For the morning of February 3rd, some of the group walked the central business district of Wellington city while others relaxed in readiness for golf. We left the city and headed to the coast 45 minutes northwest of Wellington.
Arriving at Paraparaumu Golf Club in 25mph winds had us all thinking the challenge might be more than we had bargained for. To our delight the winds decreased to little more than a breeze, temperatures rose to short sleeve weather and conditions turned into firm and fast on a links golf test that Golf Magazine has rated in almost every Top 100 ratings list since they first came out. While there were a number of highlights, possibly the best was Dennis Walther shooting a one under par score of 70 to lead his team to victory.
We enjoyed canapes and wine in the private club level setting along with presentation of the day’s golf awards. A fun group dinner in The Grill at Wellington’s Amora Hotel with wonderful New Zealand wines concluded another full day.
An unseasonal cold snap had us changing plans to play here at the beautiful Millbrook Resort. The forecast was for showers but they held off until after play so everyone stayed dry and had fun. Despite cooler temperatures scores were low on the beautifully maintained course. All commented on the views of the surrounding mountains in this spectacular dual-season town.
Dinner was at Saffron, one of the region’s finest restaurants. Everyone commented on the stunning meals they had and the knowledgeable, professional and friendly service. The food quality on the trip was not something the group expected but all have been delighted.
With cooler temperatures forecast we moved play to The Hills Golf Club today. Privately held by New Zealand’s foremost jeweler Michael Hill, the club and course are truly stunning. Conditions are as good as anywhere in the world with not a blade of grass out of place. The design, the conditioning and the incredible scenery reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings movies left everyone absolutely stunned. Add to the backdrop fresh snow on the surrounding mountains and everyone thought the beauty rivaled anything they have ever seen. Some were comparing playing here to Augusta, but with scenery!
The group went into Queenstown for a spirited dinner at Jervois Steak house where, among other things, the ribeye for two was a show stopper. Further exploration of the New Zealand wine scene took place, including TOM – a Sauvignon-Merlot from Church Road winery. While the sampling and tastes run the gamut, the Pinot Noirs are drawing the most favorable opinions. In addition to replaying the memories of an incredible day on the course, the prospects of the Shotover Jet and bungee jumping tomorrow added to the dinner conversation.
What a day!!! Travelers were given time to shop for gifts in Queenstown and to enjoy the New Zealand Rural Games which featured coal shoveling, sheep dog trials, the gumboot toss, highland events including the caber toss, farmers walk, stones, wood chopping, speed hand-milking, speed fencing, tree climbing, cherry stone spitting, wine barrel racing, and other distinctly New Zealand events.
From there we went to the world famous Shotover Jet Boat ride. A thrill a minute doesn’t even come close to describing this e-ticket ride down the Shotover River between narrow canyon walls in as little as four inches of water. The smiles on faces and exhilarated laughter at the conclusion of the ride were infectious.
Next stop was for lunch in beautiful sunshine, in bucolic Arrowtown. Travelers enjoyed a leisurely walk up and down the single main street before heading to the Kawarau Bridge bungee jump. Four of the group leaped 143 feet from the bridge where the worldwide sensation originated in 1988, with most of the rest of the group watching on. The ride back to Millbrook Resort was full of laughter and celebration.
The closing dinner was a spirited affair at Arrowtown’s Postmaster restaurant. While there is still a day remaining including the trip highlight of a heli trip into the Milford Sound, it was time for Gus to announce the destination of the next trip. Details to come…
What an incredible final day of a magnificent trip. After a leisurely breakfast, our six-passenger Eurocopter 130B4 helicopters met us on the driving range to take us on the flight of a lifetime. Climbing to just over 6,000 feet in minutes, we flew over Coronet Peak and along the shoreline of Lake Wakatipu into the Southern Alps. After crossing the Dart River with Mt. Earnslaw (in much of the Lord of the Rings scenery) out our right side windows, we enjoyed an incredibly scenic flight towards a glacier on a ridge amidst Fiordland National Park. Our pilots, who all were a part of filming for The Hobbit and other movies set in the region, landed us on the glacier which we are able to explore without getting too close to the crevasses covered by snow in the overnight storm earlier this week.
After 15 minutes we were off to the southwest coast of New Zealand on the Tasman Sea for another opportunity to explore an area few humans get to see. The next 30 minutes had us passing through the world heritage site of Milford Sound and into mountains that rise almost vertically from the ocean, then back up into the Southern Alps where we stopped yet again and hit “eco” golf balls from atop a grass-covered mountaintop back towards Lake Wakatipu.
Our next stop was Cecil Peak where Over The Top Helicopters have built a synthetic putting green on the side of a mountain at 4,500 feet above Lake Wakatipu looking towards Queenstown. We enjoyed Champagne, cold beer, a delightful gourmet picnic and a putting competition before being dropped off at the airport for our international flights. One couple hopped back on the helicopters for another couple of nights at Blanket Bay in Queenstown, one couple headed for Sydney for a couple of days and the rest of us headed for Auckland to connect with our flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Hugs and kisses were shared along with some tears of joy. All agreed it was truly the trip of a lifetime!