Well it's taken me longer than I'd anticipated to put this together, apologies. As the time has gone on we've been running out of time, trying to cram everything in, and failing miserably. Hence the fact that you'll probably read this on Sunday or Monday and you'll find no reference to the game yet, retrospective blogging is not easy!
I left you on Sunday night in Queenstown, case MIA. Well it finally turned up on Monday morning, just before the 24 hour deadline after which compensation would be due, funny that Air New Zealand eh? It was quite the relief to be able to shower with my own stuff and put on clean clothes, warm enough to be suited to the freezing cold but absolutely stunning and spectacular Queenstown. Suitably attired we went for a walk around the lake, absolutely breathtaking. I had a booking later in the week for the Skyline gondola but opted to go on Monday instead as it worked better for my schedule for the rest of the week. The queues were long, spotted a few Lions in the queue too, no special treatment, but the view from the top was absolutely spectacular.
Having crammed a lot into the morning and early afternoon we realised we hadn't eaten for a very long time so headed to meet some of the others from the group in one of Queenstown's rarest things, an affordable bar and restaurant! Think $16.50 for a main with $3.50 for a glass of house wine/beer/soft drink, about 1/4 of the drinks prices of most of the hostelries in Queenstown. Stayed there for a while before having an early night, sleep had evaded me the night before as I stressed about my bag.
Tuesday morning brought one of my most highly anticipated optional extras, a 2.5 hour helicopter trip to Milford Sound with three alpine landings. I'm not great with heights but bizarrely have always been ok on small aircraft and helicopters so I was really looking forward to this trip and it did not disappoint. The views were spectacular, and the landing sites so diverse. The glacier landing was the most spectacular, standing in about ten inches of fresh snow in July was bizarre, temperature was -4 with a wind chill of about -12 and the wind blew snowstorms that pierced every one of the six layers of clothing I was wearing, but it was worth it.
Grabbed a light lunch on our return as Tuesday night was our "family dinner", the Kiwi and Maori tours were having a joint night out as the tour was running out of days. Strolled around Queenstown for a couple of hours late afternoon, spotted a few of the Lions out and about, it's amazing how that's almost become normal on this trip. I'm not someone who would normally approach a rugby player, but when I spotted CJ Stander out with Rhys Webb and Tommy Seymour, I had to fight my nerves and say hi. He's an absolute favourite of mine and was such a gentleman. He admired my black Munster jersey (as it wasn't a Lions game day I was attired in one of the many Munster jerseys that made the journey to NZ) and was happy to take a photo. Rhys Webb was the photographer!
On Monday night I'd decided to bite the bullet and book something in Queenstown that pushed my boundaries, the Hydro Attack shark. I'm not good with water, even though I can swim, and as I've already mentioned I'm a scaredy cat when it comes to water activities, but two of our group had already done it and raved about it so I went and booked it for Wednesday morning, and Wednesday morning arrived very quickly! I was absolutely terrified but I absolutely loved it, not sure the video will prove that but the two man, semi submersible craft gets up to 80 kmph, can go several metres under water and then jump into the air like a real shark before landing in the water with a bone shaking thud. It was amazing. My pilot was from Sligo, there are so many Irish in Queenstown.
Wednesday afternoon was taken up with a Queenstown Wine Tour, more beautiful vineyards, a lovely lunch and great company. One of the vineyards was also a wedding venue and it was easily the most stunning venue I have ever seen. I was blown away!
When we got back after our tour, a gang of us went back to the Indian restaurant for a second time, though tonight we were in the wrong section to be served by the lovely Clodagh from Kanturk, though she did pop downstairs to say hi to us. The six of us from Sunday night were joined by a wonderful couple who've been so positive and supportive on the trip. They'd been away for two days so it was lovely to catch up with them again.
Thursday was our last full day in Queenstown but along with two coaches full of RTI tourists, I headed to the Lauderdale Estate in Central Otago for a "booze and blues" day. The drive was scenic and great fun and when we finally arrived, the setting was stunning. A blues band were already playing, drink was flowing and a number of locals had turned up to talk to us. We had some amazing food, great fun and all too soon it was time to head back to Queenstown.
Couldn't let a visit to Queenstown go without a visit to the legendary Fergburger. To be honest I was underwhelmed but clearly the massive crowd and half hour wait for food meant I was in a minority. We had a very early start on Friday morning to fly to Auckland so the plan was for an early night on Thursday. However as often happens, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. And so I wasn't quite refreshed when the alarm went off at 4am but I coped!
Queenstown Airport was moderately less stressful than Wellington had been but the flight left on time and more miraculously, my bags arrived! I'd hedged my bets and put Friday night's clothes into my backpack just in case though, we had a gala for all 300+ RTI tourists and I needed to be sure I was suitably attired!
Our rooms weren't ready when we got to our Auckland hotel (this was expected so not an issue) so a gang of us went for food before splitting to do a little gift shopping. While out I got a call to say our room was ready so headed back for a siesta before my pre gala hair appointment, a little treat to myself.
The gala was a wonderful night, RTI really played a blinder, yet again. As well as our on tour legends (Alan Quinlan, Donal Lenihan, Martyn Williams and Brent Pope), we were also joined on the night by Rob Henderson, Ryan Jones and All Black Legend, Ian Jones. Michael Corcoran was MC on the night and we had a fascinating panel discussion/Q&A, in between food and drink. We laughed a lot! All the formalities over, the real craic started. There was dancing, flag waving and general fun. What a fantastic way to begin the final test weekend, but also to celebrate the beginning of the end of the trip. It was pure magic.
On Friday night I went to bad happy after a great night, excited and nervous for what could happen at Eden Park on Saturday, but a little sad that the end of the trip was getting far too close. You'll notice I've mentioned that once or ten times in these blogs..it's going to get worse! But still, I'll take the sadness, it wouldn't be there if there hadn't been so much fun.
When I get home it's going to be a challenge to collate all the photos of the trip. They're spread across my camera, my phone and an ever growing pile of Instax photos, I've loved watching the reaction of those not expecting the red square to be a polaroid camera. But they are very treasured keepsakes, physical memories, more magic. Just like the rest of this trip.