On my second and last nights in Auckland, I enjoyed delicious seafood dinners and harbor views at Cin Cin on Quay, inside the magnificent orange Victorian-era ferry building on the waterfront, and at nearby Kermadec, another Pacific Rim-style eatery. After gamely sampling Queen Street's more than ample array of pubs and nightclubs, I collapsed on a king-size bed in the Carlton Hotel and fell asleep puzzling over my road maps of the North Island's rural interior.
Lake Taupo - Volanic Fishing And Chipping
Wairakei Internation al Golf Course is a four-hour drive southeast of Auckland, and it is in a spot that can literally blow you away. Wairakei lies in the heart of New Zealand's so-called thermal wonderland, a chain of active volcanoes and geysers that forms the geological spine of the North Island. (I was assured by several Kiwis that unforecast major eruptions are rare in this high-tech age.) The scenery of the North Island's interior could create four hours of "gawkers' blocks" if any piece of it were located anywhere in the U.S. Among the head-turning attractions I passed were the Waikato River valley, which winds through prime horse-breeding and sheep-raising country; thirty-five-foot Huka Falls; and crater-rimmed Lake Taupo, a dormant volcano whose waters are stocked with rainbow trout.
Although Wairakei International does not quite inspire comparisons with Augusta National or Pinehurst No. 2, I could easily see why it's regarded New Zealand's finest inland course. Recently redesigned and upgraded by five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson, Wairakei is a 7,011-yard parkland track lined with pine, poplar, birch and willow and laced with hills that afford panoramic views of the surrounding forest and mountain ranges. Talk about pristine and unobstructed . . . I did not see a single housing development or man-made structure of any kind after the second holes of the front and back nines. I most admired the eighth, a mischievously enticing 385-yard par four that bends around a creek to a pond-protected green often overrun by the turquoise-tailed tui birds who appear on the club logo.
After two rounds at Wairakei, I stashed my clubs and tried my luck on Lake Taupo with rods and reels supplied by Chris Jolly Outdoors. The fresh trout were delicious despite the fact that they were caught by anglers other than yours truly, and the boat ride on New Zealand's largest lake was a welcome respite from tramping through pine trees in search of overcooked tee shots. That evening, I repaired to a lakefront hotel called Lanecove that featured porch-side whirlpools in every unit and a cozy little family-run restaurant that serves a lovely lamb rump. The next morning, I was on my way to the South Island alpine kingdom of Queenstown.
Queenstown - Flying Unwired
If you can imagine a place that combines the best natural features of Aspen and Lake Tahoe with a fanciful "fairway to heaven," you'll get a pretty fair picture of picturesque Queenstown. Tucked amid the Southern Alps, about three-quarters of the way down the South Island toward the Antarctic Circle, Queenstown clings to the rocky, pine-forested shores of Lake Wakatipu, in an enormous gorge intersected by half a dozen mountain ranges and three raging rivers. The greatest of the mountain ranges is appropriately named the Remarkables-- for its beautiful peaks that reach well over 7,000 feet--and wears snowcaps year-round.
With my head still reeling from the flight over the Southern Alps, I made a beeline for Millbrook Resort & Club, nestled in the hilly meadows among the Shotover River, Lake Hayes and a former gold-panning outpost called Arrowtown. Millbrook prides itself in its restoration of several 120-year-old farm buildings. I was promptly ushered to a most comfortably appointed room in a cottage looking out on the Millbrook golf course. A quick walking tour of the property disclosed that I had access to a gym, an indoor lap pool, an outdoor pool, two outdoor whirlpools, a tanning room, a massage room, saunas, all-weather and grass tennis courts, an Italian café, a Japanese Yakatori restaurant, a high-beamed clubhouse restaurant and the Hole-in-One Bar.
The next morning brought a barrage of rain showers that might otherwise have dampened more than my spirits had it not been for the "squashy" bush hat I found in the Millbrook pro shop. A squashy is a waterproof suede hat that roughly resembles a Stetson but squashes into a ball small enough to stuff into your pocket. After donning my squashy and a pair of wind pants, I played two quite pleasant if intermittently rain-soaked rounds on Millbrook's 7,013-yard resort course, designed by New Zealand's living golf legend Bob Charles. The views of the Crown Range and Coronet Peak were invigorating despite the cloud cover, and the layout was graciously forgiving. With a couple of exceptions, Millbrook's fairways are wide enough to permit you to hit tee shots in just about any conceivable direction and still have a shot at making par.