Wellington is located at the lowermost tip of the North Island amid a wave funnel called Cook Strait. This central geographical location is one of the principal reasons why Wellington replaced Auckland as the seat of government. I fell in love with Wellington for entirely apolitical reasons. The waterfront business district and cliffside residential areas give the city the charm of San Francisco, and the canyons nearby offer many of the same outdoor-adventure activities available in Queenstown, including the only other Fly by Wire ride in the world. Te Papa National Museum is an impressive example of postmodern public architecture, with an even more impressive assemblage of high-tech exhibits such as "Awesome Forces," a multimedia presentation that simulates volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis.
My positive first impressions of Wellington were happily reinforced when I checked in at the Park Royal Hotel. The accommodations were splendid, the service was impeccable and, to my everlasting relief, there was another Tex-Mex joint adjacent to the hotel where I could load up on medicinal servings of jalapeño nachos and tequila. The Park Royal also satisfied my hunger for some of the bright-light, big-city flashes I'd missed in Auckland. The hotel happened to be hosting three wedding parties that night, and the lobby, the ballrooms and the hotel's fine continental restaurant were filled with people in tuxedos and ball gowns, the first formal attire I'd seen in all of New Zealand.
Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club (often shortened to Paraparam) is about a forty-five-minute drive from Wellington. A 6,510-yard par-seventy-one links laid out by Scottish architect Alex Russell in 1949, the course may be relatively short, but the ubiquitous wind can make it a real monster. Paraparaumu has hosted eleven New Zealand Opens and garnered almost unanimous praise as the nation's finest course. And yet, it has never been ranked higher than seventy-first in the world, for reasons that would become painfully apparent as my round progressed.
At first glance, Paraparaumu reminded me of the Maidstone Club and Shinnecock Hills back in the U.S. Although there are no course-side views of the Tasman Sea or the beach, the green creases of the Tararua Range provide a fittingly poignant backdrop. The opening hole is a 401-yard par four that doglegs to the left between grassy mounds that artfully define the fairway and the linksland motif. While gauging your approach shot, you may take comfort in noting that there are no bunkers surrounding the first green. But if your ball misses the green, you will find that the hole is fiercely fortified with deep, grassy hollows left and right, harbingers of similarly sly pitfalls ahead. Paraparaumu's most infamous hole is the 165-yard par-three fifth, which has a plateau green defended by even deeper grassy hollows that often evoke comparisons to Postage Stamp, the par-three eighth at Troon Golf Club, in Scotland.
Regrettably, the grounds at Paraparaumu are in such poor condition that you're less likely to think of Scotland than of some underfunded municipal track in the Bronx. In the middle of one back-nine fairway, for example, I counted five different types of grasses interspersed among a score of random mud patches littered with cigarette butts. I figured these flaws were probably attributable to the fact that green fees are only about thirty-five dollars, but the three club members I was paired with insisted that club officials were simply unwilling to spend money on proper upkeep. The ramshackle clubhouse offered little in the way of post-round consolation other than twenty-five varieties of beer, some tasty meat pies and a chance to shower away the sadness I felt.
In hope of a better Y2K, I propose to international golfers that we all play Paraparaumu, then play it again and again. Maybe if we make enough of a row, it will be reborn as what it could have been and still ought to be--one of the greatest golf courses in the world.
Gisborne - The Millennial Mulligan
On Captain Cook's expedition to New Zealand, a cabin boy sighted land near the present-day city of Gisborne on October 7, 1769. The cabin boy was known aboard ship as Young Nick. His first glimpse of New Zealand was a promontory of white cliffs much like those back in Dover, England. After christening the promontory Young Nick's Head, Cook led his men ashore, where they encountered a band of Maori warriors. A fierce skirmish ensued, and the Englishmen killed several Maori. Declaring that the area had nothing of value to offer, Cook dubbed it Poverty Bay and quickly departed.