Julian and Jay Robertson

Luxury Adventures are conducting a series of interviews with some of our key suppliers looking at the different aspects of their lives and how these influence the experiences they offer. Kauri Cliffs (Northland), Cape Kidnappers (Hawkes Bay) and Matakauri Lodge (Queenstown) are owned and operated by the Robertson family.

Jay – the ‘Robertson’ New Zealand story began with Kauri Cliffs when your father purchased the land in 1995 and subsequently built this iconic lodge, why was the decision made to buy land and open Kauri Cliffs in the North of New Zealand? My father and mother first came to New Zealand for a year with my older brother and myself first in 1978.  During that time we lived in Parnell Auckland but, they travelled the length of the country. In 1995 my father became aware of the land that is now known as Kauri Cliffs being offered for sale.  He came over and was very impressed with what was on offer.  He originally intended for the property to be just a real estate investment.  As time went on  friends encouraged him to build a golf course on the beautiful land.  Eventually he did start building the course.  At this time he had no intention of building a lodge.  It was my mother’s persistence that made him build the original 16 suites.

Where and when did your love affair with New Zealand begin as clearly you have one with a portfolio of three Luxury Lodges here? In 1998 I came to New Zealand for the second time in my life.  At this time the golf course at Kauri Cliffs was still being built.  I came over to follow one of my passion fly fishing.  During the course of two months I travelled the South Island fishing every piece of water possible.  There was great fishing, great people and beautiful scenery.

Golf is a focus with Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers but thats not the only story these lodges tell. We send non golfers there assured in the knowledge they won’t need a set of clubs to enjoy their trappings. Share with our guests whats on offer for the non golfer at Cape and Kauri? Due to the fine courses we have a reputation for being golf resorts, but believe me there is so much more!  In actuality only one out of 4 guests visiting the lodge from the Northern Hemisphere plays golf. Read below whats on offer at Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs.

Kauri Cliffs:
The property is set upon a 6,000 acre working sheep and cattle farm. Kauri Cliffs has a truly world class spa facility available on site.  Our onsite Spa Manager gives treatments that are world class. There are three private beaches available for guests to use.  Over 30 Kilometers of walking trails on site.  In addition there is our 850 year old Kauri Tree and our private waterfall on site. We have a wonderful horseback riding program on site as well. In the area we are fortunate to be able to have the Bay of Islands as well as the Cavalli Island on our door step.  This provides unlimited opportunities for fishing, diving, boating and exploring.  The area around Kauri Cliffs is also culturally significant in that is the area that the Maori’s believe their first ancestors touched ground.  It is also historically significant in that nearby Russell was the site of New Zealand’s first capital.

Cape Kidnappers:
Cape Kidnappers is set upon a 6,000 acre working sheep and cattle farm.  On site guests can explore the property on Quad Bike, take walks on the over 35 kilometres of walking trails. The property is home to the largest mainland preserve in New Zealand.  Due to the geographical location and the land formation, the property is a predator free zone, making it a haven for birds and wildlife.  Over the last 7 years we have been able to release over 150 kiwi birds on the property, which now allows guest to go out and visit them with a scientist.  Later this year we will be releasing the highly endangered Tuatara. Nestled into one of the most prominent wine regions in New Zealand, there are over 100 wineries with in one hours drive of the property.  Napier the nearby city is home to the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the southern hemisphere.

You’re promoting an exclusive experience in April 2013 ‘The Tiger Tour’ which takes in all of your properties along with the option of travelling via private jet – tell me more about The Tiger Tour? We are holding Two Tours in 2013,the first by Private Jet in March and the Second Tour in April. The Tiger Tour is the dream of my father, the visionary of these properties. He invites guests to see and experience New Zealand as he sees it, and discover the immense charm of New Zealand’s diverse, beguiling landscape. This boutique, luxury tour provides an opportunity to make memories that are not possible within any single country anywhere else in the world. The Tiger Tour connects guests with some of the most unique, contrasting, untouched scenery on Earth, from private pink-sand beaches and spectacular volcanoes, to lakes, mountains and monolithic glaciers. To all of this, The Tiger Tour adds an extra-special component: the unique, disarming charm of your Kiwi hosts.
– Incorporating the best of New Zealand’s North and South Islands, the Tiger Tour features nine nights, three award-winning lodges and dozens out-of-this-world destination options.
– The Tour is inclusive of acclaimed cuisine, green fees at stunning golf courses, quintessentially Kiwi experiences and the opportunity to mingle with distinctive New Zealanders, human and otherwise.

Your philanthropic approach to the running of your lodges and interaction with the local community is commendable, has this ethos been followed from the beginning or has it evolved over time? I think its fair to say it has always been part of the Robertson family ethos, as begun by my parents, to get behind causes and help where they can… They have become personally involved in many ways in the various regions of NZ where the lodges are located, in particular with education, supporting local school programs and offering scholarships, such as The Robertson Scholars where they support a couple of NZ students each year by providing a 4 year university scholarship to USA.

