ESCAPE Why New Zealand Rocks
A geological wonderland featuring a range of fascinating formations
New Zealand is a geological wonderland featuring a range of fascinating formations – some as old as time, and some more recent arrivals. Smooth round spheres or squished pancake stones, New Zealand boasts all manner of rocky curiosities that make visitors scratch their heads. What are they? How did they form? Here’s a brief guide to some of the country’s most interesting and otherworldly arrangements.
Dinosaur Eggs, KaikȬura
The 2016 Kaikͻura earthquake unearthed a cluster of previously unseen stones. The size of beach balls, these newest kids on the geological block have been dubbed “dinosaur eggs”. Part of the uplifted seabed at Gooch’s Beach, the boulders are concretions – distinctive masses of mineral material that have embedded themselves in sedimentary rock. Some are cracked in two while others are perfect spheres. One thing is certain, they were not apparent before the mighty November shake. The question on all the locals’ lips is will these stony orbs give New Zealand’s famous Moeraki Boulders a run for their money?
Kaikćura is about 200km north of Christchurch and 155km south of Picton on the South Island. Most visitors come for the town’s famous seafood (Kaikćura means ‘eat crayfish) and to spot whales, dolphins, seals and shorebirds. The Southern Alps meet the ocean here, and the region is welcoming year-round. Gooch’s Beach, a stony bay popular among surfers, is a short distance from the Kaikćura Esplanade.
Split Apple Rock, Tasman Bay
Created via a process known as ice wedging, this whopping nugget of granite is shaped a little bit like an apple that’s been cut in half – hence the name. Historically, M͊ori people explained the oddity with a tale that involved two mighty gods fighting over who owned the rock. To settle the matter, they chopped it in half. Resting on a boulder pile that seemingly floats on the sea about 50m off the beach between Kaiteriteri and Marahau, this wonder (called Tokangawh͊ in M͊ori) is accessible by foot or kayak and, when the tide is out, you can even wade over and peer directly into its core.
Tasman Bay, near Nelson at the top of the South Island, is a tourist hotspot – the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park and home to all manner of hikes, cycling adventures and wildlife. Visit any time, though the cooler months between April and October mean less people and more peace.
Pancake Rocks, West Coast
Punakaiki’s layered Pancake Rocks were formed 30 million years ago from the penetration of marine creatures and plants into submerged limestone by extreme water pressure. Over time, seismic activity lifted the limestone above the seabed, and acid rain, wind and waves further sculpted the striated stone. When the tide is high, and the sea is rough, some of the rocks become gushing blowholes. Make time for the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes Walk, which takes about 30 minutes.
Punakaiki is located between Greymouth and Westport on the west coast of the South Island. The road between the two towns was rated one of the world’s top 10 coastal drives by Lonely Planet. If you’re not in a hurry, spend a night at Punakaiki Beach Camp, where the stargazing is out of this world. There are also walks, glow worms and the Pancake Rocks Cafe, which serves delicious food – yes, even pancakes.
Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula
Known to M͊ori people as Te Whanganuia-hei, this stunning natural formation near Hahei Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula is accessed via a relatively easy 2.5km walk. The cove features dramatic coastal scenery and an archway that frames a giant sea stack (which stars in countless photos). With towering white cliffs that burst out of the earth during an eruption some 8 million years ago, Cathedral Cove is named for its photogenic triangle-shaped cave. From the car park, the walk takes about 90 minutes return, though you’ll want to spend the better part of the day here.
Hahei is a roughly two-hour drive east of Auckland. Besides hiking in Cathedral Cove, visitors can snorkel at the magnificent marine reserve off Gemstone Bay, kayak, take a boat tour or enjoy a soak at heavenly Hot Water Beach. Take food and drinks with you or try one of the delightful cafes at Hahei when you’re tuckered out.
Elephant Rocks, North Otago
Discovered on a private farm in North Otago, 5km from Duntroon, these sizable limestone rocks – some 10m wide – squat in the green grass like animals. If you didn’t have your glasses on, you’d be forgiven for mistaking them for elephants. At least if you squint. Access is via an easy fiveminute walk, whereupon visitors wonder how these permanent pieces found their way into this paddock. It’s also refreshing that the farmer hasn’t chosen to charge admission so long as visitors respect the rocks and the stock.
