— NEW ZEALAND FROM NORTH TO SOUTHBy Julian Robertson, owner of three Relais & Châteaux hotels in New Zealand: The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers and Matakauri Lodge.
Julian Robertson was born in North Carolina, in the United States. This American founded a veritable financial empire with Tiger Fund and fell in love with the landscapes of New Zealand, where he has built three of the most beautiful hotels in the Pacific. Demonstrating his love for the country, he recently presented fifteen masterpieces to the Auckland Art Gallery, including paintings by Picasso, Gauguin, Matisse and Mondrian, after having made a large donation following the earthquake which struck Christchurch in 2011. Julian Robertson has been named an Honorary Knight Companion of New Zealand, the country’s most important honour.
It was in 1978 that I came to New Zealand for the very first time. My wife and I had decided to take a few months off to spend some time with our young children, and for me to write the great American Novel. We spent six months here and I loved every minute of it. In 1995, I finally returned here and embarked on the Kauri Cliffs project. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was only the first step of a personal and financial investment. Since then, I have been coming here several times a year to enjoy the incredible New Zealand landscapes, which are perhaps the most beautiful in the world. A lot of my friends think of me as part-Kiwi now…
STEP 1: 4 DAYS, 3 NIGHTS / LODGE AT KAURI CLIFFS
In 1995, we decided to transform this sheep farm into a five star hotel. Located in the northern part of the North Island, the estate extends over almost 2,400 hectares. The first time my wife and I came here we fell in love with the site. Picture a panoramic view of the Cavalli Islands and Cape Brett, magnificent (private) beaches, lush hillsides, a virgin forest and waterfalls. An idyllic place, which we have adorned with one of the finest golf courses in the world.
Close to the property…
Located in Waipoua Forest, Tane Mahuta is not just any tree. It belongs to the Kauri species, the oldest of which have enormous trunks and are actually considered gods by the Maori. Tane Mahuta means Lord of the Forest. The first time I came here, my companion, a man over six and a half feet tall, was reduced to childlike wonder at the sight of this tree. I remember that the sun set slowly, until a final ray of sunlight flickered through the branches. A magnificent spectacle.
A Northland Helicopter experience
It is here, off the coast of the northern point of the North Island, that the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. From the helicopter, you can witness some of Nature’s greatest wonders, soaring over cliffs and a glorious coastline. With a bit of luck, you will see schools of fish, or even the sharks and whales that inhabit this corner of the earth, forgotten by man. This is my favourite out of the many flights we offer to our guests.
Golf Kauri Cliff
Built in 2001, the Kauri Cliffs golf course is considered to be the finest work of the late architect David Harman (who was a business partner of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer). Within the space of two years, David made some 46 round trips between Florida and New Zealand, to transform the wild landscape into a unique golf course. The course offers 18 holes spread over 6,510 metres (par 72) in a breathtaking setting: 15 holes look out over the Pacific Ocean, and six of them are set right on the cliffs. One year after the course was completed, it was already ranked among the finest courses in the world. Former world number one Frederick Couples put it very simply: It’s the most beautiful place I have ever played.
STEP 2: 4 DAYS, 3 NIGHTS / THE FARM AT CAPE KIDNAPPERS
In the heart of a very beautiful wine producing region, this opening of this estate was managed by my son, Jay Robertson. We opened in 2007, after six years of work. While the main building may resemble an enormous barn, the bedrooms are very modern and comfortable. The hotel and the site are very popular with golf fans, who come from all over the world to enjoy our facilities.
Close to the property…
A wild paradise
The Farm at the Kidnappers seems to have its own ecosystem. In the area around the hotel, you can discover incredible bird species, including the almost 20,000 Northern Gannets that come to nest along the cliffs between September and April. There is also the kiwi, the wild bird which is the symbol of New Zealand. Kiwis cannot fly. During the day, they hide in burrows or under tree roots, and at night they look for food on the ground. You will also discover the tuatara, a lizard endemic to the island which seems straight out of the world of dinosaurs, and which wanders unfazed among the visitors …
Cape Kidnappers Golf Course
Here you can play in the midst of pastures, between greens, bunkers and sheep. The magnificent Pacific is within driving distance! The fifteenth hole is dubbed the pirate’s plank. The game continues between chalk cliffs, looking out over the little manukas, or tea trees, which in spring sport pretty red flowers. Designed by Tom Doak, the course has also been rated in the top hundred most beautiful courses in the world by the highly respected Golf Magazine. The course could be described as firm and fast (18 holes, 6,510 metres, par 71). One tip: watch out for the wind!
Hawkes Bay’s wines
Since the mid 19th century, Hawkes Bay has been famous for producing some of the best wines in New Zealand. Missionaries from France planted and worked the first vines here. The region, it should be noted, is one of the country’s sunniest and also has a maritime climate conducive to the making of quality red and white wines. Its Merlot and Cabernet feature on the menus of the country’s best restaurants.
STEP 3: 4 DAYS, 3 NIGHTS / MATAKAURI LODGE
In 2010, we finally opened a third hotel in the south west part of the South Island, the final jewel in our collection. Set on the banks of Lake Wakatipu, Matakauri Lodge enjoys an incredible location beside The Remarkables mountain range, Cecil Peak and Walter Peak. Just minutes away from this scenery that seems to have remained unchanged for a thousand years is Queenstown, adventure capital of the world.
Close to the property…
Discover Milford Sound
At over 12,100 km², Fiordland is New Zealand’s biggest national park. It is made up of many fjords, including the splendid Milford Sound. The nature here remains wild, and this part of the island is classed as a Unesco world heritage site (Te Wahipounamu). My son who manages our hotels often comes here to fish and brings home amazing catches. I went with him once, but I don’t think I caught a single fish!
Queenstown, a unique place
I really like Queenstown. This little town with scarcely 10,000 inhabitants has some of the best dining in New Zealand. Located close to a beautiful lake and superb mountains, Queenstown is above all the adventure capital of the world. The scenery around the town has inspired my friend Peter Beadle, one of New Zealand’s foremost landscape painters. I like to lose myself in his paintings of Lake Wakatipu, the Southern Alps and the forests of Fiordland.
Adventure and thrills
The area around Queenstown is a dream come true for nature lovers and thrill seekers. No two days are the same here. Within the space of a few hours, you can go from bungee jumping to rafting, to paragliding, to a hike on a glacier. People come from all over the country to ski, jump and climb. I’m no longer of an age for that, but I love the town’s youthful and enthusiastic atmosphere. The scenery was an inspiration for director Peter Jackson, who shot many scenes of his Lord of the Rings trilogy here.
Texts : © Guides Gallimard, Relais & Châteaux