Three very different lodges and locations with obvious synergies in relation to design, service and conduct. For our customers wanting to experience the best of New Zealand why choose Kauri Cliffs, Cape Kidnappers and Matakauri Lodge? Our slogan has been three luxury lodges, three unique locations one special family.  We are one of the few lodge operations in New Zealand that actually have a owner operator on site.  We have a philosophy in our organization “good, better best lets not rest”.  This has been the forefront of our success and why he have won so many great awards this year.

Kauri Cliffs awards this year have included:

Travel + Leisure Magazine – World’s Best Service & Best for Families 2012
Kauri Cliffs was named the Number 1 Hotel in the World with a perfect 100 point score in the Resorts/Inns/Lodges category. Also recognized as the Number 1 Property for Families in the Asia Pacific region.
Travel + Leisure Magazine – World’s Best Awards Readers’ Survey, July 2012
Kauri Cliffs is ranked No. 16 in esteemed list of Top Hotels in the World. Kauri Cliffs is ranked No. 2 in Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific.
Virtuoso Hotels & Resorts – Best of the Best 2013 Hotel of the Year Award
Kauri Cliffs was nominated in the ‘Hotel of the Year’ category. The Lodge is included in an esteemed list of six properties worldwide and is the only Hotel recognized in the Southern Hemisphere.
Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report 2012 Reader Survey Awards
Recognized # 16 – Top 20 International Hideaways. #12 – Top 20 International Golf Resorts – one of the two highest rated in the Southern Hemisphere along with The Farm at Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers Awards have included:

Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report 2012 Reader Survey Awards
Recognized # 11- Top 20 International Hideaways.  #17 – Top 20 International Golf Resorts – one of the two highest rated in the Southern Hemisphere along with The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs
Conde Nast Traveller – The Gold List – 2009 /2010/2012
Cape Kidnappers listed as best property for food in Australasia & South Pacific

Matakauri Lodge Awards include:

Matakauri Lodge awarded Best Luxury Lodge in the Australian Wish Magazine Feature. Along with a feature in the Tatler and Conde Nast Lists of best new hotels.

Matakauri Lodge Queenstown view

What sets Matakauri apart from other world class Lodges in Queenstown? The true beauty of Matakauri Lodge is its location.  The lodge is located just 7 minutes from downtown Queenstown.  This allows our guests to take advantage of everything Queenstown has to offer but able to escape to a hideaway.  Just 7 minutes from the hustle and bustle of the Adventure Capital of the world.

Who are some notable golf players that have experienced Kauri and Cape over the years. We have been fortunate to have Michael Campbell, Fred Couples, Hunter Mahan, Adam Scott, Anthony Kim all play at Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs.

Matakauri is the only one of your lodges without a dedicated golf course however there isn’t a shortage of world class golf courses in Queesntown – what are your personal recommendations when it comes to golfing in Queenstown? We tend to recommend our guests enjoy The Hills and Jacks Point.  Both courses offer great courses but in two completely different settings.  In addition Kelvin Heights, Arrowtown and Millbrook are also unique.

Kay recently stayed at Cape and particularly commented on the staffs professional and courteous but not stuffy demeanour, how do you maintain this standard of service, whats your secret? We firmly believe that it is the culture that we have created that effects our team. We are committed to having our guests use our lodges like they would their homes.  We try to engrain in our teams to do what they would do for a visitor into their home.

For those interested in fine art they needn’t venture further afield than Auckland – tell us about Julains contributions to New Zealand art and where they may see some of these esteemed pieces? In 2009 my parents, Julian and Josie Robertson announced their promised gift of 15 works of art, including paintings by Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin and Mondrian – the largest gift ever made to an art museum in Australasia. The gift is drawn from a private collection that largely focuses on modernist works. In 2006 the Auckland Art Gallery organised an exhibition of 12 works from my parents collection, also shown at Te Papa in Wellington. Six of those works are included in the gift. The overwhelming response to that exhibition, much of it from young visitors, had a profound and lasting affect on my parents. This gift enables them to give something meaningful back to a country they love. My Parents have said “We have had a lifelong love affair with New Zealand. We love Auckland and we love these pictures. That’s why we were so pleased when we brought these works to New Zealand that New Zealanders seemed to enjoy them as much as we do. Frankly, bringing the pictures was probably the most appreciated thing we have ever done. We are delighted to be able to make this gift.”

Any plans for further development or more lodges? At this stage we are currently looking to add an owners cottage to Matakauri Lodge.  Other than that we are going to keep on trying to provide the best possible experience to our valued guests.

So much to do and see with three key locations but what are your top three activity recommendations for Kauri Cliffs, Cape Kidnappers at Matakauri – whats not to miss? 

