From sunny wine regions to the Southern Alps and fjords, you could explore the South Island for weeks and still be surprised around every turn. In addition to the amazing natural features, the golf options on the island are as diverse as the landmass itself.
At the top of the island, the Nelson region offers golf where an errant shot could skim a commercial flight at the seriously fun Nelson Golf Club. Its setting offers a runway on one side and the Tasman Bay on the other. The course was an Air Force bombing range generations ago and some of the craters have been incorporated into the course. Just down the road, you can start the Nelson Craft Beer Trail with a Stoke at McCashin’s Brewery and follow it to the hipster towns of Mouteka and Takaka, where aside from the cool local courses bearing the towns’ names, you can access Abel Tasman National Park and the Farewell Spit – a tiny sliver of the South Island that’s almost 100 kilometres north of Wellington, which is on the North Island for those who haven’t looked at a map lately. Unfortunately, we’ve barely touched on the area’s 23 cellar doors, which make staying a bit longer to play all the golf courses in the area even more enjoyable.
From Nelson, you can journey down State Highway 6 to the rugged west coast, where local club courses like Hokitika, situated on an idyllic piece of bumpy oceanfront land, will wow you for $25. As an alternative, you could venture up through Blenheim, stopping to sample some of the country’s best Sauvignon Blanc en route to the city of Christchurch.
For those that haven’t visited Christchurch in the past few years, or even the past few weeks, the transformations are occurring daily and the city is taking on a modern look and feel. Oddly, the majority of the city’s golf was unaffected by the earthquakes, meaning that Clearwater, Pegasus and Harewood have seen the city change around them, but haven’t changed much themselves. The three courses make up just a part of Christchurch’s golf scene, but between them they have hosted several of this country’s professional events over the years. With accommodation, dining, and activities back online, Christchurch is officially “back on the map”, and it’s our starting point for one of the best drives New Zealand has to offer.
Leaving Christchurch for Queenstown on a clear, sunny South Island day is akin to ticking a major course off your bucket list. The drive, the stops along the way and the destination makes for a Kiwi road trip that everyone should experience at least once in their life.
For the golf enthusiasts, a short detour will take you to Terrace Downs Resort in the town of Windwhistle. On the way, you’ll pass the Sheffield Pie Shop – one of must-stop locations along this route. If it’s not too early in the trip for a night’s stay, the villas at Terrace Downs and the food (it’s not often you find venison tataki on a menu, but with a Japanese owner and a rural setting… voila) are definitely worthy of spending time on-site. The local area offers jet-boating in the Rakaia River and superb fly-fishing. It can seem a bit quiet during the summer, but the local town of Methven really picks up for winter’s ski season at Mt Hutt, which can be viewed from almost every hole at Terrace Downs including the signature 16th. It’s a par 3 with beautiful views of the multi-coloured Rakaia River Gorge, with its teal waters and grey gravels framed by New Zealand bush dotted with yellow gorse. If it’s not the prettiest inland hole in the country, I don’t know what is.
Leaving Terrace Downs, you start your journey down the spine of the South Island, heading through several charming towns with your next big stop at Aoraki Mt Cook. While there isn’t any golf here, the scenery and hiking are world class, with the Hooker Track one of the best walks on the South Island. The Hermitage Hotel, reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel from “The Shining”, provides a great base, and its Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre includes several Hillary artefacts, plus the world’s only 2D, 3D and digital planetarium enclosed in the same space. Some personal advice from someone who makes this trip annually… you’re not visiting Mt Cook the right way if you spend much time in your room. The DOC Visitor Centre is a great spot to get your bearings and the on-site museum is free, informative and an easy way to learn more about New Zealand’s highest peak.
After a night (or two) in Mt Cook Village, it’s time to press on south through to Cromwell, but not without a stop at Tarras Golf Club, included in Tourism New Zealand’s “Six Hidden Golfing Gems”.
A mere $15 will get you one of the most authentic country course experiences around, with free-roaming sheep and electric fenced greens. The nearby Shrek Museum – not dedicated to the green ogre voiced by Mike Myers but instead the slightly less famous rouge Merino sheep – is free to enter.
Twenty-five minutes down the road is the town of Cromwell, which is growing in size and appeal thanks to a flurry of investments in recent years. It was kicked off with a million-dollar renovation to Cromwell Golf Club in 2012 undertaken by Queenstown-based touring pro-turned-course architect Greg Turner. The course is built on Cromwell’s sandbelt, providing dry playing conditions year round. The golf course reflects this sandy base with firm, fast fairways framed by rough-edged bunkering and marram grass. While undoubtedly a links-style course, it also holds the designation of being the most inland course in New Zealand.
It’s not just golf that beckons a stop in Cromwell, thanks to the 2013 development of the multi-million-dollar Highlands Motorsport Park. With a museum, racetrack, activities and café, it allows you the chance to play a leisurely morning round of golf and finish the day with hot laps in a Ferrari. Let’s not forget, either, that Cromwell is the epicentre of Central Otago’s world-famous Pinot Noir…
After a day that exceeds expectations in Cromwell, make your journey to the adventure capital of the world: Queenstown. The golf on offer here is becoming a household name around the world, with Jack’s Point, The Hills and Millbrook drawing a growing number of golf enthusiasts. Queenstown is also home to two successful club courses, Arrowtown Golf Club and Queenstown Golf Club, both of which have significant appeal to visitors. With visitor numbers to the region growing, and golf growing alongside that, it’s no surprise that Millbrook is mid-way through the addition of a new nine holes to provide two full 18-hole options for members and guests. Additional golf is planned at the yet-to-be-named Hogan’s Gully in Arrowtown, plus an alpine links planned in nearby Cardrona.
It seems everyone knows ‘of’ Queenstown, but the reasons why are as varied as the activities on offer. Adventure sports like bungee jumping, jet-boating and skydiving have been drawing masses to the area for years. Recently, food and wine have added another layer to the visitor experience, with Josh Emmett’s ‘Rata’, Eichardts ‘The Grille’, and Amisfield Bistro offering dining options of a much higher standard than a decade ago. The vineyards on offer – 75 of them in Central Otago – make this an easy three-day destination for golf, adventure and wine.
From Queenstown, the options continue, with short drives to either Dunedin or Invercargill. For the best of both, consider a night or two in Dunedin (home to Otago Golf Club, the oldest club in the Southern Hemisphere) with a stop along the way at another country gem, Roxburgh Golf Club, whose craggy terrain will ensure your camera comes out as much as your putter. From Dunedin, there is a beautifully picturesque drive through the Catlins, with short hikes around almost every bend, to Invercargill.
While not often visited, Invercargill does have worthy golf options, starting with the $7 Tokanui Golf Club. This oceanfront nine-hole gem seems to appear from nowhere as you emerge from the Catlins. The first time I found it, my wife and I sprinted around the course at sunset, knowing we wouldn’t have time to play it but wanting to at least get a glimpse of the course. The well-established Invercargill Golf Club is just down the road from the recently closed (but hopefully re-opening) Oreti Sands, known to be the world’s southernmost links course.
Beaches, parks, caves and the new Transport World Museum provide plenty of activities, and if that isn’t enough, Invercargill is the gateway to Stewart Island. Did we mention there is a six-hole course there too?
WHERE TO STAY
Peppers Clearwater Resort
Clearwater Ave, Northwood, Christchurch
Terrace Downs Resort
Coleridge Rd, Windwhistle, Canterbury
Beetham St, Queenstown
Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Peninsula Rd, Queenstown
The Rees Hotel
Frankton Rd, Queenstown