Northland – a pretty pocket of New Zealand’s North Island just a short flight, helicopter or boat ride from Auckland – has all the makings of a luxury getaway you’ll never forget.
In a few short days, I was kayaking to private picnic spots, sailing on a catamaran as enormous dolphins dived alongside our boat, fishing off the edge of a wharf, teeing off at a world-class golf course, listening to a Māori song in front of the largest Kauri tree in New Zealand, landing in helicopters on the tip of rock formations jutting dramatically out of the sea and swimming in rockstar-style infinity pools with 300-degree views over the majestic Bay of Islands.
The subtropical Northland region encompasses the Bay of Islands, the Kauri Coast, the Far North and Whangarei. The coastlines of Northland can be quite contrasting, with the west coast offering rugged beauty and a wild edge; while the east coast offers a more urban and refined atmosphere.
The New Zealanders appear to have luxurious hospitality down to a fine art. In this northern paradise, I lodged at three of the country’s finest luxury lodges that each varied in style, aesthetic and personality. They each individually have their own appeal and all make the most of their magical locations.
The drive from Kerikeri Airport to Kauri Cliffs in Matauri Bay, a Relais & Châteaux property, took me through green hills dotted with cows and Manuka trees.
Arriving at dusk, the plantation-style property was twinkling with lights as a setting sun melted into the seas of Cape Brett and the Pacific Ocean. Drinks with the manager in the drawing room were welcomed before dinner, with the calming sommelier Valeria taking our order and canapés of pork belly and hapuka fish were devoured as I took in the priceless art collection on the walls, and enjoyed the tunes of the piano in the lobby and the views offered from the verandah across the 18-hole golf course to the ocean.
The lodge, sprawling over 6,000 acres, was built in 2000 and has 22 guest suites and a two-bedroom owners’ cottage – the most luxurious of the accommodation options here, with two separate wings. In the dining room, as our waiter tonged wedges of lemon or lime into our glasses of sparkling water, we perused our four-course degustation menu. Valeria was on hand to talk us through the wine list – 90 per cent made up of New Zealand wines.
As Northland produces just one per cent of the country’s wines, other regions such as Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, Canterbury and Central Otago are well represented across such brands as Felton Road, Esk Valley, Church Road, Craggy Range and Villa Maria. The owner of Kauri Cliffs too has his own wine brand, Dry River, naturally also available to guests. The wine list is organised by grape variety, north to south of the country, and then oldest to youngest wine.
The next morning, I teed off on the golf course overlooking the bay, guided by one of the golf professionals on staff. A few mis-driven balls later, we headed off in our golf caddies, stopping at the numerous holes with the most jaw-dropping views.
Afterwards, I ascended through a Totora forest track of ferns and dense foliage to the Kauri Cliffs Spa for one of the most memorable spa experiences I’ve had. For those seeking a more action-packed day, staff at the family-friendly property can organise quad biking, salt-water fishing, scenic flights or horse riding. During my stay, I was also treated to a private picnic at Pink Beach. As our Relais & Châteaux chef prepared the barbecue of fish, meats and other local delicacies, I headed onto the sand with a glass of wine in hand and discovered why it’s called Pink Beach, as thousands of pink and peach-coloured shells crushed beneath my soles.
The incredible golf course that overlooks the ocean and the views offered from tee to green.
Those that appreciate fine cuisine and service; and elegant, traditional furnishings. It’s also perfect if you happen to love your golf.
Rates start from NZ$775 (about A$747) per person, per night. Rates include pre-dinner drinks with canapés, à la carte dinner and breakfast.
I departed Kauri Cliffs via helicopter with helicopter company Salt Air, heading to the Waipoua Forest, home of the largest Kauri tree in New Zealand, Tāne Mahuta. Flying over Hokianga Harbour, it felt as though the thickly dense valleys and azure coves would go on forever. On approach to Purererua Peninsula, our helicopter pilot pointed out our next destination, a collection of luxury residences and a conservation property called The Landing – given that name because it’s the site where European missionaries first landed. The private residences are the vision and work of New Zealand entrepreneur Peter Cooper, founder of New Zealand private investment company, Cooper and Company.
Four residences are available for rent at the 1,000-acre farm, The Landing. Each of the four residences offers something different; but all are architecturally designed to the highest standards and are aesthetic wonders.
The Vineyard Villa is the newest property in the collection. The three-bedroom villa is nestled in the group’s own vineyards where award winning wines labelled The Landing are produced. The Vineyard Villa has enormous hardwood sliding timber doors that open to let the outside in. Recline on the deck and feel as though you’re sitting in the vines; or soak in an egg-shaped bath.
The Gabriel Residence, sleeping eight, is a popular choice for families or large groups with its four king-sized bedrooms and four self-contained indoor living areas. My residence during my visit was The Boathouse – right on the water’s edge at Wairoa Bay. The uninterrupted views of two private islands and the lapping of the shore as you relax by the outdoor fireplace make The Boathouse, which sleeps four, very special indeed.
