Best Trip to Date…

The words ‘holiday of a lifetime’ are strange and dispiriting, I feel, implying that future excursions are off the cards. How are we to know that a trip is a ‘holiday of a lifetime’? It is something you cannot say until the possibility of travel is no longer there for some reason. For the majority of us, this reason is only going to be extinction, or such catastrophic incapacity as to make travel impossible.

There are places and explorations, however that render all other trips insignificant, that if asked where are favourite holiday or travel experience was we would answer without hestitation. For me, that trip is our tour of New Zealand in 2011. And I will endeavour to write and show all the reasons why this experience tops everything else to date.

For a start, the idea was hatched [by Husband] as a grand retirement jaunt, both of us having turned in the towel on teaching that year. Then it happened to be New Zealand’s turn to host the rugby world cup, which was an obvious lure for Husband. Myself, I’m not as averse to rugby as I am to other sports and the watching of international games was to provide an extra frisson and reason to love these very special islands.

In order to take in as much of the rugby as possible whilst also seeing most of New Zealand we opted for campervan hire, and given that we were acccustomed to vans and camping this seemed the most suitable way for us to travel.

The expedition did not have a great start, since on arrival to Heathrow we queued up to be told that our Quantas flight to Brisbane was cancelled and we’d have to go next day, spending the night at an airport hotel. This meant that our onward connecting flight to New Zealand would no longer be possible. With no options, we gnashed teeth and went to the hotel, returning next day for a flight to Australia-but to Singapore, which we duly boarded, having been blithely assured we’d be ‘sorted out’ once we got there.

At Singapore it was about 2.00am and we queued up, bleary-eyed, at a Quantas desk, finding ourselves at the very end of a long, snaking line of disgruntled passengers. Much later, at the desk, the staff member seemed to be at a loss to know what to do with us, finally adding us to the next flight to Sidney, which is at least Australia, so we’d be nearer to our destination!

Who knows what time it was when we arrived to Sidney? It was late. Dark. We dragged ourselves to the airport hotel, to wake after what seemed no time at all for another flight-to Christchurch! At check-in I believed I was hallucinating when the woman at the desk asked us to open all our luggage for scrutiny, after which we barely made it on to the plane. By the time we touched down at Christchurch I was beyond calculating how many hours we’d travelled, or how many hours we’d missed or gained.

But arrival to the small, homely airport was like stepping out of a blizzard into a warm bath; the staff friendly, the arrival pain-free. Then we walked out into spring sunshine, to where a taxi driver waited, his door open ready for us to sink into a seat and we were off to see if the hotel that had expected us 24 hours ago still had our room available…

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Sacrilege

NZ Queenstown

We travelled to New Zealand in the autumn of 2011 when the Rugby World Cup was scheduled to be held there. This was to be our retirement treat-a three month stonker of a trip that also encompassed Australia [where I have cousins] and a small add-on of a stay in Hong Kong on the way home.

The thrill of such an enormous piece of travel was tempered, initially by having our flight from Heathrow cancelled by Quantas for no reason we could discern. This meant that our onward flights from Brisbane were scuppered, messing up our arrival to Christchurch, New Zealand and losing us a night of accommodation.

2011 was also the year of Christchurch’s catastrophic earthquake, which was heartbreaking in itself, besides disrupting the Rugby matches and venues involved.

After a tortuous and exhausting series of flights we arrived to Christchurch’s small airport. In the arrivals hall we staggered to the information desk and were directed out into the sunshine of the afternoon, where a kindly driver took our bags and we slumped into the back of his car to be taken to the hotel. I felt I’d stepped into a warm bath.

Even in my almost comatose state I was thrilled to see the verges and green spaces which were lined with nodding daffodils-a novelty for we northern hemisphere-ites in autumn.

NZ Xch

Although our hotel was a forest of steel ceiling supports and those roads that had not been blocked off were cracked with fissures the hotel staff welcomed us in.

Having slept we explored our area, Hagley Park and looked at the quake-damaged centre of town. The park hosted an exhibition of the proposed rebuilding of Christchurch.

