A stunning resort beside an ecological course in New Caledonia is a hit with
golfer Phil Tataurangi.

Exploring a destination you've never visited and know little about always brings a sense of anticipation of what might be.

For my wife Melanie and me, staying in a new hotel, dining at a different restaurant, learning a new language, exploring a new environment and understanding a foreign culture have always been the fun parts of international travel.

Despite travelling the world to pursue my career in golf for the better part of 25 years, going somewhere new never gets old.

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Which is how we came to be in New Caledonia. I was surprised to learn that at just two and a half hours, it's a shorter flight than visiting Australia ... and improved by the service of a wee dram at the top of the descent. Customs and immigration in Noumea are little more than a warm Pacific Island welcome, and before long we were heading for the province of Bourail. The 90-minute drive up the coast is an introduction to the stunning landscape of this Pacific paradise.

The mountains immediately on the inland side appear as a miniature version of the Southern Alps, the coastal ranges coated in lush tropical greenery instead of snow.

Our cone-shaped private bungalow at Sheraton Deva Resort was just a stone's throw from the beach and one of the most architecturally conscious rooms I have ever stayed in.

Square pegs into round holes generally don't work, but this place is the exception.

The next morning we were up early for a brisk walk and bite of brekkie before carting straight to the first tee at the Golf de Deva. I was joined by Laurent, the golf manager, and Kevin, the head pro. As infrequently as I play nowadays, a range session before kicking off is fraught with danger just in case I use up whatever good shots I have left in me. Happily, it was already 20C, so I was warmed up.

The uncompromising, somewhat controversial golf course architect Pete Dye is the mastermind behind many professional tournament layouts, most notably the Ocean Course, at Kiawah Island in South Carolina, and TPC Sawgrass, in Florida, the annual venue of The Players Championship on the PGA Tour. But in Deva, it was his niece Cynthia Dye McGarey who was gifted a raw site in an environmentally sensitive nature reserve to craft her course.

In a male-dominated industry, female architects are a rarity. But with an upbringing of family involved in the design business surely the apple wouldn't fall far from the tree.
The distinctive hallmark of Dye golf-course design is providing strategic options and lines of play that ask questions of every golfer before and after they play each shot, regardless of how accomplished you are with club in hand.

For me this sort of golf is stimulating and ensures the golfer can help recall certain holes irrespective of their score: Ah, I remember that hole because I chose to hit that shot to avoid that hazard or to get that angle to play my next — you get the point. Deva has many holes like this.

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Although the course is still young (it opened in December 2014) and the agronomy is still being fine-tuned, the layout is pleasantly memorable with many fun challenges.

Each year, the resort hosts men's and women's professional and pro-am events but if it's a couples' getaway or if you're in charge of the next mates' trip, this is an ideal resort course experience and destination.

Fresh pan-fried parrot fish on the beachfront and a few hours beside the pool, sending the odd envy enducing photo to our teenage kids at home, was a great way to spend the afternoon. Aperitif anyone?

The next morning, we found ourselves on a waka (not quite the same model as those my ancestors sailed in) captained by Manu, an English-speaking local with great pride in the ecological playground of New Cal. We motored towards Green Island, just off the coast from Le Roche beach. To the indigenous Kanak people this small island is sacred, serving as a burial ground for chiefs of generations past.

The lagoon that encircles the main island of New Caledonia has been recognised by Unesco as a natural heritage site to protect the marine life. This means the snorkelling is phenomenal. We swam in crystal-clear waters less than 20m from our beach towels, before tucking into a delicious picnic lunch.

We finished that day with a short hike from the front gate of the resort. From a hillside high above we were able to see all of what we'd been enjoying. As we marvelled at the view and chatted to young French tourists on their way to New Zealand, the setting sun's rays streamed through the clouds at just the right time. The golden light was the perfect crescendo for a stunning trip.

Checklist

GETTING THERE

Aircalin

flies direct from Auckland to Noumea, with return, Economy Class fares on sale from tomorrow to December 26 from $549.

ACCOMMODATION

For information on Sheraton Deva Resort, go to

marriott.com

.