With a Trans-Tasman travel bubble in full swing, Michael Donaldson plots a week-long road trip across New Zealand’s North Island before finishing with a South Island surprise.

Two weeks before typing this, a decision by the Government of New Zealand permitted travel from Australia to New Zealand without needing to quarantine on arrival. According to government guidelines, in order to travel to New Zealand on a quarantine-free flight, you must have spent 14 days or more in either Australia or New Zealand before your departing flight (this includes spending all 14 days in Australia or travelling from New Zealand to Australia and returning within 14 days); not have had a positive COVID-19 test in the 14 days before you depart; not be waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test taken in the 14 days before you depart; complete an online travel declaration before you depart, and not have any cold or flu symptoms. You also didn’t need to be vaccinated for COVID-19 to travel on a quarantine-free flight. All in all, it spelt terrific news for golfers on both sides of ‘the ditch’. Clubs and passports could finally be dusted off and normal life, as we knew it, could finally show its face again, much to the envy of the rest of the world. While nothing is certain in this unpredictable environment, one thing was clear after this announcement: we weren’t going to waste a second to hit the fairways in the Land of the Long White Cloud. On the following pages, we reveal our itinerary of the best golf trip you can currently take. Consider it your 2021 guide to golf in New Zealand. Kia ora! It’s good to be back, neighbours!

Titirangi is the only Alister MacKenzie design in New Zealand.

North Island: Designer Destinations 

Day one: Auckland

As New Zealand’s only Alister MacKenzie-designed course, Titirangi Golf Club wears an elite crown with swaggering confidence.

MacKenzie, the legendary architect who created Augusta National, Cypress Point and well… any number of great courses you can think of, came to Auckland while working on Royal Melbourne in 1926.

He sketched a layout for Titirangi that continues to be interpreted and evoked to this day. Recent changes to the first, fifth and 17th holes were made to more accurately reflect MacKenzie’s intention and the staff continue to tweak the mowing lines and greenside areas – ever refining and polishing this gem. 

Just 20 minutes from Auckland Airport and a similar distance from the city, Titirangi might not be the longest course, but it’s easily one of the most difficult challenges you will encounter. The trick to navigating it is to do just that – navigate. A player who can work the ball both ways will thrive off the tee because getting into the right position to play the crucial second or third shot is the art of playing Titirangi.

The heart of Titirangi’s joy are the greens. From dramatic undulations to subtle contours, the lightning-quick surfaces give you some indication of what it might be like at Augusta National. If you are above the hole on many of the greens, be prepared for more than two putts.

The greatest challenges come on the par-3s – which face all four points of the compass – so that you get a different breeze on every one of them. Make par or better on all four and you can earn a prestigious MacKenzie “pin” to honour the feat.

But to truly say you’ve passed the MacKenzie test, you must safely navigate “The Wrecker”, the short par-5 13th. It’s a hole that cannot be beaten into submission but must be unpicked. A blind tee shot through a narrow shute is the first step, but then you must go over or around a tree sitting in the middle of a gully. The second shot should be struck as far left as possible to get a look at the green yet the fairway also slopes towards the left, making that play tougher than it sounds. Finally, the green is as tricky as any on the course, meaning two putts are not a given.

Days two and three: Taupo [3.5 hours, 275km]

Perched on the hills above the thriving township of Kinloch, on the northern tip of Lake Taupo with amazing views back to New Zealand’s largest freshwater lake and the spectacular mountains,
sits one of the most amazing courses in New Zealand. 

Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the greatest Major-championship winner in history, Kinloch is a consummate test of skill and luck thanks to the ever-undulating, crumpled fairways resembling those you’d find on the best links courses of Britain and Ireland. 

There will be bounces that go against you, but they’ll be countered by the ones that play in your favour – it’s a great test of patience and your faith in the golf gods. As Nicklaus himself said, the layout is designed to examine your “mental game”. 

When asked at the official opening ceremony what its signature hole was, Nicklaus replied that there wasn’t one as every hole at Kinloch was of the quality and beauty befitting a signature hole. 

The course cleverly merges aspects of links and parkland golf course design. The undulating fairways are sewn with fescue grasses while the USGA specification sand-based green complexes are immaculately carpeted with creeping bentgrass. The fairways are sand-capped on a pumice base and it drains immaculately, giving that links feel and 365-day playability.

To enhance the golf experience, Kinloch Manor opened in late 2017, offering a luxury lodge experience. If you really wanted to, you could add a few days to your trip by staying for two or three nights at Kinloch Manor and enjoying many of Taupo’s outdoor activities from fishing, to mountain biking or trying the unforgettable Tongariro Crossing, plus the stunning hot pools. 

Or… play another round of golf.

