New Zealand is topping travelers’ bucket lists with increasing frequency. The small country, equivalent to the size of the United Kingdom, has a population of just over 4.5 million. It is made up of two main islands, North (Te Ika-a-Māui in Maori) and South (Te Waipounamu), and more than 60 smaller surrounding islands. New Zealand may be a relatively young country, but its white sand beaches, rainforests, mountains, lakes, glaciers, and volcanoes took shape over millions of years. Factor in exceptional cuisine, viticulture, boating, fishing, nightlife, and growing recognition as one of the world’s top golf destinations, and it’s no wonder “Middle Earth” is rising to the top as a destination given the global attention garnered by director Peter Jackson’s epic movie series.
With other advantages—including a favorable exchange rate for the U.S dollar, a climate similar to California, and locals who treat their visitors like family—choosing New Zealand as a vacation destination is easy. Picking where to stay and play, on the other hand, will prove more challenging.
A Golfer’s Paradise
With almost 400 golf courses, New Zealand ranks second in the world for most courses per capita, inspiring pros and enthusiasts from around the globe to experience some of golf’s finest courses. The LPGA takes full advantage of the country’s bounty this September when it hosts its first tournament in New Zealand, the MCKAYSON New Zealand Women’s Open, at the spectacular Windross Farm Golf Club just 35 minutes south of Auckland. Designed by Brett Thomson of Robert Trent Jones Design in collaboration with course consultant Phil Tataurangi, Windross Farm Golf Club opened for play in 2011. The par 72 course features four large lakes that come into play on several holes with large undulated fairways and greens.
Meanwhile, one of New Zealand’s greatest hidden gems, Gulf Harbour Country Club, lies a brief 40-minute drive north of Auckland. This Robert Trent Jones Jr.–designed course on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula sits atop breathtaking bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The beautifully arranged par 72 layout features challenging par 4s on the front nine, offering severe elevation changes, and a large lake that comes into play on three holes. Gulf Harbour, which may remind well-travelled golfers of Pebble Beach, also sports some of the best views of any course in the world. The wise golfer may desire to have a camera as well as a club in hand when approaching the signature par 4 16th hole. The 445-yard par 4 weaves along the ocean and demands a long drive to afford one a chance at reaching the green in regulation.
In 1998, Gulf Harbour Country Club played host to the 44th World Cup of Golf, in which the English team of David Carter and Nick Faldo won by two strokes over the Italian team of Massimo Florioli and Constantino Rocca. While this club is private, like most of New Zealand’s private country clubs it welcomes visitors to the course for a fee.
The Institute of Golf, located in Auckland and founded by CEO Craig Dixon, offers access to highly qualified PGA Professionals who use state-of-the-art technology to personalize a game plan to vastly improve one’s golf game and maximize one’s potential. It’s interesting to note that rising star Lydia Ko, a Korean-born, New Zealand golfer who became the Number 1 ranked woman professional golfer in February 2015 at 17 (making her the youngest player of either gender to achieve this distinction in professional golf), did much of her golf training at the Institute of Golf. Golfers of all skill levels are welcome to receive their first lesson gratis.
Pure Golf at Tara Iti
When talking about the world’s greatest golf courses, Old Course at St. Andrews, Muirfield, Bethpage Black, and Pebble Beach are some of the marquee courses to come to golf enthusiasts’ minds. However, Tara Iti, 90 minutes north of Auckland on the coast of Mangawhai, is rapidly rising to recognition on the world’s greatest golf course lists. This ultra-exclusive country club, founded by Los Angeles–based Ric Kayne, has brought comparisons to some of the world’s spectacular coastal courses, including Cypress Point, Royal Dornoch, and Royal St. George’s. Kayne had always admired the work of course designer Tom Doak, so when Kayne’s New Zealand partner, John Darby, found this perfect lay of coastal land, he knew exactly who he was going to hire to build his dream course.
