What could be better than waking up and enjoying breakfast at the edge of the golf course and then walking directly over to the first tee? It may surprise you to learn that many New Zealand courses, especially in the smaller towns, have a practice whereby upon paying a green fee you can stay on-site overnight at no charge in a self-contained motorhome.
These are not just the unknown country courses. Several layouts on the New Zealand Golf Digest Top 40 allow you to camp onsite, including Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club (ranked No.7). Even better, if you’re travelling as a group and give the golf club some advance notice, the bar and dining facilities may stay open a little longer. And if you ask nicely, they may even be able to provide a roast meal!
Of course, there are some amazingly picturesque resort courses that are fabulous to play. But spending a week to 10 days travelling around a particular region by motorhome will provide a very “chilled” golf holiday that will allow you to enjoy the local surrounds.
There is a great circuit travelling north out of Auckland, heading through Northland and the coastal areas and through some pretty rainforest. Travelling south through the Waikato and Bay of Plenty takes you to areas such as Taupo and Rotorua to play some unique courses such as Waitomo, Tirau, Ohope, and Arikikapakapa.
The South Island has two well-defined circuits. You can drive north out of Christchurch to the regions of Marlborough, Nelson and the West Coast or head south and take in the breathtaking scenery of Lake Tekapo, Wanaka, Te Anau, the Catlins and Dunedin.
Golf club managers around the country have started to embrace “motorhome golfers”. If they don’t permit onsite stays, it’s usually because there is a local campground within a five-minute drive or due to local council regulations. One club talked about the space that they have available and how they leave the clubhouse open a little longer for these visitors to enjoy the hospitality.
Previously, the motorhome was seen as the domain of those coming for longer trips of between three weeks to three months. Increasingly, many local and international visitors on seven to 10-day getaways view renting a motorhome as the perfect way to see the regions.
Some of the best-organised “boys” trips I’ve witnessed have up to 12 golfers roll out of their four/six-berth motorhomes in the car park for their tee times. Being able to travel between courses with everything on-board has some real advantages as well as cost savings. Making your own lunches and dinners can add up to big savings, especially if you stay overnight at a course as part of the green-fee purchase.
One of my funniest experiences at a golf course occurred while watching one such motorhome tour group. Eight guys had surrounded the 18th green as the last group came in, desperate to see who would be “today’s worst golfer”. The stress was obvious given that the worst Stableford score had to empty four motorhome toilet tanks. I’ve never seen such relief as each golfer realised they were safe. And I still feel sorry for the guy that took five shots to get up and down from the greenside bunker, earning the “Kenny Award” (named after the legendary Aussie plumber).
A four-berth motorhome is perfect for the couple that wants a roaming golf trip. There is plenty of room for everything, including two sets of clubs. The space and convenience of having everything on board gives you the freedom to stop whenever you want – to enjoy local attractions or a magical vista while you stop and prepare dinner, before finding somewhere to park for the night.
However, for larger groups of independent golfers, I would recommend booking a high-spec six-berth motorhome for every three people. There are usually three double-sleeping areas in a six-berth so nobody will need to share a bed. Also, most motorhomes are fairly compact, so it’s good not to have to take down each bed every day. Plus, golf clubs take up a fair amount of storage space. Most larger units have under-carriage spaces that can usually manage to hold three full sets of clubs along with the supplied gear, such as folding chairs and picnic tables.
My recent motorhome journey began at the THL depot near Christchurch airport. THL (Tourism Holdings Limited) owns the brands of Maui, Britz and Mighty, making it the largest motorhome rental company in the country. The depot – or Christchurch RV Super Centre where you pick up and learn about the vehicle – is a bright modern facility that offers restrooms, showers, items for sale, along with free Wi-Fi and excellent check-in/check-out services. It has a seamless pick-up process and a very good ‘walk through’ of the vehicle and all of its features. The staff had us driving out 30 minutes later.
It may take a little while to get used to handling the size of the vehicle while driving. Generally, within an hour, it should be smooth sailing as you get used to the vehicle’s added dimensions. All motorhomes come with GPS units and 24-hour call-in assistance, and most have reversing cameras for added safety.
One of the best suggestions we received was to stay at a campground on the first night rather than trying to “freedom camp” with a self-contained vehicle. That’s so if you have any questions about the vehicle (or something doesn’t seem to work), there will always be a wealth of support from those that own/rented similar vehicles or if you need to access the 24-hour support line. It also allows time to run through all the information provided and refer to any of the help guides as you get used to the vehicle’s many features.