Tiger Woods could not conquer the Paraparaumu Beach course during his New Zealand Open quest in 2002.
Day four: Paraparaumu Beach GC [4.25 hours, 323km]

This links gem on the Kapiti Coast is arguably the best course in New Zealand. It’s got variety, charm, memorability, a fun factor dialled up to 11 and – as super-caddie Steve Williams will always say – the best set of par-3s in the country.

It might not have the sleek elegance and views of Tara Iti, or the high-in-the-air drama of Cape Kidnappers, but it’s got plenty of assets those courses lack. The compact rolling landscape, the pitch perfect scale of dunes and bunkers, the old-friend charm, and a constant set of questions about what’s possible and what’s worth a risk.

Naturally the par-3s get all the attention – the semi-blind second hole, the table-top fifth, the hard-to-hit, downhill 14th and the diabolically small target offered by the 16th. But there’s so much more here to enjoy and work out, such as which way to go on the curvy ninth hole or the best option on the split-fairway 17th, or how on earth to manage the signature 13th.

It’s definitely a course you have to come back to again and again to learn new ways of dealing with it. And depending on the wind direction, many of the holes take on a Jekyll-and-Hyde character depending on whether the weather gods are for or against you.

Paraparaumu was designed by Alex Russell, who was a member at Royal Melbourne when Alister MacKenzie completed the redesign of the Sandbelt classic. He later became MacKenzie’s man Down Under, although it took some 20 years before he got to Paraparaumu, in 1949. Russell is credited with designing only five courses and New Zealand is lucky to have one of them.

Rotorua Golf Club
Day five: Rotorua GC [5 hours, 400km]

The course known as Arikikapapa is not in the same league as the others on this trip, but it’s a long drive from Paraparaumu back to Auckland and Rotorua breaks up the trip nicely. Besides, the course was visited by MacKenzie on his trip to New Zealand and he apparently advised the club
on bunkering.

MacKenzie described Rotorua Golf Club, in the middle of the volcanic region, as having “turf… as good as on any golf course. Its excellence seems to indicate that an excess of sulphur is favourable to the development of the finest of the dwarf golfing grasses.”

New-ish, wide open and highly playable: that’s Windross Farm.
Day six:  Windross Farm GC [2.75 hours, 211km] 

Windross Farm is a photogenic gem in south Auckland and is an ideal way to finish the loop around the North Island. Designed by Brett Thompson with help from leading New Zealand professional Phil Tataurangi, Windross Farm is relatively new – created in 2016. The next year it hosted the New Zealand Women’s Open – which, thanks to Lydia Ko, was an event on the LPGA Tour. Brooke Henderson took out the title.

Windross Farm has a classic “inland” links feel, with Thompson – who had a major hand in Clearwater and Jack’s Point – creating an impressive array of dunes to add character and contrast to what was initially a flattish piece of land. Apart from the undulating greens, 38 bunkers and minimal tree presence, the major feature of the course is the water in its many forms, with four large lakes interlaced with numerous burns (streams) threading their way in and out of impressive, yet imposing, wetland areas. Stay away from the water and the superb fairways will be fast and firm, encouraging the ground game.

An extremely playable course from tee to green, forgiving almost, the real tests of Windross Farm are the huge contoured greens that will discard any shot slightly off target. 

Getty images: James D. Morgan
Day seven-plus: Cape Kidnappers or Kauri Cliffs 

If playing the legendary New Zealand courses at Kauri Cliffs and Cape Kidnappers has long been on your bucket list, there is no better time for ticking off these incredible golf experiences than now, with the Trans-Tasman travel bubble a reality.

The David Harman-designed Kauri Cliffs course is reminiscent of Pebble Beach in setting, with 15 of the 18 holes enjoying spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Set in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands region and either three hours’ drive or a short flight from Auckland, the course has garnered praise from golfers the world over in its 20-year history.

Further south yet still on New Zealand’s North Island is Cape Kidnappers, set in the Hawke’s Bay wine country and perched on clifftops that resemble fingers jutting into the Pacific. The course’s designer Tom Doak said of this golf marvel, “Enjoy your game, and enjoy the setting. You will never play golf somewhere like this again.”

High praise indeed, from one of golf-course design’s modern greats.

These two courses offer golfers the complete package, with luxury lodge accommodation under the Robertson Lodges banner that have made New Zealand the benchmark for this high-end comfort and style. 

Both The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs and The Farm at Cape Kidnappers have a “Stay 4, Pay 3” package, offering four nights’ accommodation for the price of three. Starting from $NZ2,940 (plus 15 percent GST) per person based on double or twin share suite occupancy and valid through September 2021, the offer includes four nights’ accommodation in deluxe suite accommodation with daily lunch, pre-dinner drinks and canapes, dinner, full breakfast, and complimentary non-alcoholic mini-bar and use of the lodge facilities.

