of the British Commonwealth in the 1800s, New Zealand did have a population of settlers called the Māori, whose Polynesian culture and influences are still found through much of the island nation. Comprised of two main islands—North Island and South Island—New Zealand possesses a vast array of anomalies, including a diverse collection of native avian species, such as the unique Kiwi bird. From its coastal towns to its mountainous communities, New Zealand can play host to everything from a relaxing retreat to an adrenaline-fueled adventure.
One commonality in New Zealand is the trend of luxury lodges—which feature a common main lodge and individual, stand-alone guest lodges—as the preferred form of hospitality. When you’re halfway around the world, it’s a wonderful respite to have that kind of privacy, space, and convenience (all meals at the main lodge restaurants are included in the pricing). For being a relatively small nation—New Zealand’s two islands are collectively about the size of Colorado—there’s no shortage of options when it comes to lodging. Retired American hedge fund manager Julian Robertson has spent the last decade developing three of the most luxurious, all located in the most distinct and desirable locations New Zealand has to offer. Last December, I journeyed to New Zealand to check them out.
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs
Touchdown in Auckland is a welcome relief after a long, but enjoyable flight on Air New Zealand, but what’s even more welcome is the helicopter arranged to take me straight to The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs (kauricliffs.com), the first of the three destinations on this epic journey. Heading north and hovering over dormant volcanoes, and offshore oyster farms, and flying over jagged cliff sides, leads us to an on-site helipad and waiting Land Rover, all of which is a stone’s throw from the main lodge of Kauri Cliffs.
Greeting me is Jay Robertson, Julian’s son, and his wife, Claire. Jay and Claire manage Kauri Cliffs, and their expertise shows; Business Insider recently named The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs “number-one hotel in the world.” The main lodge, equivalent to an impeccably designed New England cottage, boasts two sitting areas (replete with magazines, games, and movies) and a light and airy dining room, which opens to a wraparound porch with views of their PGA Golf Course and the Pacific Ocean. The Totara Forested path outside the main lodge leads to the 11 cottages on-site.
With 6,000 acres on the property, the activities are endless, but after a day of travel, a visit to the spa is definitely in order. After the refreshing jetlag massage treatment, a festive barbeque down at the property’s infamous pink beach is the perfect conclusion. Turndown service includes a crackling fire in the room’s stone fireplace and freshly baked cookies on the minibar. Despite the fact that I’m in a different continent, it’s difficult to not feel immediately at home.
After a rousing round of golf the next morning with the course’s unofficial mascot, Tiger the Goat, a delicious omelet made with New Zealand eggs is served on the porch. After tasting it, I understand Queen Elizabeth II’s passion for New Zealand eggs at breakfast. Refreshed and refueled, I head out on horseback for a guided tour of the property, the best way to experience the vast semi-tropical farmland, and manageable for even novice riders like me.
To really experience the local flair, make a point to check out Mangonui Fish and Chips for an unrivaled, indulgent treat. The shop allows customers to pick their own “catch of the day” and then fries to order. There were no bad choices, but in this editor’s opinion, look no further than the scallops and the flounder.
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers
Moving further south on North Island, I arrive in Hawke’s Bay, home to many award-winning wineries, as well as The Farm at Cape Kidnappers (capekidnappers.com), Robertson’s second New Zealand property. Like a true farmhouse, it takes a good 15-minute drive to get from the front gate to the rustic-chic main lodge. Inside, you’ll find intricate stonework, exposed high beams and a dining room that will make you go weak in the knees with its floor-to-ceiling glass doors and verdant views. There’s even a “silo” called The Snug; the circular room can be reserved for private dining.
But the can’t-miss experience, unique to Cape Kidnappers and New Zealand itself, is the Kiwi (what native new zealanders are commonly referred as) Discovery Walk. Robertson has hired experts from Environmental Services to guide guests on a short hike to uncover the famous flightless Kiwi bird, descendant of the now extinct Moa and native to New Zealand.
Hawkes Bay is New Zealand’s wine country, and there is no shortage of wineries. Make a day of it and visit a few, but be sure to eat lunch at Elephant Hill Estate & Winery. The coastal winery has a sleek modern design to its award-winning restaurant and their Pinot Gris is not to be missed.
The last stop on my epic journey across New Zealand was Matakauri Lodge (matakaurilodge.com), the newest member of Robertson’s trio, located in Queentown—the filming location for both The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narrnia. Situated on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Matakauri Lodge employs a modern, sleek design that makes use of the commanding outdoor scenery by incorporating as many windows as possible in both the main lodge and outlying suites (there are a total of eight suites, two lodges, and one lodge room). Famed New Zealand interior designer Virginia Fisher decorated this and the other two Robertson properties, and the breadth of her talent is especially apparent here.
Since Queenstown is notorious for adrenaline junkies, it’s only fair to give in to a ride on a jet boat. Flying down the Dart River at high speed, it is a front seat tour of the best scenery in Queenstown and the surrounding areas, including an aptly named town called Paradise, filming site for The Hobbit trilogy. These adventures tend to work up quite the appetite, and luckily, Queenstown has a famous answer to the hunger pains: Fergburger. The famous eatery, known for its burgers, typically has lines spilling out onto the sidewalks.
The final hurrah on this whirlwind adventure is a day trip to Arrowtown, a historic and quaint gold mining town that could be mistaken for a movie set. It is the perfect cinematic ending to a place where the beaches are pink, mountain ranges are named Remarkable, the sheep outnumber humans nine to one, and the warmest month of the year happens to be January. Luckily, it’s all real, and I can’t wait to go back.