Friday, December 16
As we suggested on this blog back in October, Jonny Wilkinson has played his final match for the England rugby team.
Wilkinson announced his retirement from international rugby on December 14, bringing a long and successful career as one of his nation's most respected rugby players to a close.
'Jonny' famously secured England the 2003 Rugby World Cup with his last gasp drop-kick against Australia. Wilkinson played a total of 91 caps for England and had it not been for a series of injuries would have played dozens more internationals. He scored a total of 1,179 points during his England career before playing his last match in the 2011 Quarter Final between England and France.
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We hope you enjoy the ongoing improvements to this website.
December 4, 2011
The team manager of the Samoan rugby team, Mathew Vaea, has been fined 100 pigs by his community after letting down the country's national team at the 2011 rugby world cup finals in New Zealand.
Community elders in Leauva decided that a substantial punishment was needed for Vaea, who was described by Samoan team players as acting like the world cup 'was a holiday'.
Many Samoans believe that had the team been professionally managed, there was every chance that they would have progressed at least as far as the quarter finals.
(Day 28) Thursday, September 29
Wellington – Auckland
I cannot believe my alarm is going off. I only feel like I have been in bed ten minutes. And how come none of my 19 roommates managed to wake me during the night with their banging, crashing and howling?
My Auckland bus leaves from outside the Wellington McDonalds, adjacent to my hostel. It is only 7.30, but suits are frantically pacing by me in their dozens, all around me, on their way to their office cages. I sit on my rucksack, balanced up against a wall, with a coffee in hand, taking it all in. It’s a gorgeous morning, but the sight of them all striding past me with their brief cases, Blackberry cell phones and takeaway breakfasts scares the hell out of me. It’s like that graffiti on the bunk bed in Kaikoura:
Even your worst day travelling is better than your best day at work
Well, that doesn’t always stand true, of course, but perched on my backpack with the morning sun occasionally blinding my eyes, watching them all scurry past, I have to say the coffee tastes especially good this morning.
This is my longest coach journey in New Zealand; almost twelve hours in total from the capital to the country’s most important city. Initially, there is plenty of attractive coast line, but after this it all looks a bit like Teletubby Land. After the South Island this is all rather boring and uninspiring, but it is still more beautiful than the most stunning parts of many countries around the world.
Once we hit the central plateau of the North Island, however, the countryside turns from pleasant but uninspiring to otherworldly. A snow-capped volcanic cone soars out of the flat countryside, not unlike Japan’s Mount Fuji, while the omnipresent forests and hills have been replaced by a rather surreal desert landscape. This incredible scene is further complimented by a second volcanic cone, this more dramatic and far more pronounced than the first. This is the Tongariro National Park, home to the mountain peaks Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. NZ’s largest lake, Taupo, itself the caldera of a gigantic volcano, can be found just beyond these. This whole area is one giant super volcano. If it ever blows again, like it did 26,000 years ago, much of New Zealand will be no more.
We pick up a load of stranded passengers from a Kiwi Experience bus that has broken down on the desert road. Amongst their number is Jeff, an English lad I had a pint with in Dunedin before the first match. Jeff was due to travel to NZ with his long-term girlfriend who he planned to propose to on the trip. He had apparently been planning the trip for 18 months but shortly before he was due to leave she paid a visit home to the Czech Republic and when she came back, a week later, she dumped him! Good on Jeff though, he says he is coping with it all and doesn’t think about it much. I am pleased for the lad but I don’t know how some people deal so easily with stuff sometimes.
Beyond Lake Taupo the countryside ‘returns to normal’ with ever increasing signs of urbanisation as we approach Hamilton, and Auckland beyond that. Once we hit the motorway leading into Auckland it is rather depressing to see the sea of concrete, soulless shopping malls and retail parks that greet you as they generally do when you approach big towns and cities in the western world.
Dropped off in the centre of Auckland I leg it to the nearest hostel I can find. With South Africa, England and Scotland in town, accommodation is tight. Without realising it as I book in, I am staying at Nomads. That is Nomads as in ‘CRAZY’ Nomads in Queenstown. I have managed to grab one of the last dorm beds but this place along with all the nearby hostels and hotels are completely full over the weekend. I will start worrying about that tomorrow though.
