Just like the president, Stephanie Holmes gets the VIP treatment — which is par for the course at Kauri Cliffs.
Languidly rousing myself from my post-facial bubble of bliss, I feel like I've hit the weekend jackpot when Dayna, my spa therapist, says gently "Can I invite you to relax by the pool with some champagne and a fruit plate?" Never mind a cup of herbal tea next to a water feature in a darkened room; luxury really is taken to another level here.
"Here" is Kauri Cliffs, the Northland lodge where Barack Obama played that well-publicised round of golf the other week. My visit is just nine days before his, but you'd never know there is anything out of the ordinary about to happen — the Kauri Cliffs staff are just doing what they do. To them, it seems, every guest is as important as the former most powerful man in the world.
We arrive on Friday evening, just in time for dinner. John, a dapper gentleman in blazer and chinos, walks out of the grand front doors of The Lodge and greets us with a rousing, "You must be exhausted after that drive. Come inside and have a glass of champagne."
We were on the road for close to four hours and the car is covered in road trip detritus — empty lolly wrappers, chip packets and discarded CD cases. John, one of the lodge's guest relations managers, doesn't bat an eyelid at the mess as he takes Alice's keys and whisks the car away to the guest parking. We won't see it again until we leave.
In the elegant, classic lodge interior, we're handed chilled glasses of champagne which we sip gratefully while John transports us by golf buggy to our room. Rooms plural, of course — our Deluxe Family suite is huge, with a bedroom and bathroom each, walk in wardrobe/dressing room, mini-bar, sitting room with fireplace, and large verandah. I want to bounce up and down with glee on the Californian king-size bed. I'm sure John wouldn't even flinch, but I'd hate him to think me uncouth.
Instead he gives us time to freshen up, before returning in his golf buggy to whisk us back to the lodge, where a waiting 4WD transports us to Pink Beach for dinner.
"It's just a classic Kiwi barbecue," John says. "Very casual."
The drive talks about 10 minutes, bouncing gently through rolling farmland and over small streams, past fat sheep and towering totara forests. Kauri Cliffs is set on 6000 acres of land on the Matauri Bay peninsula, where the rugged coastline drops away dramatically to spectacular views of the Cavalli Islands, the Pacific Ocean stretching far into the distance.
The land and its surrounding bays have a storied history, we will later learn on our guided heritage tour with Michael, another guest relations manager. From the lookout point at Takou Bay, you can see the river which local iwi agree was the resting place of Mataatua, one of the first voyaging waka to reach these shores from Hawaiki. Years later, Matauri Bay was an anchorage for Captain Cook, where local chiefs paddled out to meet him and traded fish. The oldest kauri tree on private property stands proudly in the native forest — estimated to be 700-900 years old, and now in the care of the Queen Elizabeth II trust.
And, on a high point near Tepene Tablelands Rd, the remains of the area's first European homesteads still sit, one of which belonged to the family of the first European child to be born in New Zealand.
Much later in Matauri Bay history, American billionaire and philanthropist Julian Robertson arrived, looking to buy some farmland. He soon fell in love with the huge piece of coastal paradise, and spent six years developing and building Kauri Cliffs. When it opened in 2001 it was the only Robertson Lodge in the country; it's now accompanied by The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay and Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown, a trio of luxury, now well-known around the globe.
Pink Beach is so named for the millions of shell fragments that make up the "sand", which really do gleam pink in the sunlight. The surf is roaring as we step out of the car, but not enough to drown out the murmurations of refined background music and guests' chatter.
Fairy lights are strung between the pohutukawa trees and candles line the picnic tables, which are discreetly furnished with blankets should we feel a chill when the sun disappears behind the cliffs.
This is unlike any "casual Kiwi barbecue" I've ever been to. A buffet station is set up next to the barbecue, manned by some of Kauri Cliffs' talented chefs, and we are encouraged to pile our plates high with salads, grilled meats, salmon steaks cooked in foil, and juicy prawns. Delicate dessert pots of chocolate mousse, fruit skewers and New Zealand cheeses come next, and all the while, the friendly wait staff are there to offer us drinks and attend to our every need.
It's a nice contrast to the dinner we'll have on our second night, a more formal affair in the Lodge's main dining room where gentlemen must wear sports jackets and ladies dress in their finest.
Before long, we realise we're the last guests at the beach; our fellow residents — a mix of North Americans, Singaporeans and Australians — have already taken their jeep transfers back to the lodge. Alice and I stay for one more drink before making our way to our comfortable beds, enjoying a gossip over great wine with a magical atmosphere.
The suites are nestled in the native totara forest. Alice's room is closest to the trees and she tells me waking up is like being in a Disney movie, where a single dawn chorus crescendos into a cacophony of birdsong, an irresistible alarm call to get up and enjoy the day.
