New Zealand is a land of enchanted beauty, where rocky coasts and rugged mountains frame pristine golf courses. The Kiwis certainly love their golf. It's evident in the quality of the resorts that cater to people who play the game.
Julian Robertson, the billionaire hedge fund giant, brought New Zealand golf into the modern age by developing two world top-100 courses, Kauri Cliffs in 2000 and Cape Kidnappers in 2004, on the North Island. Robertson's premier lodges at each place -- along with another one you probably haven't heard of yet -- highlight New Zealand's best resorts for golfers.
The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs, Northland, North Island
Golf Digest ranked The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs no. 1 among the "World's Best Golf Hotels" in the international category in 2009, beating out Turnberry and Gleneagles in Scotland, the One&Only properties in Mexico and the Bahamas, and all those great Fairmonts of Canada. His other two New Zealand lodges are just as good (more on them later). All three deliver the similar five-star stays, based on the service, spas, suites and other assorted amenities. Wine tasting sets the tone before every delicious dinner.
Six holes of David Harman's Kauri Cliffs golf course hug Matauri Bay. The par-3 14th introduces the Pacific Ocean in full glory, overlooking the Bay of Islands. The most demanding tee shot comes on no. 15. This par 5 rises up a narrow fairway to a green clinging to the cliffs. The fun 16th hole tumbles downhill, tempting players to take on a slew of bunkers up the left side to potentially drive the green. Away from golf, the secluded Pink Beach serves as a prime spot for summer picnics and Friday night BBQs.
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, Hawkes Bay, North Island
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers leaves a lasting impression simply by passing through the front gate. It's an isolated nine-kilometer drive to reach the lodge built in 2007 atop the summit of the 6,000-acre working farm. The road winds through a dense forest, over a stream and past random encounters with goats and sheep. The lodge, set above the ocean and the course, appears as a cluster of farm buildings from the outside. Cool hangout spots inside, like the "snug" in a silo and the wine cellar, give the Farm real charm. Grand cottage suites and an infinity pool reside within walking distance.
The aerial photograph depicting fingers of land that jut out into the Pacific Ocean remains the trademark of Cape Kidnappers by Tom Doak. The "Pirate's Plank" hole gets narrower the closer the 650-yard par-5 15th creeps to the green at the edge of these cliffs. The 16th tee at land's end requires two good swings, the first to reach the fairway and the second to launch a ball into the ocean, a rite of passage for every first-timer. Hiking, touring local vineyards and taking a gannet safari to see the cliff-top bird colonies are popular diversions as well.
The Huka Lodge, Taupo, North Island
Jack Nicklaus loves the central region of the North Island for its fly-fishing. Nicklaus, like other celebrities from Bill Gates to Sir Edmund Hillary, frequents The Huka Lodge along the Waikato River. This secluded escape for the uber-rich lets guests pick where to dine, maybe an intimate patio next to a fireplace, the front terrace overlooking river rapids, a trophy room upstairs or the wine cellar. When Irishman Alan Payne founded the lodge in the 1920s, the accommodations could only be described as spartan. The 25 suites built by present owner Alex van Heeren can only be described as casually elegant.
Guests can explore the river by taking a fly-fishing excursion or walking the nature trails to the Huka Falls. Golfers can choose between the Wairakei International Golf Course and The Kinloch Club, an inland links cut through wild hills by Nicklaus. Golf Digest has ranked both among its top 100 international courses at one time or another since 2005.
Millbrook Resort, Queenstown, South Island
The 500-acre Millbrook Resort celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2013. Its homes and villas have been built piece by piece over the years, transforming a former wheat farm into a flowery resort hideaway surrounded by the Remarkables Mountains. The Millhouse, set on a pond, serves as its signature restaurant. Its spa might be the resort's most celebrated attribute.
Sir Bob Charles, a legendary Kiwi golfer who became the first left-handed player to win a major at the 1963 British Open, designed the original 18 holes with input from local architect John Darby. Architect Greg Turner added the challenging Coronet nine in 2010, while also altering four original holes so Millbrook's Arrow nine would finish back at the resort. Exposed rock and a handful of streams and ponds make the new nine the best of the bunch.
Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa, Queenstown, South Island
The modern 220-room Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa, which opened in 2011, shares the scenic shoreline of Lake Wakatipu with Jack's Point, a world top-100 candidate, and the Queenstown Golf Club, a more affordable round that's almost as scenic. For the adventurous at heart, the KJet picks up guests from the dock behind the hotel for a jet-boating excursion on the Kawarau River and Shotover River. The excellent eforea:Spa and Wakatipu Grill will tempt you to stay put, but it's worth the short water taxi ride into eclectic Queenstown. More than 150 restaurants and tons of trendy bars keep Queenstown and historic Arrowtown alive all hours of the day and night.
Matakauri Lodge, Queenstown, South Island
Another luxurious Robertson property, home to just four suites and six villas, Matakauri Lodge delivers access to The Hills Golf Club, a private club 35 miles away that hosts of the New Zealand PGA Championship. Art sculptures adorn the magnificent course by Darby.
Wairakei Resort Taupo, South Island
The value-oriented Wairakei Resort Taupo hotel (and its villas) resides just down the road from Wairakei International and is less than three hours' drive from the Farm at Cape Kidnappers. For a more upscale retreat, book the four-bedroom Dunalistair House at The Kinloch Club 20 minutes away.
Terrace Downs Resort, Canterbury, South Island
Terrace Downs Resort, located just 50 minutes from Christchurch International Airport, has it all, including a solid golf course that opened in 2001.
Peppers Clearwater Resort, Christchurch, South Island
The Peppers Clearwater Resort community survived the earthquakes of 2010-11. Charles and Darby again collaborated, creating a 7,137-yard course winding through natural waterways and spring-fed lakes. Other activities include walking trails, all-weather tennis courts, a rugby field and fishing streams loaded with trout.
Peppers Carrington Resort, Northland, North Island
Peppers Carrington Resort, located in a 3,000-acre estate on the Karikari Peninsula an hour's drive north from Kauri Cliffs, offers 10 lodge rooms and 14 three-bedroom villas, along with a 7,267-yard course by Matt Dye.
Lakes Resort Pauanui, Pauanui, North Island
This villas-only resort features a waterlogged golf course two hours west of the Auckland International Airport.