Wednesday, July 05, 2017

A Lions Tour Diary by Michelle Tobin #9

Wow, it's been almost a week since I last posted. It turns out it's harder to keep up to date when you're in one place rather than moving around. No coach time to catch up! Apologies all.

So I finished my last blog on the way back from Martinborough, as I mentioned we were invited to Avalon, the local rugby club in Lower Hutt that night so a gang of us headed along. Once again we were met with unbelievable hospitality, food was laid on and drinks were incredibly cheap. Were made to feel so welcome. In return we supported their fundraising raffle, and one of our group won the All Blacks alternate jersey, he was a very happy camper! Was delighted with him, he's here with his Dad and younger brother (but they're all very much adults) all marking significant birthdays this year. They've been with us from the start and even though they're Leinster fans, they're sound out as we'd say in Cork!

Friday we decided to head in and explore Wellington. Started in the Te Papa Museum, the national museum of New Zealand. As we had a bus tour arranged for the afternoon, we only managed to see the phenomenal, heart wrenching exhibit on Gallipoli. Truly stunning in every way. I saw grown men leaving with tears in their eyes. While waiting for the last of our lot to exit the exhibit I finally got the chance to say hi to Scott Quinnell. I lived in Wales in the 90s and remember when himself, his brother Craig, Scott Gibbs and Rob Howley...oh and the squeaky JD...all returned from league to union, such a huge thing for Welsh rugby at the time. I'd spotted Scott in Dublin airport last autumn but was too shy to say hi, nerves were gone this time and he was an absolute gentleman.

Our bus tour took us all over Wellington including the National Gardens, Old St. Paul's and Mount Victoria. We also got to take the funicular railway that they insist on calling a cable car  so we saw a lot of the city. At the top of Mount Victoria, with dusk approaching, I think Andy Farrell got the fright of his life to see a coach full of Lions fans pull up. I imagine he thought it was safe. He was with his family but still took time for a photo or two with some of the group.

Friday night we explored some of the social spots of Wellington, joined again by my friend from home. I decided to take it easy, game day was almost there!  The news from home that Rassie and Nienaber were departing Munster hadn't helped my mood either. After months of denial, the bad news was confirmed. Wonder if his middle name is Peter?

Took the train into Wellington on Saturday morning to avoid the traffic that was already starting to build. Headed to the fanzone where we met some lovely fellow Lions fans who'd only arrived the day before. The mood in the fanzone was very positive. Stopped for some lovely creole food en route to our pre match venue, couldn't face more pub grub.

The buzz in our pre match venue was palpable, people were hopeful of a Lions win, hope rather than confidence, nobody wanted a dead rubber in Auckland. So off we headed to Westpac for the second time in a week, full of hope. We dared to dream but as I've said already on this blog, dreams can come true. I'm living mine at the moment! The atmosphere in the stadium was electric, it appeared that maybe 60%  of the crowd were in red. In the weeks before we'd learned to shout over the stadium chant and we made some noise. For the first game since we got here, there was even a bit of a sing song!

Score wise, you know what happened. We only went and bloody won!!!! It looked like hard work at time and wasn't secured until far too late in the game for our comfort but we won we won we won. Just in case you've somehow missed it, oh and by the way some fella in black got sent off...a minor detail ;)

We knew Wellington would be hopping but all the Kiwi gang opted to take the coach back to our hotel in Lower Hutt. Having been together since 30 May, we didn't want to celebrate with strangers, we wanted to celebrate with our friends and comrades we'd travelled all over this beautiful country with, the people we'd shared the highs and lows of the trip with. Not that there were lows, just a few games we didn't quite manage to win.

And off we went. The hotel bar didn't know what hit it!  Bohemian Rhapsody was resurrected with great passion and acrobatics from Mr Rhapsody himself, our man from Clare. We thought that was as far as the entertainment would go but how wrong were we! One of our ever kilt toting Scots blew us away with a theatrical performance of I Want to Break Free, those memories will last forever. A few other songs and all too soon it was time for the bar to close. Not that we were going to let that stop us, sufficient alcohol was purchased and we reconvened in the hotel lobby for more songs, laughs and celebrations. The die hards lasted until breakfast at 6am and then went to bed for a few hours before our departure for Wellington Airport at 11. I'll leave it for you to work out if I was one of the breakfast before bed gang!

11 came and everyone was present and correct, despite the lack of sleep. Headed to Wellington Airport for our Air New Zealand flight to Queenstown. Omnishambles would be an understatement. We knew the airport would be busy but apparently the airport authority and airlines didn't because there is absolutely no excuse for the chaos that ensued in the airport. RTI once again came to the rescue and ensured that a separate check in area was opened for us seeing as Air New Zealand were not as accommodating as Jetstar had been in relation to group check in.  When we finally checked in we thought there was light at the end of the tunnel. No there was no light as there was a bag drop line of probably 1,000 people or more in the way of the tunnel.

They finally opened a separate bag drop line for the Queenstown flight and started directing regional passengers to do gate drops so in theory, things should have eased. In reality there seemed to be no queue etiquette among the hundreds of people heading to Queenstown apart from our group. At one stage there were 30-40 people behind us. By the time we finally got to drop our bags, there were two. All for one? Not this time!!

Flight itself was smooth but our fun with Air NZ was far from over. We made it to Queenstown but a large number of bags didn't. Not surprising given our experience in Wellington, they kept alleging the baggage belt was breaking down but in reality they didn't have anywhere near enough bodies to offload the bags from the belt. Imagine needing extra staff at peak for dummies????

RTI again took the weight off our shoulders and managed the missing baggage situation really well and soon we were off to our Queenstown hotels. Having felt the cold air on the walk to the coach I was very very grateful that the tour hoodie I'd coveted from the start, had dropped price again. Originally $140, then $110 the week before, I'd jumped at it for $70 the night before and opted to wear it on the flight due to the weight of it. So so grateful once we felt the icy Queenstown air.

11 bags were missing from the tour gang in our hotel, 10 of them showed up that night, alas mine was not among them. In fact it would take until 11am the next day before mine made an appearance, having gone on a detour to Christchurch. I One was not amused but RTI played a blinder, constantly chasing up the airline. I did note that the bag turned up shortly before the 24 hour deadline upon which I would have been due some compensation. Funny that!

Sunday night we explored Queenstown a bit. Our gang craved spicy food so we headed out for one of the best Indian meals I've ever had. In a small world moment, our fantastic server was from Kanturk, 5 miles from my Cork homeland. So far from home but never too far from a neighbour!

Queenstown is soooooooooooooo expensive! We are lucky that we have a discount card with numerous food and drink options but if we hadn't, prices of almost 1/3 more than anywhere else we'd been, would have been a shock to the system! Its ironic that the town that would be a backpacker paradise is priced out of being backpacker friendly unless you're there to work. It's a great fun town but not everyone can afford to have fun at these prices.

Will finish the catch up in the next day or so, Friday to Sunday had so much crammed in, and I don't want to put anyone to sleep so signing off for now. Not many diaries left, fast running out of days. Time needs to slow down, still so much to cram in, to not enough days. Still living the dream.


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