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Beyond Bungee

Much more than adrenaline kicks awaits the global traveler on New Zealand’s North Island. We visit two outstanding properties and find a rare Kiwi bird, bucket-list golfing, an immaculate pink sand beach and old-school luxury.

SUNSET SPLENDOR
Early evening at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs is the magic hour, when guests can’t help but marvel at the miraculously moody lighting.

In a remote corner of the Pacific, Hawke’s Bay on New Zealand’s North Island, we’re sipping local sauvignon blanc in a farmhouse. But this isn’t your granddaddy’s ranch house or barn. With panoramic views of rolling emerald hills and a surrounding Tom Doak-designed par-71 championship golf course (No. 22 in the world, as ranked by Golf Digest) looking out on an otherworldly, seriously jagged coastline, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is a property that impresses. As cliffs tower more than 800 feet above a churning sea, the 22-suite resort—a series of farm-fabulous buildings, including The Owner’s Cottage at Cape Kidnappers—boasts a bevy of sheep and a legion of cows (not to mention the world’s largest and most accessible gannet colony). But the working farm is so much more: elegantly chic and highly touted with a five-star Relais & Châteaux badge. Call it an epicurean retreat: renowned for its cuisine, an outpost amid one of New Zealand’s most brilliant wine regions and a casually refined hideaway that begs repose. But add the fact that Cape Kidnappers hosts one of the island nation’s most passionately kept nature reserves, Cape Sanctuary—specifically created to support and protect New Zealand’s national bird, the adorable endangered Kiwi—and the luxurious property gives guests plenty of reasons to check in and stay awhile.

That’s hardly difficult, considering the prospect of doing so includes nesting in Cape Kidnappers’ country-cultured setting, one that enfolds guests in its rural, gracious embrace. A credit to interior designer Linda Bedell, the resort’s cottage suites present 180-degree views of pastoral and Pacific Ocean beauty, accessible via perfectly scaled porches and balconies. Inside, these sanctuaries give off an air of tasteful ease, reflecting the natural world with classy and organic touches, from a natural palette to cozy furnishings. A sense of warmth permeates each cottage, which comes outfitted with modern technology, calming living areas and generous bathrooms with oversize tubs and twin vanities.

Seated in sumptuous leather couches in the main living room before the roar of a crackling fire, we converse with Cape Kidnappers’ other guests during the daily complimentary cocktail hour. The brainchild of Cape Kidnappers’ owner, American entrepreneur Julian Robertson, the all-property happy hour was created to further the resort’s finely honed, country house-party ambience. Here, pre-dinner, guests gather to share the adventures of their day, everything from wine tasting (the area boasts more than 80 vineyards) to bicycle riding. But the highlight for most is the opportunity to meet other like-minded, travel-savvy guests. Inevitably, conversation turns to the rare opportunity that Cape Kidnappers affords: discovering the shy, seminocturnal Kiwi bird in its protected Cape Sanctuary.

While pondering which spa treatments we’ll indulge in the following day, we chat with a fellow guest (a multimillion miler on Delta Air Lines, to give you an indication of the guests who flock here) about this very thing. As we nibble a perfect canape, she says, “Of course, the spa is wonderful, but don’t leave without doing the Kiwi Discovery Walk. That’s one of the reasons we came all the way across the world to this resort. You won’t want to miss it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

AT EASE
At The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, the lounge inside the main lodge, designed with a mix of rustic and modern decor, is the setting for guests’ nightly recaps of the day’s experiences.

Following her advice, we sign up for the activity posthaste and, at the crack of dawn the next morning, join a small group for what promises to be an unforgettable adventure. We follow a scientist through thick woods and scratchy undergrowth. Holding a GPS device that looks like a television antenna, we crawl, slip and hop though leaves, pine needles and wildflowers until suddenly the instrument beeps. “Hear that?” asks the scientist. “The bird is near.” Beyond excited, we continue trudging, led by the sound of the instrument. At last, the scientist puts his fingers to his lips and points. “He’s right there.” We watch as the GPS-tagged Kiwi reveals himself. He looks like a stuffed animal—the cutest thing we’ve ever seen. When invited, we help to measure and weigh the bird, then have the luxury of stroking his fur-like feathers. We feed him his favorite snack—grubs—and he thanks us with inquisitive, wary eyes, his long beak making him look a lot like Snoopy. When the scientist completes his paperwork, he carefully returns the Kiwi to his cozy nesting area beneath a blanket of leaves. We leave him until next time, transformed by this up-close-and-personal moment with nature.

