New Zealand – I Loved It & You Will Too!
By Peter Hellman
In my last article, I wrote about my thoughts on my then upcoming golf trip to New Zealand. I based the article on some research and a great deal of imagination. Well, in April I flew to New Zealand to discover what the country was really like. In a nutshell, I now understand why "The Lord of the Ring" was filmed there, why golf is serious business and why few Americans visit the country. Taking these points in reverse order, let me elaborate a bit on each.
The reason so few golfers and other travelers visit New Zealand is at least partially due to the fact it is far away. It is also isolated. In fact, it was the last large land mass to be inhabited by humans (about 1,500 years ago). From San Francisco it's a 12 ½ hour flight to Auckland, the country's largest city. That's enough time to watch six movies, eat several meals, drinks numerous cocktails, read half a novel and still have time for a nap. My feeling is that the trip is worth the long flight, but make sure you spend at least 8 to 10 days in country. I flew with the national carrier – Air New Zealand. The service was excellent, the on board meals were tasty and the staff was friendly and professional.
Golf is serious business in New Zealand. By "serious" I mean golf course owners and developers have built their courses on some of the most challenging and spectacular pieces of land I have ever seen. Golf here is not only a tee-to-green adventure; it is a feast for the eyes. Take Kauri Cliffs, for example. Like its sister course Cape Kidnappers, Kauri Cliffs is built on cliffs overlooking the South Pacific. But it is not just water in view; it's the Bay of Islands, one of the most spectacular collections of small islands anywhere. It is easy to lose ones concentration with such a view. I loved the isolated location of Cape Kidnappers. The lodging, the food and the golf were all first class and I had no desire to leave the property.
Not all of New Zealand's courses are built on cliffs, however. On the north island, in addition to Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers, I played Kinlock Golf Club a Jack Nicklaus Signature course located 15 minutes from the city of Taupo. This course rolls and winds its way through a beautiful landscape with occasional peeks of Lake Taupo, the north island's largest lake. This course is tough and playing from the front tee boxes is highly recommended for most golfers. Comfortable modern houses are available to rent on the course or nearby town. Wairakei International is the oldest of the courses I played and the most traditional. The course is also a sanctuary for indigenous plants, birds and animals. Lunch at the nearby Huka Lodge, a deluxe 25 room retreat with its own world class fly fishing stream, was a special treat. This is where Queen Elizabeth of stays when she visits her former colony.
A short flight to Queenstown in the south island introduced me to several more courses, other activities and special sites. Millbrook Resort has three quality 9-hole courses and all the amenities one would expect from a quality resort. The Hills, a private course built on a glacial valley, is not only an excellent track, but hosts the owner's private collection of statuary on virtually every hole. The club house is a modern edifice of glass that juts out from the ground like prow of a half buried ship. One of my favorite courses (though picking one among the seven I played is difficult) is Jacks Point. With the dramatic Remarkable Mountains in one direction and Lake Wakatipu the other, it is easy to lose yourself in the surrounding beauty and forget that you are playing a true championship course.
It is important to remember that New Zealand is not just about golf. There is so much to see and do in this beautiful and interesting country. During my trip, I visited several vineyards (great places for lunch, too), went fishing on Lake Taupo, took a wild ride up the Shotover River in a super fast speed boat, sampled local olive oil, learned about the Mauri people and culture, tasted local cheeses, ate the best lamb and fresh fish and stayed in comfortable lodges and hotels. I even went on an overnight cruise on the Island Escape, a ten cabin vessel that cruises Auckland's Hauraki Gulf.
New Zealand is best experienced as couples. Though the golf is serious, it is also fun and when you add in the many other activities, food, wine, scenery and friendly people you will experience an adventure best shared with those closest to you. I am taking my wife next time – how about you?