By Rob Smith
With a population of only five million and comprising more than 700 islands, New Zealand is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt countries in the world as well as some of the best courses.
Its largest city, Auckland, and its capital, Wellington, are both on the North Island.
With lush vegetation, national parks, a fabulous coastline and lively tourism activities, it is also home to a wealth of excellent and diverse golf courses.
We take a look at five fabulous layouts and recommend a few others along the way.
Roughly halfway down the island’s east coast, at the southern end of Hawke’s Bay, Cape Kidnappers is one of golf’s most aspirational bucket-list regulars.
This expansive slice of heaven opened in 2004 and is a complete destination in its own right.
As you arrive at the property south of art-deco Napier, it is still another 15 minutes by car to reach this golfing sanctuary.
The stylish accommodation at The Farm, the food, service, and of course the wine, are all off the charts.
But the golf remains the centrepiece here. This is a course where words cannot speak so loudly as photographs, which in turn cannot capture the dreamy atmosphere of playing one of the world’s most famous and unusual courses.
It was designed by Tom Doak – who has designed many of the world's best courses – whose relatively new Tara Iti to the north of Auckland is also remarkable and gaining universal praise.
Even without the amazing setting, this would be a brilliant course with each hole full of character and memorable in its own way.
The undulations add yet more interest and challenge, and there is something new facing you at every turn.
Throw in the sensational, panoramic views, and it is easy to see why people travel from all over the world to play here.
The aerial views will initially grab your attention but there is far more to the course – which is actually very playable so long as the wind behaves.
The bunkering is superb – strategically and visually – and it is a course that everyone will enjoy no matter how they play.
The Kinloch Club
A three-hour drive from Kidnappers – through photogenic, lush, wooded hills – takes you up to Lake Taupo.
Sitting inside an old volcano, this is the largest such body of water in New Zealand.
On its shores, look out for the ‘Hole in One’ challenge where you hit little more than a wedge to a floating green.
A mile or so from here, the very classy Kinloch Club boasts a fabulous Jack Nicklaus-signature course that covers a vast, undulating site and has 18 very individual and intriguing holes.
This is real Lord of the Rings territory, which is a feast for the eyes and has some absolutely cracking holes, including a closing quartet that is as exciting and attractive as just about anywhere in the world.
There is some seriously impressive accommodation here, the catering is extremely good, and there are many terrific far-reaching views down over the lake from the higher points on the course.
A few minutes away, Taupo Golf Club has two fine courses, while the John Harris design at Wairakei could hardly be more different.
There are elements of traditional parkland, but much more besides.
Opened just over 50 years ago, it runs through what would have originally been dense woodland.
The result is an unusual course of great appeal and genuine diversity with the topography offering up a number of exciting, elevated tee shots.
Yet again there are some very scenic views both internally and externally, and a number of streams and ponds add to these as well as the challenge.
Sleepered bunkering is a particular feature, and there are some excellent holes such as the very pretty short 5th and the landscaped dogleg 8th.
The par-5 14th has an enormous Scots pine to avoid before you play up to a large, boomerang-shaped green.
As you continue north towards Auckland, one of the best new courses in the country is the fast-maturing Windross Farm.
It only opened five years ago, but within a year it had hosted the New Zealand Women’s Open on the LPGA Tour, won by Brooke Henderson.
This is essentially an easy-walking but tough, modern, inland links. It is exposed to the wind, very strategic, and calls for plenty of chip-and-runs.
The par 5s are particularly strong, and there are marshy, reedy wetland areas to avoid.
There are also low dunes that separate the holes and create more of a visual interest as well as a challenge.
As at the Kinloch Club, there is a very strong closing loop of four. If you get the chance, you can slip through the fence on the 17th tee to the adjacent strawberry farm which serves the most delicious ice cream.
This flying visit around the North Island concludes by heading back south to the delightful harbour city of Wellington.
An hour north, Paraparaumu Beach is a genuine, top-notch links, while Royal Wellington is an absolute cracker close to the nation’s capital.
It was almost completely redesigned a few years ago by former tour player Greg Turner and Scott McPherson, a Wellingtonian who designed the Lee Westwood Colt course at Close House.
There is a terrific mix of the old and the new here, with many holes running through mature trees and striking bunkering.
The newer holes closer to the River Hutt offer a wealth of risk-and-reward challenges, while the par 3s are all excellent and extremely attractive.
One of the most significant features is the characterful, undulating greens, especially at the 8th where there is a ‘valley of sin’ between the front and back of the putting surface.
Where to play
Par 71, 6,456 yards
Par 72, 6,518 yards
Par 72, 6,601 yards
Par 72, 6,460 yards
Par 72, 6,378 yards
General golf club information