Tuesday, June 06, 2017

A Lions Tour Diary by Michelle Tobin #2

Greetings from Auckland! You’re going to hear me say that rather a lot in this blog series. Logic would say a tour starts at the top and ends at the bottom or vice versa, or starts at 12 O’Clock and finishes at 11.59 having gone clockwise around the country, but not the Lions. This is my second stay of four in Auckland, and I’m not even in New Zealand a week yet, we will be bouncing around New Zealand like a yoyo! Don’t think I’m complaining, I’m not. I’m living my dream!

So, my last blog was written on Saturday morning, circa 8am, before the Barbarians game. My phone tells me it’s now 5pm on Tuesday. To be honest if it wasn’t for technology I’d struggle to tell you what day it is. Every day is packed full of fun, of total and utter craic (apologies non Irish readers!)

Saturday wasn’t always craic, as anyone who watched the game will know. I resisted the temptation of going down town early and got the scheduled transfer to the Dickens Inn at 2.45pm. I’d like to tell you I had a productive morning, but being still slightly jetlagged the truth is I spent much of the morning curled up with a cup of tea watching Come Dine With Me! As a girl who likes her luxury and comforts when travelling, I was a little nervous before we left about two accommodations that were motel like but I was so far wrong. The personal space, but also the social aspect, as hinted at in the last blog were really super, more on that later.

RTI had reserved upstairs in the Dickens Inn for our group and the little peaceful oasis was much appreciated. We had important food and drinks and some craic before it was time to transfer to the stadium. We were filmed again belting out a few tunes from home, at this stage we’ve had quite a bit of attention. We’ll fade into oblivion by the time the tests come round and there are thousands of Lions fans around, but as a group of the few hundred in Whangarei, cameras tended to find us.

Transferred to the stadium, all excited for the game. Luckily the rain (see previous blog where I may have mentioned it once or twice) had stopped mid afternoon. Given that the stand we were in was as exposed as they come, that was quite a relief. Seats on the halfway line, happy out.

I’m going to digress for a moment and talk about alcohol. Being drunk is just not OK in NZ and they actively take measures to prevent it. Someone who serves a drunk is in big trouble. At the game I was in a round, beers are small (330 ml) so for someone to have maybe 4 over the course of the game would not be exceptional by Irish standards. Had no problem buying three drinks before the game but by the time my turn came around again at half time, they were only allowing people to buy two drinks at a time “to prevent intoxication”. All well and good if it’s to prevent someone drinking three drinks instead of two but bloody awkward when it’s your round. A friendly local helped out so all was not lost but it’s a far cry from home.

We had fireworks (at rugby?????) and a Maori welcome but no Haka, guess we’ll have to wait for that, only another nine games to go!

Can you tell I’m trying to avoid talking about the game? I’ve already explained that I’m not a rugby blogger, a quick google will find you hundreds of accounts of the game, but to be honest, I’d say skip it. It was not a shining example of the game we all love. And the Lions failed abysmally to put the 30+ points on the Barbarians that form and background suggested. The Baabaas played as the Baabaas should, with heart and spirit and excitement at getting this chance. The team that came out of the game with the better reputation were not the guys in red.

But we have to be realistic here. Traditionally the Lions assembled a week earlier and played a game, be it in London or Hong Kong and played the original Baabaas, a higher calibre team. This gave them more training time together, more time as a unit, and let’s face it, a better challenge. In the case of Hong Kong, it also helped with the jet lag. The Lions only arrived in NZ a day before I did, and I really think it unfair and unrealistic to expect them to have been able to play quality rugby so soon.

After the game, it took what felt like forever to exit the stadium. Back to the Dickens Inn for the hardy souls, and the sensible folk headed back to our base. The pub was packed and we were once again very grateful for the private bar upstairs. The lovely Jen looked after us until it was time to head back on the last coach, just before midnight. Tonight I hosted the after drinks, and the hardy souls from Ireland, Scotland and Wales kept the craic going until after 3am. Forgive me the in joke, but Barney!!!

Sunday I’d booked a pamper day in Tutukaku. With a 10am departure I clearly hadn’t anticipated the trend of the chalet drinks but I soldiered on. About ten of our group were going out on the water in Tutukaku, so I joined them on the coach along with a few others who opted to hang out in Tutkaku for the day. En route we dropped off some of our party at the catholic church. There are only 17 taxis in Whangarei, and mass didn’t appear to be a priority for the drivers, so Kevin our coach driver was dellighted to oblige.

It was an absolutely stunning day in Tutukaku, in winter. We had blue skies, temperatures in the high teens, and an absolute contrast from the day before in Whagarei. As one of those not going on the water (they tell me it was amazing but it just doesn’t “float my boat” - excuse the pun!) I joined the others for coffees, a stroll down the harbour and lunch before I was whisked off for a few hours of bliss. Reunited with the others we got back on the coach and were Whangarei bound. Stopped off to take a few photos at an official lookout point and then....

A car pulled in. Don, an absolute legend, approached us and welcomed us to NZ and invited us to his sports club for a beer. It would have been rude to say no, right? And so we ended up at Ngunguru sports and recreation club. Random but awesome. A half hour stop became a 90 minutes+ stop such was the hospitality of the members we met.

Everyone was so friendly!! Had great chats with Diane who was in the NZ navy for 22 years but was now working a 9-5 job in radiology. Her husband was the local police chief so I felt very safe in their company! The other person to stand out was an older guy called Rod. In the course of the conversation the 1981 Springbok tour to NZ came up. I’d watched a documentary on the plane about this. Being only 4 at the time, I knew nothing of it all. Rod recalled being behind the goal posts watching the game as the plane dropping the flour bombs got lower and lower and flew towards them. He saw his life flash before his eyes but was glad he was at a game. 36 years on, he was there to tell the tale, the worst didn’t happen. It was fascinating to me given I’d only watched the documentary a few days earlier.

Two of our party won the club’s hourly meat raffle, securing a piece of frozen pork and a frozen chicken, but really appreciated when the club traded them in for beer! Back to Whangarei and I opted for the house party invitation rather than join the lads down town. I was too mellow to venture far. A great night was had, and I now know how to roll my clothes army style when packing!

I clearly need to blog more often given that I’m now only up to Sunday but time to call it a night for now. There’s a $10 steak deal to be had! This Lioness need her dinner!

Thanks to everyone who’s reading and sharing this blog so far. Am overwhelmed by the feedback!!

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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019