This review of The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in Bay of Islands is taken from our guidebook Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection Australia/New Zealand.
They’re not my usual Smith escape accessories, but my golf shoes and gloves are packed at the top of my luggage. I’m also carrying with me an air of expectation: Kauri Cliffs is a luxury golf resort comparable to few others in New Zealand. Large wooden gates open slowly to reveal a lengthy gravel drive, and we pass sheep and cattle grazing in paddocks dotted with pines. Finally, we come to a clearing where the lodge sits atop the cliffs of the North Island’s Matauri Bay. Across a perfectly manicured lawn, Mr Smith and I spy the first indication that this is no ordinary golf resort: two flagpoles bear the US and New Zealand flags, waving in the breeze. With huge smiles and warm handshakes, a member of staff opens the lobby doors, inviting us into what will be our home for the next few days.
The aura is of understated elegance: the dining rooms have roaring fireplaces, the sitting room has enormous, squishy couches, and collections of art and antiques on display give the whole space that personal touch. It has the ambience of an American billionaire’s plantation lodge somewhere in the Deep South, except that when you walk outside on to the veranda there’s the most remarkable vista of the Bay of Islands.
When we’re taken to our room, I think I’ve died and gone to heaven. This is a room you want to steal back home in your hand luggage so nothing gets broken. Every detail is considered: caramel-colour soft furnishings sit against natural timber walls, rattan armchairs with wool throws are arranged before an open fireplace in the sitting room, and the sunken bath looks over a lush, private garden. I’m crazy about the his-and-hers wardrobes, the minibar complete with home-made biscuits for that early morning cuppa, and there’s a terrace with attention-demanding views to the ocean.
The next morning, the sun rises on a picture-perfect day and we gear up for the 18 holes that lie ahead. Paul, the resort pro, talks us through the course. Six holes follow the cliff’s edge, dropping off into the Pacific Ocean. Away from the sea, fairways wind their way through farmland and remnants of rainforest. It’s not hard to see why aficionados from all over the world travel to play here. (Should you tire of the game, there’s a beautiful diversion a 15-minute stroll from the seventh hole: a private beach that’s an exquisite shade of soft pink, the result of pounding waves crushing shells into the tiniest flakes.)
After the ninth, Mr Smith and I are feeling a little peckish, so we drop into the clubhouse. Browsing the menu, we decide on coffees and toasted brie, pesto and roasted vegetable paninis. How special do we feel when it’s suggested we keep playing and someone will deliver our order to us when it’s ready? Sure enough, while I’m putting the tricky 10th, I spot a golf cart loaded up with lunch heading our way. Does holidaying get any better?
Following a tough day on the greens, I decide it’s imperative to treat ourselves. It’s not just the golfing that’s world-class here; the spa is as good as it gets. Walking through a tranquil subtropical garden at the edge of a totara forest, we notice quails skipping over the pathways that lead to the spa. The verdant views even extend to the inside. The treatment rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows looking into a grove of ferns and over a trickling stream. Spa manager Glenda explains the treatment menu, putting me in a spin. Do I have a body massage or indulge in a facial and foot reflexology alfresco by the outdoor fireplace? In the end, our busy golfing schedule makes the decision for us. Mr Smith and I only have time for a sauna and soak in the Jacuzzi. Regardless, it still feels quite decadent.
Earlier, wandering through the main lodge, I’d noticed a room decked out like an African-themed den. ‘Wouldn’t that be a nice spot to have a private dinner,’ I’d thought as I took in the fireplace and sumptuous couches. That evening, after cocktails and canapés with the other guests, Mr Smith and I are escorted into this very enclave – the Tiger Room. The perfect table for two has been laid in front of that flickering fire. Taking a peek at the five-course menu, I become quietly excited: Peking duck consommé; Japanese tempura quail with wasabi, avocado and ponzu; Hawke’s Bay rack of lamb with potato gratin, spinach and rosemary.
On our final morning, as the first rays of sunlight touch my shoulder through the bamboo blinds, I listen to the morning calls of the native birds and make a promise to myself: I’ll be back to conquer the 18th hole. As I cast my eyes around the pure luxury of our gorgeous suite, I give Mr Smith a warm cuddle and secretly plan our next date at Kauri Cliffs.