Golf in New Zealand: Kauri Cliffs

Blue Island kauri cliffs view

despondingly One of the most remarkable things my wife has ever said to me is that, if I ever told her I thought we ought to live in New Zealand, she’d be ready to move that minute. This was highly surprising, both because she doesn’t really even like to travel and because Donald Trump wasn’t running for President yet. I think her interest was based partly on the scenery in The Lord of the Rings movies and partly on the fact that New Zealand is so far from everywhere else that if you holed up there you would no longer have to think quite so much about the world’s most serious problems. I myself might be tempted to move, if I could persuade all my regular golf buddies to go, too.


I visited New Zealand in 2007, in the company of the hedge-fund billionaire Julian Robertson and his wife, Josie—who has since died.


We spent the first few days at Kauri Cliffs, a resort the they had created on a 6,000-acre farm in the Bay of Islands region, near the northern end of the North Island. “I had no idea what I’d bought,” he told me. “It turned out to be one of the most magical pieces of land you will ever see, but when I bought it I didn’t even know that it had waterfalls. I saw it at the worst time of the year, August, and it was nothing but a filthy wet sheep farm, and I really bought it mainly because it was cheaper than a modest New York City apartment.”


In 1997, he hired David Harman, a golf architect he admired, to design a course for the eastern edge of the property, along cliffs that rise high above the Pacific. That course is now No. 49 on Golf Digest’s list of the World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses. It’s just ahead of North Berwick Golf Club, in Scotland—one of my favorite golf courses of all time. Kauri Cliffs is a terrific course, too, and the views from the ocean holes are spectacular.


Josie didn’t see the place until the course was almost finished, and when she did she said they would have to build a lodge, too, in order to attract enough golfers to keep the course in operation. “I said, That’s ridiculous, this is a great golf course and they will come,” Julian told me. “Well, Josie was right; they wouldn’t have come. Kauri Cliffs is about as far away from everywhere else as you can get, so it was a real stroke of genius of hers that we did it. And, as it turns out, the lodge business down here has been very, very good.”


The accommodations at Kauri Cliffs consist of eleven two-bedroom cottages arranged along a secluded walking path, plus the Owner’s Cottage, which is larger, has its own garden and infinity-edge swimming pool, and can be rented (for more than $6,000 a night in the high season) when the Robertsons aren’t in residence. Each suite-size half-cottage has a porch, fireplace, dressing room, and spa-like bathroom, and it looks out over the golf course to the sea. This was the view from my room:


When the resort was being designed, Josie had a big fight with the architect over air-conditioning: the architect argued that no self-respecting five-star hotel could possibly do without it, and Josie argued that it most definitely could. The winner, naturally, was Josie—and she was right. The outdoor daytime temperature at Kauri Cliffs hovers around room temperature virtually all year long, and one of the great pleasures of staying there is waking up to birds and ocean breezes rather than the cold hum of an HVAC system.


To be continued.

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