End of RWC and South Island travels begin

Trip Start Aug 18, 2010
Trip End Aug 31, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Saturday, November 12, 2011

Let me say off the bat that I don't think I have ever had a more depressing post game feeling than the quarter final loss to Australia in the RWC. I had opted to stay in Auckland rather splash out on a ticket, airfare and accommodation, as money, or a lack of it, was playing on the back of my mind after my trip to Samoa and knowing that my last working day in NZ had passed and I still had about 6 weeks till I moved across the ditch to Australia itself. I had enjoyed the Saturday night of the quarter final weekend in the Auckland fan zone, watching the Welsh tip over Ireland and then hapless England get beaten by the French. So plans had made to head back to the fan zone for arguably the bigger quarter finals of SA vs Aus and Nz vs Argentina and of course I decided to go with my head painted in the South African flag, drawing a lot of attention to myself from other fans, press and RWC organisers (although despite the dozens of photo requests, I have yet to see my bald headed canvas adorn any magazine or websites). The fan zone on the queen’s wharf was heaving (around 8-10 thousand we were told) and there was a definite overwhelming support for the Boks for our game, but after 80 incredibly tense minutes in which my heart and emotions pulsed and race in all kind of directions (combined with some mediocre refereeing) we simply didn’t take our chances to secure the deserved victory. I really don’t like losing to Australia.

I was pretty emotional, teary eyed and unhappy to say the least. I think those emotions must have been etched all over my face as I had  lot of sympathy hugs, pats on the back and kisses on the cheeks from other fans who largely felt we had been hard done by through some dubious decisions. I sucked it up as best as I could and stayed on to support the final game in which Argentina gave another proud but ultimately unsuccessful go at the All Blacks. I certainly felt at that point they would go on to win the world cup, and also knew I needed a beer after the final whistle went, but most fans headed home, as it was a Sunday. I found myself nursing a beer feeling very sorry for myself on the viaduct until two kiwi clad female fans came along and made it a mission to have a fun night and cheer me up. After several bars and free drinks later, they seemed to know most of the bar staff, my night was filled with sympathetic rugby fuelled chats from other fans, more photos and the mood improved slight. At some point one of the Kiwi girls, after she flashed a group of guys in the street who were ogling her, confided that she was in fact an escort by night, but assured me she was not looking for business but that we may run into some of her regular clients in the final bar. Surreal, yes. After several more drinks, rugby chats, offers of body shots to cheer me up and finally bumping into former All Black Kees Meeuws, I decided it was time to head home and face the fact that out title defence was over.…. I spent a better part of the week licking my wounds, and decided to sell my semi-final and final tickets, although I had already agreed to watch the AB’s take on the Wallabies with my friend Tana, who would come up for the weekend. I also decided to set my sights on hitting the south island shortly after the game and be back in Auckland for one last night before my flight on Nov 20th to Brisbane.

Oh, a medium sized contingent of Argentinean journalists had been based at my hostel for the quarter final game, and I befriended some of them, as 2012 would see Argentina finally join the tri nation, and South Africa seems to be incredibly well respected by the Pumas rugby fans and journalists. It was explained to me that the SA rugby union had been one of the true friends to Argentinian rugby in trying to develop their game and get them involved in the tri nations and the journos had invited me to stay with them if I made my way out there for the Boks vs Pumas game in Argentina. Definitely something to consider.

As I made my south island preparations, booking a bus passport through a coach line called nakedbus (no the costs are stripped down, now the commuters) and had a general idea of where I was heading, Tana arrived on the Saturday of the Wales vs France semi-final and we, with a few other friends decided to hit the fan zone again as the previous week had at least offered a fantastic atmosphere although not the desired results! We suffered again as Wales failed to overcome France, who were now undeserved finalists in a world cup in which they had lost two group games and never looked likely to go that far! If I felt bad, the Welsh fans would have felt worse. We did however have a great night out and made it home to the hostel around 5am.