A couple of days later we collected our rental camper-van, which was exquisitely equipped and set off to explore beautiful, pristine South Island on a gentle, meandering road that followed the railway track and took us through small communities, past stunning scenery and into wonderful camp sites.

Throughout this time I don’t think I ever stopped smiling. People were unerringly kind, the ease of travel unprecedented. In spite of the terrible earthquake we were welcomed. Even the creatures were friendly.

NZ ducks

The rugby games were like huge, joyous parties with dancing displays, music, dressing up and buzzing atmosphere. I lost count of the number of times we engaged with those around us, laughing, conversing and getting hugged.

In between matches we went sightseeing-following the beautiful, wild south coast road to stunning Milford Sound, viewing penguins and snow-capped mountains and scoffing New Zealand pies and scones from the dairies. Then we turned north via Kaikoura, went whale-watching and walked in glorious Abel Tasman National Park before taking the ferry to North Island.

In Wellington the camp site was full so the local rugby club accommodated us, throwing open their showers and their clubroom and even offering us a curry sauce to go with the chicken we’d bought to cook. We visited the amazing hot springs and geysers at Rotarua, 90 Mile Beach, Coromandel, the gigantic Kauri pines.

The trip remains, to this day my favourite to date. If asked I don’t hesitate to say that New Zealand is my favourite of all the destinations we’ve visited for the reasons I’ve detailed and so much more.

What has happened there is heart-breaking. This most beautiful and idyllic of countries has been sullied for it’s innocent beauty.

If you peddle hate posts on social media; if you keep recycling jingoistic, populist, right-wing propaganda; if you keep screeching about ‘taking back control’ and closing borders, building walls to keep people out and showing hate to other races and religions you are perpetuating acts of violence and terrorism.

Enough said.

 

 

 

A Tumult of Testosterone

We are undertaking our second Rugby World Cup tour. This is not quite as momentous as you might think, given that a] the Rugby World Cup is being held in the UK this year and b] we do not have tickets for all the matches.

Our first RWC tour, in 2011 was in New Zealand. In contrast to this year’s campaign it was an extraordinary expedition for a variety of reasons, the greatest of which is that it was in New Zealand! New Zealand remains the single most wonderful country I have ever visited. Enough said.

Nevertheless, the UK’s contribution to international rugby competition is not to be snorted at and is providing logistical nightmares that were not present last time on the opposite side of the planet. As before we are using a campervan to get to some of the venues [our own rather than rented]. We eschewed the first game at Twickenham, due to the prohibitive ticket price. We began with Georgia versus Tonga at Kingsholm, Gloucester. Easy! Husband hails from there, hence handy relatives with guest room and car to provide lifts.

Next game: Cardiff [Australia versus Fiji]. Cardiff boasts a splendid city centre camp site. Hooray! Cardiff was crammed with rugby fans in a way that Gloucester was not. This is both a joy [the meeting up, the chats, the sights, the atmosphere] and a chore [the jobsworths, the queues, the bag searches, the squashing, the getting trodden on, the corporate pushing of brands, the pushing and the endless standing about].

Notice-I have not ventured into the tangled scrummage of rugby analysis, the dodgy ruck of commentary. Why not? Because, reader I am a complete and total ignoramus on the subject. I do not know my ruck from my maul, my penalty from my knock-on and remain stubbornly resistant to understanding off-side. ‘What was wrong with that?’ I quiz Husband as the penalties pile up. But in spite of detailed explanation I continue to watch in a mystified fog of ignorance.

Despite all of this and the fact that for many years, in the previous life I rejected any kind of sport outright as a source of entertainment, I have come to enjoy watching rugby matches. I like the thrill of the build-up, the party atmosphere, the banter of the pub-goers, the outrageous costumery of the fans, the ridiculous items for sale, the gladiatorial nature of the conflict as fifteen enormous honed sportsmen pitch up against fifteen of the same, the shattering collisions, the heaving, grunting drive of the scrum and the soaring voices of the crowd as they chant, sing or stomp. And who could fail to be excited when a player breaks away to weave and dodge to the line and score a try?

So with two RWCs under my belt I begin to feel like a seasoned supporter. All the more so, perhaps when you consider that the next Rugby World Cup is to be held in Japan. Now THAT is what I call food for thought…