Saturday, October 1 (Day 30)
I feel like I have been sleeping in a night club. I went to bed at 3, but my dorm is right next to a club and the room was violently vibrating from next door’s speakers banging out loud music until it closed. I think the melodic drums and synth helped me drift off to sleep.
I catch up with stuff on my laptop and nip away to the toilet for 2 minutes. When I get back I spot a very shabby looking homeless bloke, who has wandered in off the street and sneaked upstairs, about to steal my computer. You really can’t let your guard down with your valuables and cash when you are travelling or you are bound to get punished. Case in point, the hostel in Cordoba, Argentina where I had the best part of 200 quid stolen from my locker the only time I left my valuables in a questionable locale.
I am conscious of peaking too early with the whole day to drink and an 8.30 KO, so I let my Scottish friends get on with it and meet them after three. Face painted up, two English and a dozen Scots set off on the 5km ‘fan walk’ to Eden Park, none of us, truth be known, anywhere near drunk.
We stop off at three pubs with the Scots in good form and equally good song. They genuinely believe they might beat England, but a nine-point margin is going to be a big ask from a team that has so underperformed in this tournament thus far.
It’s as miserable, grey and downtrodden as a miserable, grey and downtrodden English or Scottish town in this part of Auckland. Only the residents add colour with a high percentage hailing from Tonga, who are in the process of beating France as we leave our last pub, the Dog’s bollix, en route to the stadium. Red Bull & Vodkas have been called in across the crew to get us all to the right level.
The weather also makes this feel like an all British affair with rain lashing down and a gale beginning to blow. Eden Park is almost entirely open air, which means that 90 per cent of us are rewarded with an absolute soaking just prior to kick off. The wind, rain, national anthems and a day of drinking send a pre-match tribal roar across the four stands as this latest battle of the Auld Enemy gets under way.
England look every bit as one-dimensional, lacking in ideas, (hungover?), and predictable as they did in their first two matches. Scotland don’t look much better but are at least playing with rather more passion.
If this were a football encounter between the two of us, great swathes of England and Scotland would face each other from behind opposite sides of the stadium. You wouldn’t be able to hear yourself with the singing. My mind fleets back to when I went to the European Championships play-offs at Hampden Park and Wembley some years ago. At Hampden, the thousands of us congregated behind one of the goals out-sang Scotland for almost the entire match and drowned out their national anthem. They did the same to us at Wembley a few days later. Here though, the two sets of rival fans are mixed up all over the stadium and aside from the occasional roar of ‘Scot-land, Scot-land’ and a pathetic effort to start off ‘Sweet Chariot’, the singing and chants are disappointingly non-existent.
Johnnie Wilkinson is missing everything in front of the sticks, which is worrying for England as kicking penalties is about all we have to offer. We are also giving away plenty of penalties and the Scots are punishing us. When Scotland take a 12-3 lead, we know we are in trouble. They have the nine-point deficit they need and if it stays this way, England will likely finish third in the group and face elimination. But, the moment Scotland take that nine-point lead, England step their game up a couple of gears.
12-6…12-9, with only minutes left, and with England in the ascendancy, the best Scotland look likely to manage is a victory over us, but no bonus point… and elimination. And then, with the clock ticking down, Ashton breaks away down our right wing and settles it with a try with only a couple of minutes on the clock. Wilkinson’s replacement, Flood, puts the conversion over and England, seemingly out of the blue, are out of jail and have won it 16-12.
Trudging back to the Dog’s Bollix to meet my Scottish mates I feel a mixture of relief, embarrassment and a little sorry for the Scots. We didn’t deserve to win that but, then again, the Scots only have themselves to blame for losing to Argentina.
The party goes on for several hours at our chosen rendezvous but by 2am I feel the desire to escape the wake and get back into the centre of Auckland. England have made it to the quarter finals but I feel strangely deflated by it all.
Australia 68-22 Russia
England 16-12 Scotland
France 14-19 Tonga
Friday, September 30 (Day 29)
All the nearby hostels in central Auckland are full, and that is with them charging 50-60 dollars for a solitary dorm bed. I am tempted to store my bags somewhere, sneak into one of the hostels tonight and find a sofa to sleep on, but it is going to be a long day. Checked out at 10, the South Africa match isn’t until 8.30pm and by the time I get back from North Harbour and have a beer it will likely be well past midnight.
