Julian Robertson's Empire of Golf Resorts in New Zealand
Image: David Cannon / Getty Images
edge fund billionaire Julian Robertson Jr first visited New Zealand in 1978 on a yearlong sabbatical from his asset manager’s job at Kidder, Peabody. With his late wife, Josephine, and two young children (4 and 1) in tow, “we just picked up and went down there,” the 80-year-old Robertson says in his slow-cooked Southern drawl. “My wife shouldn’t have let us go. I shouldn’t have been stupid enough to go. We couldn’t afford it or anything.”
The plan in Auckland was to write a novel, the autobiographical tale of a young Southern man who moves to New York City. (Robertson was born and raised in Salisbury, North Carolina.) He finished the book, but it remained in his desk drawer. “I think I write fairly well, but I learnt during that year that I am not a novelist by any stretch of the imagination,” says Robertson.
The year in New Zealand turned out to be fruitful nonetheless. While there, Robertson came up with the idea for Tiger Management, the hedge fund that would eventually turn him into a financial legend and billionaire. And his wife gave birth to their third child (another son) shortly after their return to the States. “New Zealand just became a magical place for us,” says Robertson.
Nearly two decades later, that magic became manifest in the form of three world-acclaimed, high-luxury New Zealand lodges. In 1995, Robertson went back to look over a working sheep farm near the Bay of Islands on the North Island. The 6,500 rolling acres also happened to include virgin rain forests with mind-bogglingly huge kauri trees, waterfalls, three private beaches flanked by black lava flows, and the volcano that produced them. He decided to buy it on the spot. Shortly thereafter, he says, “I came to realise that it was so much more fabulous than I’d ever dreamt. To have all of this right by the sea is just amazing.”
CAPE KIDNAPPERS The lounge at Cape Kidnappers, where everyone gets a window seat
More than 10 years after opening, Kauri Cliffs still feels fresh. In both the Southern plantation-style main lodge and the 11 cottages, the scale of the accommodations is impressive, the details unfailingly tasteful. The international staff is friendly without being familiar, and an old-world formality prevails in the jackets-for-dinner policy.
Golf put Kauri Cliffs on the map, and while guests can hunt boar and scuba dive, it’s still a golf resort at heart. The par-72 course, designed by David Harman and resplendent with views of crashing waves on 15 holes, is ranked among the top courses in the world.
Once Kauri Cliffs opened, Robertson was bitten by the bug: In 2001, he purchased another sheep farm—this one 6,000 acres—on stunning Hawke’s Bay on the southeast coast of North Island. “It was just such a magnificent property, I couldn’t help it,” he explains. The Farm at Cape Kidnappers took Robertson six years to fully build out and opened in 2007. It reprises some of the Kauri Cliffs themes but tones down the golf a notch. (The Tom Doak course is still world-class but out of sight, down a hill from the main buildings. Guests can commute to their rounds via helicopter.) The main lodge resembles an enormous barn, all tumbled river stone and weathered wood, wagon wheels and vintage farm implements, sheep photos, and cheerful primitive art. A silo houses a cozy lounge with window seats almost all the way around.