Northland: Above par

By Kerri Jackson

The Karikari Estate winery is just one of the many attractions at Carrington Resort on Karikari Peninsula. Photo / Supplied
The Karikari Estate winery is just one of the many attractions at Carrington Resort on Karikari Peninsula. Photo / Supplied

My golf swing is rubbish. But I refuse to believe it's my fault - nothing to do with the fact that before today I've only ever picked up a golf club to triumph at putt-putt.

Nor is it the fault of Carrington Resort's resident golf pro Greg Holst, who is trying quite patiently to improve the chances my club swinging at least somewhere in the vicinity of a golf ball.

The problem, I insist, is not my ineptitude. The problem is the view.

With its world-class 18 holes (designed by American Matt Dye) set across 1200 spectacular hectares along the coastline of Karikari Peninsula, this, surely, must be one of the country's - possibly the world's - most beautiful golf courses.

No matter what your handicap, it's hard not to wax lyrical about the panorama. On the immediate horizon the stunning white sands of Carrington Beach stretch for 4km. Between that and the vast acreage of Carrington Farm lies a regenerating natural wetland, that on this late spring day is a riot of colour, filled with waist-high grasses in greens, golds and reds.

If Karikari Peninsula is the crowning glory of the Far North's many treasures, Carrington Resort much surely be the star jewel.

As well as the assorted distractions of the golf course, the resort includes a working farm, home to black angus cattle - which you will also find, in a rather different state, in the restaurant - tennis courts, a heated swimming pool, a skeet shooting range and Karikari Estate vineyard and winery.

It is the perfect place to hole up with a loved one for a romantic getaway in one of the lodge rooms, or rent one of the three-bedroom, self-contained villas with friends and work your way through the list of activities.

Having abandoned the golf, with the divot-filled driving range now resembling the surface of the moon, I return to what I do best on the golf course. Drive golf carts.

A golf cart is about the best way to get around here - particularly to Carrington Beach, which is a deceptively long way to walk, but an easy 10-minute adventure by golf cart through pretty pink-blossoming manuka.

Carts can't be taken all the way to the beach. But you can take them down to the edge of the wetlands where you leave them parked up safely to follow the trail to the sea.

The beach is stunning. A long white stretch of bright shell-scattered sand, with not another soul to be seen. Admittedly, for our visit it's midweek and the spring weather is still cool, but even in peak season access to this stretch of beach is either via the resort or by boat, meaning it rarely gets crowded like its equally spectacular but more accessible neighbours Matai Bay and Karikari Beach.

It's also a great spot for birdwatching, with the rare dotterel to be seen - if you squint - scurrying across parts of the foreshore roped off for their protection.

All that sea air is enough to make you hungry, so the end of day one is spent relaxing in the restaurant enjoying more of those panoramic views and one of Carrington's other attractions - the food.

Chef Scott Fraser is an ex-pat Scotsman, passionate about eating locally and seasonally. Almost everything on the Carrington menu comes from the surrounding area or the resort, whether it's fruit, vegetables, fish (including eel from the Carrington wetland) or beef from the farm.

It's not a bad way to end the day - beautiful food, matched with a glass of locally made wine, all the while staring out the window, just able to make out North Cape in the distance, beyond the peninsula.

As plans for the next day include a good deal more sampling of Carrington's food and wine, it starts with a brisk walk out across the golf course in the perfectly still morning. That's followed by coffee on the villa balcony, then it's back down the hill to the restaurant for breakfast where the keenest golfers are just quaffing the last of their orange juice before heading out to the first hole.

Not me. Golf and I have agreed to part as friends, but part nonetheless. Instead, I'm off to try something a little more stirring.

At the Olympic-standard skeet - or clay-bird - shooting range neighbouring the resort, they're setting up for a competition but resident expert Grant Shaw still has time to show this novice the ropes.

It turns out, not unexpectedly, that my shooting eye is about as effective as my golfing arm and several attempts later, all but one clay bird has escaped the battle entirely untroubled by my bullets.

Still, that one was extremely satisfying and, I feel, deserving of a celebration. Off to the winery we go.

Karikari Estate sits in a prime position on a hillside above the rest of the resort.

Resident winemaker Karl Coombes is on hand to take us through a tasting of the winery's award-winning range and assists with selecting a bottle of delicious chardonnay to match with lunch from the adjoining cafe.

There are plenty of other delights nearby while basing yourself at the resort. There's incredible fishing in this part of the country or - if you want to cut out the middle-man - incredible fish and chips just up the Northland coast in Mangonui. Ninety Mile Beach and Cape Reinga are manageable day-trips away, as are Kerikeri and the Bay of Islands.

There's really no reason to leave. Possibly ever.

Kerri Jackson was a guest of Heritage Hotels.

- Herald on Sunday

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