I go for a wander of night time Auckland and choose to avoid the hostel bar crawl, which numbers 40 blokes and 5 girls, all of them far too enthusiastic about life for my liking. Due to the large immigrant population here, Auckland boasts by far the cheapest food I have seen so far in New Zealand. Not so the pubs though where it is 9 dollars for less than a pint. I feel out of sorts again wandering around by myself. Aside from a chat with two Scottish girls in a pub near the wharf I spend the rest of my evening either staring at the bottom of a beer glass or strolling aimlessly around the Auckland streets, people watching outside takeaway restaurants and massage parlours. I think I better get myself home to bed.
Saturday, September 24
(Day 23) Franz Josef – Pukekura –Greymouth - Punakaiki
A twenty-something French couple, who are waving their arms around so much they look like they are directing Paris traffic, are in the hostel kitchen demanding some fifty-something Dutch bloke gives them hard cash for the food he has allegedly stolen from their meagre supplies. Two of my eggs have also gone missing overnight but I have to say respect to Dutchie or whoever else for pulling off such a daring raid without getting nabbed. Out of supplies, I stole a slice of bread the other morning from someone’s almost-full loaf and I have to say my heart was absolutely pounding mid-crime. Risk versus reward.
The Inter City west coast special labours up through the steep mountain roads until it descends to the coast once again near Pukekura (New Zealand's smallest town with a population of '2'). The surf is literally pounding the shoreline and the rain is coming down horizontally as well as vertically. I think you could call it cats and dogs. Once we depart Greymouth, the most sizeable town in this part of New Zealand (population 10,000), the views of the Tasman Sea coast are transformed from four- to five-star. Thick, lush Rainforest, often clinging to cast mountains reminiscent of Vietnam and Thailand, rises high above the ocean below, which is littered with huge boulders and Sea Stacks.
I am the only punter on the bus to leave the west coast service at Punakaiki where it is a 400-metre downhill stroll to the simply but aptly named ‘Beach Hostel’. I had pencilled in three nights of chilling here but was convinced to stay longer in Franz Josef by the YHA receptionist there. Never trust a pretty girl; I am instantly regretting my decision. This place looks like chill out central, and by that I mean the kind of place where you can totally unwind without the unwanted presence of too many dorm-mented Gap year types.
The second-floor lounge has big wide windows opening out to the beach and pounding surf just metres away. I make a mug of coffee, grab my latest novel (which in truth I am struggling to get through) and snuggle up on the sofa, admiring the view between paragraphs about life in a South African shanty town and caffeine. I reckon it is about 10 minutes before the therapeutic sound of the crashing waves and the solitude of where I find myself sends me off into a deep, comfortable sleep.
The only other person staying at the hostel is Matt, a 24-year old lad from California. He had planned to stay here for a night or two but, like me, he found himself instantly taken by the simple pleasures of Punakaiki. He has sorted himself a nice little deal whereby he works two hours each morning cleaning up the dorms and the kitchen, and in return he can stay overnight free of charge. Frankly, if I had no rugby matches to get to next week and no real travel itinerary, I would do exactly what Matt is doing and stay here for a week or two. For reasons not entirely clear to me, Punakaiki is the place where I have found the most inner peace since I first left Europe at the end of June. I feel mellow, truly relaxed and relatively untroubled here.
I did have a ticket for tonight’s England match against Romania but, as you will have gathered, I offloaded it so that I could spend time travelling instead up the west coast of the South Island. As much as I would like to be in Dunedin again tonight, I definitely made the right decision with plan B heading up this way. There is a pub 100 metres away from the Beach Hostel. This also rates as my favourite pub of the tour to date. It is old school in all the good ways, with a friendly publican and staff and equally affable locals. The ale and grub also score highly. In Punakaiki you feel like you are staying on your own virtually undiscovered tiny island in the middle of the wild ocean.
England are vastly improved against Romania with Mark Cueto running in three early tries, and Chris Ashton looking more like his exciting self. Matt joins me for the New Zealand v France match that has the pub packed with half of the friendly Punakaiki community. The All Blacks are different class to a very decent French side and look to me to be the best team here.
