by Andrea Clarke
It was a genuine dilemma. My then boyfriend (who shall be referred to through this piece as ‘the ex’ because, that’s what he is…) and I both wanted a short break, but he wanted to play golf and I wanted an exotic massage involving hot stones. (This was surely a sign we weren’t to last!).
We were both desperate for a destination that would provide us with enough inspiration to make it through the next few chaotic months at work. There had to be seriously good food and an endless supply of local wine.
We surfed the Internet, consulted friends and bought too many travel magazines. Then—after multiple Google entries—there it was. The luxury lodge custom made for our dream getaway: Kauri Cliffs, on the tip of New Zealand’s North Island.
The promotional photos failed to do it justice. Thanks to some frustrating Friday afternoon traffic exiting Auckland, we didn’t arrive until 10pm, but even under the cover of darkness, the main lodge was completely breathtaking. Designed to emulate the feel of an old Northland homestead with a touch of the Hamptons, Kauri was the epitome of class. It was abundantly clear that someone with an infinite amount of money and taste was behind this resort.
That person is Julian Robertson, a Wall Street multi-millionaire with a die hard passion for New Zealand. After buying 6000 acres of land, he employed David Harman, an Orlando-based golf architect, to create a championship course that made the most of the rugged clifftop landscape.
It was dark, and even though I was quite literally tripping over myself with joy as we were lead to our wood cottage, I could still make out shape of the heated infinity pool. Its dark blue water appeared to drop directly in the Pacific Ocean. Spectacular.
The wood cottage, one of 22 rooms, was subtle luxury personified. All 900 square feet of it. The switch-on log fire highlighted the beige and neutral tones of the spacious bedroom and living room. The large bathroom boasted a huge soaking tub and twin sinks on opposite sides of the room. The private deck provided panoramic views of the golf course and the Cavelli Islands. The bottle of fine pinot delivered to our room wasn’t going to last long.
In under 10 minutes, this resort had already far exceeded my expectations.
As mad golfers tend to do, ‘the ex’ set the alarm for 7am in order to make the very most of every moment on the fairway. Admittedly, as a newcomer to the sport—drawn to it initially by the prospect of buying new spiky shoes—I wasn’t that keen to play, but there was no excuse. Kauri had only a month earlier been ranked among the world’s top 100 courses by US Golf Digest.
I committed to nine holes, lunch, then a visit to the day spa for the afternoon while the golf obsessed ex continued his final nine holes. As we prepared to tee off, I listened intently to my ‘ex’ expert golf partner. I was informed that the back tees (called the ‘Tiger Tees’) would pose a most serious challenge. The ex was muttering instructions to himself about having to hit ‘dead straight and long,’ to avoid straying into the ‘rough.’ If you hit into the ‘rough’ forget about your ball. The rough was the ‘roughest he’d seen.’
Closely scrutinising the tee, I pretended to look equally as concerned as he was, nodding my head using my most serious face. The sacrifices we make, I thought to myself.
Naturally I hit from the ladies tees, which shortened the course dramatically. As an amateur golfer, I was completely preoccupied with the views each hole provided, while he was busy with the technicalities of each fairway, and ‘reading’ the greens. It sounded far too serious to me.
The seventh hole by far offered the most spectacular view: a panorama of the Bay of Islands.
Lunch was served on the deck of the main lodge overlooking the golf course and the Pacific Ocean. Despite the long list of fine seafood on the menu, I chose to go with the PGA burger. It was the right decision.
As the ex disappeared into the distance on the golf cart, I made my way to the day spa for an ‘Evolu’ facial. Made with 100% pure New Zealand spring water, Evolu products are blended from pure essential oils and New Zealand plant extracts, to vitalise the natural radiance of your skin. It certainly did that. As the pressure points around my head were being massaged, I thought about how happy the ex would be on the 12th hole. How logical, I thought, a resort that caters to couples who love golf, but not so much that it drives a wedge between them… (hilarious in hindsight)
If we had any more time, I would have insisted on taking part in a few of the non-golf related activities such as possum hunting, sea kayaking from one of the estate’s private beaches, and a nature walk to the country’s oldest Kauri Tree.
Kauri Cliffs is worth every cent, in fact, compared to other NZ superlodges, I thought it was exceptional value for money. One night for a couple in the high season (Dec – March) is $990 NZ per day. The low season (May – Sept) is $550 NZ per day. This includes breakfast, cocktails and dinner. Greens fees are an additional $400 NZ for a round of golf, but this rate is virtually halved if you are a member of an affiliated NZ Golf Association.
Being affiliated would also be a great advantage, but not a necessity, at Wairakei International, another championship course further south in Taupo, once rated by US Golf Digest as the 17th best course outside the United States. Once again, you don’t have to be passionate about the sport to appreciate a stunning, world class fairway, particularly when it is 24 degrees and perfectly sunny.
Before arriving in NZ, my plan was to hit the nearest day spas while ‘the ex’ was playing, but I was so genuinely impressed with the golfing facilities that I felt it would be crazy not to at least drive the golf cart around and enjoy the scenery. This is what I did at Wairakei, so we could move around the course in time to meet our 3 pm massage appointment at Taupo Hot Springs Health Spa.
The ex birdied the first hole, which seemed to set the pace for the morning. We arrived at the hot springs knowing we were in for a treat. I was booked in for a body wrap and facial. It was one hour of total escapism, but I wasn’t so disorientated afterwards that I was incapable of purchasing a few local products on the way out. Like Kauri, Taupo Hot Springs uses all natural products from ‘Living Nature’ made in New Zealand.
