When it comes to sheer natural beauty, few countries can match New Zealand's awesome fjords and glaciers, vast beaches and lush rainforests, and peaks and pastoral valleys that could give the Alps some serious competition. Until recently, however, this compact, two-island nation had much less to offer in the way of accommodations aside from spartan lodges and basic B&Bs. Now all that is changing with the advent of the superlodges, a handful of smart new resorts that boast not only spectacular settings but also cutting edge architecture, luxurious suites, and sophisticated food and wine.
Each superlodge (there are now five) has its own distinct personality - from the stone-and-timber grandeur of Blanket Bay, which faces mountain-backed Lake Wakatipu near Queenstown on the country's South Island, to the British-country-house polish of Wharekauhau Country Estate, set on a working sheep farm on the southern tip of New Zealand's North Island. The newest arrival on the scene is Kauri Cliffs, which opened earlier this year on the Bay of Islands, a three-hour drive north of Auckland on the northeast coast of the North Island. Set on 4,000 semitropical acres, Kauri Cliffs ups the ante by being the first of the superlodges to have a golf course. And it is a beauty: a cliff-clutching ocean-skirting, eighteen hole course that is already the talk of the Southern Hemisphere.
In addition to golf, Kauri has tennis courts, an enormous infinity pool that appears to drop into the Pacific, and three private beaches (two with white sand, one with pink sand) offering great diving offshore. On either side of the property, hiking trails through native bush lead to secret waterfalls.
Much of the food at the resort has an Asian edge - squid tempura, seven-spice peppered beef, black lacquer duck leg - that reflects New Zealand-born chef Paul Jobin's Japanese training as well as his country's Pacific Rim location. Jobin also looks to North Africa and the Southern Mediterranean for inspiration, coming up with such dishes as Moroccan lamb salad, pheasant-and-date tagine, and goat-cheese souffl¨¦. Not surprisingly, the wine cellar at Kauri Cliffs stocks the best of New Zealand and Australian vintages, with a good selection of European and North and South American wines as well.
Accommodations feature eight cottages - each with two suites - that fan out from the main lodge. Every suite has a large veranda, a fireplace, and attractive neocolonial furnishings, campaign chests and desks, rattan chairs and sofas, and faux-leopard throw rugs. Rates for the summer high season (December 15 to February 28) are approximately $600 a night per person sharing a suite, including breakfast, dinner, cocktails and wines.