A 40-minute drive from historic Oamaru on the South Island (today also known as the steampunk capital of New Zealand), tiny Duntroon is home to Vanished World, a facility that shares the magic of the area’s fossilised charms. The Mìori rock drawings Takiroa are also in the region, as is the Alps 2 Ocean cycleway, which passes Elephant Rocks.
Northern Ireland may be famed for its championship links golf, but it also possesses glorious parkland courses. Beyond capital Belfast’s five parkland beauties there’s a wealth of inland courses for golfers to play throughout the region. Some of them are at golf resorts where the fairways are just steps away from your room, while others are unsung jewels just waiting to be discovered by visitors.
There are three golf resorts in Northern Ireland, all of them offering extensive golf facilities as well as accommodation, bars, restaurants, recreational activities – and full-service spas with massage treatments, to help ease those aching muscles after a round or prepare the body for the next golfing foray.
Just 20 minutes from Belfast, and only 10 minutes from Belfast International Airport, the Hilton Belfast Templepatrick Golf & Country Club incorporates a 129-room four-star hotel and a par-72 golf course that stretches to over 7,000 yards. Designed by former European Tour pros David Jones and David Feherty, it opened in 1999 and challenges golfers with a mix of lakes and mature trees. Other golf facilities include a floodlit driving range, short game practice area and two practice putting greens. The resort also has a spa and health club, both of which were refurbished in 2014.
Malone Golf Club was founded in 1895 and has been part of the sporting and social landscape in Belfast since its inception. From its first location at Stranmillis to the current site at Ballydrain, the club has welcomed many golfers from all levels including those that simply want to enjoy the surroundings and bar facilities or, as it's called in Ulster, the 'craic'. It is located 5 miles south of Belfast, in the lower Lagan Valley at Ballydrain. The course gently rolls through 330 acres of immaculately maintained parkland along the River Lagan and was designed by CK Cotton and Associates.
The main course comprises the Drumbridge and Ballydrain nines - named after the local area. Measuring almost 6,700
yards, Malone is a solid test of Golf. Accuracy from the tee is demanded due to the many mature trees that await a wayward tee shot. After finding the fairway, golfers must negotiate the championship greens which, in conjunction with the grounds are maintained to the highest standards.
Located on a 600-acre peninsula between Lower Lough Erne and Castle Hume Lough in the Fermanagh Lakelands, Lough Erne Resort comprises a five-star hotel and the Faldo Championship Course – six-time Major winner Sir Nick Faldo’s first design in Ireland – that opened in 2009, as well as a second 18-hole course, the Castle Hume. The resort also has a golf academy featuring a private golf studio equipped with video and ball-tracking analysis.
Lough Erne Resort opened in 2010 and has 120 rooms, suites and loughside lodges. Its Thai Spa offers a dual treatment room ideal for couples, with treatments including a two-hour Golfers Tonic massage. The resort’s Catalina Restaurant is named after the World War II flying boats that were based on Lough Erne. Lough Erne Resort welcomed world leaders including Barack
Obama, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and David Cameron when it hosted the G8 summit in 2013.
Roe Park Resort lies in the beautiful surroundings of the Roe Valley Country Park. It is just a short drive from 2019 Open Championship venue Royal Portrush and other top links layouts as well as the Causeway Coast’s worldclass visitor attractions, among them the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 18-hole parkland course gives golfers views of the Sperrin Mountains and Lough Foyle from elevated holes. Its par-3 6th hole recently underwent extensive work including a new two-tier green as part of £1 million renovations to the course. Facilities also include an academy and high-tech indoor teaching studio.
Formerly a stately country house dating to 1729, Roe Park Resort’s four-star hotel opened in 1995 and offers 118 rooms and suites, two restaurants, including its restored 18th century Coach House, and a spa that is a teaching academy for Elemis. The resort offers a Couples Escape package that includes dinner, bed and breakfast plus a mud skin treatment for two followed by a couples massage.
Although not connected, Galgorm Resort & Spa is close by for those playing golf at Galgorm Castle Golf Club and it features a new riverside Thermal Village. A couples package includes bubbly and truffles on arrival, use of the Thermal Village and a Deluxe Duo treatment, with optional four-course meal and a cocktail or glass of wine. The resort was the host hotel for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in 2017, played at Portstewart Golf Club.
