New Zealand: Extraordinary Natural Beauty, Heavenly Wineries, and World-Class Golf

After traveling through miles and miles of natural beauty and ancient rainforests, we settled ourselves for a couple of nights in the coastal town of Napier.

After a massive earthquake (registering 7.9 on the Richter scale) in 1931 Napier was rebuilt with many buildings designed in an Art Deco style with unique Maori motifs.

Considering Napier was completely leveled by New Zealand’s deadliest disaster, it is now a thriving place in the renowned wine-producing region of Hawke’s Bay.

We enjoyed our time strolling along the waterfront promenade called the Marine Parade. We discovered an excellent Indian restaurant — Rasoi — where we were lucky to get a table.

Kevin mainly picked this spot for two reasons — the first so we could be close to Craggy Range. Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s oldest wine region and has over 200 vineyards, 76 wineries and 38 cellar doors. It could have been a tough decision where to go, but not for us.

Our wine adventure at Craggy Range was an exceptional highlight of our trip. This family-owned winery produces iconic wines from grapes grown on estates in Hawke’s Bay, Martinborough and Marlborough. Before (and after) our sumptuous lunch of Eye Filet Steak for Two, prepared by Head Chef Casey McDonald, while strolling around the grounds, I discovered the stunning bronze sculptures of a Charolais family — a bull, cow and calf — by Paul Day.

I was blown away. Some of you know about our darling next door neighbors in Liscannor — they are Charolais cows — and I have written lots of stories about their spirited conversations. Yep, they talk (to me).

But here, with the stunning Te Mata Peak framing the whole property, were these monumental cattle. They were commissioned by Terry and Mary Peabody, owners of Craggy Range Vineyards, and created by Paul Day. Day, who lives in Dijon, the capital city of the historical Burgundy region, drew his inspiration where he is surrounded by these magnificent creatures.

The second reason for staying in Napier was to be close to Cape Kidnappers. Owned by Robertson Lodges, the same family behind the Bay of Islands’ Kauri Cliffs Lodge & Golf Course, Cape Kidnappers is the second working farm started by Julian Robertson.

The Cape figures in Maori mythology and its name immortalizes the first visit by Captain Cook in 1770. It is seaside golf but not links. But oh, is it grand. What a canvas Tom Doak was given to work with. And boy, did he deliver. Only if you enjoy playing heroic shots played over challenging and beautiful terrain, that is. Somehow, this intoxicating blend of New Zealand golf ingredients combined to produce my best round of our entire trip. It was, without a doubt, my favorite.

But one more enchanting occurrence made it so — just as we reached the carpark we stumbled upon a couple of blokes who were tracking some of the 70 Kiwis that nest in this spectacular corner of New Zealand. Although we did not get to see the iconic, flightless bird in its natural habitat, there was a well-preserved, shaggy example encased in a display case in the pro-shop!

 We had one more segment of our itinerary to experience. We traveled to the capital city of Wellington, situated on the southernmost point on the Cook Strait.

Here we were ensconced in the thoroughly modern and luxurious Bolton Hotel. From our perch in this very sophisticated high-rise we had quite a view of the bustling city that was originally established by British settlers in 1839.

Other than positioning ourselves here so we could fly to the South Island, we had booked a round at the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club. I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. Kevin described it as “an old-fashioned members-club.”

From the very first tee shot I was often wondering “where am I going?” It was the closest thing to playing a course like Lahinch in Ireland where there are lots of blind shots. I didn’t learn until much later that the course was designed in 1949 by Alex Russell, Paraparaumu hosted 12 New Zealand Opens, won by such notable players as Peter Thomson, Corey Pavin and Michael Campbell.

Kevin and I played as a twosome behind another twosome who were obviously members. They did not need to consult the modest tri-fold course guide like us.

On the back nine, when we came to a halt behind the guys ahead of us and had time for a friendly exchange, that is when we learned that this was the only course Tiger Woods ever played in New Zealand. One factor was his longtime caddie, Steve Williams, grew up learning to play golf here. And he made his professional caddying debut at 13 years old, carrying Peter Thomson’s bag in the New Zealand Open.

But in 2002, the world number one, at age 26, struggled on the course and almost missed the cut. By the end of the tournament, Woods only managed a share of sixth, while Australian Craig Parry claimed the title.

From Wellington we’ll be flying to Queenstown on the South Island. This puts us in proximity of winemaker Andrew Keenleyside, who is profiled in the Terroir of Golf chapter called “Winemakers Talk Terroir.” Then we will also be able to visit The Hills — featured in the “Golf Clubs Around the World with a Strong Wine Culture.”

The Hills came to my attention long before I began writing this book. I had heard of this extraordinary place that is essentially a sculpture park, while it was originally conceived of as a private members club by Sir Michael Hill.

Young Michael created his first golf course at age 11 on the lawn of his family’s house at Whangarei. He mowed little circles for greens and used baked bean tins for holes.


Here you can read New Zealand Part 1Part 2 and Part 4