My father-in-law has always asserted that golf is a good walk ruined. So when my husband and I had been booked into a weekend at luxury Northland retreat Kauri Cliffs, we decided nothing should mar this weekend. That meant we opted to skip the golf part and instead indulge in the glorious setting and food on offer at this, the original of the three lodges developed by Julian and the late Josie Robertson.
We drove up from Auckland on a perfect autumn Friday evening, pulling into the lodge in the near-dark. We were warmly greeted by host John Lewis, ushered to our lodge tucked in the bush and welcomed up to drinks and dinner in the main house. All very perfect, all very delicious. But we had no idea until we opened our eyes the next morning just how stunning the setting was: our cottage looked across the 10th hole of the golf course and over Matauri Bay to the Cavalli Islands. Big blue skies, misty blue Pacific, golf greens so perfect they made your eyes ache.
The Robertsons were no strangers to beauty - part of their art collection will be endowed to Auckland Art Gallery - but the farmland they bought some 30 minutes from Kerikeri would be hard to beat. We spent the weekend mulling how golf course designer David Harman would have begun to design a course which converted rough farm to this manicured work of art which meanders beside the cliff, dips into marsh, native bush and farmland, and neatly finishes up back at the handsome lodge. The course is now rated one of the world's top 50. It is easy to be seduced that it can't be too bad, this walking around hitting a small white ball. But we decide to spare ourselves the grief and stick to the walking part.
Ah, the food. We'd deliberately chosen a weekend in early April so that we could grill chef Barry Frith about his weekend in March cooking with The French Laundry's Thomas Keller and British chef Heston Blumenthal at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. Barry wandered out from the kitchen to tell us how it works backstage (The Great Ones, apparently, bring underlings who do the prep work, but personally scrutinise every single plate going across the pass).
Barry had wowed my offal-loving husband with a black pudding accompanying his pork belly, at dinner - the next two mornings he had special servings of black pudding waiting for Greig's breakfast and a copy of the recipe for us when we checked out. Barry is driven to showcase New Zealand's best: he serves local sourced and seasonal food (we tracked down some of his suppliers at the Kerikeri's Farmers' Market on Sunday morning). The menu changes every night, a three course on Friday night, and a well-thought out degustation menu on the Saturday. We are still rhapsodising about the melting beef Togorashi with a clever play of horseradish edamame (looks like wasabi, tastes like spicy peas, very clever) and the sinful chocolate praline fondant.
If the food wasn't enough, we had fun meeting other guests, picking host John Lewis' brains on local places to go and indulging in the real-life Ralph Lauren ad that is the golf pro shop on the ground floor (we almost, but not quite, felt the need to buy a pink polo shirt and plaid belt). We marched the golf course one day, heading off at the seventh hole to inspect the pretty Pink Beach (it really is), ducking into the bush off the entrance way to check out the huge kauri tree (the biggest on private land) and pootling about the place in dinky golf carts. We lounged by the pool, just to take in the view, but it was hard to leave the luxury of the Virginia Fisher-designed suites
Saturday afternoon's treat was a luxury pedicure and massage in The Spa which is tucked in the bush with the treatment rooms opening on to lush private garden (my only regret is that it was too warm to the light the outdoor fire).
Surely better than golf, in anyone's book.
Catherine Smith was a guest of Kauri Cliffs.