Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ireland v. Russia

Paihia, Waipu, Rotorua, Wellington, NEW ZEALAND: 19 - 28 Sept. 2011

To the many modes of transport I've taken, which include a milk truck in Ecuador and a horse-drawn gari in Ethiopia, I can now finally add the bane of all other motorists, i.e. a campervan. I joined Sinéad, Audrey and Laura in the campervan that they had driven over the past three weeks up from Queenstown and we headed north of Auckland to the Bay of Islands. We were not alone in this plan; the car park in Paihia where we spent two nights was full of Irish-occupied vehicles. I'm getting used to being surrounded by Irish people (and to hearing the Fields of Athenry sung on repeat), but I think it is a bit of a shock for the unprepared locals (the bar we drank in our first night ran out of beer; such an unheard of occurrence happened to us again later in the week in Rotorua). It was a nice couple of days, which included getting the ferry to historic Russel, walking along the coastal path, and doing a short hike up for a view of the scenic bay.
We hit back south, stopping in Whangarei to soak up the atmosphere for the Tonga-Japan match that was happening there that evening. It wasn't quite the same buzz as when Ireland are in town, but we did see a flash-mob haka (although to be fair it wasn't as good as this haka in the centre of Auckland).

Following a very welcome night in beds in a friend's holiday home in Waipu (much appreciated after two nights in a campervan in a car park), the girls returned the van and I hit for Rotorua for that weekend's game against Russia. From our big family trip to New Zealand to visit our relations when I was five, one of the things that I always remembered were the bubbling mud pools in Rotorua. It was nice to see that they are still as mesmerising and smelly as ever.

Then the Irish began rolling into town: the three girls arrived the day after me and we stayed in a ten-bed dorm (with six other Irish people); I went to a Maori cultural performance and meal with two friends from Bishopstown, Jen and Patrick; and I went to the match with a friend from UCC, Colm. The stadium, with its single stand and grassy terraces, was a big change from last week in Eden Park in Auckland, but the atmosphere was jovial, Ireland won and there were lots of tries, so there were plenty of reasons to party that evening (not that many reasons were needed).
The next day I took a bus south to Wellington for a few relaxing, recuperative days staying with my aunt Jacqueline before flying to Dunedin for the crucial game against Italy.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ireland v. Australia

Auckland, NEW ZEALAND: 16 - 18 Sept. 2011

I thought the atmosphere in the packed Munster Inn and Father Ted's in central Auckland on the Friday night before the big Ireland-Australia would be hard to beat. But the Saturday afternoon in the Clare Inn and around Eden Park in the build-up to the 8:30pm kick-off was even better, with Irish fans and Irish-supporting locals everywhere to be seen. So with my lucky green shoes on, I joined the crowds walking to the impressive stadium for what became an amazing night.
The atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic
and the 15 - 6 score in favour of Ireland was unbelievable. What a result and, with Auckland covered in green, what a great weekend!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ireland v. USA

Auckland, New Plymouth, Whangamomona, Taupo, Hamilton, NEW ZEALAND: 8 - 16 Sept. 2011

My return to New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup started well even before I had left Fiji. A guy I got chatting to in the check-in queue brought me in as his guest to the frequent flyers lounge where free food and beer awaited. Then the flight started with Air New Zealand's entertainng All Blacks safety video. After a friendly chat with the immigration officials about Ireland's chances, I was back in New Zealand ready for a fun six and a half weeks.

My first two nights were spent in Auckland where I stayed with my friends Sinead and Gavin. We were part of the huge crowds that gathered at the harbour for the opening celebrations, which included the arrival of dozens of traditional Maori canoes (wakas) and a very impressive fireworks display.

Then, like scores of tricolour-decorated campervans, I hit the road south for New Plymouth for Ireland's opening game against the USA. On approaching the town, I was blessed with majestic views of Mt. Taranki. As is often the case, the mist came in for the rest of the weekend and I never saw sight of the snow-capped volcano again.New Plymouth was packed with Irish fans and, while the match itself wasn't great, Ireland got the win and then the party started.
It was a great night, during which I met up with my friends Sinéad, Audrey and Laura, so we can now add New Plymouth to Lima and Melbourne in the list of places I've met up with them around the world.
And in the morning I discovered that I made the front page of the Taranki Daily News; a great souvenir.
My mini roadtrip to get myself back up to Auckland for next week's game started with a drive along the "Forgotten World Highway", where I stayed a night in the tiny republic of Whangamomona.
Then onto scenic and fun Taupo for two nights, where I watched a training session of the Welsh team
and relaxed in stream heated by natural hot springs.
Myself and the three girls then donned wetsuits and wellyboots and headed underground for some walking, swimming and tubing in the very impressive, glowworm-filled Waitomo Caves. Then one night in Hamilton, where I stayed with a Kiwi friend who I traveled with in Asia, before driving back up to Auckland for what promised to be a big weekend.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hammock time in Fiji

Nadi, Yasawas Islands, Coral Coast, FIJI: 27 August - 8 September 2011

I don't have much to write about my twelve days in Fiji because, happily, I did very little. I spent seven days hopping between four of the Yasawas Islands, including the tiny Beachcomber Island, and then three days on the Coral Coast. Most of my time was spent relaxing, swimming, snorkeling and reading (the 1000-page "Shantaram" proved a perfect choice of book).

But I managed to get out of the hammock to do a trek,
scuba dive with reef sharks, and swim with manta rays. Swimming with two of these amazing, hypnotic, huge creatures was the highlight of my time in Fiji.

Sun holidays aren't really my kind of thing, but Fiji is such a relaxing place, where life moves on "Fiji time", that even I was able to enjoy doing very little.