To many Golfing enthusiasts the best vacation is a Golfing vacation. It's a great way to get a group of friends together and bond in ways only golfers know. Golf is very revealing about ones personality.
There are few poker faces on the golf course and the physical and mental demands of the game take hold of the persona and shake out that solid corporate person you left at the office. There are some wonderful northern hemisphere locations for golfing vacations: Ireland, Scotland and Florida. But for those who want to venture further a-field in off-season, consider heading south to New Zealand.
Basking in temperate climate ideal for outdoor pursuits, New Zealand proudly boasts a number of internationally graduated golf courses, and in recent years, adjunct accommodation has reached a similar standard. With favorable exchange rates, New Zealand is a perfect golf vacation destination.
Golf is a national pastime in New Zealand, with one of the highest golf players per capital world-wide. It's people are sporting, friendly and not too timid to take on a Northerner on the golf course. But if you prefer to get away from the golfing masses, New Zealand has a selection of top class golfing resorts.
It's hard not to sound like a travel brochure when describing these courses, but being familiar with each of these locations, I am only too eager to share my top picks heading from North to South.
Carrington Resort – Northland
Carrington Resort is located on the Karikari Peninsula, halfway between Doubtless Bay and the northern spit. With panoramic sea views from several holes, the course lies within the boundaries of an extensive vineyard and winery – the perfect combination for a golfing vacation.
The course is relatively new, opening in 2002, and was recently redesigned by Matt Dye to give an interesting and challenging test for golfers of all levels. For those that prefer to see sand on the beach rather than the golf course during their vacation, you will be delighted that the course in not heavy bunkered.
The accommodation matches the course in terms of quality with a members area providing common meeting ground for rehashing the golfing prowess of the day before relaxing to dine in an equally superb restaurant, naturally with its own excellent wine cellar. And for partners not into the golfing frenzy there is a range of fitness and exploring options ideal for unwinding after a long flight.
Kauri Cliffs – Bay of Islands, Northland
Moving down the coast a bit we come upon Kauri Cliffs, with 180 degree views of the Pacific Ocean, Cape Brett and the Cavalli Islands. Opened in 2000, the 6510 metro par 72 golf course was designed by David Harman, Orlando, Florida. Kauri Cliffs will test the best, and was named 49th best golf course in the world by Golf magazine and awarded Best New International Golf Course in 2001 by Golf Digest.
Its holes wind through marsh, forest and farmland, and of the 15 holes with sea views, six are played along sea plunging cliff-tops. There's no returning those water shots here!
Non-golfers can enjoy the spa and pool facilities, or venture to one of three private beaches. For a little more adventure, try fishing, sea kayaking or hunting possum or wild boar with a resort guide.
Gulf Harbor – Whangaparoa Peninsula, North Auckland
Gulf Harbor, just 40 minutes north of Auckland is another cliff hugging course, designed by American designer Robert Trent Jones Jr. It hosted the 1998 World Cup of Golf and 2005 NZ Open. As an important part of a residential / hotel / marina complex, the course claims to offer “one of the best golfing experiences for players of all handicaps”.
Gulf Harbor Country Club has an association with nearby Gulf Harbor Lodge to provide accommodation packages, giving it a pseudo resort persona. A magical area for a relaxing after dinner stroll around the marina.
Lakes Resort – Coromandel
Moving further down the North Island, on the eastern coast you will find Lakes Resort on the Coromandel Peninsula, well known for its white sand beaches, boating and adventure activity. The Lakes Resort golf course, designed by Canadian firm Sid Puddicombe Associates, claims to have 'the best back nine holes in New Zealand'. Its wetlands, native bush and white sand bunkers typify the diverse landscape that makes New Zealand so beautiful.
Non-golfers are not forgotten with deep sea fishing, sea kayaking tours, swimming with dolphins, snorkelling and diving in some of the clearest and most beautiful coastal waters of New Zealand. But do not let all this talk of natural splendor fool you. The greens at The Lakes are without question among the best in New Zealand; being made from L93 Bent grass developed at the University of Georgia in the US
Wairakei International – Bay of Plenty, Taupo
Moving inland to the center of the North Island is another NZ, golfing showcase, the Wairakei International. Wairakei borders the spectacular Lake Taupo at the southern end of the countries main volcanic region. One of New Zealand's oldest courses, its grand wooden boundaries and recent upgrades maintain its status of one of New Zealand's finest golf courses.
For the luxury seeking, Huka Lodge, on the banks of the Waikato River above the Huka Falls, is only a few minutes drive. Relax at the end of the day with fishing pole and superb NZ wine. A real mans dream.
Cape Kidnappers – Hawkes Bay
Venturing back out to the East Coast from Taupo to the Hawkes Bay we have Cape Kidnappers, well known for its gannet colony, but better known amongst golfers for its wineries. Natural features as, we have another cliff top surprise for you with the Cape Kidnappers course.
Built on a ridge-and-valley landscape with spectacular sea views, this course boasts one of the great golf holes of the world. Cape Kidnappers is a par-71, 6400metre course and an ideal location for your teams long drive contest. The back tees are more suited to single-figure handicappers long and straight off the tee. But do not fret – there are four other tee boxes. A spectacular and challenging course.
There is a wide range of private lodge style accommodation in this region to choose from and its winery based cuisine is world-class. There is no boredom for either golfers or non-golfers in this region.
In the next article we will take a detailed look at our South Island golfing trips at:
Clearwater Resort – Christchurch Terrace Downs – Canterbury High Country Millbrook Resort – Queenstown
New Zealand has taken a unique step in recognizing the high quality demanded by international golfers, Tourism New Zealand, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, New Zealand Golf Association, and the New Zealand PGA formed a quality-control group 'The Best of Golf New Zealand '. All of the above courses have met their approval.