The view from the practice fairway at Kauri Cliffs Golf Club and Lodge in New Zealand could put many golfers off their swing. Tiers of lush grass fall gently away to the Pacific Ocean, with the spectacular Bay of Islands in the distance. On a clear day, you can see the famous Hole in the Rock feature: a sea-level rock arch which lures boatloads of visitors out from nearby Paihia.
Situated on 1600ha of lush coastal pastures with a dramatic water frontage stretching for 5km and luxury accommodation, Kauri Cliffs is redefining the standard of lodges in New Zealand. It also boasts what is regarded as one of the world's top half-dozen new championship golf courses. The property derives its name from the giant old kauri trees on the estate (which the owners have given to the Queen Elizabeth Trust II for Conservation), and the 500 young kauri which have been planted on the property in an effort to return the land to its original forested state.
Owners Josie and Julian Robertson, from New York, purchased the former grazing property in 1996. The golf course came first, but the Robertsons soon realized they would need income from paying guests to help them indulge in their golfing addiction, though golf need not be an essential activity for guests. Golf-course designer David Harman of Orlando, Florida, created a par-72 course on the breathtaking escarpment to Harmanise with the natural features of the land. Of its 18 holes, 15 have views of an expanse of the Pacific stretching from the Cavalli Islands in the north to Cape Brett in the south. Six holes are played along cliff tops, where the land plunges dramatically to the sea.
The lodge, opened at the beginning of the year, enjoys a commanding position overlooking the golf course to the sea, and is furnished in grand colonial style. Having met Dutch-born Hendrik Wassenaar when he was the manager of celebrated Huka Lodge, the Robertsons recruited him to run their new project.
On checking in, there is an immediate feeling of welcome. Masses of fresh flowers and an interesting mix of American homewares and Asian artifacts set the tone. The rustic flooring of wide, rough-split blond totara logs with pale grouting is an attractive feature. There are high ceilings, open fires, and plenty of comfortable sofas and lounge settings. Much of the original artwork around the lodge is by local artists, capturing scenes around Kauri Cliffs.
But once guests catch sight of the view, it is a natural reaction to overlook the d¨¦cor and walk right through the central hallway, via several beautiful reception rooms, to the rear veranda in order to take in the breathtaking seascape.
The lodge's accommodation comprises eight outlying cottages, set well apart. Each has two guest suites with king-size beds, lavish bathrooms, open fireplaces and private verandas with views over the golf course and the sea.
In charge of the lodge's kitchen is chef Paul Jobin, whose experience at the acclaimed Paramount in Auckland and Huka Lodge has stood him good stead. He sources the highest-quality Australian and New Zealand produce and offers a la carte dining.
Typical of his style of food - which dabbles in Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian flavours - are such signature entrees as seared scallops with mango, choy sum, coconut salad and Malay-style lemongrass sauce, or black lacquer duck leg on scallion pancake with banana lime relish and chilli jam. Main courses echo his bold approach to food (organic fillet mignon, crushed potato and avocado with zuccini and chilli jam; or perhaps pheasant, fig and ginger tagine with spinach couscous and watermelon salad) while deserts are suitably indulgent.
Hendrik Wassenaar takes us along the surfaced road through the golf course and the 400ha grazing section of the property down to Pink Beach, one of three private beaches. "There is such beautiful wildlife on the property," he says. "Quail, pheasant and at least 12 different kiwi birds." As if on cue, a kingfisher darts out of the undergrowth and flies ahead of our vehicle.
We pass ancient pohutakawa trees and arrive at the beach, which shines pink in the sunlight, contrasting with the blue sea beyond. "The tide brings in the pink shells, which crash against the rocks and then scatter along the beach," Wassenaar explains. It is a popular picnic spot for lodge dwellers.
If guests can divert their gaze from the beautiful scenery for a while, they can play tennis on two Astroturf courts, work out in the gym, swim in a heated infinity pool, relax in the adjacent spa - or simply take in that view again from the privacy of their own veranda. Nearby towns of Kerikeri and Russell, and the site of the signing of the Maori Treaty of Waitangi are also well worth a visit.