Photo: New Zealand Kauri Cliffs Golf Relais & Châteaux
Food and wine – a classic duo by all accounts, but just a little obvious, no? Here’s a novel pairing worth traveling for – New Zealand’s most exciting golf destinations matched with the largely unknown wineries of the North Island.
Photos: Wairakei International Golf Course; Moana Park Estate Winery
When Wairakei opened in 1970, there was a handful of championship golf courses in New Zealand, none of which generated much buzz. But the combo of this course’s beautiful location (it’s near Lake Taupo), pedigree (it was co-designed by Sir Peter Thomson) and service put NZ golf on the world map. Today the course is low-key in a distinguished gentlemanly sort of way – a perfect introduction to North Island golf.
Channeling Wairakei’s restrained approach is Moana Park, a family-run boutique winery a few hours south, near Napier. Winemaker and owner Dan Barker may just be the busiest man in the wine world. Shortly after the crush is completed here, he hops on a few airplanes to make his way to Baillie-Grohman, a new winery in British Columbia’s Kootenay region, where, due to the hemispherical situation, he’s also the winemaker. Try a bottle of Barker’s Moana Park Viognier, a dense white wine that has more body than many of the pinot noirs coming out of the South Island.
Photos: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers; Moana Park Estate Winery
It’s only seven years old, but Cape Kidnappers has now firmly made its way onto golf’s bucket list of must-play courses. Set on 6,000 acres just outside of Hawke’s Bay and famous for its ridiculously picturesque back nine, the course sees fewer golfers in a month than Pebble Beach sees in a day. In fact, it’s not unheard of to have the entire course to yourself. It’s one of those rare tracks that are simultaneously jaw-droppingly expensive ($300 plus) and the deal of a lifetime.
To go with a course as lauded and dramatic as Cape K, you’ll need a winery bold enough to stand up to the buzz. You’ll find it 20 minutes from the course in the architectural marvel that is the HQ of Craggy Range – the North Island’s 500-pound gorilla of wineries. (Like Cape K, it’s owned by a very wealthy American.) Their flagship wine, Le Sol, is not only one of the best syrahs in the southern hemisphere, it rightly stands with Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage as the pinnacle of this grape’s inky expression.
Photos: The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs - Golf Green with Cavallis Sunrise; Man O' War Vineyards
The shame about Kauri Cliffs is that on almost any other land mass, its mix of sweeping ocean views, rugged yet playable fairways and note-perfect service would make it the golf destination, but here it’s often mentioned in the next breath after Cape Kidnapppers. The secret is that while it lacks the overt drama, it’s a more complete course and its location in the Bay of Islands – also on 6,000 acres, thank you very much – is prettier than that of Hawke’s Bay.
For something as unexpected as Kauri Cliffs, you’ll need a winery that’s also a wonderful surprise. Man O’ War covers a huge tract of Waiheke Island, a summer getaway about 40 minutes by boat from downtown Auckland. Here they concentrate on Bordeaux style, and their Ironclad wine has been getting raves for its smoky Pomerol finish. (Robert Parker Jr. was a fan to the tune of 93 points.)
(Amanda Ross is a contributing editor at Western Living magazine.)