The largest property in the compound is The Cooper Residence – where the owners stay when they visit. It is available to rent upon application. Five luxurious bedroom suites sleep up to 12 people with 360-degree views of the surrounding ocean and countryside. An enormous library, impressive bar, a glossy wooden bathtub and access to The Landing’s tower and underground wine cellar give this property a special wow factor.
The beauty of a stay at The Landing is that absolutely everything is customised to what the guest desires. If you would like resident chef Jackie to come in and cook for you each night, that is seamlessly arranged. If you’d like to be left completely alone for a week during your stay and remain fully self-contained, no problem.
During my stay, we went for a nature walk through the property’s protected wetlands at night in a respectful search of kiwi birds. During construction on the farm, four million plants were planted on the property. I took a tour of the extensive kitchen garden, herb garden and orchard with chef Jackie, who collected eggs from the chickens, plucked pears from the tree and fresh, juicy pink figs for us to taste on the spot from the 150-year-old fig trees.
I also took a tour of The Landing’s vineyards with 9.5 hectares under vine. We tasted the flagship wine, The Landing Chardonnay, at a private tasting in the hallowed underground cellars, accompanied by a magnificent cheese plate from Jackie.
Directly out the front of my room at The Boathouse, we took a kayaking trip across to one of the private islands for a picnic lunch that had already been set up, timed for our arrival. The resort’s guest services manager can also arrange paddle boarding, bird watching, scuba diving, water skiing or a skippered fishing trip on The Landing’s 28-foot rigid hull inflatable, Protector. Leisure facilities onsite include a tennis court, gym, steam room and a yoga and pilates deck. In case you didn’t get enough of a golf fix back at Kauri Cliffs, you can take a five-minute helicopter flight back there for another round.
On my final night at The Landing, I sat in a beanbag on the jetty with a glass of The Landing Rosé casting a line. I felt like I’d certainly “landed” in a very special place.
The scale of the property and its vast amenities and the high quality of the finishes and architectural attention to detail to bring the stunning outside indoors.
Those who crave privacy and a fully immersive holiday – you can be fully self-contained.
Peak rates start from NZ$4,000 (about A$3,727) per person, per night for The Boathouse or Vineyard Villa (excluding meals).
I departed The Landing from its private jetty onboard a 54-foot catamaran Cool Change with salt-of-the-earth skippers Don and Marilyn Logan. Cruising through the Bay of Islands Maritime Park, we sailed past white limestone rock formations and secluded beaches where we could drop anchor.
We were soon joined by a large pod of dolphins that splashed about, oblivious to our gasps of awe. We disembarked Cool Change in the quaint town of Russell, the first permanent European settlement of New Zealand. After lunching at the historic The Duke of Marlborough Hotel on the waterfront, founded in 1827, we were collected by the private concierge cars from our next lodging – Eagles Nest.
Eagles Nest is a member of the boutique luxury brand Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Sprawled across 75 acres, the lodge has five exclusive villas all with views over the Bay of Islands. I stayed in the jaw-dropping Rahimoana Villa – which translates to “sun god over the ocean”.
The floor-to-ceiling glass windows, sleek white interiors and minimalist design ensured there was no distraction from the 300-degree views of the bay. As we sipped on Louis Roederer Champagne, overlooking the large 25-metre infinity pool and Jacuzzi and feeling like we were on the set of a James Bond film, that atmosphere was only amplified as an approaching helicopter landed, on cue, on the lawn right next to our villa to collect us.
We were escorted on board for a private tour with a local Māori guide to experience The Hole In The Rock, sitting strikingly in the sea at Cape Brett, thanks to a newly-created helipad on the crest of this rock formation that features a circular 18-metre-high ‘hole’ at its base on the sea formed by years of erosion.
Our helicopter landed us safely back at our sleek pad, where we settled in for the night. Guests at any of the Eagles Nest villas can be treated to dining in your villa, as resident chefs arrive to prepare a gourmet meal to your liking. While the chefs were busy in the kitchen, we were free to use the villa’s gym, sauna, watch a movie from the large ceiling drop-down screen or take a soak in our bath or in the pool to watch the sun set over the bay.
The Rahimoana Villa has four double ensuite bedrooms with a large lounge area that leads to granite balconies from which to soak in the hues of nature. And just like any good Bond-style pad, the villa has a pathway and steps among the native landscaped gardens that lead down to a private beach, exclusive to guests of this villa.
The streamlined and minimalist design that emphasises the superb views over the Bay of Islands.
Those who appreciate contemporary, minimalist architecture and design with glamorous touches.
Rates for the entry-level villas at Eagles Nest start from NZ$1,295 (about A$1,249) per night.