Golfers especially are advised to head immediately north. Kauri Cliffs, on the spectacular Bay of Islands, encompasses 6,000 scenic acres of semitropical woodland overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The property has handsome cottage suites and a dramatic Pebble Beach-like golf course featuring half a dozen dizzying cliffside holes.
Two hours southeast of the capital lies Rotorua, an otherworldly region rich with geysers, mud pools and vast calderas, as well as more traditional alpine vistas. Fly-fishing enthusiasts will revel in the seven private trout streams and four lakes at Treetops, an eco-adventure hideaway set amid a 2,500-acre wilderness estate.
An hour south on the willow-draped banks of the Waikato River lies the elegant Huka Lodge, perhaps our most formally attired North Island hideaway, though certainly no less welcoming. A house party mood prevails each night, with meal venues including a covered terrace, trophy room and vaulted wine cellar.
Continue the southeastern route to Hawke’s Bay, one of the country’s premier wine-producing areas. The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, which opened in the fall of 2007, features a Tom Doaks-designed golf course that has been hailed as an instant classic. Consult the property’s web site for an array of staggering photos.
A leisurely day’s drive concludes at Wharekauhau Country Estate on the southern tip of the island, one of the most storied lodgings in the world. Set on a 5,000-acre working sheep ranch, Wharekauhau is a remarkable property that perfectly captures the pastoral spirit of old New Zealand.
Breathtaking Golf Courses
Kauri Cliffs is an inspiring place to begin a New Zealand golf trip. Located in the Bay of Islands 170 miles north of Auckland, the par-72 layout was designed by Floridian David Harman. It opened in 2000 as the centerpiece of an elegant yet understated resort created by American hedge-fund pioneer Julian Robertson. Though not a true links, the course at Kauri Cliffs often plays like one as a result of its seaside setting and the way that players can run their approach shots onto most greens.
The ever-present cattle and sheep on an adjoining property also remind me of golf in the Old World, as does the blustery wind. The finishing stretch of Nos. 14-17 at Kauri Cliffs is as challenging, visually compelling and enjoyable a sequence of golf holes as I have played. Kauri Cliffs is Pebble Beach without the hustle and the hordes, at a fraction of the cost.
Lake Taupo lies 170 miles southeast of Auckland. The area is world-renowned for its trout fishing, but since December 2007, the region has had another claim to fame. Kinloch Golf Club is the only Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course in New Zealand, and many experts consider it to be one of the Golden Bear’s finest works. Kinloch is built on land that appears perfectly suited for golf, with natural bunkers and wicked undulations on fairways and greens. The par-72 course is unusual in that it has five par 5s and five par 3s. And in look and feel, it evokes the inland links-style layouts of the great Sand Hills courses in Nebraska.
It is a picturesque two-hour drive southeast from Taupo to Hawke’s Bay, a region on the east coast of the North Island renowned for its orchards and vineyards. Cape Kidnappers is Julian Robertson’s second venture in New Zealand. The golf course debuted in 2004 and is regularly and deservedly rated among the top 50 in the world. The architect was Tom Doak, and his par-71 course, Cypress Point, is spectacular. Water is never out of view, and several holes run atop fingers of land that fall off sharply, either to the bay or into gnarly, wooded ravines.
The track plays firm and fast, like a traditional links course, and it, too, is receptive to the ground game. The back-to-back par 5s at Nos. 15 and 16 are revelations. Fifteen is built on one of the fingers, and anything pulled left falls 1,200 feet to the sea below.
Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is located about 175 miles southwest of Hawke’s Bay. Forty minutes’ drive north of the city center, the Paraparaumu Beach links were designed by Alex Russell, who laid out some of Australia’s best courses nearly a century ago. Founded in 1949, Paraparaumu has hosted the New Zealand Open 12 times. Although it seems slightly cramped and even a little scruffy when you arrive from somewhere as spectacular as Cape Kidnappers, Paraparaumu will greatly appeal to the genuine golf aficionado.