When my wife and I plan a diverse golfing weekend away, it’s hard to look past the Central North Island, just a few hours drive out of Auckland.
There’s 50 courses around Rotorua, Tauranga, Mt Maunganui and Taupo, with landscapes ranging from geothermal activity to harbours, lakes and mountain ranges.
My wife and I thrive on the challenge of Rotorua’s Arikikapakapa Golf Course where if a shot goes wrong, balls can disappear in boiling mud pools, or down geothermal steam vents making it a course like no other in the country. Followed up by hydrotherapy recovery at the world renowned Polynesian Spa – it’s the perfect morning and afternoon combo.
Arikikapakapa is a full 18 hole, par 70 all-weather links-style course providing good variety and challenge. The pumice ground of this course also allows for rapid drainage after rain, so it means that regardless of the weather, the golf is still on.
Teeing off, we find the start of the course similar to others, but things get noticeably different when we make it to the 9th hole, where to the left of the green, mud pools and steam are to be avoided with a sulphur mound to the right as well.
The ninth has featured on a New Zealand postage stamp and has been written about by golf writers from around the world – the punishment for missing the green is ruthless!
A monster of a geothermal crater guards the left of the spectacular 14th hole – descent into which is not advised!
Holes number 14, 15 and 16 are played alongside a lake, and apart from the added danger of water, the sight on a chilly winter’s morning of steam rising from the lake is something to behold. There is absolutely no substitute for accuracy on these three holes, known as Amen corner by locals, where so many matches are won or lost by the smallest or errors - they are classic risk and reward holes, so we have to keep really focused.
Holes 3, 4 and 5 play across a warm water stream which has claimed many of our golf balls, reinforcing that accuracy is much more important than length on most holes on this course.
Every golfer has a favourite hole and the 18th is ours with incredible views across to the Whakarewarewa geothermal reserve and the forest beyond, to the devilishly tricky second shot between two big trees to the well-guarded green.
The most feared hole in many minds is the bunkerless fifth – out of bounds down the right, a monster tree on the left and a bubbling steaming creek just in front of the tee calls for good straight shots. The shallow green is easier to hold for your second with a wedge in your hand, than with a 5 iron so it’s a good test of nerves too.
The golf course is an easy walking course with good paths, although by the 18th hole, we’re always ready for some relaxation at the Polynesian Spa where the geothermal activity is rewarding rather than punishing.
My wife and I like to book an Aix Spa therapy which begins with an hour long soak in the Deluxe Lake Spa pools. There are a mix of both acidic pools which are great for muscle recovery and alkaline which is beneficial for skin and nails. After a full day walking the course – we beeline straight to the acidic pool which has stunning view over Lake Rotorua and bush lined rocks. Then the real recovery gets underway…
Five minutes in the 40 degree acidic pool and then 30 seconds in the ice cold plunge pool! The initial shock is freezing, but afterwards jumping back in the acidic pool we feel amazing… till another five minutes pass and then boom, back into the plunge pool. We repeat this three times and then really let ourselves relax for the final 30 minutes, before a spa therapy.
We find hot and cold hydrotherapy means our body isn’t sore at all afterwards as the extremes of hot and cold water cause muscles to expand and contract, offering gentle detoxification as toxins are squeezed from the muscles. It also improves circulation and increases the body’s immunity – with this in mind, it’s not too bad to work through!
The Aix therapy is always our favourite, which we go back for again and again. In Rotorua, the Aix spa therapy concept was first introduced in 1903 and in those days it was claimed that the treatment helped with hysteria, engorged liver or piles. Today guests are promised the sensation of soft water jets combined with massage.
Aix therapy combines jets of warm water with a relaxation massage to rejuvenate and revitalise the mind and body. Therapists use Rotorua thermal mud polish, Mānuka honey walnut polish, coconut or mango sugar rub to immerse the body into total relaxation.
The Aix massage feels like a hundred little fingers, massaging your body and the masseuse knows exactly where to add pressure with the warm water constantly making your body feel like every limb has full attention.
I choose the thermal mud and my wife goes for the mango sugar scrub… we both come out feeling just incredible.
It’s the ultimate trip away which really can’t be experienced anywhere else – avoiding and cursing the geothermal wonders with the golf shots during the morning and then immersing ourselves in the wonder of the geothermal waters in the afternoon to chill out. Unbeatable really.
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