[dropcap size=small]C[/dropcap]alling Kaitaia, located across Bay of Islands, his hometown, Peter Cooper is familiar with northern New Zealand. In fact, the executive chairman of US private investment company Cooper and Company, which specialises in real estate, was en route to checking out a property in the area when he laid eyes on Purerua Peninsula at the northern head of the bay.
“I was fascinated by its composition of five beaches, three streams and wetlands, and four adjoining islands,” says Cooper, worth an estimated NZ$780 million (S$800 million) according to New Zealand’s National Business Review. “Also, I wanted to find a significant piece of property from where I grew up.”
To be sure, the plot of land he then intended to purchase was steeped in history, having been a Maori trading post, as well as the site where English missionary Reverend Samuel Marsden, believed to have introduced Christianity to the country, landed in 1841 on a voyage from Australia.
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In 2000, he bought the tract roughly five times the size of Singapore Botanic Gardens for NZ$4 million and restored it together with a team of architects and designers he had worked with for 20 years.
But, even if you are not of Kiwi blood, it’s easy to feel an instantaneous connection upon arriving at this sanctuary that is the occasional hideout of American business magnates Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. The Landing is a 55-minute helicopter flight from Auckland, though we take a 35-minute flight from Auckland to the town of Kerikeri, followed by a half-hour drive to the property.
The experience starts the moment the designer gates slide open and our car drives through the manicured landscape of vineyards, streams and farmland. There are four luxury residences: Vineyard Villa, tucked among the estate’s vines; The Boathouse, right on the water’s edge; Gabriel Residence, perfect for entertaining with a man’s den (pool table, state-of-the-art TV) and a chef’s dream kitchen; and The Cooper Residence – our home for the next two nights. This is also where Cooper, who is in his 60s, stays for a few months each time, on his annual return to New Zealand.
Though he describes his vision for his eponymous residence as “barn-style architecture”, this is no storage place for sacks of animal feed. Designed by acclaimed New Zealand architect Pip Cheshire and Seattle interior designer Terry Hunziker, the residence has walls and ceilings lined with rich timber, blackened steel and exposed bolts for an industrial edge. Walking down the corridors is like exploring an art gallery; the walls are decorated with Maori artefacts, woven panels and framed photographs chosen by Cooper’s wife, an avid patron of art. Adding to the monumental scale of the home are heavy beams and a large steel fireplace in the library.
It’s nothing like staying at a five-star hotel, where everything is run with brisk efficiency. Here, the pace is slower and service comes with a personal touch.
So, while you can’t pick up the phone and dial room service for a snack after 10pm (the staff pack up and go home then), there are all the makings for hot chocolate – powder, milk, even mini marshmallows – laid out neatly on the kitchen counter, in anticipation of midnight cravings. And, if you fancy a massage, guest services manager Michael Venner will arrange a five-minute helicopter ride over to sister estate The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs for a full-day retreat with golf, fine food and a spa treatment. The price tag: NZ$15,000.
“Most of our guests come here to relax and unwind with family and friends,” says Venner. “We want to give them the option of privacy, so they can choose to be completely left on their own, or have the staff come in to prepare breakfast and dinner.”
Guests are in good hands with resident chef Jacqueline Smith, who is trained in French-style cuisine and was head chef at now-shuttered The Albatross restaurant up north in Ahipara town. The vegetable garden, for instance, is where Smith invites you to nibble on the colourful leaves of rainbow silver beets or pop sugary-sweet snap peas on the spot. At the chicken coop where we nosily dip our hands into the nest box to fill our basket with large speckled eggs, it is Smith who chases off the plump brown hens roosting in there that we urban dwellers are too chicken to shoo.
The real magic, though, is in the dishes she creates with the fresh produce. The eggs are whipped with creme fraiche and scrambled, served on crunchy toast with creamy slices of avocado. For dessert that evening, we feast on a rich custard tart speckled with vanilla bean and topped with juicy blackberries we had picked earlier with eager fingers.
It might be the lack of gimmicky flourishes, or an innate sense of pride eating something we harvested with our bare hands, but the hearty home-cooked meals are easily among the most memorable we’ve had.
And, though the food might be farm-style simple fare, the wines in The Landing’s cellar are anything but. Grown on clay soil, processed at local winery Marsden Estate by award-winning winemaker Rod MacIvor, then cellared back at the estate and aged in French oak barrels, The Landing is known to produce chardonnays that are more mineral-accented compared to the fruit-centric types produced in south New Zealand.
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Since its first grapes were planted in 2007, the 90,500 sq m vineyard has produced wines that have won several gold medals at the New Zealand International Wine Show and received five stars from the country’s acclaimed wine writer Michael Cooper. The 2011 Chardonnay, a generous, well-rounded wine with notes of toasty oak, is a golden example.
