Our suggested tour of New Zealand continues from the North Island to the South Island, reached from Wellington by car ferry (three long hours). A better option is to take one of the daily scheduled commercial flights from Wellington to Blenheim (25 minutes), Nelson (35 minutes) or Christchurch (45 minutes).
Lake Timara Lodge outside Blenheim makes for an idyllic Old World stopover. Sequestered in the celebrated Marlborough wine district, this hospitable manor was built in 1923 as a private estate and sits amid parklike grounds punctuated by lovely English gardens, stately trees and a swan-graced millpond.
Farther south, crisscrossed by the sleepy, willow-fringed Avon River, the historic and genteel metropolis of Christchurch has aptly been called the “Garden City of New Zealand,” its urban landscape ribboned with blissful parklands, leafy squares and residential yards bursting with all manner of colorful flowers. Be sure to visit alluring Mona Vale and the Botanic Gardens, as well as The Arts Centre ensconced amid the former Canterbury University’s medieval-style quadrangles.
From Christchurch, it’s a sensible one-hour flight to Queenstown, though more adventurous souls may want to consider the dramatic Highway 6, which runs along the western coast from Arthur’s Pass. The 10-hour drive down to Queenstown can be broken up with a stop at Franz Josef village, where you’ll be able to admire the magnificent glacier. Guided ice walks can be arranged, as well as heli-hikes and scenic flyovers.
The Annandale Villas
For those who would like to spend part of a New Zealand trip sequestered in a private world, Annandale provides the perfect venue. Located 80 minutes southeast of Christchurch, the property comprises five distinctive “villas,” set on a 4,000-acre sheep and cattle farm that has an extensive stretch of Pacific coastline. The principal house is the Annandale homestead, a five-bedroom Victorian structure dating from the 1880s with a tennis court, pool and gym. In complete contrast, Scrubby Bay is a four-bedroom contemporary beach house of cedarwood, glass and stone, situated on a private cove. There is also the one-bedroom Shepherd’s Cottage, set on a hilltop with views of the Pacific; Seascape, an ultra-modern one-bedroom hideaway with a glass façade, located on a private bay; and Stables, a two-bedroom loft apartment. At all five villas, gourmet food is either delivered or cooked on the premises by a private chef. Hiking, biking and kayaking are available.
Sensational Golf Courses
It takes just under two hours to fly from Wellington to Queenstown, close to the tip of the South Island. Two superb John Darby tracks are within a half-hour’s drive. (Darby is a Harvard-trained landscape designer and golf course architect, well-known in the Southern Hemisphere.) One is The Hills, owned by New Zealand entrepreneur Michael Hill, which is laid out across 500 acres of an old deer farm in the shadow of the Southern Alps.
A millrace winds through the property, feeding 10 lakes and various waterways on the golf course. The wetland areas have been expanded and planted with varieties of flax, toetoe (a kind of pampas grass native to New Zealand) and the endemic and ubiquitous cabbage tree. The Hills is only 9 years old but has already been the site of three New Zealand Opens, and pros rave about the subtle changes in elevation and the downhill tee shots that set up so well.
The other Queenstown track of note is Jack’s Point, which lies beneath the 7,500 vertical feet of The Remarkables, a range of jagged peaks on the shore of Lake Wakatipu. The 6,986-yard course weaves through tussocky grasslands, rocky outcrops, steep bluffs and swathes of native bush.
Rough-hewn stone walls evoke its high-country farming heritage, and the wispy blond-brown fescue growing at the edges of the fairways gives the course the appearance of Highlands links. Each hole has been carefully aligned to the glorious backdrop. Standing on the 17th tee, contemplating a monstrous par 5, your gaze is inexorably drawn to the majestic mountains. For me, this sight alone provides sufficient justification for the long flight across the Pacific.