Golfing in New Zealand – The Plan
By Peter Hellman
I leave for New Zealand in April, which if not my most exotic golf destination, is certainly the farthest from home. To get there I take a 12 ½ hour Air New Zealand flight from San Francisco to Auckland, which is located on the northern end of North Island. Not only is the flight a long one, I actually lose a day on the way. Does leaving on a Saturday and arriving on a Monday make me older or younger or just confused?
New Zealand lies south of the equator meaning that the seasons are opposite ours and I'll be playing in October type weather. Temperatures, however, should be a comfortable - averaging about 65 to 70 in the north and 60 to 65 in the south. From Auckland I fly even further north to Kerikeri, home of the famous Kauri Cliffs Golf Club. Ranked 53rd among the Top 100 World Golf Courses, Kauri Cliffs has stunning views of the ocean from fifteen of its holes and six of them run along the tops of cliffs that keep the not so passive Pacific at bay. It's best to avoid "duck hooks" on these six holes.
From Kauri Cliffs I fly south to Taupo Lake, which is the largest in New Zealand and a noted fishery stocked with brown and rainbow trout. I plan to try my hand at fishing off a charter boat between rounds of golf. I like the idea of mixing golf with other fun activities. I added several non-golf experiences to this itinerary. On the shores of Taupo Lake is the Kinloch Golf Club, a Nicklaus designed course opened in 2008. It is reminiscent of links courses in Scotland though its backdrop is the lake, not the North Sea. Wairakel International is another course I plan to play in the area. The course lies within a sanctuary for native vegetation and meanders through a heavy forest. Though not ranked among the top 100 courses in the world, it's noted as a local favorite.
It is not a long drive to Cape Kidnappers, the most iconic and identifiable Kiwi course for Americans. Photos of its lush green fairways carefully placed atop dramatic cliffs are easily found in every golf magazine. Designed by American Tom Doak (his credits include two courses at Bandon Dunes and Denver's own Common Ground), this par 71 beauty is ranked 35th in the world and features a resort (The Farm at Cape Kidnappers) that was voted #1 among resorts in Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific islands. I am sure I will sleep well at The Farm.
I will enjoy a side trip to a couple of local wineries before arriving in Napier, the main city in the area where a flight to Queenstown on the South Island awaits. The Mill Brook Resort, which hosts 27 holes of great scenic golf along Lake Wakatipu, is one of several excellent courses in the area. The Hills, which opened in 2007 and legendary pro golf Bob Charles calls the best course in New Zealand, is private but open to outside play. The architecturally unique club house has earned several awards and compliments the course beautifully. Jack's Point is part of a 3,000 acre development and is situated on a spectacular landscape with magnificent views of Lake Taupu and mountains. My non-golf activity here is a jet boat tour up the Shotover River. It is reported to be a wild ride at full speed through narrow canyons that make a crash seem eminent. I hope I survive.
This ten day trip, which has been on my bucket list for years, will give me a greater understanding of New Zealand - its people, landscape, activities and of course its golf. I look forward to writing about what I discover in my next article. I will also be ready to talk New Zealand golf with you personally so that you can add golfing in New Zealand to your "bucket list" as well.