Greetings from Auckland...again! Change of scenery isn't too far off, we fly to Christchurch this afternoon, leaving behind the balmy winter sun, interspersed with Monsoon rains in Auckland.
Monday morning we left Whangarei for Auckland. It was a bank holiday (Queen's Day) so Kevin was anxious to avoid the bank holiday traffic. We had a pit stop for pies, coffees and to help finish the left over beers from the night before. All in the spirit of teamwork of course! It was a stunning day, in sharp contrast with our drive North on Friday so we were able to enjoy the scenery the rain had obscured then.
Back in Auckland we dropped our bags to the hotel and after a quick freshen up, those who were up for it reconvened in the hotel bar. Once assembled we wandered down towards the water to see if we could find a watering hole. I was a little wary, were we walking into Auckland's Temple Bar equivalent and the associated prices? But no, by complete accident we found a bar that was doing $5 drinks until 7pm. Happy days, well happy hours!
Next stop dinner, a restaurant had been recommended. The food was great but the service left a lot to be desired. Still, it ticked the box. The food so far has been exemplary, I should say the food I had has been, a group of the lads had "the worst meal ever" in Whangarei while we were in Tutukaku. Glad to have missed that one!
Monday night was an early one for most people, six weeks is a long time to be on the road, bodies needed to be recharged. Getting the balance of craic and rest is tough but people are looking out for each other.
We had a hot date on Tuesday with some Lions at the Canterbury store in the afternooon. A gang of us did the hop on hop off bus in the morning to help get our bearings around Auckland seeing as we'll be spending rather a lot of time here. We hopped on and didn't do any hopping off as the winter schedule means a lighter service and we couldn't risk missing the boys in red.
Back in the harbour we popped into the Canterbury store to get the low down on the event. Hein, the store manager was very helpful and showed us the list of potential Lions who would be attending, 10 of the 12 would be there. CJ was on the list but my head knew that as a starter against the Blues, he was unlikely to be there. Had a good chat with Hein about CJ and Rassie, Hein had a little insider knowledge as a South African who was good friends with Rassie's nephew. The Munster fan in me was delighted with what he told me ;)
Had some time to pass sitting in the sun with a light lunch...lovely lovely sun. 2pm came and up we went to the store. There were maybe 100 people there, a mixture of Lions fans and locals. If there are further Lions events in Auckland the scale will be much much bigger so it was time to make the most of it. A kicking area had been set up outside the shop, a group of guys had won a radio competition to kick against the Lions. We debated which side of the area we should stand on to have the best view and stay out of the sun but we shouldn't have worried. The heavens opened.
It rained and rained and rained and rained, did I mention the Monsoon rains. We were soaked to the skin! A number of players were at a signing station so we queued to meet them. Conor Murray's face lit up when he spotted my Munster jersey and flag. Conditions were too bad to get decent photos but I did manage to pick up almost all of the signatures on my Lions baseball hat. The rain finally eased off just as we were about to leave and I managed to get a pic in front of the Lions bus, got to take these opportunities when they come!
Back to the hotel to warm up and dry off before heading out to Father Teds/The Munster Inn for their steak dinner night. $10 for a 250g steak and $15 for 500g. Even the small one was monstrous. Excellent quality and amazing value. Stayed on for their weekly table quiz, and almost won...until the team we were tied with pointed out that one of the quizmaster's answers was wrong. If it wasn't for those meddling kids!!!
Wednesday dawned, game day!!! All the kick offs are 7.35pm so the days are long. Some of us went on a harbour cruise in the morning. The weather could not have been more different than the day before, blue skies with a threat of sunburn. Fabulous conditions for an informative and scenic trip around the harbour. Short stop on Rangitoto volcanic island, and back we headed. We had a 2.30pm departure to our pre game HQ so passed the time with some other Lions fans back in Father Teds.
Our Eden Park pre and post game HQ is the Dominion Bar, about ten minutes walk from the stadium. Here we had food, drink and the first major sing song of the tour. I'm surprised we didn't bring the house down! Really have to compliment RTI for the pre and post game HQs. To have a private space in a venue close to the ground, is really great. Food provided has been excellent so far, and with the funny kick off times, it's important!
Strolled up the road towards Eden Park. Had to pinch myself. Saturday, I had the wow, I'm really here moment in Whangarei, but that feeling hit with a power a hundred times as strong sitting in Eden Park, hard to believe I was sitting there, under cover (because guess what, the rain was back), waiting to shout for the team in red. Our first Haka, a special one for Jonah Lomu, and the scene was set.
The game happened. Again not a shining example of rugby and a loss hurt but there were positives to take from the game. I'll leave those to the rugby pundits though!
Finding the attitudes of the fans here a little hard to take. We've had an amazing welcome from the people we've met. But at the same time the standard line is something along the lines of "we're going to beat you off the park" - and that's a heavily sanitised version of what they're saying. No such thing as "hard luck", or any such comfort. A bit like the noise during kicks, it's just not how we do it at home.
Still, all that said, I wouldn't change this trip for the world. The group is fantastic, there's a great balance between people looking out for each other and also giving people space. As a solo traveller, that's just right.And for the most part we’ve had a wonderful welcome and reception. A mix of formal and random.
We're not just here for six weeks, bonds are being formed that will lead to lifelong friendships. I already have an invite for Wales v Ireland 2019, and look forward to accepting it! Must admit South Africa 2021 is also creeping onto the radar...I'll need something to look forward to when all this ends. But there are almost five weeks to go, a whole lot of fun to be had and I owe it to myself to make the most of it!! I owe it to you the wonderful readers and sharers too, if I don't enjoy the trip, it will make for a very boring blog!