Key Points:

A glance at his long, spindly legs sticking out of baggy shorts and his unshaven face and you could dismiss Julian Robertson as a dear old dad come to see a loved one off at the airport.

But the Gulfstream V jet out on the tarmac waiting to fly Robertson's entourage to the States speaks volumes. At 75, and worth billions, Robertson doesn't need to impress anyone, least of all the media.

He's agreed to talk but he's cautious, polite. No sign of the legendary quick temper of his younger days. The slow southern drawl masks a keen mind that measures every answer. Until, that is, he starts to talk politics - Helen Clark to be specific.

The pale eyes crinkle into a grin as he gives the Prime Minister her due, describing Clark as "honest, and smart as a whip".

"Unfortunately, she's an honest unmitigated socialist and I don't think that that, in the long run, is the way to go. I mean let's face it, even the communists have become capitalists."

It's no secret that during the last election Robertson greatly admired Don Brash, whom he describes as "an exceptional human being" and a fellow disciple of American Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman.

Robertson gave an undisclosed amount to the National Party but, he says, he funds good people rather than politics. "I try to support them not on party lines but on their own ability."

Robertson watched fascinated as the ultra-conservative Brash pitted himself against Clark.

"I didn't think the world press picked up on that very well. That was an unbelievable situation. And the fact that it was decided by just one seat was incredible. Both of them were fabulous espousers of their causes."

Despite the praise, Robertson can't come to terms with Clark's politics. "I'd give anything if she weren't a socialist. She's the worst kind because she's so effective."

So would Robertson cough up if Clark took off the red jacket?

"If she went independent she'd be getting some support." Then the grin again. "She probably wouldn't take it."

As for supporting National this time, he won't be drawn. "I don't know John Key. I did know Don."

Wherever he puts his money, Robertson will do it discreetly. He arrives in New Zealand, and leaves, quietly. Few people know when he is staying at one of the two golf courses he owns - Kauri Cliffs in the Far North and The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay.

Like many rich Americans, Robertson uses his wealth to support causes he is passionate about - global warming, helping disadvantaged young people through his Tiger Foundation and fostering the talents of intelligent young people.

Joining him on this trip are two New Zealand Robertson scholars, Amir Malek, 18, of Hamilton, and Oliver Wilson, 17, of Dunedin. Both will spend four years at Duke University in North Carolina; Malek studying physics, and Wilson studying engineering. They will join 34 other Robertson scholars, a programme Robertson has funded for eight years.

He has high hopes for his scholars. "I'd love them to be Rhodes Scholars, presidents, scientists. I really hope they can make a difference to the world."

The energy of young talented people has helped Robertson relaunch into the hedge fund market. Eight years ago, he all but shut up shop. Once dubbed "The Wizard of Wall St" for his astuteness, he turned $10 million in start-up capital in 1980 into $28 billion by the late 90s. But a series of troubled investments and, commentators say, Robertson's failure to invest in new technology stocks, caused large losses. In 2000, he returned Tiger Management capital to investors, explaining he could not manage other people's money in a market he did not understand.

But he continued to manage his own. Clever investments and the relaunch of the Tiger funds, using "Tiger seeds", his young money managers, mean today Robertson has no trouble affording the Gulfstream.

He says he's had a great ride and has worked with some "real treasures". When pressed about what he'd do differently, he admits to one thing. "If I had to do it over again, in hindsight I would be a seeder of new funds and new young people." Hand over the capital, take a shareholding and "let them run the money instead of run the money myself".

Much like he's doing now.

IT SEEMS Robertson hasn't lost his knack for backing winners. Last July he told Fortune magazine he was experiencing the most "extraordinary" period of his career as an investor.

He's had a dream run lately, investing $33 million in 34 hedge funds. Last year the funds averaged a return of 34 per cent.

Robertson is aware of nervousness about New Zealand's economy but says the country is lucky to be in a position to provide food for the world "which the world can't do without, whereas your neighbours across the Tasman are providing aluminium, copper... and all of that can be done without for long periods of time".

But, he warns, New Zealand will not be immune to the global slowdown.

As for investments, the former Wizard of Wall St urges caution.

"I think this is one of those times when you have to be awfully careful with your money and look for preservation of capital much more than making money."

While the Government has done "a pretty good job" with its accounts, New Zealanders themselves are big spenders, much like Americans, he says. "New Zealanders and Americans probably spend more than anyone else in the world, particularly in relation to what they make."

And, apart from spending too much, he thinks we take too many holidays.

"You all have more vacations than anybody in the world. It's pretty hard to get something done here between December 20 and February 10."

He won't say whether he thinks Kiwis work hard in between all the holidays. "But I love Kiwis and I'm a would-be Kiwi myself."

And he loves our landscape. For three to four months every year Robertson soaks up some of the country's most spectacular views from his two golf resorts, both rated in the top 65 in the world. He's excited about that. "People don't realise how difficult that is."

Many on the list are well-established courses such as St Andrews in Scotland. By comparison, Robertson's golf courses are in the "Johnny come lately" category.

"Of course the reason they are so fabulous is that the land was so fabulous." And so was the initial investment. "You could get this real estate which was as pretty as any in the world for the price of a very modest New York apartment."

Since then Robertson has poured many millions of dollars into building guest lodges, establishing wetlands, native planting and establishing grass so perfect it seems a shame to hack at it with a golf club.

But, for $400 ($225 if you are a New Zealand resident and member of a golf club) anyone can book a game.

Robertson's middle son, 31-year-old Jay (Julian Robertson III) runs both Kauri Cliffs and The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. His two brothers live in the States.

"It's been a wonderful family thing. My boys all love it," Robertson says.

The two New Zealand land purchases were the first real estate investments Robertson made. "I think New Zealand was created for tourism. I think it's gorgeous and I think I'm in the right business in New Zealand."

At home in New York, Robertson and his wife Josie live in an apartment surrounded by their art collection, a relatively new passion for Robertson and one that he's willing to share.

Two years ago the Robertsons loaned 14 artworks to the Auckland City Art Gallery and Te Papa, a multi-million-dollar collection which included paintings by Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse and French artist Pierre Bonnard.

The walls of the apartment are full and now the collection has spread to Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers.

While the Robertsons wait at Auckland Airport, an art expert arrives with a Colin McCahon painting to show Josie, who majored in art at the University of Texas.

The painting has been in the McCahon family and has never before been offered for sale.

Robertson's PA quietly tells him it is 4pm, the time he planned to take off.

"I don't want to leave," he says with a hint of regret. "I've been playing some good golf."