Tycoon’s takeover

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US billionaire pays $12m for lodge.

The $12 million purchase of swanky Matakauri Lodge by a prominent American billionaire will bring even more of the rich and famous to Queenstown.

Outgoing manager Grant Alley confirms New Yorker Julian Robertson has a contract on the $1700-$2000 per night lakeside lodge hidden away off Glenorchy Road near Closeburn.

The deal is subject to Overseas Investment Office approval.

Robertson has been in the news this month for his extraordinary gift of $115m of modern art, including two Picassos, to the Auckland Art Gallery.

The late-70s billionaire has de­­veloped two spectacular world-rated golf course resorts in New Zealand – Kauri Cliffs in Northland and Cape Kidnappers in Hawkes Bay. He also owns two wineries in NZ.

Alley understands Robertson – who usually flies into Queenstown by private jet – has wanted to buy here for some time.

“He’s got the whole country covered, I suppose – the properties are all pretty spectacular.”

International jetsetters to exclusive Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers are now more likely to tack Queenstown onto their Kiwi luxury-lodge holidays.

Once nicknamed “The Wizard of Wall Street”, Robertson reportedly headed the world’s largest hedge fund in the 1980s and 90s – with a 32 per cent compound rate of return to investors – before closing Tiger Management in 2000.

Mountain Scene understands he visited Matakauri Lodge in 1999, while it was still under construction, before former Queenstowner Graeme Shaw opened it in 2000.

A year later Shaw sold it to Margaret and Murray Hardy of Hamilton for about $7m.

Two years ago the Hardys enlarged the lodge units from six to 10 and added an organic spa.

It’s believed Robertson has plans to upgrade and develop Matakauri further – it’s presently closed for business until the middle of next month.

Alley, who’s unsure of Robertson’s takeover date, understands one of Robertson’s sons will manage the new acquisition.

Robertson’s been no stranger to controversy in NZ.

Four years ago, then Labour Minister Trevor Mallard labelled him “lead bagman” for then-National leader Don Brash – embarrassingly, it was then revealed the American had donated campaign money for one of Mallard’s colleagues.

At Cape Kidnappers, Robertson raised hackles with his plan to carve a lodge into its sandstone cliffs – he backed off after locals formed the Cape Kidnappers Protection Society.

A major benefactor in the US, he’ll have won friends in NZ – which he calls his second home – with the donation of his 15 major works of art.

Auckland Art Gallery says it’s the largest gift to an art museum in New Zealand or Australia.