Sunday, October 1 (Day 31)
Auckland - Hamilton
I get up and leave the hostel at 8am as dozens are still coming home from their night out. I catch the 9am to Hamilton from the Auckland Sky Tower and arrange to meet English Tony there upon my arrival.
You might expect a sea of red everywhere ahead of tonight’s match between Wales and Fiji, but Tony and I seem to be about the only two characters wandering aimlessly around the streets at 11am. Puts me in mind of when Blackburn and I were strolling around Durban last year, on the morning of the world cup semi-final between Germany and Spain, and didn’t spot a living soul.
Tony and I find the first half decent-looking pub we can spot, in a rather dreary Hamilton street, and sit outside on our rucksacks waiting for it to open. Once we are in, we make the place home for the day and indulge a six-hour long diet of coffee, food, beer and rugby matches.
My Welsh mate, Austin, was due to attend the world cup, following all the Welsh group matches. He never made it here though as his lady is about to give birth to his child. He asked the world cup ticket people for a refund but they turned him down and consequently he’s been left with a load of match tickets for games he will never attend. I have been trying to shift them for him but I haven’t had a single bit of interest. As I am attending this match I am going to do my absolute best to get him some cash back: I put up fliers in the two biggest hostels in Auckland offering a 25 per cent discount on the face value prices, but I haven’t received a single call. The crazy thing is that this match is a sell-out; the ticket people could have given him a refund and they would have – guaranteed – sold his two 120-dollar tickets on to somebody who desperately wanted to attend this match.
The pub manager agrees to me putting a big sign on the pub’s bar advertising Austin’s tickets at a knock-down 80 dollars each and three of the staff text family and friends asking whether they fancy attending today’s game.
English Fraser and Scottish Carl join Tony and me at 5pm, having finally got here after last night’s drinking session, for the back end of the New Zealand v Canada match on the big screen. Fraser kindly agreed yesterday to let me sleep in his car tonight as I am going to struggle to find a hostel here. “Are you absolutely sure mate? Otherwise I need to find an alternative.” “Yes, no worries.” He tells me.
Not a single punter has shown interest in Austin’s tickets all day and, out of desperation, I begin asking around the pub. Finally, I get my first potential customer, a 50-something lady, who has been smiling a lot in my direction for the past half an hour. “Why don’t you just take me with you to the match?” she asks me.
“Well, they are not my tickets. I need to get some cash back for my mate.”
The lady in question tries to convince her less glamorous lady friend to buy the tickets off me for 60 dollars each but she is having none of it. It’s 30 minutes to kick off and I have no sale.
“You’re bad!” the Kiwi lady tells me. “Give me your phone number and I will sort you out later” she says, touching my leg.
Down outside the stadium, the rain is absolutely teeming down. I stand with my sign advertising Austin’s tickets, but not a single punter approaches me. I actually think I couldn’t even give the tickets away if I tried. With five minutes left to kick off, I abandon my efforts and dive towards the gate 2 entrance. Sorry Aus, but I tried my best…
I stand at the back of the General Admissions, which is something akin to the old windswept terraces at football stadia we all used to endure. Wales look brilliant; they are powerful, fast, imaginative with their passing and in their number 11, 19-year-old North, they have a player who looks like the potential find of the tournament. Wales outclass the Fijians all over the pitch and it ends up a complete thrashing. For those of us who stay until the final whistle we have, in my opinion, witnessed some of the best rugby of this world cup, as well as the biggest onslaught from the elements. I am absolutely soaked to the bone from the heavy rain.
Back at the Londoner I grab a quick pint with Tony before he gets his bus back to Auckland and then meet up with Fraser and Carl.
“I think we are probably going to head back to Auckland tonight” Fraser suddenly tells me at half time in the Ireland-Italy match. “But, mate, I thought you said you were definitely staying here tonight and I could sleep in the car.” “Yeah, I know, but we are still shattered from last night and fancy heading back.”
Reading between the lines (and judging by the mad texting he has been doing for the past half hour), Fraser is on a promise from one of the Scottish girls he was with last night. And I wouldn’t mind but Fraser dropping this on me at 10pm is a bit out of order. If he’d told me this in the morning I could have grabbed a lift to Raglan (where I am due in the morning on the 8.30 bus leaving from 200 metres away) or bagged myself a place to sleep during the afternoon. I am now stuck with my heavy rucksack and nowhere to stay in the pouring rain.
To be fair to Fraser, he goes off in search of a bed for the night for me and comes back having found a hostel that has one spare place.
“How much is it?”
“For a room?”
“No, for a bunk bed”
“Ahh mate, I can’t afford 40 quid for a bunk bed. If you’d said earlier, I’d have sorted myself out.”
Fraser tells me him and Carl will put some cash towards it as it’s their #### up, but I tell him I don’t want his cash for something he’s not going to have. Feeling like a complete t### I ask the manager of the Londoner and a couple of the waitresses if they are willing to let me crash on their sofas but they all politely decline. I am bloody annoyed I have been put in this position. While Fraser goes back off to the hostel to try and barter them down on their absurd price, Carl tells me he thinks I should accept some cash from him and Fraser as they’ve left me in the shite.
With it now 11pm, I don’t know who is more in the wrong: Fraser pulling this out of the blue on me at 10pm and leaving me with nowhere to stay or me accepting 8 quid off each of them towards my rip off dorm.
Hamilton seems to have the most expensive dorm bed on planet Earth. 65 dollars (40 quid) gets you a smelly dorm bed in a cramped six-bed room where you couldn’t swing a cat. As a Brucey Bonus they also have no heating in the building, internet is extra and they don’t even give you a miserly piece of toast in the morning. Three years ago I stayed in the luxury Mulu Royal Resort in the middle of the Borneo rainforest for roughly the same amount of cash, and that was for three people staying in a gorgeous room including a fantastic buffet breakfast and dinner, plus welcome drinks, entertainment and scenery to die for. Increasingly you get absolutely ripped off at international sports tournaments and it leaves you with a bitter taste in your mouth.
The world’s smelliest bloke is sleeping in the dorm. I reckon he hasn’t changed his underpants in a month. I have also never in my entire life heard snoring like it. Sounds like an air raid siren. I have to sleep with the sheets over my head because the foul stench is so bad. I kid you not.
Argentina 25-7 Georgia
Ireland 36-6 Italy
New Zealand 79-15 Canada
Wales 66-0 Fiji
(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.