The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand - Incredible Golf and Food/Rooms
NAPIER, NEW ZEALAND - You know you’ve arrived at a small airport when you look out your window and 80 feet away are people in the terminal waving hello. Just like old times.
Charming, yes, but not nearly as intoxicating as a day at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, a golf course and resort on a beautiful headland that juts out into the Pacific at the south end of Hawke’s Bay here on the North Island of New Zealand. Hawke’s Bay is known for its wine, and more on that later this week Cape Kidnappers is known to most folks, I suspect, for its golf course. It looks a lot like northern California, which is where I grew up. I felt an amazing sense of familiarity around here.
I had a chance a week ago to play Kauri Cliffs, an equally known course north of Auckland that's owned by the same New York businessman, Julian Robertson. I had been warned Cape Kidnappers would be a lot harder, especially if the wind picked up.
As luck would have it, it was a brilliant, 26 degree (sorry about that) day at the cape when I teed off. The first couple holes were just nice, but the course quickly turned sensational, with deep gully’s and a decent wind forcing me to make (mostly bad) decisions about club selections.
Kauri Cliffs has more holes with fine water views, and there are more islands to gaze out at. But Cape Kidnappers has water views on many holes, as well as deep looks at some seriously high, chalky bluffs and, I think, more interesting holes to challenge a golfer.
It’s kinda like choosing between a BMW and a Mercedes, or maybe Penelope Cruz vs. Scarlett Johansson, so I won’t bother. Both are wonderful, wonderful golf courses that have helped put this country on the “must-play” list for many of us crazy golf people around the world.
Like Kauri, Cape Kidnappers also is known for its resort and its food. Being located on a working sheep farm, Cape Kidnappers takes advantage with absolutely stunning décor with a rural/farm feel. The main building is made of beautiful stone, with gorgeous, rough-hewn farm implements scattered hither and yon in just the perfect expressions of farm chic. In my unit, the door that led to the bathroom was a giant, white sliding slab of wood that looked like a barn door.
There are all the regular amenities one would expect at a high-end resort; an iPod docking station and a flat-screen TV hidden behind a dreamy, seascape painting that you can pull away from the wall if you’re the sort of idiot who prefers watching a movie to listening to magpies and cicadas sing in the evening as the sun casts its fading light on the glorious, golden grasses and deep-green trees that lead down to the Pacific Ocean and Hawke’s Bay.
The food also is top notch. They served me an “amuse bouche” to start things off that was an incredible pairing of sliced duck breast with bananas and caramelized onion and mint. They’ll also give you a selection of local wines to balance your food: a local Pinot Grigio that was much fruitier and fuller bodied than weak-kneed Italian varieties we get at the LCBO was paired with snapper; a beautiful Pinot Noir with tempura quail laced with chili oil and avocado that was out of this world, and a Hawke’s Bay Viognier with a local John Dory served with risotto. Oh, and something a tad unusual; a local Tempranillo that was a perfect blend of old world and new world with a breast of guinea fowl in a rich sauce.
They also served a half-dozen local cheeses with honey for dessert, as well as a killer bourbon chocolate mousse cake with white chocolate ice cream. Breakfasts feature a tonf of local fruit and berries, as well as the best bircher muesli this side of Zurich.
There’s a small but lovely infinity pool, as well as a hot tub and free bottles of cold water if you get too warm.
All in all, a truly remarkable resort that has a real sense of place; as strong as any property I’ve stayed at over the years. To me, that’s the sign of a truly great hotel; one that gathers you in and makes you comfortable and fusses and swoons, yes, but also one that lets you know exactly where you are.
More to come this week on the bicycle/wine trails of Hawke's Bay and the art deco scene in the funky, coastal town of Napier.