Galgorm Castle Golf Club is laid out through mature wooded grounds in the heart of the 220-acre Galgorm Castle Estate, alongside
its 17th century castle. It stages the annual Northern Ireland Open, part of the European Tour’s Challenge Tour. More than 40,000 people watched the free-toenter tournament in 2017, a record for the tour. A new Fun Golf Area at Galgorm is aimed at families and features a six-hole pitch and putt course and the Himalayas putting green, a scaled replica of the famous St Andrews attraction.
Among Northern Ireland’s best-kept golfing secrets, Kilkeel Golf Club is a picturesque parkland layout at the foot of the Mourne Mountains in the far southwest that has played host to qualifiers for the British Amateur and Senior British Open events.
The region boasts several centenarians outside of Belfast. They include: Massereene Golf Club, established in 1895 and offering a challenging course on the
shore of Lough Neagh; Newtownstewart Golf Club, founded in 1914 and laid out through venerable oaks and beech trees in the Baronscourt Estate, home of the Duke of Abercorn; Tandragee Golf Club, dating back to 1911 on the Duke of Manchester’s Estate with bunkers including some resembling America’s Great Lakes that were designed by the Cincinnatiborn Duchess of Manchester; and Omagh Golf Club, which was extended from a nine-hole course built in 1910 to 18 holes in 1983.
Other gems include County Down golf clubs Rockmount, St Patrick’s, Warrenpoint, Edenmore and 36-hole Clandeboye, County Antrim’s Lisburn Golf Club and Country Tyrone’s Dungannon Golf Club.
Several excellent seaside courses lie in the shadows of renowned venues. Just around the coast from the celebrated Royal County Down, the short but spectacular Ardglass Golf Club links hugs the rocky shore and cliffs, with several holes offering views across the bay to Coney Island. Golfers can enjoy the craic after their round in the bar of the oldest clubhouse in the world, originally built as a castle over 600 years ago and with cannons pointing out over the fairways just in front.
Kirkistown Castle Golf Club, on the Ards Peninsula, is the closest links course to Belfast and was designed by legendary architect James Braid, while Ballycastle Golf
Club, a mix of parkland and links, lies opposite Rathlin Island on the Causeway Coast alongside the ruins of 500-year-old Bonamargy Friary. Cairndhu Golf Club is a parkland course with several holes right by the sea, its signature, par 3 2nd hole ending in a green perched on a rocky headland.
However, few courses can match the historic connection enjoyed by Foyle Golf Centre, on the outskirts of Derry below the Donegal Hills. Its championship parkland course is named after aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She made an emergency landing at the end of her historic flight in 1932 on what is now the 6th green of the Earhart Course.
Castlerock Golf Club is situated in the seaside resort of Castlerock, which lies approximately 5 miles west of the town of Coleraine on the North Coast of Northern Ireland. Castlerock is a fabulous links course set among rolling sand dunes. Its scenic qualities embrace the River Bann flowing out to the Atlantic, eyecatching views of Donegal and on a clear day towards Scotland and the Isle of Islay. The Championship course, Mussenden Links is a true test of golf even for the advanced player. The best known hole is the 4th called the Leg O'mutton, a 200yard par-3 with a railway line to the right, a burn to the left and a raised green. Additionally the 9 hole Bann course has widened the appeal of the club which contains a par-5 that has been described as "one of the most scenic holes in Irish Golf"
Whatever your preference, Northern Ireland’s park life golf is a hit. For more information on Northern Ireland and its golf, visit: www.discovernorthernireland.com
The 2016 KaikȬura earthquake unearthed a cluster of previously unseen stones
Located at KaikȬura on Gooch’s Beach, these beach ball sized rocks have been dubbed “dinosaur eggs”
Punakaiki’s layered Pancake Rocks were formed 30 million years ago
Split Apple Rock, located in the Abel Tasman National Park
Cathedral Cove, a stunning natural formation near Hahei Beach
The Elephant Rocks in North Otago squat in the green grass like animals
Discovered on a private farm in North Otago, the Elephant Rocks are sizable limestone formations
Hilton Belfast Templepatrick Golf & Country Club
Aerial View of Roe Park Resort
Lough Erne Resort
Galgorm Resort and Spa - Elements
Galgorm Resort and Spa - Thermal Village
Portstewart Golf Course
Clandeboye Golf Club
Kilkeel Golf Club
Kirkistown Castle Golf Club
Kilkeel Golf club
Ballycastle Golf Club
The 19th century clubhouse in the early evening sun
View across the 18th green at sunset, with Ballydrain lake in the background
Kilkeel Golf club