Sunday was a big day for NZ rugby, on the cusp of a final, and with its old foe the Wallabies standing in the way. We had a few afternoon beers, walked around the newly opened Wynyard Quarter, saw the massive private 93m boat I had mentioned in a previous entry and soaked up the sun and vibe as thousands filled the harbour side and streets in anticipation of a big night on a very warm and sunny day. I decided to paint my head one last time, and don the green not out of arrogance or spite but due to pride and we made our way down the fan trail, enjoying the banter although the tension was palpable! The mood in the stadium as it filled up to capacity was full of nerves, but 80 deserving minutes later the All Blacks had its sought after final and I, a sense of redemption that Australia did not go any further. Strangely the post-match celebrations were muted, as NZ went about itself in its usual understated manner. We did make our way down t Danny Doolans for a few drinks, but were back at the hostel at a far more respectable time.

The following day I bid farewell to Tana, possibly for some time to come, and packed up for my trip down South. We did also bump into two All Blacks players the morning after they had won their semi-final, Brad Thorne and one of the Franks brothers and although I don’t often ask for photos, I thought it would be appropriate to get on on this occasion! I had an early morning wake-up and bus to catch on the Tuesday morning, which wasn’t helped by the bus arriving 45 minutes late and further extending my already 12 hour long bus journey down to Wellington. At least I was offered some great views along the familiar route of Tongariro, Mount Taranaki and plenty or rain, arriving in Wellington at around nine o’clock in the evening, meeting up with my Canadian friends Matt and Winnie, and hitting bed pretty early for another early morning wake up for the ferry ride across to the south island via Interislander. The ferry ride was pretty uneventful, but at least I had crisp blue skies on a bitter cold day. The last 45 minutes or so of the near four hour journey is by far the most interesting, as the ferry makes its way past the hills and into the sounds and onto the small town of Picton.

I stayed at a great little hostel called Sequoia, which was very cosy, and the perks included a free spa pool and ice cream and chocolate cake in the evening! I only stayed a couple nights as there isn’t a huge amount to do in town, but I did treat myself to some good fish and chips and a brief walk through the town (it doesn’t take too long). In the morning I decided to take a short hike up along the Tirohanga Walkway, in my not so adequate shoes along a very slippery and wet path. The walk was worth it though as the 45 minute trek takes you up to a fantastic vantage point overlooking Picton and the sounds beyond. (Sounds are like Fjords). I made my way back down after taking up the photo opportunity and the following morning readied for the bus journey west through the much fancied wine area of Blenheim (similar to Stellenbosch) and onto Nelson.

The hostel in Nelson I stayed at was called Paradiso and was recommended by some Chilean girls I had met in Auckland and who still there, working in a nearby farm. The facilities on offer were great, how many hostels have a swimming pool and Jacuzzi! The weather was also playing ball and it was pretty warm and sunny, meaning the pool area was pretty packed and the combination of the school holidays and some school sports teams staying in the hostel for a nearby tournament made it feel a bit like a holiday park. The mix of backpackers was largely German, Canadian and British, which is pretty much the norm for the south island in particular. The vibe though was a bit American College, and it was a bit cliquey and partyish but good none the less.

While I weighed up the activities options, I did decide to try getting some cheap hiking shoes so I could tackle some of the walks more easily and also walked through the town, which I quite liked. Nearby a street arts expo was on display as part of the Nelson arts festival, and the work on display included pieces from local NZ artists as well as more renowned international names, like the English artist Banksy. The expo was well worth it; well it was free, but also very interesting and also located in a Founders Heritage Park, with quaint little bakeries, cafes and other buildings. With the fine weather running into a couple of days I opted to try the full day kayaking in Abel Tasman Park which so many people had recommended. Everyone was predicting great weather for the Saturday so of course I booked in and ended up my Friday by watching the poor Welsh lose their third-fourth final play off with the Australians.

Low and behold after waking up at 6am on Saturday, my excitement turned to doubt after peeling back the curtains to reveal a grey and very very wet sky. I tucked into the free breakfast at the hostel consisting of the usual toast and jams and cereals and waited briefly for the bus pickup which would take us all to Kaiterteri which acts as the starting point for most of the tours and walks through the Abel Tasman. The mix of people on the bus was interesting or rather what people were wearing. Most were dressed appropriately for the weather and for the various physical activities of kayaking, walking etc. However some precious teenage girls were all dressed up as if they were hitting the town, someone should have told them make-up and stilettoes don’t go well with walks and kayaks in wet weather.

