Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Northland: Luxury setting par for course

Northland lodge and golfer's paradise Kauri Cliffs is quietly confident of its star resort status, writes Wynne Gray.

The gate wasn't quite what you'd expect for a luxury resort ...

It was an ordinary farm gate - painted, mind you - with the only sign of anything special being a small control box perched on one side.

I jabbed a nervous finger at one of the buttons and stated my name and business to the front office at Kauri Cliffs Lodge. The unpretentious gate eased open and the car slushed off down the dirt road, past the 900-year-old kauri tree in its stand of bush on the left, to the reception area. We were on the road to luxury but we were not to know it.

It had been a foul drive from Auckland, with rain lashing down for most of the journey.

Luckily, we had looked with unusual care at the instructions on how to get there. Not only did that allow us to find the unpretentious entrance, it also revealed that a jacket was necessary at dinner.

After taking the tarseal road to Matauri Bay, we were looking for a turn-off to our hideaway retreat. The sign was as understated as those which advertise roadside produce, just as discreet as the farm gate a few kilometres up the track.

It is a restrained theme which pursues you all over the property. You know you are staying in luxurious accommodation, you have the choice of some of the most sumptuous food and wine available in New Zealand, you are in gorgeous countryside - but no one feels insecure enough to force-feed you that information.

We have been invited to sample what guests will discover next month when they congregate for a weekend package which includes winetasting advice, a degustation dinner, cooking demonstrations, the chance to play golf on the par-72 championship layout and another weekend designed to showcase the new spa retreat.

Away from that timetable, guests can take guided tours to any of the three beaches which link the property to the sea, including the remarkable pink beach which is covered in tiny shells rather than sand. It is very easy to imagine a fresh produce barbecue in summer in this secluded part of the world ... but not today.

Kerry Molloy, the general manager of the retreat, did his best to greet us and look comfortable as the wind and rain whipped at his clothes as he waited outside the main lodge, but it wasn't the ideal day for visiting one of the most beautiful golf courses in the land.

After a soothing cuppa, some chitchat and information, Kerry offers a tour of the property which has to be abbreviated because of the inclement weather.

Back in the safety of the lodge, the talk turns to the next appointment - a massage at the new spa facility. The directions are simple. When we have settled into our guest cottage - one of 11 replicas of the main lodge - we can make the short walk through the totara forest to the spa for an hour massage.

Only question is whether that will be enough time for the therapist to deal with this canvas? My partner is a little nervous but admits to being put to sleep by the soothing experience while Sally's clogs are all I see during my hour spent face down on the table as she excavates pressure points in my neck, shoulders and back.

She assures me most American victims ask for a robust massage, they feel far better after a vigorous warrant of fitness.

I ask for something similar in hope rather than belief that it will prepare me for a round of golf the next morning. At this stage the weather suggests I will need to be kitted out in a wetsuit to venture on to the course.

I can't believe others endure the pain Sally is inflicting but console myself with the thought that the treatment will be beneficial, as she kneads away. The cleansing hot towels at the end wash away any distress, I am very relaxed. But there is dinner to attend to, pre-dinner drinks to be sampled, my coat awaits.

Apparently there are 16 guests in house overnight but separate lounges and dining areas in the main lodge disguise the occupancy.

John, the concierge, delights us with his global tales while the shiraz for me and sauvignon blanc for my partner, slide down without protest.

The atmosphere is serene, the decor affluent but unobtrusive, you do not feel inhibited by the ambience. It is the same when we are seated in a private room for dinner, the fire belting away as we debate the culinary choices.

Entrees of tortellini stuffed with Waikanae crab and quail are delicious as are the mains of an oriental fillet of beef on soba noodles and duck. Unexpected extra touches of Jerusalem artichoke soup then a quince and orange pre-desert cleanser between courses give us a pep before a cheese board of local delicacies and coffee.

After the sleep of the satiated, we are woken by gentle daylight.

The gods have been kind. The murky coastline curtain has been drawn to display a perfect morning and after breakfast in the lodge overlooking the dreamy vista, my golf chariot awaits with Kauri Cliffs head professional Greg Bryan.

The course is too slushy to take the cart off the paths but is still in great nick, the greens mercifully slow to ease some of the terror and there is only a gentle breeze.

The rough is another issue and both Greg and I, excusing our driving inaccuracy on rust after his time away on leave in the US and my offshore Tri-Nations duties, have a number of hunting expeditions in the pampas.

Six holes are played alongside the cliffs plunging down to the Pacific but the views to the Bay of Islands and the Cavalli group offset any wayward play.

The inland holes wander through marshes and farmland, it is total pleasure for a golfing enthusiast who signs off for an assessed round in the mid eighties.

Kerry welcomes us back at the clubhouse, we have brought the best weather the area has had in 10 days. If we did our little bit, Kauri Cliffs has done the rest but 24 hours of magical therapy is unfortunately over.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Kauri Cliffs is in the Far North close to Matauri Bay. It is just under four hours from Auckland by car or an hour by helicopter and 25 minutes from Kerikeri Airport. Phone 09 407 0010 for further information.

- NZ Herald

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