The fourth night ensures golfers extra time to experience the phenomenal properties and their spectacular settings, the unique ‘Kiwi style’ of impeccable service and truly world-class facilities. The Stay 4, Pay 3 option offers guests a luxurious break for the price of a luxury lodge long weekend.

For Australians, a hop across the Tasman has never been so tempting. 

With no bunkers but oodles of charm, Arrowtown offers a tremendous golf experience.

South Island: sampling the best of Central Otago

If there’s one place in New Zealand you must visit for golf – it’s the ruggedly beautiful Central Otago and Southern Lakes area.

You can fly into and out of Queenstown and there so many great courses in the area you could stay a week and play a different dramatic track every day – The Hills, Millbrook, Arrowtown, Jack’s Point, Queenstown, Roxburgh, Cromwell, Wanaka and more.

There’s so much on offer in the region it can be hard to figure out where to start, so consider leaving the decision-making with Remarkable Golf Tours [see panel]. If you’d prefer to make your own way around, make sure you check out the “hot” course in the region: Arrowtown. 

Arrowtown Golf Club has a cult following among golf architecture buffs for its incredible design through rugged, rock-strewn landscape. It is one of the most unique courses in New Zealand, if not the world. And certainly among the most fun.

For a long time the course was overlooked because of its lack of length, just 5,500 metres, but word of mouth and some international plaudits have pushed Arrowtown up the rankings and into the national golf spotlight. Last year it was named as one of the best “short courses” in the world.

Arrowtown, like the town itself, is small but perfectly formed, with fairways running through narrow gullies flanked by outcrops of schist. Remnants of the mining days, when Arrowtown was first settled, are sprinkled across the course, adding to the atmosphere along with the lovely mountain backdrop. 

The front nine is a delight, with one standout hole after another through rock-lined fairways, where driver is usually not the best option. The second presents you with an impossibly narrow path with rocks on both sides, though it plays wider thanks to the valley fairway.

The fourth hole asks you to drive as close to the gully as possible to get a view of the small green; if you shy away from the trouble you are left with a blind shot. The fifth again demands a brave tee shot to get the best angle, as does the ninth, which has been greatly improved thanks to the work of local designer and former tour player Greg Turner. The seventh and eighth are also quality par 4s.

Turner’s influence in the region is best seen at Cromwell, an under-rated wine town with an under-rated golf course.

Cromwell doesn’t have the crutch of superb views to lean on, but still offers golf that is every bit as compelling as its high-priced and high-profile neighbours in Central Otago.

With a sandy base and dry climate, the course usually plays firm and fast meaning the club’s claim to be an inland links is not just marketing blather. Turner and Scott MacPherson’s 2010 renovation added a set of fascinating greens to gently undulating land that has been well utilised. Added to that, the wind generally picks up every afternoon, so a good ground game is essential to score well there.

Often in New Zealand, par 5s are among the blandest holes but that’s not the case at Cromwell. They’re so good it’s hard to pick a favourite out of the terrific opener, which bends left to reward the golfer who can take the tightest line, the fourth hole, with its lumpy fairway, and the 15th that features an intriguing double-plateau green.

Other highlights include the par-3 third, with a hump just short of the green, the par-4 eighth that bends right and down to an angled green tucked in a dell, and the par-4 12th which has a bumpy fairway and green with a nasty fall-off on the right. 

A remarkable option

From the secluded fairways of the South Island’s premier tournament course at Millbrook Resort, the exclusivity of the private course at The Hills to the majestic Jack’s Point course at the foot of the Remarkables, Queenstown has become a golfer’s dream destination. Add to these Queenstown Golf Club, considered one of the most scenic courses in the world, and Arrowtown Golf Club, bursting with history and character, and you’ll discover there are few destinations that boast as many spectacular alpine courses as Queenstown.

Remarkable Golf Tours is the specialist golf travel company to ensure a seamless and memorable experience. With an outstanding reputation for service built on since 2007, RGT provides a range of services and packages to golf groups looking to experience New Zealand. With the knowledge of a professional local company to guide the way, RGT clients are always impressed with the service and experience they receive. 

They can handle transport options for groups of all sizes, arrange accommodation options across the region – and across New Zealand – from apartments, hotels, boutique lodges and holiday homes, and build a tour package to suit any budget and all group sizes. Whether you’re flying in for a weekend or staying the week they will make sure you’re well looked after.

Visit remarkablegolftours.co.nz for more details.

For all the latest COVID-19 information and travel advice, visit smartraveller.gov.au

Photography by Gary Lisbon