After the hour long drive or so we reached the base camp and met our over excitable but fantastic guide Carlos. There were only four of doing the full day kayak, with most other having booked in short trips or the cruise kayak combos. The rain was not letting up but Carlos did his best to keep spirits high. The short ride on the boat to the shore was followed by a lengthy trip, pulled by tractor out beyond the tide, which was very strange to witness. Once we were set and loaded we made our way up the coast in the water taxi, in very bumpy and wet conditions, with the low hanging grey clouds and showers of rain putting doubt into everyone’s minds about whether this was a wise decision! Carlos would prove to be the saviour though.

As we broke off into our respective groups, and after a crash course in kayaking and safety we headed out into the surf and towards the Tonga island which was home to a seal colony. The sea was rough but Carlos made the most of it. I shared a kayak with him while the other couple were newlyweds and followed close behind as we circumnavigated the island, the one side offering decent rough waves and offered plenty of excitement. We did see some seals of course too but the rough conditions of the kayaking were by far more fun.  Carlos had stories a plenty too, about local culture, history and from his own growing up around different parts of NZ and his personal crazy adventures.

We went ashore for lunch near Mosquito bay, which was deserted and Carlos took us to some of his favourite spots, mainly well hidden caves to explore. The conditions certainly were not postcard material but made for an unforgettable experience none the less. Carlos filled me in on his understanding of the local Maori history which would make any Hollywood film proud, as well as some of the more obscure local laws and stories of early settlers, including one who blew up his house with TNT after being forcibly removed once the national park boundaries has been setup, creating a rain of house debris for several miles around. We passed by the Apple spit and ended in Anchorage Bay for a short hike for a better view of the coastline as the sun decided to finally break the cloud cover and offer us some better views of the coastline we had journeyed down for the past several hours. We were picked up by the water taxi for the ride back and said our goodbyes before the return trip home. I definitely enjoyed Abel Tasman and that was in less than perfect conditions, I think the 3-4 day walk and kayak combo would be ideal in clear sunny days.

Sunday was a mostly very relaxing day, and everyone was building up to the World Cup final. In the morning though I took the short walk to the centre point of New Zealand. The weather was again far better and the hike was not too difficult, and the path took me past an old Kauri tree and after a steep incline up to the centre point which was marked with a massive sculpture but more importantly some great views of Nelson below, the southern alps I think in the distance and the Tasman sea in between. It was well worth the hike and the photos as always don’t do the scenery justice.

On my way back down I had bought a few beers and joined the others as we made our way down to the small Nelson fan zone, yes still wearing my green Bok colours and getting plenty of stick for it. The fan zone was so small compared to Auckland, and located outside, so thankfully the rain was nowhere to be found. The game itself was incredibly tense, as the All Blacks somehow clung to the narrowest of victories against the French who came out of nowhere and were probably unlucky to lose the game itself but would have been unworthy winners of the trophy. As the final minutes turned to seconds, a nation sighed in relief as the referee blew his whistle and the men clad in black rejoiced. What a sight to see the manly men like Brad Thorne sobbing in joy and it kind of felt right that New Zealand had won considering the year it had had.

Celebrations were again rather muted considering they had just won the world cup, and their first in 24 years! We did go out and hit the town, and after a avoiding a near fight, after one drunken Kiwi fan tried to continually insult and bait me, the situation turned into a pleasant one his friends realised what a fool he was being and invited me along to celebrate with them, and my luck had it they they knew the owners of some of the bars and I was treated to free beers and queue jumping. The night ended off at 3am, as that’s when the bars closed even though everyone was eager to stay out. You think winning the world cup at home would be an adequate reason to have the bars stay open longer, but no such luck. Maybe that was a good thing, as I had an early morning bus to catch down the East coast to Kaikoura. And also my right forearm was for some reason swelling up and oddly hot to the touch…mmm not a good sign

Well done the All Blacks though and enjoy it.  The Boks will be back.
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