Julian Robertson fell in love with New Zealand forty years ago, and the romance continues to this day. In 1978 Robertson, then an asset manager Kidder Peabody in New York, packed up his wife Josie and their two children and moved to Auckland. The idea at the time was to try to write a novel. He finished the book, but it remained in his desk drawer.
But while in New Zealand Robertson hatched an idea that would make him a Wall Street legend and a multi-billionaire—and, eventually, a luxury resort owner in New Zealand. He went back to New York and created Tiger Management, a hedge fund that at its peak had $20 billion under management. Then, on a return trip to New Zealand in 1995, he spotted a huge sheep farm on the North Island and bought it. Two other purchases followed, another on the North Island and a third on the South Island. Today, those properties are home to three super luxury lodges: Kauri Cliffs, Cape Kidnappers and Matakauri.
“New Zealand just became a magical place for us,” Robertson, 86, once told an interviewer. “We just lucked into something, and it became a very happy and big part of our lives.”
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs
Golf is the name of the game at Kauri Cliffs. The Lodge sits on 6,500 acres of rolling, windswept land, looking out over the Pacific with spectacular views from the plantation-style main building as well as the 11 spacious cottages. This is the first resort built by Robertson and his wife in New Zealand, and it remains one of the most stunning. (Josie Robertson died in 2010).
The par-72-hole championship course designed by David Hartman hugs the side of the coast with views of crashing waves on 15 of the holes and comes with a warning that players can expect their scores to balloon if they are too distracted.
Robertson saw the resort as a golfer’s paradise and also a working sheep and cattle farm. Visitors interested in its workings can take a short drive out to one of the pastures to see a herding demonstration. Handler Jonathan Zaleumis will stand at a distance while his two dogs, “Goose” and “Gip” respond to his slightest movement, a flick of his hand, a nod of his head, and move a herd of bewildered sheep around and around. Although New Zealand is famous for its lamb, these sheep meet their fate at a separate facility outside the property.
The 22 cottage suites are just a short walk from plantation-style main lodge, and each is supplied with a jar of brownies and chocolate chip cookies. These are Robertson’s favorite treats, and he will complain if he thinks they are not fresh or up to his standards.
You reach the spa by walking up a path through a canopy of huge Tatora trees. About 300 trees have been planted on the property in keeping with the owner’s keen interest in conservation. (One of them, the Kauri, is traditional New Zealand hardwood that is now endangered and protected). The spa offers a full range of treatments, but the “signature” treatment is a crushed walnut and honey scrub, followed by a massage.
Gentlemen are required to wear jackets to dinner, and the staff is unfailingly friendly, a key requirement in the world of Robertson hospitality—or, as he once told an interviewer, “It’s not just about fancy food and sheets. The staff is extremely important. You want an obliging staff that’s ready to serve but not in a stuff way. They should be genuinely friendly.”
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is also located on the North Island, at Hawkes’ Bay, and it too has a 72-hole championship golf course which is located a short distance from the main buildings. Visitors have been known to fly in by helicopter to play the course.
Kidnappers’ sits in the middle of the largest privately funded animal sanctuary in New Zealand. For years, the native species have been ravaged by predators like possums that were introduced by waves of Europeans and others arriving on New Zealand’s shores. Among the species in critical condition is the brown kiwi, native to the North Island, and barely hanging on. It’s a short, fat and flightless bird with a long beak and soft feathers. If they want, guests will be taken out into the reserve to see where the little birds are nesting. You can look, but you can’t touch.
It took seven years to build Kidnappers, much of it devoted to creating a road up to the lodge where none existed before. The lodge itself looks like giant barn from the outside, but inside it is anything but barn-like. Chic rustic is a more apt description. There is a red silo that has been made into a sitting area, with French-lace cushions arranged around the circumference.
The interior design is eclectic. Antique farm implements like plows and wagon wheels adorn the walls while the sitting areas have coffee tables made out of South Asian bird crates and grain bins.
Hawke’s Bay is also known as an up-and-coming wine area, and even Julian Robertson has his own winery, Dry River. The real wine-lover will be happy to know that New Zealand Otago Pinot Noir is available at Kidnappers, although it is increasingly difficult to find in the U.S. However, the obliging staff will certainly find a way to get it shipped to you back home.
The big draw here, of course, is the location. Matakauri Lodge, the most recent of the Robertson acquisitions and the only one on the South Island, is about ten minutes outside of Queenstown on the shore of Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown is billed as “the adventure capital of the world” and is also known as a “backpacker’s paradise.” Bungee jumping in New Zealand started in Queenstown, and other activities include jet boats and paragliding.
This is also the region where the Lord of the Rings movies were shot, and fans of the films will instantly recognize the towering mountains, deep fjords and crystal-clear lakes. Tourism jumped exponentially when the movies were released.
Matakauri is small by comparison to the other two properties—just 12 rooms (including the spacious owner’s cottage) on 15 compact acres. But the views through the floor-to-ceiling windows are picture-postcard spectacular. The mountains, known as the Remarkables, loom up above the lake and are snow-capped most of the year (Queenstown gets snow in their winter, which is from June to September).
Matakauri is the only lodge that Robertson didn’t build from the ground up. He bought an existing property and then gave it a more modern look with clean lines in glass, stone and timber. Walking paths around the lake are well-marked and some originate at the lodge.
There are an estimated 100 bars and restaurants down the road in Queenstown. One of the best is the curiously-named Botswana Butchery which features a New Zealand delicacy—tiny whitebait in olive oil with chilis and garlic. If you have a sweet tooth, try Patagonia Chocolate. The dark chocolate citrus peel is especially good, but the lines are often long.
This article was created as part of a promotional press trip.