Matt is one of the soundest people I have met on my tour so far. In some ways, he reminds me a bit of myself a few years back; or myself now minus all the baggage and demons. Beer, table football, a stroll along the beach in the rain, insightful chat and some happy smoke round off a truly chilled day; the crashing waves sending me off to sleep in seconds.
England 67 Romania 3
France 17 New Zealand 37
Thursday, September 22
(Day 21) Franz Josef Glacier
Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be too laid back in your planning. With a shocking hangover I eventually get myself out of bed and to the reception at 10am hoping to book on the day’s glacier walk. Clear skies are predicted, making it a perfect day to negotiate the world famous Franz Josef glacier. But, unfortunately for me, the trips are all fully booked, which means I will need to spend an extra night here if I am going to be able to do the hike. Louise, the Scottish girl working on reception, manages to book me onto a tour for the following day and also tells me that one of the places I was planning to stop off at after Franz Josef isn’t really worth bothering with, and that therefore an extra day in Franz Josef is no disaster.
With no trips booked I need no excuse to spend a lazy day doing nothing and sleeping off my red wine hangover in the Montrose Hostel across the road, which is one of the few places I have seen with free internet.
Rested, I bump into Tony who was one of the twelve in the ‘Dorm-mented’ room in Queenstown and also went down to Dunedin with me on the ‘rugby special’ along with Tim Nice But Dim and the English blamanchettes. He confirms that I wasn’t imagining it when I thought I saw another of the English lads in our crazy Queenstown dorm peeing into a water bottle in the middle of the night on my last night there, most of it missing the bottle and splashing all over his Welsh mate. I don’t know what it was about room 112 at Nomads but there was certainly some very odd night time behaviour from the Welsh and English boys. I even saw some suspiciously gay night time hugging going on in there in the dark.
South Africa look brilliant as they thrash Namibia 87-0. It is nearly five quid a pint down at the popular local, the Landing, so I make one Speights last me the game and allow myself a gulp every time South Africa score a try. I think I get ten swigs in total.
Thinking the worst of my dorm-mented days are now left behind me in Queenstown, I am awoken at 2am by the return home of the Swedish girl who is sharing the dorm and a very tall mystery bloke, who sounds, judging by his overuse of ‘sshh’, suspiciously Dutch. In and out of the room they walk several times until I am fully awake from the banging doors and the lights being switched on and off. And then the in and out becomes literal as they start to have sex on the blonde Svenska’s bed. I decide to let them get on with it without complaining and pull a pillow over my head, but I just can’t get to sleep. This is the same young lady who told me earlier in the day that she had agreed to meet this bloke but she ‘didn’t know why, because she wasn’t interested in him’. Women, hey!? I don’t know whether half of them are compulsive liars or just so mixed up in the head that they make it all up, according to their hormones, as they go along. Anyway, the slurping and vibrating bed frame noises continue for quite some time until both of them pay visits to the toilet and bang more doors. It is probably 5am by now, and I haven’t slept more than 30 minutes all night and have a glacier hike in the morning. Next, the sex is replaced by walrus-like snoring and I really can’t sleep at all. I am tempted to just bludgeon them both to death and be done with it. Finally at 6.30, the lad pops out to the toilet and comes back in ready for another session. It is now light and I am fuming. Maybe it’s a bit out of order on my part but I tell him, with a few choice expletives, that as he’s kept me awake all night, if I hear him again I will knock him into the middle of next week. He doesn’t say a word and sulks off home to his hostel shortly afterwards. I manage to get about 2 hours’ sleep before it is time to get up for my glacier walk.
This dorm-mented behaviour is doing my head in, but I don’t see that I really have any other option. It is too cold to camp on the South Island and motel rooms will set me back nearly 50 quid per night. I also can’t afford a camper van on my Todd, as they have jacked up the prices for the world cup well beyond my means.
After Argentina and New Zealand I hope I never see another youth hostel bunk bed again in my life.
South Africa 87 Namibia 0
It's a lie low and time to catch up with my magazine work in the gorgeous lakeside town of Wanaka, a 90-minute drive north-west from Queenstown. I am booked into the YHA, which has to-die-for front lounge views of the lake and the countless mountain peaks that surround it on three sides.
