NEW ZEALAND GOLF – NORTH ISLAND

The golf world has been buzzing over the last couple of years with stories of New Zealand. Recently, I had a chance to briefly experience Kiwi golf mostly on the North Island. On this trip I visited Gulf Harbour, Manghawai, Waitaingi, Keri Keri, Clearwater and the famous Kauri Cliffs. My focus on this trip was Auckland and the Northland area.

I had great expectations for visiting New Zealand and most were met. The people are friendly and the culture is either British or Maori, depending upon where you are. For example, the Northland area, where I spent most of my time, is greatly influenced by the Maori culture, which is similar to Hawaiian. The country is clean and safe for international travelers. Pay attention to driving as the roads are narrow, and be sure you’re on the right (left) side of the road.

Auckland is a growing big city with a multinational culture. It is a combination of Seattle, Portland and San Diego. Water is everywhere. If you like boating you will love Auckland. New Zealand has a lot of golf – more than 300 courses for only 4 million people. The challenge was to get a real feel for New Zealand golf in a short timeframe.

After landing in Auckland we journeyed north to Gulf Harbour to start the trip. Gulf Harbour is located on the Whangaparoa Peninsula, about an hour north of downtown Auckland; it has hosted the New Zealand PGA Championship.

On this waterfront setting, from some of the holes on the back nine you can actually see downtown Auckland. The 16th hole is one of the most photographed holes in golf. This 440-yard par-4 is a dogleg right along the oceanfront cliffs. It plays slightly uphill and a bit downwind. We stayed at the Gulf Harbour Lodge, which was just a driver away from the course. (For more info visit www.gulfharbourcountryclub.co.nz.)

From Gulf Harbour, we made our way up north along the coast past Mangawhai Heads to Paihia Beach. The course in Mangawhai is one of the best on the North Island, but is a bit out of the way. This is the way with many of the local gems, which are played mostly by Kiwis and get little international attention. Just a mile away is the Waitangi Treaty House, a historical artifact on the island. This is where the treaty was signed between the Maori and the British, paving the way for what is now New Zealand. Waitangi is a national park and home to a scenic 18-hole layout. The back nine runs along a bluff overlooking the Bay of Islands with the quaint town of Russell in the distance. Many golfers walk this gently rolling track – be sure to bring your camera. Most of the holes offer stunning views of the Bay of Islands. The Paihia Beach Resort is where we stayed offering large rooms and suites. The Bay of Islands is in view from almost every room due to the layout of the hotel. The view must be similar to Bora Bora with crystal blue water and lush mountainous islands in the foreground. The beach area is just across the street. They have a restaurant on site and breakfast is included in most packages. (For more info visit www.paihiabeach.co.nz and www.waitangi.nzgolf.net.)

Golf in New Zealand maybe more like golf in Santa Barbara, where walking (instead of taking a cart) is prevalent on what are lush, well-kept courses. The weather in New Zealand is normally mild and suits walking. The courses are spread throughout the country, most being 30 minutes apart. Even though we were there during busy season we never had a problem getting on courses. Like Santa Barbara, the courses are not crowded.

Air New Zealand, our airline of choice, now has many flights from both San Francisco and Los Angeles to Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch. It runs many web specials at www.airnewzealand.com.