SOUTH­ERN BELLE

THE RE­MOTE BEAUTY OF NEW ZEALAND AT­TRACTED JU­LIAN ROBERT­SON WHEN HE WAS ON HIS WAY UP THE FI­NANCE LAD­DER. LATER, AS A BIL­LION­AIRE PHI­LAN­THROPIST, HE BUILT WITH HIS LATE WIFE THREE STUN­NING LODGES AMID SOME OF THE WORLD’S GREAT­EST SCENERY.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY MI­LANDA ROUT K POR­TRAIT ETHAN HILL

Ju­lian Robert­son chose New Zealand long be­fore it be­came known as the bil­lion­aire’s play­ground. It was 1978 and he was an in­vest­ment ad­viser liv­ing in New York with his wife Josie and their two young sons. He had spent two decades ris­ing through the ranks on Wall Street and planned a break to write the great Amer­i­can novel. The North Carolina-born Robert­son wanted to go some­where com­pletely dif­fer­ent with his fam­ily, and plumped for the Land of the Long White Cloud.

“I was look­ing for some­where which had the great­est ge­og­ra­phy in the world,” Robert­son, 85, says, of the move that kicked off a 40-year love af­fair with the coun­try. “It was be­tween the is­land of Kauai in Hawaii and New Zealand and I thought New Zealand may be a lit­tle bit bet­ter be­cause it was not part of the United States. And I had a great wife who was will­ing to do it. We made the trip and loved every minute. I would de­scribe New Zealand as one of the most beau­ti­ful places on earth.”

Robert­son never did write his great Amer­i­can novel. He cre­ated a great Amer­i­can en­ter­prise in­stead. He re­turned to New York af­ter six months in New Zealand (Josie was preg­nant with their third son) to set up a hedge fund on Wall Street called Tiger Man­age­ment. He turned an ini­tial in­vest­ment of $US8 mil­lion and a staff of 20 in 1980 into a 100-strong firm man­ag­ing $US21­bil­lion by 1998. At that time, it was the big­gest hedge fund in the world. He also went on to fund se­lect pro­tégés, dubbed the Tiger Cubs, who be­came some of the big­gest names in the in­dus­try with their own firms.

“I changed from the nor­mal in­vest­ment ad­vi­sory work to a hedge fund op­er­a­tor which I thought was the best way to prac­tice the in­vest­ment craft,” he tells WISH from New York. “I didn’t re­ally know it at the time but it was well ahead of most peo­ple in hedge funds.” Dubbed the “Tiger of Wall Street’’, Robert­son, like many fi­nan­cial traders, also lost a fair amount of money and closed Tiger Man­age­ment in 2000. But he con­tin­ued to in­vest in his Tiger Cubs, among other things, and is to­day worth $US4.1bn ($5.1bn) ac­cord­ing to Forbes. “By em­ploy­ing and util­is­ing some of the Wall Street’s best and bright­est minds, he was able to con­tin­u­ally beat the mar­ket and es­tab­lish him­self as one of the great­est money man­agers of all time,” wrote Daniel Stra­ch­man of Robert­son in his 2004 biography.

Through­out his ex­traor­di­nary ca­reer, how­ever, Robert­son never for­got New Zealand. He may have only spent six months there but it was enough for the place and its peo­ple to make a last­ing im­pres­sion. So he jumped when an op­por­tu­nity arose in the 1990s to make a more per­ma­nent con­nec­tion: Robert­son re­ceived a call from a prop­erty de­vel­oper friend in Los An­ge­les who was out scout­ing for real es­tate over­seas. “He said, I have sent a man to New Zealand to try and find some prop­erty for my fam­ily, would you have any in­ter­est in

any prop­erty down there?” Robert­son re­calls. “I said, well, if you could find some­thing in the North Is­land for me that is on the coast, a nice big prop­erty, I would love that. And this [man] found Kauri Cliffs for me.”

To­day Kauri Cliffs is a 22-suite lux­ury lodge and golf course that has won al­most every ma­jor travel award around the world since it opened in 2000 (Condé Nast Trav­eller, Travel + Leisure, Golf Digest). When Robert­son bought the prop­erty it was just 2500 hectares of land over­look­ing Matauri Bay. “We wanted to build a golf course and we made ar­range­ments to do that, and my wife wanted to build a ho­tel and we did that,” he says. The fact that nei­ther Ju­lian nor Josie had a back­ground in hos­pi­tal­ity didn’t mat­ter; Josie had a flair for de­sign. “She was very good at home dec­o­ra­tion,” Robert­son says of his wife, whom he lost to can­cer in 2010. “She worked very closely with [in­te­rior de­signer] Vir­ginia Smith and they be­came great friends.”

A few years af­ter Kauri Cliffs, which is three hours north of Auck­land, the Robert­sons opened The Farm at Cape Kid­nap­pers, a 24-suite re­sort and golf course, five hours south of the New Zealand cap­i­tal. His son Jay, who moved to New Zealand to man­age the lodges for over a decade, se­cured a third prop­erty, Matakauri Lodge, in Queen­stown on the South Is­land, in 2010. “Every de­sign de­tail of the lodges was care­fully thought through and has been beau­ti­fully ex­e­cuted,” says chief oper­at­ing of­fi­cer of the three lodges, Euan Tay­lor. “Josie Robert­son had the best eye. I also think it is the love and pas­sion that the Robert­son fam­ily put into build­ing these lodges that sets them apart.”