We first headed in the direction of Hanmer Springs, approximately two hours from Christchurch. This is a great area to visit, thanks to the wonderful hot pools located on the main town strip. There is also a very popular golf course at Hanmer Springs in a lovely setting only a couple of minutes from the local Top10 Holiday Park campground where we stayed. There is absolutely nothing better than enjoying a round of golf, followed by a relaxing soak in one of the many thermal pools to loosen up those stiff muscles.
Head north from there through to the famous wine area of Marlborough, which was one of the key destinations of our trip. The wineries don’t disappoint and there is plenty of space for you to park the motorhome and enjoy some tastings or a leisurely lunch at Villa Maria, Allan Scott and Mount Difficulty. There are also some amazing little vineyards worth visiting plus the world-class aviation museum at Omaka. It has a wonderful selection of vintage WWI and WWII aircraft, thanks to Sir Peter Jackson’s collection.
Marlborough Golf Club is motorhome-friendly and located just a few hundred metres from the Villa Maria estate. Marlborough is an easy walking golf course that is well manicured with some holes bordering the local vines. The 19th offers some local drops on the wine list so it’s a great place to relax after a round.
Travelling the 90 minutes through to Nelson takes you through the township of Havelock, which is known as the “green-lipped mussel capital of the world”. It’s a perfect point to stop and enjoy a steaming pot of this delicacy.
Nelson has two golf courses, which both featured in New Zealand Golf Digest’s Top 40 and are motorhome friendly. Nelson Golf Club (No.35) is a links-style layout with sweeping views across the Tasman Bay. Greenacres Golf Club (No.40) in nearby Richmond borders the tidal inlet with water coming into play on several holes. Built on a sandy base, the inland holes are tree-lined whereas the coastal holes feature water views and a linksy feel.
The area around Tasman Bay and Golden Bay and the towns of Moteuka and Takaka are well worth a visit. Takaka Golf Club has nine holes but is still a good challenge and you can stay there overnight. However, the roads leading from Nelson to Takaka can be challenging for a motorhome, so be prepared for twists and turns.
Travelling down to Westport is a picturesque drive, especially through the Buller Gorge. Westport has a nice mid-length golf course with beautiful scenery and local bird life. It’s located only a couple of kilometres along the road from the Top10 campground at Carters Beach.
The coastal drive from Westport to Hokitika is simply stunning. A pit stop at the iconic Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) is a “must” before teeing up at Hokitika Golf Club, which sits beside the sand dunes. This links is extremely open with some challenging holes and a stiff coastal breeze. The views of the Southern Alps and Tasman Sea are outstanding.
From Hokitika, it’s a four-hour drive over Arthur’s Pass and back through the Canterbury plains into Christchurch. Once there, we returned our motorhome to the THL centre. We had the all-inclusive package, which meant we didn’t have to clean the van, refill the tank or empty “Kenny” on the trip home.
So for a special Kiwi golf experience, I would thoroughly recommend renting a motorhome. Pack your clubs as well as taking along the “kitchen sink”. There’s really no better way to see the real New Zealand.
Here are some important tips to make a successful motorhome golf tour around New Zealand:
• Consider a larger-sized/higher-spec unit than what you need. Storage and sleeping spaces are compact and you’ll appreciate a bit of extra room, especially if planning a golf trip that doesn’t involve couples.
• Book the all-inclusive package that many rental companies offer. This way you can just drop off the vehicle and leave. No need to empty the tanks, fill up the vehicle or do the big clean.
• Pack lightly in soft duffle bags for simple storage. No large hard-sided luggage as this can be difficult to store in a motorhome.
• Plan to stay at least every third night at a campground (or more often) so you can enjoy all the benefits of power charging, free Wi-Fi, laundry, filling up the fresh water tanks and emptying the dirty tanks. Pre-book this so you can arrange to be all together if travelling as a group.
• Don’t get too carried away with a big supermarket shop on the first day. It can be difficult to stow everything on board as there is not a lot of fridge or storage space. And don’t worry if you have non-perishable food left over. The rental companies are often socially responsible and will share suitable items with local food banks or charities (THL does this).
• Don’t plan to travel more than 400 kilometres in a day so that you can really enjoy the countryside. There is a 90km speed limit for the bigger four or six-berth motorhomes. So expect to travel a maximum of 80km an hour due to the winding nature of New Zealand’s roads.