And how could you not enjoy a day here, when every aspect is designed for pleasure?
The weather is inclement, but there's a roaring fireplace and comfortable lounge chair at every turn, begging to be curled into with a good book.
Not golfers, we have an appointment with the spa — two hours each of pampering and relaxation. My facial is heavenly enough to put me into a light sleep, and my manicure has set the bar for all manicures yet to come. Kaycee gets me nice and comfy, lying down on the massage bed under a warm blanket, and I softly close my eyes while she works on my ragged nails.
I meet Alice beside the pool and jacuzzi and she, too is floating on air after a pedicure (also administered while lying down) and full body massage.
We sip champagne in our robes, looking out to the forest and I wonder just how I can make this my everyday life, forever.
A year of the finer things
Special events are regular occurrences at the Robertson Lodges. Here's what's coming up over the next few months.
When: April 26-29
Where: The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs
What: Afterlast year's inaugural event, Celebrate Art!returns for 2018. This special weekend includes exclusive tours behind the scenes at Auckland's Gow Langsford and Two Rooms gal leries, a private tour of Gibbs Farm sculpture property in the Kaipara Harbour, as well as food, wine, spa treatments and golf at Kauri Cliffs. Guest speakers Rhana Devenport, Director of Auckland Art Gallery, and Sue Gardiner, Co-Director of the Chartwell Collection — a public collection of contemporary art on long-term loan to the gallery — will be giving special art talks. The Saturday night dinner will be a five course tasting menu from Kauri Cliffs executive chef Barry Frith matched with Greystone Wines.
How much: $3100+GST per person, based on double occupancy.
Rate includes one night's accommodation at Sofitel Auckland, two nights at Kauri Cliffs, gallery tours, private tour and lunch at Gibbs Farm, coach transport, pre-dinner drinks and canapes, full daily breakfast, complimentary non-alcoholic mini-bar, two gourmet dinners, choice ofa50-minute spa treatment or a day's unlimited green fees per person, per stay.
LODGE LIFE SPECIAL
May 1-September 30
Where: Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers
What: Receive a $400 activity credit for each night stayed, which can be applied to golf, spa, horseback riding, land based fishing, quad bike tours, guided walks and more.
How much: $1750+GST perroom, per night. Rate includes pre - dinner drinks and canapes, dinner and full breakfast, non-alcoholic mini bar, early check in and late check out subject to availability.
Where: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers
What: Kiwi celebrity chef Josh Emett will join Hawke's Bay cheese expert Juliet Harbutt for this first Tour de Chef event. The pair will guide the Saturday morning gastronomic cycling tour, meeting local producers and tasting artisan food and award-winning wine along the way. Emett will then be in the kitchen at The Farm, preparing the Saturday night five-course tasting menu, with matched wines by Craggy Range. The dinner will be hosted by Mary Jeanne Peabody Hutchinson, director of the family-owned winery which was named 2017's #1 winery in New Zealand by wine expert Bob Campbell.
How much: $2300+GST per person, based on double occupancy.
Rate includes two nights' accommodation at Cape Kidnappers; cycling tour with Emett and Harbutt, including cycle hire, food and wine tastings; a la carte dinner on Friday night; lunch on Saturday; pre-dinner drinks, canapes, daily breakfast and non-alcoholic mini-bar; a la carte gourmet dinner on Friday; Three Chefs dinner on Saturday night, including Dry River Wines pairings; a day of unlimited green fees or a 50-minute spa treatment per person per stay. For more information on these, and other upcoming events, go to robertsonlodges.com/exclusive-offers/lodge-events.
ALL IN THE FAMILY — THE THREE CHEFS DINNER
Where: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers
What: The head chefs of the three Robertson Lodges — Barry Frith (Kauri Cliffs), James Honore (Cape Kidnappers) and Jonathan Rogers (Matakauri) — are teaming up to create a special six - course tasting menu matched with Dry River Wines. The chefs will showcase specialities from theirregions, and Dry River chief winemaker Wilco Lam will provide wine matches for each course. The weekend also includes a Saturday morning cooking demo from the chefs, and a tutored Dry Rivertasting in the afternoon.
How much: $1650+GST per person, based on double occupancy.
Rate includes two nights' suite accommodation; Friday night welcome drinks; pre-dinner drinks and canapes; full daily breakfast; complimentary non-alcoholic mini-bar; a la carte gourmet dinner on Friday; Three Chefs dinner on Saturday night, including Dry River Wines pairings; a day of unlimited green fees or a 50 minute spa treatment per person per stay. For more information on these, and other upcoming events, go to robertsonlodges.com/exclusive-offers/lodge-events
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