New Zealand Lodges You Won’t Want to Miss
Fjords, glaciers, rolling hills, conical volcanoes, pink-sand beaches, temperate rainforests, and towering Totara forests: New Zealand’s landscapes are powerful and diverse. They’re the fantasy backdrops synonymous with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth and the reality of an island nation promising adrenaline-packed adventures, world-class golf, and Napa-style wine country pursuits. While covering the entirety of New Zealand’s glorious 103,737 square miles could never happen in a single trip, American billionaire Julian Robertson has made it possible to experience the best of New Zealand in fewer than 10 days—and do it in high style.
Robertson’s long-standing love affair with New Zealand prompted him to develop three top-tier lodges strategically positioned within the country’s most scenic locales: the Bay of Islands’ multihued beaches, Hawke’s Bay’s coastal wine country, and Queenstown’s snow-capped peaks and glacial-lake grandeur. Nowadays, these well-connected, family-run resorts comprise the go-to circuit for a seamless New Zealand journey, underscored by memorable outdoor thrills, unabashed pampering, and superlative gastronomy.
Start your five-star Kiwi fast track in the northern reaches of the North Island, high atop Matauri Bay at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, a 22-suite property strewn across a 6,000-acre farm with three private beaches, stunning nature trails, and a par 72, David Harman–designed championship golf course. Tucked into a native Totara forest, the well appointed cottage suites feature expansive terraces that overlook the emerald Cavalli Islands. They’re also within walking distance of communal areas like the infinity swimming pool, the full-service spa, and the main house, where lavish meals are served in an elegant, formal setting (read: pack the haute couture and expect canapés, aperitifs, and at least three courses).
For non-golfers, days are typically spent exploring the Bay of Islands’ great outdoors by foot, bike, or quad bike, with nearly all trails descending to one of three sparkling beaches, each with its own personality. Pink Beach, so named for its pink-shell sand, is ideal for picnics, sunbathing, and relaxation on the titanic wooden swings that dangle from the colorful Pohutukawa trees; goldsand Takou was made for surfing and horseback riding; and white-sand Waiaua offers non-motorized watersports and snorkeling. At some point, you’ll want to detour from the sheep- and cow-dotted pastures and beach trails to see the lodge’s 700-year-old giant Kauri tree, as well as the picturesque waterfall that graces the property’s western perimeter.
Next, head southeast some 425-plus miles (by helicopter or plane, preferably) to The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. As Kauri Cliff’s sister farm, it also measures more than 6,000 acres, has 22 suites, and hosts a championship golf course, though this one is a par 71 designed by Tom Doak. Given its location in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand’s oldest wine-producing region, Cape Kidnappers is a fabulous home base for exploits in wine country, where renowned estates like Elephant Hill and Vidal produce peppery, award-winning Syrahs, rich Bordeaux blends, and crisp, unoaked Chardonnays. The tastings continue on property in the early evening, when local varietals are served by the main fireplace, followed by a wine-paired dinner starring sophisticated farm-to-table cuisine; prepare to drool over the likes of beetroot-and-goat-cheese macarons, followed by smoked beef tartare and line-caught snapper with sweet potato, bean noodles, and fennel in a beurre blanc.
Most of Hawke’s Bay is inaccessible by four wheel-drive vehicles or bicycles, so plan to traverse the property’s immense craggy coastline and rollercoaster-like bayside hills by Can Am ATV, instead. Gawk at the rugged, wave-battered cliffs, laugh at the antics of curious sheep, and ready your camera for the largest mainland colony of gannets on Earth. Nature lovers should also consider a morning or afternoon on the Kiwi Discovery Walk, a guaranteed opportunity to observe endangered, flightless kiwi birds in their native habitat. Though avid golfers will likely opt out of all the above to tee off all day, non-golfers should also check out the coastal course—the vistas from holes 14 and 7 are exactly what New Zealand dreams are made of.
For the third and final stop, travel deep into the South Island to the 11-room Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown, the country’s adventure capital. Free fall from the original bungee jump platform or opt for A.J. Hackett’s high-octane sequel, “The Ledge.” Afterward, go for a glide on the world’s highest swing. Spend a day hiking remote trails, heli-skiing on otherworldly slopes, or zipping through narrow canyon rivers aboard jet boats pushed to maximum speed—just don’t be alarmed when fishtailing into 360-degree spins. For a tamer outing, take a helicopter tour over the fjords and waterfalls of Fiordland National Park, specifically Milford Sound, or visit the real-life landscapes that served as scenery for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.
With so much to do elsewhere, Matakauri, unlike its sister properties, is more of a place to rest your head than to linger (though the pool is lovely in the summer, as is the spa, year-round). Still, each day here begins and ends with priceless views of Lake Wakatipu and Cecil Peak through floor-to-ceiling windows, and the gourmet meals stand on par with Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs. But speaking from experience, consider restricting the caloric indulgences to the first two lodges because jumping off a 1,200-foot ledge the morning after a four-course, five-cocktail evening is a guaranteed entrance into Mordor, the darkest part of Middle Earth.