Golfers can wine and dine on a trip to New Zealand

South Island



I missed out on the famous Fergburger in Queenstown, but I did not fail in my mission to sample the region's best cuisine. Every night brought a new adventure at the dinner table.

I worked up an appetite one afternoon tasting wines inside the Gibbston Valley Winery's manmade wine cave, a problem solved later by Saffron, listed among the top 100 tables of "the world's most exciting restaurants" by a special section of the Conde Nast Traveler.

Saffron sits in lovely Arrowtown, a quaint, historic hub founded during a gold rush of the Arrow River in the 1860s. A constantly changing menu keeps regulars on high alert for new favorites.

After a smorgasbord of appetizers, I ordered adventurously, the "Trio of Curries," an incredible dish of red duck and pineapple curry, salmon and lime leaf dumpling in sour curry and crisp tofu and mandarin in yellow curry. Post-dinner drinks are a must at The Blue Door, a tiny bar that feels like a hobbit's lair set below street level.

Dinner at a chain hotel restaurant the following night might sound like a letdown, but not when it's the Wakatipu Grill in the Hilton Queenstown. Come early to enjoy the sunset while snuggled up on a circular sofa surrounding an outdoor fire pit. The food was just as inspiring as the lakefront setting. Being from Michigan, I had to sample the roasted Detroit red beetroot salad. The braised short ribs, a staple of my diet, didn't disappoint.

Looking back, though, I wish I would have ordered the Merino lamb. I had no idea how fresh and amazing its meat could be until sampling some at the Amisfield Winery Bistro the next night. The "Trust the Chef Menu" at Amisfield has become one of Queenstown's signature haunts for foodies. Merino sheep are best known for their soft wool and ability to survive in extreme conditions. When served at Amisfield, the savory, slow-cooked lamb melts at the touch of a fork.

My final day was spent exploring Millbrook Resort, a 27-hole golf resort celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2013. The specialty pizza for lunch at The Hole In One cafe was good, followed by golf with the Remarkables Mountains as a backdrop. Fine dining and even better hospitality inside the Millhouse capped off a remarkable last day in Queenstown.

North Island



My North Island travels took luxury up a notch with stays at three premier lodges: The Huka Lodge in Taupo near the heart of the island; The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay on the east coast in a highly-regarded wine region; and The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in Kerikeri at the northern tip overlooking the stunning Bay of Islands.

All three lodges attract golfers with nearby courses ranked among the top 100 in the world by various publications. The golf scenery is jaw dropping, just like the meals served afterward. All three lodges require men to wear a jacket to dinner. Guests gather early at each lodge for complimentary wine and exquisite appetizers (called entrees in New Zealand).

The Huka Lodge, a favorite of Jack Nicklaus along the Waikato River, lets people pick where to dine, such as a secluded patio next to a fireplace, the front terrace overlooking river rapids, the trophy room upstairs, a wine cellar and more.

My starters -- a fresh goats curd with toasted seeds and marinated vegetables, and a fantastic pasta carbonara topped with liquid bacon -- preceded organic Taupo beef with oxtail jus. Tiramisu flavours followed for dessert.

Gartland's menus at Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs are just as elegantly refined. The "tasting menu" at Cape Kidnappers featured a magical mix of paradise prawns and cured aromatic pork as starters with pan-seared bluenose fish and wild fiordland venison for the main.

At Kauri Cliffs, I wisely took the advice of my dinner date, Mr. Robertson himself, and ordered the puy lentil salad and the sashimi of apatu snapper. The grass-fed beef fillet was a great "last supper," although Robertson's hospitality and chefs have left me hungry for more.

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