RWC Daily September 19
If I read another sign with the word ‘CRAZY’ in it, or here the dulcet tones of a visiting Aussie telling a group of pretending-to-be-impressed bystanders how ‘MAD’ and ‘RADICAL’ some activity is in Queenstown, I will do something…‘wrong’. Queenstown is indeed the adventure capital of New Zealand. The choice of adrenaline junkie activities here includes a 130-metre(!) bungee jump, white water rafting, skiing, luge, and helicopter rides. It is a bit like the opening scene of The Beach, when Dicaprio is offered the opportunity to drink snake’s blood in Bangkok on the first day of his world trip. Yeah, you can pretty much do anything you want here, as long as you have got bags of cash and the constitution for speed and heights. I, unfortunately, haven’t. And that is a great shame because I am sure jumping 130 metres from a crane to what must feel like your certain death probably brings you many insights in those few terrifying seconds as you hurtle towards the river bed below. But I personally get my adrenaline release from travelling to places that I perhaps shouldn’t like Tajikistan and Guatemala, as well as through playing and watching sport, and I guess if we were all the same in this regard, the world would be a boring place. But why, oh why, must they market this stuff like they are talking to a bunch of Bill and Ted type characters? ‘This is the most MAD experience you will ever have in your life, bro’ one poster reads. ‘Are you CRAZEEE enough to try the world’s most AWESOME skycar ride?’
And what is it with the girls here calling other girls ‘guys’? ‘You guys should try out the awesome bungee. It is mad, hey’, said by an Irish girl with an accent that betrays the fact that she has been here many months, to a bunch of girls from Brazil. They are not guys luv, they are girls. And, by the way, Galway mixed with Auckland just sounds wrong.
Queenstown is a gorgeous place, but everything is just so bloody mad, crazy and wooooo! here.
RWC Daily September 15
Logistically, I would call driving all the 180 kilometres of winding, hilly road back to Dunedin from the Catlins at 8 in the morning to return a car hire and then taking a bus 250 kilometres to get to a place that was only 150 kilometres away when you woke up, a bit of a cock up. When I hired the car I didn’t really have a game plan, which is a bit crap since if I had, I could have gone to watch Scotland v Georgia today for 20 quid in Invercargill as Alex is doing (Distance, 50 kilometres from the Catlins). But you live and learn and actually the drive, with the surf and cliffs bathed in stunningly beautiful early morning sunlight –the calm after the storm- is a fantastic solo experience in itself, particularly with only a handful of cars on the road.
Back in a very grey Dunedin, car hire returned, emails caught up with, Sunday night’s accommodation reserved and bus ticket booked, I join Essex James for the 4 hour coach journey up through more gorgeous countryside to Queenstown, the adventure capital and purportedly the most beautiful urban setting in the southern hemisphere. We roll in at around sunset and yes, it is a stunning location by any standards, reminiscent of Arctic Norway or a top ski resort in the Alps.
I book into Nomads Hostel, just 100 metres from the coach stop and am instantly taken back by the fact that, once inside, I feel like I am on board one of those huge cruise ships that travel between Sweden and Finland, full of alcoholic Scandinavians. The dorms are like ship’s cabins with key card doors and balconies, and there is a cinema, bar, sauna, 40-computer internet area and cruise liner type corridors to get completely lost in. Then somebody announces on the intercom: ‘Hey guys, drinks half price from 7’.
I shower up in the cruise ship communal bathrooms and then meet James and a group of young English rugby lads in ‘Base’, another hostel nearby that is complimented by a bar/club that is bigger than almost any you would find in a decent sized European city. If you are staying here and you have a key card, then drinks are 2-for-1. James has a key card and will serve as our entry into the world of New Zealand’s cheapest alcohol. Thus far on the trip I have been paying around 8 New Zealand dollars for a pint (around 4 pounds), but here it is 2 pints for 7 dollars.
