Hawkes Bay: Amateur hour on the golf course

By Derek Cheng

Derek Cheng enjoys the hospitality of the lodge at Cape Kidnappers in Hawkes Bay - and takes on one of the best golf courses in the world.

Cape Kidnappers Golf Course, Hawke's Bay. Photo /
Supplied
Cape Kidnappers Golf Course, Hawke's Bay. Photo / Supplied

I was an impostor.

To play on the greatest golf course in the country - which is also named in the top 20 in the world - there's usually some competency test to weed out the sort of golfer who would lose nine balls in less than a full round. But as a guest of the lodge at Cape Kidnappers, I found myself on the course without even a question of my actual ability.

In truth, I hadn't hit a ball in more than five years, and I hit my first and second shots straight into the rough.

Cape Kidnappers, in Hawkes Bay, is no ordinary golf course. The greens are like runways with individually manicured blades of grass, while the fairways are more like the greens I'm used to. One of the guys at the golf shop had earlier told me that when he brought his mother to the course, she whacked him in the head with her handbag because she thought they were driving the golf buggy on the greens, when they were on the fairway.

This prized piece of golfing real estate is set on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, where the tee-offs are a few steps away from steep, jagged cliffs that plunge to the coastline. The course is full of pretty obstacles - ravines, tree-filled gullies, bunkers - that lull you into a relaxed state.

Then there is the tussock grass just off the fairway, thick enough to swallow anything that treads in it. A golf ball that comes its way doesn't stand a chance.

And so it came to pass that I lost three golf balls before I even made it off the first tee. It would have been embarrassing and humiliating, but the course was mostly empty and no one witnessed such an offensive display of this gentlemanly sport.

Golf is deceptive. It only takes one good shot to convince yourself that you can hit every shot just as well. So when I managed to get on the green of the second hole in two masterful strokes, I convinced myself that I should play the entire course.

I managed 15 holes before soberly heading off. The ostensible reason was an appointment for a massage, but losing more than a ball every two holes can be ego-shattering.

It's the golf that attracts most visitors, but the property is so much more than fancy grass hugging the picturesque coastline.

The lodge itself is hardly palatial - from the outside, it looks like a really big barn - but it is understated luxury with the look and feel of a sheep station; the property is actually a 2430ha sheep and cattle farm.

Outside is nature and farmland and the ocean. Inside is spacious: large fireplaces, wooden floors and barn doors tall enough to accommodate giraffes. The suites have a similarly rustic feel - you even have to look behind one of the spectacular huge photos on the wall to find the plasma TV.

And then there's the food. Tasting menus offer you the chance to sample small portions of five or six dishes, all with wines to match. Chicken in mushroom sauce with local sauvignon blanc. Local lamb with herb gnocchi and celeriac puree, with local cabernet.

I'm not much of a food critic, so I'll summarise briefly: everything we ate was divine.

Divine is also an apt description of the massage, so soothing that I fell asleep within seconds of the masseuse putting her hands behind my ears.

It was probably her expertise, but I'd like to think it was the exertion in losing so many golf balls in such a short amount of time.

Travellers' tips

* Getting there:
Flights from Auckland to Napier start from about $80-$100, one way. Cape Kidnappers can arrange transfers from the airport. It's a 5-6 hour drive from Auckland along SH1 to Taupo, then left on to SH5 at Eskdale. Turn right on to SH2 to Clive, via Napier. At Clive, turn left into Mill Rd and follow the signs to Cape Kidnappers.

* Things to do:
There are several nature walks in the area ranging from a 20-minute stroll to a return hike which takes a few hours. There are also three gannet colonies (seasonal) and trips to steep cliffs on the edge of the ocean.If you're not into golf, there's a spa and massage service, an outdoor pool, fishing, mountain biking and a quad-bike experience.

* Coming events:
Saturday, September 11: Cape Kidnappers' sister resort, Kauri Cliffs in Northland, will host a special dinner by chef Peter Gilmore of Quay restaurant in Sydney, and Duncan Forsyth of Mount Edward Wines in Otago.
Saturday, October 23: Cape Kidnappers will host a Laurent-Perrier champagne dinner, hosted by Ludovic de Lageard of Laurent-Perrier in France.These special weekends are $800 per person which includes accommodation, dinner with wines/champagnes to match, tutored wine-tasting, full breakfast and a choice of either a round of golf or a 50-minute massage. capekidnappers.com

- NZ Herald

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