We went from one great experience to another; in this case we left the spa and returned to Huka Lodge, where dinner awaited at the outdoor fireplace. After a few cocktails on the deck overlooking the edge of Huka Falls, we were seated at a truly postcard setting. Snuggled into my chair complete with wool blanket, I was ready for more indulgence.
The five course meal started with chilled tomato consommé with crab and avocado salad. Dish two: hoisin marinated beef, sweet and sour sauces and palm sugared peanuts. The kaffir lime basil and chilli sorbet prepared our tastebuds for the main course: Monk fish wrapped in prosciutto with parsnip chips and saffron foam. Just when I thought the chef couldn’t demonstrate any more talent, out came dessert. Granny smith apple parfait on roasted rhubarb straw encased in clove and cinnamon tuille. I was full. There was no food left but plenty of dangerously expensive dessert wine.
Like most destinations that are associated with the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Huka lived up to its reputation for being one of the most spectacular, exclusive retreats in the Southern Hemisphere. Making our way to the lobby from the grand, stone-edged gates that shield the retreat from the outside world, I asked ‘the ex’ to slow the car down (one of the few instructions he followed!), so I could take in the immaculately manicured grounds. It was a majestic sight. The greenest grass, the tallest trees, the clearest river.
I must have been equally as spellbound by its natural beauty and serenity as Alan Pye was when he stumbled onto the site in the early 1920s, after hearing word of an unspoiled trout fishing angler’s paradise. Once, Huka only attracted those seeking out the finest fishing spot on the North Island, but now it lures any discerning traveller in search of the world’s elite destinations.
From the main lodge, guests can soak up panoramic views of the roaring Huka Falls, just 300 metres downstream. The main lodge is where guests gather for breakfast and a pre-dinner cocktail by the fireplace. Upstairs, the Trophy Room is ideal for cocktail parties, private receptions and small meetings. Its grandeur is defined by the collection of intimidating African hunting trophies that line the walls. A short walk leads to the guest accommodation, a series of 20 individual lodges set just a few metres from the transparent Waikato River.
The suites are spacious and light with slatted wooden, outdoor terraces. Wardrobes lead to the glass ceiling-ed bathroom, where there is under floor heating. A sunken bath is complemented by a separate shower and double handbasins. If money is no object, then Huka Cottage is also available. For up to NZ $7000 a night, three double bedrooms with in-suite bathrooms are all yours. It’s a perfect place for a private party. Originally built in 1937, the white wooden cottage is completely separate to the main lodge; in fact it’s virtually hidden out of sight, behind a ridge of magnificent trees.
Huka is renowned for its variety of divine dinner venues. Aside from the trophy room and the outside fireplace, guests can book ahead in advance to dine on the terrace overlooking the river or in the garden under the stars. But the real highlight is the wine cellar. After taking a few steps underground guided by two flaming torches, we realised there was nothing but the two of us, 15,000 bottles of fine wine, and candles. It was a magic experience that I can only liken to being inside a mystical medieval chamber.
Most holidays go too fast and this was no exception. Before I knew it we were en route to Auckland to return home. Naturally, I spent my time thinking about other courses we could visit next time round, and about who else I could take with me!
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For More Information:
Paraparaumu Beach Golf Resort
This immaculate Northland course, an hours drive from Wellington, shone brightly under the golfing spotlight during the 2002 New Zealand Open, when Tiger Woods made the trip as the headline act, and almost missed the cut! Paraparaumu is currently ranked 79th in US Golf Magazine’s biennial ranking of world courses.
The super serious golfers choose to helicopter in from Wharekauhau Country Estate, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Located on a magnificent 5000 acre working sheep station, its 12 luxury cottage suites are supremely private, and are dotted along the breathtaking Palliser Bay. For non-golfers, or golfers who are taking a breather, there are full day spa facilities as well as horse riding, jet boating and clay target shooting.
Millbrook Golf Resort
Set amidst a stunning alpine amphitheatre near Queenstown on the South Island, Millbrook makes for demanding golf. Each hole makes the most of the impeccably groomed landscape, golfers are obliged to take a different strategy with each one.
Extensive practice facilities, including putting and chipping greens, bunkers, and driving ranges are complemented by the professional golf school and expert golf pros.
For ‘golf widows’ Millbrook has a wide range of day spa treatments, including hydrotherapy, combining steam & Vichy wet massage. It also has a hair salon.
Gulf Harbour Country Club
A 40 minute drive north of Auckland’s CBD on the Whangaparaoa Peninsusla, Gulf Harbour is yet another first class fairway, hosting the 1998 World Cup of Golf shortly after opening. The 18 hole masterpiece offers staggering views of the Hauraki Gulf. Attached to the largest marina in Australiasia, you can catch a ferry direct to downtown Auckland.
As for accommodation, the Gulf Harbour Village offers an adjoining lodge and a selection of restaurants and shops.
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Matauri Bay Road
Wairakei International Golf Course
State Highway One
Fax + 64.7.374.8289
Huka Falls Road
Wharekauhau Country Estate
Western Lake Road
Tel: +64 .6.307.7581
Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club
Tel + 64.4.902.8200
Fax + 64.4.902.8201
Millbrook Golf Resort
Gulf Harbour Country Club
Tel + 64.9.424.4730
Fax + 64.9.424.0703