You could go to New Zealand just for the golf and not be disappointed--in fact, it might turn out to be the most memorable golf trip you'll ever experience. But New Zealand is so much more than great golf: great scenery, great food, great wine, great courses and, certainly, great people.
Driving on the left has never intimidated me, despite a run-in with a bus in Scotland many years ago. I've traveled by motorcycle through Alaska, America's West and Europe's Alps, and New Zealand is every bit as beautiful. And you can leave the GPS home--just ask a Kiwi for directions.
Driving puts you in touch with the country, its people and its soul. Sure, I had planned visits to all the marquee courses, like Kinloch, a Jack Nicklaus design. (Think Sand Hills, but even more scenic.) And I stopped at Cape Kidnappers, a Tom Doak creation on land of unimaginable drama. But from 35,000 feet I never would have discovered the kinds of places where a stranger gets invited to the club's nine-hole Sunday-sunset social and barbecue.
The marquee courses are indeed spectacular. Kauri Cliffs, Cape Kidnappers and Kinloch in the north were my favorites. Jack's Point and The Hills (pictured) are the eye candy of the south. A public course like Queenstown Golf Club, which sits on a peninsula, is another delight.
Adventure is what separates New Zealand from the pretenders. When you ask Kiwis to suggest a good hike, they ask: two-day? Five-day? A week? I was thinking more like two hours. Hang gliding, parasailing, bungee jumping? No problem. Glacier trekking and rainforest walks are available, even on the same day. Everyone is running, biking, hiking, surfing; this is the "ing" capital of the world. Skiing and snowboarding? Got those, too. Just schedule activities like that during America's summer. Of course, the snow is only on the mountains--no winter-driving woes.
If that isn't enough, there are the people. These Kiwis kill you with kindness. Could it be that because there are more sheep than humans, there just aren't enough people to have a bad one in the bunch? If ever a place deserved to be called paradise, this is it. I admit, it's not perfect. You think we have it bad with gas at $4 a gallon? Try $7. The cost of living is high but you'll be smiling every day.