Yet as with most things at The Landing, there are no airs to be had. Instead, vineyard manager Keith Barker conducts our wine-tasting session with charm and interesting anecdotes. He tells us, for instance, that he judges a good wine by his wife’s palate.
“The trick is to pour her a glass of wine while she’s cooking. If she asks for a top up, it’s a good wine. If she leaves the glass untouched after a few sips, dinner comes out faster but I’ll know the wine isn’t good,” says Barker.
When Julian Robertson Jr first visited New Zealand in 1978 on a year-long sabbatical with his wife and kids, the plan was to write a novel.
Robertson, born in North Carolina, US, ended up building his second home instead. Known as “The Wizard of Wall Street” in the ’80s, Robertson’s stock-picking acumen – his hedge fund Tiger Management peaked at over US$23 billion – led him to buy a working sheep farm near the Bay of Islands.
Says the 84-year-old: “I saw it at the worst time of the year, August, and it was nothing but a filthy wet sheep farm.
“I really bought it mainly because it was cheaper than a modest New York City apartment.” The lodge includes a 6.5km designer golf course.
The resort has none of that industrial chic edge of The Landing. Instead, the Southern plantation-style lodge is run like a boutique hotel with 22 guest suites. The clientele is largely Hong Kong and South Korean businessmen playing golf and check out the farmland.
A group of Chinese executives that we met were particularly interested in observing sheep shearing, as wool was once a key export revenue for New Zealand. While Kauri Cliffs offers room to relax, there’s a sense one should always be ready to network here.
Having a smart jacket on hand is a good idea – in any case, you’ll need to put it on for dinner.
DIVE AND SIGHT-SEA
What’s under the clear waters at Poor Knights Islands, rated one of the top dive sites in the world? We take a 90-minute drive from The Landing to Tutukaka to find out.
01: NAME THAT FISH
Tropical settlers in the waters include coral fish, spotted black grouper, yellow-banded perch and banded coral shrimp. Keep your eyes peeled too for the rainbow fish, elegant wrasse and the blue-headed wrasse.
Amount of visibility a diver gets when underwater.
03: BED OF GREENS
The cool waters is the perfect home for seaweed and kelp to flourish. So, instead of delicate coral reefs, the seabed is a carpet of red and green seaweed.
The depth at which the shipwreck of HMNZS Tui rests. This dive is one of the most challenging in the area, requiring an advanced certification and at least 35 logged dives in the past six months.
ON THE MOVE
While The Landing has no lack of quiet spots with stunning ocean views perfect for a dreamy moment, here are other activities the resort offers.
01: GOT FISH?
The Bay of Islands is famous for its impressive game fish, including marlin, tuna and shark. At The Landing, the resident boat can be booked for skippered half- and full-day fishing and sightseeing trips or, for longer excursions, the NZ$10,000 25m-long luxury fishing yacht Ata Rangi is available for charter.
02: HIKE, HIKE, HIKE
From boardwalks to walking trails and mountain bike tracks, meander down your choice pick to explore the surrounding native bush reserves, wetland areas and paddocks while taking in the gorgeous sea view.
03: KIWI, SPOTTED
Walking in pitch-black darkness guided by the beam of a single torch sounds like something for Pokemon Go fans. But consider instead the romance of walking under a ceiling of glittering stars while in search for the elusive kiwi bird native to New Zealand. Keep your ears peeled for the crunch of twigs (these birds are small but tread noisily) – one little creature just might come barrelling out of the bushes in your direction. We speak from experience.
GOLF WITH A SIDE OF VIEW
Designed by the late acclaimed golf course architect Dave Harman from Orlando, US, the bentgrass-padded course currently ranks #49 on The World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses by Golf Digest. While the seventh hole comes with a view of the famous pink beach from the back tee, hole 15 is the most demanding at par 5. Notable players on this course include Hunter Mahan (winner of two World Golf Championship events) and former prime minister of New Zealand John Key.
Wrap yourself in New Zealand’s prized export manuka honey at Kauri Cliffs Spa, where customers include guests from The Landing who take a five-minute helicopter ride over. Here’s what goes into its signature treatment.
01: SCRUBBED UP GOOD
A fragrant manuka honey and walnut scrub rich in nutrients that exfoliates without drying out sensitive skin.
02: WARMING UP
Don’t underestimate the powers of a hot essential oil-infused towel pressed lightly against your face to help you relax.
03: DO RUB IT IN
Besides the scrub, manuka honey is also turned into a luscious creme (known as manuka souffle) that is bliss when kneaded and rubbed into bunched up muscles a la Swedish-style massage. This is followed by a wrap so all the healing properties of the cream – the thick golden liquid is known for lightening scars – is fully absorbed by your skin, leaving it silky smooth.
PHOTOGRAPHY Darren Chang