Robert­son’s in­vest­ment in New Zealand did not stop there. When he and Josie turned their at­ten­tion to phi­lan­thropy back home in New York, es­tab­lish­ing a va­ri­ety of foun­da­tions that fund ed­u­ca­tional, med­i­cal and en­vi­ron­ment projects, he did not for­get about his sec­ond home. Through the Robert­son Foun­da­tion, now run by ex-Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity Chan­cel­lor John Hood, he funds ini­tia­tives from ex­change pro­grams for New Zealand stu­dents to at­tend Duke Uni­ver­sity to cre­at­ing a wildlife sanc­tu­ary at Cape Kid­nap­pers to reestab­lish lo­cal birds and rep­tiles (in­clud­ing New Zealand’s old­est rep­tile called a Tu­atara, which has been around for about 800 mil­lion years).

But it was the de­ci­sion by the Robert­sons to do­nate 15 pieces from their per­sonal art col­lec­tion to the Auck­land Art Gallery that took their love af­fair with the coun­try to the next level and led to Robert­son be­ing named an hon­orary knight of New Zealand. The gift in­cludes ma­jor works by Cezanne, Pi­casso and Matisse and is val­ued at be­tween $NZ200-250 mil­lion. It is the most sig­nif­i­cant do­na­tion to any New Zealand pub­lic gallery and will be of­fi­cially handed over as part of Robert­son’s es­tate on his death. Some of the paint­ings went on dis­play when the do­na­tion an­nounce­ment was made in 2009 and Robert­son couldn’t believe the feed­back he re­ceived, in­clud­ing chil­dren send­ing him their own de­pic­tions of the art­works. “Frankly, bring­ing the pic­tures [here] was prob­a­bly the most ap­pre­ci­ated thing we have ever done,” he said at the time.

Robert­son’s love of art ini­tially stemmed from his

“It is the love and pas­sion that the Robert­son fam­ily put into build­ing these lodges that sets them apart.”

wife, as Josie had stud­ied art his­tory at uni­ver­sity, and the pair amassed quite a col­lec­tion; some of it is also on dis­play at their lodges (in­clud­ing Pi­casso pieces at Matakauri). This is part of what makes the lodges so spe­cial, says Tay­lor, as guests feel like they are spend­ing time with friends at their well-ap­pointed home rather than the formality of a ho­tel. “[It is like] a home full of beau­ti­ful fur­nish­ings, art, ta­ble set­tings that have been lov­ingly col­lected over time,” he ex­plains. “The unique lo­ca­tions of the lodges also add a feel­ing of lux­ury – true hide­aways po­si­tioned in the most gob­s­mack­ingly beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tions you can imag­ine – think mes­meris­ing out­looks and stun­ning views at every turn.”

This is cer­tainly the case at Matakauri Lodge, which WISH vis­ited in the midst of win­ter. The lodge and its sur­round­ings jus­tify Robert­son’s de­scrip­tion of New Zealand as one of the most beau­ti­ful places on earth. Over­look­ing Lake Wakatipu, snow-capped moun­tains sur­round you at every turn in this 12-suite pri­vate sanc­tu­ary. It is easy to see how di­rec­tor Peter Jack­son imag­ined Tolkien’s world here deep in the moun­tains, pic­tur­ing ad­ven­tures in hid­den val­leys or in lush forests along the lake­side. In fact, WISH found it dif­fi­cult to do any­thing but stare at the mes­meris­ing view all day.

But that is where the im­pec­ca­ble staff at Robert­son’s three lodges comes into play, help­ing you ex­plore the land­scape that makes up that ex­cep­tional view. “We have amaz­ing staff who know each guest’s likes and pref­er­ences and noth­ing is a prob­lem,” says Tay­lor. “That is true lux­ury.” At Kauri Cliffs, the guest re­la­tions man­ager, John Lewis, has been in the job since the lodge opened in 2001. He ar­ranges her­itage walks along the prop­erty and even plays the piano at night for guests. Matakauri Lodge is close to four top ski fields, in­clud­ing Coronet Peak (with its ex­clu­sive Peak Lounge avail­able for Matakauri guests) and there is a snow concierge that can fit and or­gan­ise delivery of equip­ment to the lodge. Staff can even ar­range a he­liski­ing trip where you can do all four ski fields in one day and be back with a glass of wine in front of that view in time for din­ner.

Robert­son prefers sum­mer at his lodges; he ar­rives in De­cem­ber each year and stays un­til late March. He spends most of his time at Kauri Cliffs but gets to all three. “I love them all,” he says. “They are all quite dif­fer­ent.” The bil­lion­aire has also de­cided to fi­nally recog­nise the lodges for what they are – 100 per cent fam­ily-owned – by bring­ing Matakauri, Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kid­nap­pers un­der the ban­ner of Robert­son Lodges. “They have a sim­i­lar­ity of man­age­ment and a good rep­u­ta­tion but some peo­ple know one lodge and not the other,” he ex­plains. And will he add any more to the fam­ily fold? “If we found the right prop­erty, we would cer­tainly take a look at it,” he tells WISH.

But Robert­son may face some com­pe­ti­tion this time as he is no longer the only Amer­i­can in­vest­ing in New Zealand; there has been an in­flux of mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires seek­ing a beau­ti­ful bolt­hole at the edge of the world. It seems that Robert­son may not only have been ahead of his game on Wall Street but also in his love of the Land of the Long White Cloud.

“The lo­ca­tions add a feel­ing of lux­ury – hide­aways in the most gob­s­mack­ingly beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tions you can imag­ine.”

Ju­lian Robert­son with a Pi­casso from his art col­lec­tion, part of which he has do­nated to the Auck­land Art Gallery

The bed­room and lounge in a suite at Matakauri Lodge

The Farm at Cape Kid­nap­pers re­sort and golf course, its main lounge and the Ridge suite

Kauri Cliffs at sun­set, a suite, and the fire­place on the out­door din­ing deck

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