Kayne purchased the property, which was completely covered with an indigenous pine plantation, from a Maori tribe. Soon after, Tom Doak roamed the land with just a topography map for five days, and so began the routing of the masterpiece that is Tara Iti. His vision for this project was like no other. Tara Iti offers unobstructed views on all 18 holes of the offshore islands, such as Little Barrier, Great Barrier, and Tauranga as well as views of the crashing waves onto the white sand beaches just below. As spectacular as the views are at Tara Iti, they simply serve as a stunning backdrop for the property’s real attraction—the one-of-a-kind, 18-hole, links golf course. Tara Iti is as pure golf as golf was intended in Scotland many years ago. No carts or cart paths, because golfers walk with their caddies here. There are no benches on the tees, no ball washers, no yardage markers, no signs leading you to the next hole, no lavish snack bars or comfort stations to distract you from your game—just pure golf. In true links fashion, there is no rough on the course, and no trees or bunkers come into play. Instead there are traditional waste areas that are formed by sand dunes and local native bushes and shrubbery that outline the perfectly manicured fairways running into the greens without a noticeable difference.
Tara Iti will demand your greatest golf and a variety of shot making skills if you want to post a respectable score. It was Kayne’s vision to build an exclusive world-class golf course with an unassuming but cozy clubhouse, offering exceptional service and a fun atmosphere for its members, and he nailed it. Jim Rohrstaff, a partner at Legacy Partners, oversees the 46 home sites on-property, as well as the memberships at Tara Iti. Rohrstaff calls Tara Iti’s beachfront properties “the Hamptons of New Zealand.” Getting information on membership and home site properties is kept private and is only offered to those who have serious interest.
To obtain membership at Tara Iti, Rohrstaff and Kayne are more concerned with personality rather than how much you have in the bank. Therefore, an extensive interview process is conducted to get to know each applicant and make sure that they will be a good fit for the Tara Iti family. There have been applicants who were more than capable of writing the check, who have been turned down. Although it is ultra private, it is not impossible to be invited for a round as long as you are currently a member of a club. Rohrstaff requires a letter of introduction from your home club, noting that, “We want to know who is coming—we look at the club as an extension of our home and you’re not typically going to have strangers come and stay in your home.” Once the stay is approved, you and your guests will be treated like members once you arrive on property, and you will stay the night at one of the eight well-appointed member cottages. This all comes with a price, which is also kept confidential until your serious inquiry. Tara Iti is the absolute definition of high-end country club lifestyle, with one of the greatest golf courses in the world.
There are a few other areas beyond the game in Auckland that are must visits. In 2000, the Viaduct Harbour gained popularity when it served as the center of activity for the America’s Cup, hosted by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. The area has since been upgraded with upscale apartments and a wide variety of dining options, bars, and night clubs, all surrounded by the marina filled with boats and superyachts. A seven-story waterfront Park Hyatt, under construction nearby, is sure to add some additional class to the area.
Ponsonby, an upper-middle class residential suburb with a laid-back, Abbot Kinney/Venice-vibe, bustles with restaurants, cafes, art galleries, shopping, live music, and nightclubs. Britomart is another area that has recently been revamped. It has similarities to Downtown LA and Beverly Hills with its upscale dining, designer boutiques, bars, health and beauty offerings, and living and office space, set among some of Auckland’s oldest buildings and newest architecture. When in Britomart, be sure to dine at esteemed Michelin star chef Josh Emett’s Ostro restaurant. Ostro has sweeping port views and offers the best locally sourced seafood and a Beef Wellington they suggest ordering 48 hours in advance.
If you are looking for the perfect place to stay when visiting Auckland, look no further than SkyCity. Centrally located to everywhere you want to be in Auckland, SkyCity (billed as New Zealand’s premier entertainment destination) offers a wide variety of 25 restaurant choices, cafes and bars, a world-class casino, and a theatre featuring constantly changing entertainment. The Grill by Sean Connolly, at the entry to the SkyCity Grand Hotel, offers up the best pasture-fed meat and the freshest local seafood with an extensive wine list. Another must-dine is Depot. Located just outside SkyCity Grand Hotel, Depot is noted for its multiple small plates, such as grilled octopus, smoked brisket tortillas, and lamb ribs. Sugar Club, located on the 52nd floor of Auckland’s tallest building, the Sky Tower, has unobstructed views of the city and serves up a modern dining experience with the freshest farm to table menu options in the city. When dining at the chic outpost, make sure to stop by the observation deck just below the restaurant for panoramic 360-degree views up to 80 kilometers in every direction.