We watch the gutsy Georgian pack give the Scots a bit of a scare and from then on in it is copious amounts of cheap but slightly dubious quality alcohol. I must confess though that being surrounded by hundreds of blokes, half a dozen rugby girls and listening to some awful R’n’B does lose its appeal after a couple of hours, regardless of how much cheap alcohol is on offer. At least the gargantuan Romanian rugby team livened things up with cameo in the club in the wee hours.Those blokes are absolutely enormous.
RWC Daily September 14
At around 3am this morning it sounded like the howling wind might blow the thin walls of the cottage down. I reckon it must have gusted up to around 70 miles per hour at times during the night.
The garden is white from a heavy covering of hail, some of which cracks like metal coins against the glass and is loud enough to make you think it might actually smash the windows. We didn’t come here very well prepared so breakfast is the remains of last night’s tinned spaghetti on pasta (!), one slice of bread and a single forlorn-looking potato. At least there is some fine roasted Columbian to compensate for the filling-but-rather-bland-and-disgusting food.
“Is the weather usually this severe?” I ask the well filled out lady with red farmer’s daughter’s cheeks from the next house, a kilometre up the road, who is acting landlady for the cottage.
“It’s New Zealand, hey. We get four seasons in 20 minutes here.” She proudly tells us like it is the only place in the world like that. “And it’s a big place. We are pretty cut off here, hey. I don’t suppose you guys are used to anything like this at home, hey.”
Alex doesn’t bother to point out that Argentina is about twenty three million times bigger than New Zealand. And I am not about to tell her that we get four seasons in 18 minutes where I come from. I think the lady in question, as affable as she is (bless her), has never been further than up the road to Dunedin in her life.
An hour of driving later and we hit Curio Bay, an exposed peninsula where the south island’s road south ends. It is being absolutely pounded by storm-force winds and hail. Lazy Dolphin Lodge has simple second floor rooms with heart-warming views of the adjacent wild beach and is just 30 metres from the kinds of rip curling crashing waves that most amateur surfers would die for. As this is one of the most beautiful spots in the south of this island I half expected it to be rammed with rugby fans, but Alex and I are the only people staying at the lodge, while only a handful of hardy campervanners brave the elements at the small camp site near the penguin colony at the end of the exposed peninsula.
After a day of mugs of tea, reading novels and strolls along the deserted beach inspecting the huge carcasses of some kind of mammoth jellyfish, we head down to the Petrified Forest at 5.30pm in search of the penguins. These yellow-eyed penguins are the rarest species still not extinct and this is apparently their favoured spot anywhere in the world for mating. It is certainly a wild, raw place where the constant crashing of huge waves and a screaming wind add to the already intense atmosphere created by the soaring cliffs and the fossilised remains of trees that date back millions of years. The sight of the first penguin surfing into the rock pools from the wild open ocean is something to behold. After initially struggling to get his land legs, he shakes himself down and slowly waddles off to the sheltered safety of the cliffs. As the darkness of the storm clouds is accentuated by the dying light, the dozen or so spectators present are expecting a whole army of penguins to suddenly arrive on the waves…but that is it! One solitary penguin has put in an appearance.
Not knowing the habits of penguins, Alex and I decide to persevere until it is dark, in case there are some late returnees from the South Pacific Ocean.
With everybody else scarpering we are rewarded with the appearance of a pair of penguins not from the ocean but from the landside. This intimate couple must have arrived shortly before we reached the Petrified Forest at 5.30 and waited until the penguin tourists departed before setting off for their evening stroll. They actually seem very much in love, as much as you can make such judgments about these creatures that call the harsh Antarctic home for several months of the year.
Then with it pitch dark and a full moon rising, and not wishing to be accused of being penguin worriers we leave the four penguins we have spotted to it.
Later, listening to the wind, horizontal rain and hail lashing against the house from the ocean and the waves crashing nearby, we discover that there are only four mating pairs of penguins here at the moment, so we actually had a 50% success rate. I also reflect upon the fact that, due south from where I am sat as I write this; all there is out there is storm-ravaged ocean all the way to the frozen wastelands of Antarctica.
For the second time in two months I find myself at the very end of the world: the first time in Tierra del Fuego in sight of the South Atlantic in late July, and now in September just metres away from the South Pacific.
RWC Daily September 13