A lad in reception tells me he was in the same boat but, having worked in hostels, he knows that they always block off a load of beds for the likes of Hostel World. Perched on my backpack, watching the early morning suits surge by for the second consecutive morning, I wifi up and manage to sort myself a bed for the night. It basically means checking out of Camel Nomads and lugging my stuff 50 metres down the road to the another hostel with almost the same name. Tomorrow, I will need to check out once more and repeat the 50 metre walk back to the first place. By booking it online not only have I made a full hostel, available, but both hostels are around 12 dollars a night cheaper than their new ‘weekend rate’, available to desperate English, Scottish and South Africans if there are ‘no shows’.
The Auckland Art Gallery is well worth a morning of anybody’s time. The gallery boasts an excellent fusion of the contemporary and the past two centuries’ of New Zealand and international art, which also sums up the atmosphere of the building with its glass interiors and colonial façade on its other wing. My favourite works are:
‘The Legend of Sir Patrick Spens’, a haunting painting depicting Scottish women waiting in vain hope on a windswept cliff for their men to return from the sea.
‘The phantom canoe’, by Kennett Watkins, is a marvellously atmospheric Maori piece.
‘Milford Sound’, by John Perett, which captures the unique beauty and scale of New Zealand’s most iconic fjord.
And I also like the 1883 depiction of Auckland’s Queen Street by Jacques Carabain. Strolling aimlessly down it last night it is now easy for me to superimpose the Queen Street of yesteryear onto the modern day version. If you get the chance, google these images as the first three really are gorgeous pieces.
There’s a genuine party atmosphere down by the wharf where thousands of rugby fans from all over the world enjoy the various exhibitions and drinking halls that have been set up for the world cup. I am absolutely on my back when I see the prices they want for the official world cup merchandising. They want 180 dollars for a replica shirt (95 pounds) and 260 dollars (140 pounds) for a half decent water proof with the IRBA world cup logo sewn on it. To put this in perspective, you could get your hands on a jacket every bit as good as the one mentioned in England for 20-30 quid, minus the logo. You can probably guess where these clothes were manufactured and for how little. But clearly the global economic disaster that is currently playing out isn’t bothering too many of the fans present at this tournament; the official merchandising tills are ringing like it’s the week before Christmas.
The joy of branding and globalization: manufacture a garment in a third world sweat shop, paying peanuts for it; stick on a logo, and make a 500 per cent profit. I know people who still genuinely think that because an item of clothing has the Nike or Adidas logo on it, it must be well made and well worth paying silly prices for. You point out to them that it has been made by a Bangladeshi or Vietnamese woman working 12 hour days in shocking conditions for a couple of dollars a day, and they will still tell you ‘But it is Adidas. It is much better quality’.
(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.
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
September 4th, 2011
I am in an Auckland airport motel having arrived in New Zealand earlier today after 26 hours. The Chinese bloke sat next to me on the plane filled in on his customs declaration that he intended to ‘stay in New Zealand as a tourist for 30 years’. Very bullish I thought for an 18 year old lad on holiday.
11 hours ahead of UK time and one hour of sleep in the 26 coming over, I am a little disorientated. Had a lie down on my bed and, suddenly, it appears to be midnight. Thought it might be morning already so felt a bit silly asking reception if breakfast was starting soon. “No sir, after 6 hours. It is midnight”
I fly to from the North island to the South Island in the morning ahead of England’s first rugby world cup match there next Saturday. Saw a few Irish and English rugby couples in Heathrow but in the airport and motel here the only supporters have so far been from Argentina.
September 3rd, 2011
Just landed in Seoul en route to Auckland. The Korean Air flight was pretty decent but I didn't manage to get any sleep. Seoul transfer terminal is like a 5-star spa hotel. There are free showers&internet (world's fastest) plus cosy relaxation beds for those who didn't sleep last night. Can't close my eyes though or I will miss my connection. 12 hour flight to New Zealand leaves in an hour