The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs is much more than a golf lodge, with a rich Māori cultural heritage and incredible opportunities to connect with nature along New Zealand's north coast.
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs opened in 2001 and first gained international acclaim as a golf resort, but there's so much more to discover at this coastal paradise. Kauri Cliffs is one of the oldest farms in New Zealand and still home to thousands of Coopworth sheep and Angus cattle. Of course, the Northland's rich history extends much further back than when Reverend Samuel Marsden first made landfall and settled with British missionaries in 1814. For thousands of years prior, Polynesian settlers prized these bays for seafood, or kaimoana, which the Māori enjoyed fresh, steamed and smoked. You can still catch your own snapper and have the chefs at the lodge prepare it for dinner the same night.
The best way to immerse yourself in the land is through stories, in the great oral tradition of the Māori. Guest Relations Manager Michael Venner has been offering cultural heritage tours traversing the 6,000-acre property for a couple of years now, tailored to each guest's interests. The Northland region is still home to many Māori and Venner himself is of Māori heritage. The Māori believe that every human being is divine he tells me.
“It's not about the color of your skin, but the color of your heart,” Venner says. “There's an energy and resonance that connects us all.”
We live between these realms and everything is interconnected, from the Earth Mother to the Sky Father. “They didn't value gold and silver, but rather people, stories and the land,” Venner explains. The Lodge's namesake kauri trees are thought to be the legs of Tāne, the god of forests and birds. In a mythical sense, he holds the sky and earth apart. Today, mighty kauri trees are few and far between, decimated by loggers and more recently dieback disease. There's still one massive kauri tree on property, more than 800 years old, that is worth a special visit. Standing in the tree's shade, Venner teaches me to play the purerehua, a spiritual wind instrument that resembles a miniature surfboard on a string, meant to sound like a fluttering moth.
Walking to the spa through the lush forest filled with ancient ferns, totara trees and birdsong is so very different with a guide to point out details I would otherwise have overlooked on my own. The previous afternoon, on my way to get a volcanic mud wrap, I hadn't even noticed the many small holes in the ground where kiwi birds have been probing for insects and larvae. Dozens of different birds live in the forest, and their lilting song is a relaxing soundtrack to begin each day. But the endangered kiwi, the national symbol of New Zealand, is also the most significant, and their presence is a sign that Kauri Cliff's conservation plan is working.
Venner shows me how the silver ferns were used by Māori scouts as trail markers, because the underside of the leaves would glisten in the dark. We sip a blood cleansing herbal tonic made from kawakawa, a close relative of kava, before indulging in a spoonful of sweet medicine – manuka honey.