Back at Cape Kidnappers, we linger over a long lunch that includes massive salads created from luscious greens plucked from the resort’s garden by Head Chef James Honore and sip local vintage—Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc. (Later, we stop at the nearby namesake winery and buy several bottles to take home.) After our meal, we divide and conquer—to the spa for a luxuriating massage and to the course for a golf lesson (if for no other reason than just to say we played a course that would make most golfers green with envy).

Although difficult to leave behind the Kiwis (and the beautiful digs), we’re excited to head farther north, to the very tip of North Island, where we’ll be equally spoiled at Cape Kidnappers’ sister property, The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs. Situated on the Bay of Islands, the stunning destination sprawled across 6,000 acres near Matauri Bay also hosts 22 rooms and The Owner’s Cottage at Kauri Cliffs, ideal for larger groups. This Relais & Chateâux inn exudes Hamptons-style hospitality, so it’s not surprising to learn that it was built as the private home of the Robertson family, whose main domicile is in New York City. Just a 45-minute flight from Auckland, the resort embraces some of New Zealand’s most evocative nature. With an immense veranda positioned to hover over the bucket-listworthy David Harman-designed golf course, the main house and all standalone suites face vistas encompassing the Pacific Ocean, Cape Brett and offshore Cavalli Islands. 

Feeling like a home defined by exceptional service, Kauri Cliffs is the sort of place where you may find yourself sitting in your suite on the back porch watching for passing rabbits or listening to the birds sing. It too benefits from a dose of modern farmland flair; the luxe lodge offers prime views of the mesmerizing landscape, complemented by supremely beautiful interior spaces. Everywhere are traces of upscale plantation style, from shutters and splashes of creamy white to rich woods, warm textiles and blazing fireplaces.

But it’s what most guests anticipate that becomes our favorite part of each day: cocktails on the veranda with eyes glued on the view. Here, dusk explodes in an unexpected array of the most fantastic shades of purple and navy blue. We sit in awe, delighting over the sunset, hobnobbing with guests and meeting fascinating people from all over the world. Feeling almost like members of the family, we bond quickly and exchange business cards before sitting down at individual tables (all with panoramic views) for craftily prepared Pacific Rim food from Executive Chef Barry Frith.

Amid so much unspoiled terrain, options abound. Golf—of course—but also helicopter tours, hiking, horseback riding, hunting and deep-sea fishing. Tennis is played on two AstroTurf courts, but we enjoy trekking through the tranquil Totara forest before stopping at the tree-encircled spa. In spite of so much to do, the highlight of our stay at Kauri Cliffs is an afternoon at Pink Beach, an ethereal remote shoreline located on the property. With rose-colored sugary sand composed of crushed shells and a fringe of pohutukawa trees and cobalt seas, this idyllic spot practically screams romantic rendezvous—though it’s also a wonderful place to gather with a group of friends, as we do. We settle on the beach and let the waves tickle our toes. We open our books and only break to gather shells and indulge in a picnic-style gourmet lunch. Though we take some photos, none of us turn on our phones. We simply enjoy the splendor of nature, the briny breeze whipping through the air and the profound silence of a magical place. More relaxing than the spa or the porches on our standalone cottage suites, the afternoon is marked by the fact that we enjoy doing absolutely nothing at all but dream. And that is exactly the point. All-inclusive stays include minibar, dinner, cocktail hour and breakfast. The Farm at Cape Kidnappers and The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs rates from $1,000 per couple per night; The Owner’s Cottage at Cape Kidnappers and The Owner’s Cottage at Kauri Cliffs from $6,000 per night for up to four guests.

GETTING THERE
Fiji Airways flies to airports far beyond Fiji—including New Zealand, Australia and many other parts of the South Pacific. Even better, the carrier also allows for a stopover in either direction. Once aboard, guests will enjoy great food from celebrity chef Lance Seeto, lie-flat seats in business class and top-notch service.

Stayover in Fiji on the Way
Wakaya Island, one of the 322 Fijian islands strewn like pearls across the South Pacific, is the private property of David Gilmour, founder of Fiji Water. On this 2,200-acre piece of paradise sits The Wakaya Club & Spa, a laid-back, intimate, sophisticated private island resort where the staff treats barefoot luxury seekers like family. Travelers arrive on the islet aboard the resort’s private plane, then take a short Jeep ride down a bumpy forested road to The Wakaya Club & Spa. Fijian style houses, called bures, face the sea and are adorned with Asian art, woven bamboo accents and Tibetan rugs. A lava-rock outdoor shower beckons, as do hammocks strung between trees. The most fascinating pastime here is snorkeling—or simply wading—in the azure water, an official Marine Park teeming with life. Mealtimes begin with the sound of lali drums, calling all to feast on Pacific Rim dishes created from island-grown produce, locally raised meats and farm-fresh eggs. All-inclusive rates from $2,600 per night for two people