Cape Kidnappers:

– Quad Bike: Take control of the throttle and ride with your guide over the stunning 6,000 acre sheep and cattle farm.  These vehicles are an excellent way to explore off the beaten path with the aid of an experienced guide.  Drivers must be a minimum of 16 years of age to operate a Quad Bike.
– Kiwi Walk: Kiwi Discovery Walks are now part of the Cape Kidnappers Guest Activity Program. Lodge guests are able to take part in a very special activity with Kiwi expert Dr. John McLennan and his team. Dr. McLennan and team offer small groups of guests guided tours, using their radio tracking and monitoring devices. Guests get the chance to get up-close to one of New Zealand’s most endangered and rare birds.
– Wine Tour: Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s second largest wine growing region and home to over 70 wineries. Cape Kidnappers can arrange a wide variety of wine experiences, from guided tours, to wine appreciation classes in our own wine cellar. Tours range from short excursions, allowing visitors to get a taste for the local flavours, to full day experiences, which will take you into the cellars of some of New Zealand’s top wineries, with time to enjoy lunch at one of several highly recommended winery restaurants. Some of the most sought-after wines in the region are from Te Awa Winery in the Gimblett Gravels Wine Region.  As a guest of Cape Kidnappers, we can arrange a personal tour of the cellars, with a private tasting and three course lunch.  This is a fantastic way to learn about the winemaking process, in a relaxed and friendly environment.  Tours are half or full day, and can be designed to suit your requirements.

Kauri Cliffs:

– Tane Mahuta 90 mile heli: Capture the beauty of Northland and the Bay of Islands by air. Experience unique attractions including the Bay of Islands, Tane Mahuta (New Zealand’s largest kauri tree), Ninety Mile Beach and Cape Reinga.
– Horseback Riding: We are pleased to offer equestrian adventure for all levels of riding ability. Ride with Kate Hewlett who has completed and placed in events such as the Burghley and Badminton Horse Trials and who was part of the New Zealand Olympic Team in 2004. Explore Kauri Station and its surrounds on magnificent gentle horses, picking your way through native forest and our working farm to the beach, where you can ride on the sand and then enjoy a picnic lunch. Alternately you can join Kate on her farm in Kerikeri where you can ride in the sand arena, explore the cross-country course or trek over the easy rolling farm with tracks, forested areas and wide open spaces to ride through.
– BOI Boating: The Bay of Islands is top on the list for sailors. Explore the islands and bays aboard a well appointed 13.5 metre (44 feet) sailing yacht with an experienced skipper and crew. You can choose to join in or simply sit back and relax. Lunch and refreshments will be served in a sheltered bay with opportunities to go ashore to swim or beach-comb. This is an all day activity. If the above vessels do not suit your needs, please enquire about alternatives. A range of motor launches is available for charter on a seasonal basis. We will gladly make arrangements to meet your requirements.


Heli trip to Milford Sound: This is a must do for all visitors to Queenstown, doing it by helicopter is spectacular but really any way you do it, fixed wing or Helicopter it is truly breathtaking, this is a guest favourite.
– Dart River Funyaking: The ‘Funyak Safari’ is a truly unique adventure that combines exhilarating wilderness jet boating with unique ‘Funyak’ inflatable canoes for a fun way to intimately explore magnificent ‘World Heritage’ wilderness within Mt Aspiring National Park. An exhilarating wilderness jet boat journey, will take you up the channels of the glacier fed Dart River’s braided river system. The next part of your adventure then begins and you paddle / drift your own ‘Funyak’ on a fun downstream journey. Please allow 9hrs for this activity including travelling to and from Glenorchy. This is a fun activity for children over the age of five.
– Gondola: A short stroll from the centre of town, rise high above Queenstown by gondola to the Skyline complex on Bob’s Peak and you’ll discover a view like no other spread out before you in a spectacular panorama. From Coronet Peak to the north, The Remarkables to the east and across the deep blue waters of Lake Wakatipu to Cecil and Walter Peaks in the south-west, it’s magnificent and awe-inspiring.

A great deal of attention is centred around your world renowned golf courses but seen as our guests will be dining at your establishments we want to know what can they expect? Do you have a cuisine philosophy that carries through all of your properties? Our culinary team is lead by our group Executive Chef who has been with us for over 9 years now. He works with each head chef to ensure that the best possible local ingredients are sourced. We believe in providing choice.  At each of our lodges there is a daily changing ala carte menu and a 5 course degustation menu on  offer. In addition our kitchens are flexible should a guest have a special request or just want a hamburger our chefs are only too happy to make this happen  We believe that the evening meal should be one of the highlights of every guests day.

Having resided here for some time now you must enjoy it, whats your favourite aspect of or about New Zealand? I love being New Zealand because of what it allows me to do.  Within a short drive of any of the properties I can be in pure wilderness.  I can fly fish walk on the farms etc…

Jay Robertson is the Managing Director of Kauri Cliffs, Cape Kidnappers and Matakauri Lodge.

Tony Townley is a luxury lifestyle specialist and owner of Luxury Adventures. Talk to us about planning your next visit to New Zealand, Australia or the South Pacific Islands.

Kauri Cliffs Main Lodge

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