The views at New Zealand's Kauri Cliffs lodge could put a golfer off her game, writes Sue Wallace.
It's one of those views that stops you in your tracks - tiny islands rising from the sea in Matauri Bay, framed by towering pines on the most perfect of days.
I forget about searching for the golf ball that has disappeared towards a cliff edge - I can't take my eyes off the views. No wonder the course guide for the par-three seventh green at the luxury lodge Kauri Cliffs, which overlooks the Cavalli Islands in New Zealand's Bay of Islands, warns about view distractions.
Kauri Cliffs was the first New Zealand venture for the Robertson family, headed by American hedge-fund pioneer Julian and his wife Josie. They have recently opened a second luxury lodge and golf course, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay.
It's a long drive from Auckland to reach Kauri Cliffs, but it is worth it. Set on 1620 hectares of farmland, the lodge overlooks the manicured golf course and the Pacific Ocean. It brings to mind grand houses in the Hamptons, Long Island-retreats with huge fireplaces, sofas you sink into, beautiful artefacts and fresh flowers aplenty. Josie worked closely with interior designer Virginia Fisher, of the North Island's award-winning Huka Lodge fame, to create a decor that's elegantly understated and where the dramatic landscape takes centre stage.
Our suite, in one of 11 double cottages, set on the edge of a native forest with ocean views, has a fireplace, spacious bathroom, walk-in wardrobe and veranda, where you can wrap yourself in a robe and gaze out to sea.
Six-thirty is cocktail hour at the lodge and we follow the winding path to meet guests from the US; he's here to play serious golf while she's here to enjoy serious spa treatments. I spot a familiar face - a famous golfer, or an actor maybe?
During summer, events are scheduled most nights, including a performance by the local Maori tribe, a putting competition and a weekly barbecue at beautiful Pink Beach, covered in minute pink shells.
After drinks, it's dinner in the elegant Tiger room, where we are treated to orange-scented crayfish with toasted almonds, cumin wafer and white wine foam, followed by a salad of pickled beetroot with cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and salad greens; a tasting plate of salmon, Waiaua Bay lamb loin, herb gnocchi and slow-roasted lamb shoulder with an olive thyme jus, with a finale of tapioca pudding with blood orange sorbet, created by head chef of both properties, Dale Gartland.
There's an impressive wine list of Australian and New Zealand vintages.
After breakfast on the balcony, we are ready for the golf course, designed by David Harman. Described as "a battle of wits and skill in the most perfect surroundings", it has 15 holes with views of the Pacific Ocean, six of which seem to plunge into the sea. It is a challenging course, especially for a novice.
Non-golfers are encouraged to walk the course to enjoy on the wonderful views from the tees and fairway.
But you don't have to be a golfer to enjoy Kauri Cliffs. You can laze by the pool, play tennis, head to the fitness centre or indulge at the day spa, which has just undergone a $1.7 million makeover. Nestled on the edge of a totara forest, the spa overlooks ferns and a stream. My choice is a Kiwi Mud wrap, which has me smeared with mineral-rich mud, rubbed and buffed, then soothed with oils.
A farm tour is also a must. You'll see farm dogs following whistle commands and herding Angus cattle and flocks of Coopworth sheep, a pretty waterfall, a woolshed where you may even catch shearers in action, and an enormous 900-year-old kauri tree, which the Robinsons gave to New Zealand's Queen Elizabeth II National Trust. They have also planted more than 285,000 native plants on the property.
Before we leave, we run into that familiar face again. He flashes a broad grin and says: "You just can't beat these views can you?" That's another attraction of Kauri Cliffs: you just never know who you'll meet.
The mystery man then climbs into his golf buggy and heads off - I still don't know who he is, but he is right about the views and he plays pretty impressive golf.
Sue Wallace travelled courtesy of Emirates and Kauri Cliffs.
Auckland is the nearest international airport and Kerikeri the nearest regional airport to Kauri Cliffs. Qantas, Air New Zealand and Virgin Blue fly from Melbourne and Sydney to Auckland, while Emirates flies from Melbourne. Fares start at $213 one-way (excluding taxes). Air New Zealand flies daily from Auckland to Kerikeri for $NZ71 ($60) one way. Kauri Cliffs is 25 minutes from Kerikeri by car. It will take about four hours to drive the 292 kilometres from Auckland.
Kauri Cliffs lodge costs $NZ700 a person a night Sunday-Thursday; Friday-Saturday $NZ750 a person a night. See kauricliffs.com.
The links-style par-72 championship course is rated in Golf magazine's world top 50. There's also a practice range, putting greens, golf shop, rental clubs and caddies.
Things to do
Nature walks, mountain biking, sea kayaking, horse riding, scuba diving, fishing, jet boating, tours.