Some of my happiest memories of New Zealand involve activities that weren’t golf -- a first for me on any trip for which my luggage includes my clubs. I ate great food and met nice people, and I saw basking seals, a 2,100-year-old tree, and stingrays nearly the size of Stingrays. I also saw sharks, from a helicopter. They were feeding near the breakers a hundred feet off Ninety Mile Beach, a strip of sand that runs up the northwestern edge of the North Island. As the pilot took us down for a closer look, I asked whether the presence of large marine carnivores so close to the water’s edge didn’t deter swimmers. “Oh, no,” he said. “Most of the swimmers don’t know they’re there."
Shark-spotting was just one small part of day-long menu of activities known locally as the Full Julian, after Julian Robertson, the creator and owner of Kauri Cliffs, the resort where I was staying. Four other guests and I traveled by helicopter to the Waipoua Forest, where our Maori guide sang a song of tribute to Tane Mahuta, an enormous kauri tree that predates Christianity:
Then we flew to the northern tip of the island and hovered above a turbulent spot, just off the coast, where Pacific Ocean currents collide with those of the Tasman Sea:
Then we set down for a beach picnic:
And then we raced down dunes on rented ATVs. Here's our adult supervision, standing at the top of a dune we were about to race down:
And here's what the same dune looked like from the bottom:
Everyone made it down. I don't remember how we got back up.
Two nights later, I did something that surprised me by being even more fun: I went midnight possum hunting, under the supervision of a Kauri Cliffs employee who is a veteran of the British equivalent of the Green Berets. All New Zealand mammals, except for a couple of rare species of bats, were introduced to the islands by humans and are thus considered varmints until proven otherwise. Possums -- which are bushier and less sinister-looking than American opossums -- were imported in 1836 by some Australians who were hoping to establish a fur trade. Now there are 80 million of them, and they eat the eggs of the kiwi, New Zealand’s nearly extinct flightless national bird, and they have no natural predators, except people. I hadn’t fired a gun since summer camp in Colorado, forty years before, and was astonished to discover I have a talent for felling treed marsupials with single shots to the head. I had been a somewhat reluctant participant in our hunting expedition, but if, toward the end, our guide had suggested that we stay out till dawn I would have eagerly agreed. Possum-killin’ was also the favorite Kauri Cliffs activity of the golfers Dave Stockton and Dave Stockton, Jr., who, during a visit shortly before mine, went out every night.
One afternoon, following a round of golf, I toured the entire property with the man in charge of the agricultural side of Robertson's New Zealand operation. (That's him in the photo above.) We visited the sheep-shearing shed, climbed over a 9000-volt electric fence, scaled an old volcano whose summit is the highest point on the farm, visited a couple of stunning beaches, saw some cattle that were about to be slaughtered, and ran into the Kauri Cliffs farm manager, who was responsible for 2,500 beef cattle and 5,000 sheep. The manager was wearing a golf hat and driving a big ATV, and there were three scruffy farm dogs standing just behind his seat. He said, “Kauri Cliffs is not a golf course with a farm on it. It’s a 6,000-acre-farm with a golf course at one end.” Then he roared off, and the dogs, like surfers, had to shift their weight in complicated ways to keep from falling off.
It's summer in New Zealand right now. Do you understand what I'm saying?
To be continued.