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With 400 established courses, no country on Earth has more golf courses per capita than New Zealand. The game is the highest participation sport in the nation, seeing nearly 500,000 adults play each year. We’d heard visitors easily enjoy a game without the overcrowding experienced in many other parts of the world. So, when Geoff, my best pal and golfing partner suggested we go, I was pretty darned pleased. “A golfing trip to New Zealand? When do we leave?”
And it was even more exciting when two tubes looking like rocket launchers arrived on the doorstep at our home in the Pacific Northwest. Far from threatening, these travel cases for half sets of clubs would double on the course as golf bags. Geoff had thought of everything.
A nation of islands in the Southern Hemisphere, New Zealand is more than 1,600 kilometres southeast of Australia. The waters of the Cook Strait separate the two main islands, the North and the South, and although it’s smaller, most New Zealanders live on the North Island. Temperatures are milder and there’s more level land, but many say the landscape of the South Island is more dramatic because of the spectacular Southern Alps.
Down under, summer stretches from December through February, but it’s vacation time and accommodation reservations are recommended. Autumn runs March through May and from June through August, winter weather brings rain and snow in the high country. Hardy ones can ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon. We arrived in Auckland on the North Island at a particularly beautiful time for although October was still a bit chilly, the warm spring sun and rain refreshed the countryside, coaxed buds into bloom and renewed life in the forests. Someone once said of New Zealand greenery, “If a plant is bare, it is either not native, or dead.”
For those who prefer other pastimes when their partners play a round of golf, there are many activities to while away a few hours. Some may fancy a city tour with shopping excursions, a visit to botanical gardens and their great gift shops, a tramp (walk or hike) along the many well-marked paths in the city or countryside, or just enjoy a lazy day at the beach. A personal favourite is a luxurious soak in an outdoor thermal spa—one of New Zealand’s great treats.
The first section covers a large part of our North Island tour. Up the Twin Coast Highway we sought out golfing opportunities and the nation’s history and pre history. Heading east on the often remote Pacific Coast Highway, we visited the cities of Gisborne and Napier, then drove south to the capital, Wellington. An interesting and challenging aspect of the North Island is golfing alongside boiling, gurgling and plopping geothermal mud pools on courses off the Thermal Explorer Highway. At times, it became a walk on the wild side when shots strayed too close to hot spots.
Our South Island tour began with a Cook Strait car ferry crossing from Wellington to the Port of Picton. We drove the West Coast from what seemed an isolated area north of Westport where caves tell a tale of an ancient past in the remains of the extinct giant flightless moa bird. Heading south into glacier country, we marveled at the dramatic scenery then turned inland to the towns of Wanaka, Queenstown, and Te Anau for Fiordland tours.
Why did we enjoy our visit so much? Feeling welcome and safe has much to do with a traveler’s comfort. Never fearful, we were always greeted warmly in densely populated urban areas or in the most out-of-the-way, backcountry areas. And although rain and wind often changed our plans, they also brought a certain beauty to the country.