Food and wine aficionados make it a point to visit Waiheke Island, a short 35-minute ferry or 15-minute helicopter ride away from downtown Auckland, an expanse that looks like the convergence of Napa Valley and Catalina Island. With more than 30 vineyards and wineries, olive gardens, white sand beaches, and truly farm-to-table cuisine, it is easy to see why Waiheke is considered the jewel in the Hauraki Gulf. Stonyridge and Mudbrick Vineyards are signature standouts on the island. They encourage visitors to take in stunning views, taste their variety of renowned fine wines, enjoy first-class dining, or host that special event from small private dinner to wedding or festival. Waiheke Island was included on Lonely Planet’s list of top 10 travel regions in 2015 and was named the fourth best island in the world by Condé Nast Traveller in 2016.
One standout retreat worth seeking out is the Farm at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke’s Bay, on New Zealand’s North Island. The course is designed by legendary golf architect Tom Doak, with a par 71 golf course measuring 7,119 yards (6,510 meters) that will challenge golfers of all skill levels. The spectacular course, completed in 2004, is recognized as one of the great modern marvels in golf. Set atop 6,000 rolling acres of stunning pasture-land, this retreat is the perfect setting for a quaint lodge featuring 22 guest suites and a four-bedroom Owner’s Cottage. Every suite includes a private balcony and offers spectacular views of the property, golf course, and Pacific Ocean.
Getting Down Under
When talking to Angelenos about New Zealand travel, one misconception is the duration of the flight, which can often be as easy as taking a red eye to New York. Nick Judd of Air New Zealand notes that, “Although New Zealand is on the top of many North American’s bucket list, they often perceive it to be ‘as far as you can go’ making a flight to the South Pacific seems daunting.”
Making the trip convenient for West Coasters, Air New Zealand offers twice daily direct services from LAX to Auckland in a tidy 12 hours. One option departs at 9:30pm, giving you plenty of time to watch a couple of movies and get enough sleep so you are ready for your first full day upon arrival.
Ranked the #1 country in the world by the World Bank on their “Ease of Doing Business” scale, New Zealand – specifically Auckland – has married its surge in wine with another four-letter trending topic – tech. While home to a third of New Zealand’s population and producing just over a third of its GDP, Auckland accounts for almost half of the tech sector’s income, employment, GDP, and exports. The tech sector contributes $7.8B in GDP to the Auckland economy and providing 47,682 jobs and has been an outsource hub for a number of U.S.-based companies.
Nestled within this multi-billion dollar industry is Auckland-based Vend – a Point of Service platform – which has raised more than $40M, following in the footsteps of Wellington-based Xero (NZX: XRO) whose market cap is approaching $4B and whose software is used in more than 180 countries.
Vend’s ability to consistently raise funding (recent rounds have been for $20M, $13M, and $12M) is the rule, not the exception. Private venture capital funding into New Zealand companies in 2016 was NZ $1.1B – more than double the 2015 figure. Furthermore, $39M (or 57%) of total 2016 New Zealand Seed Co-Investment Fund was invested into Auckland
In addition to a thriving venture capital community, Auckland is experiencing a tech-driven creative renaissance. Passion projects meet emerging markets at places like Auckland’s AR/VR Garage – a collaborative R&D facility housing companies like Verso – a VR platform molding science and art. These new kids on the block are coming to life alongside projects like Google Loon.
The melding of established properties and up and coming ideas has shaped Auckland’s real estate as a result. There has been an 886% increase in co-working space in since 2011. In response to the growth, GridAKL opened in 2014 with support from the city in the heart of Auckland’s Wynward Quarter (their innovation precinct). GridAKL supports the growing number of high-impact, growth-oriented, tech-focused businesses and