The Lions and New Zealand Part 1.

Martin and I had both returned to the UK in June for work purposes. The previous years that we have done this, we have taken Eleanor with us. Last year I combined the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) conference with university visits with Eleanor going to my parents. As the conference was close to the end of term, it didn’t make sense to return to China.  This year though the conference in Manchester was three weeks away from the end of term, and our summer holiday was not in the UK.  Eleanor, therefore, stayed with our lovely, patient and wonderful colleague, Veronica for six days. Eleanor has gone this period of time without us before, but she definitely did not want us to go this time, and the behaviour that was encountered before, during and a little bit after, told us that some family time was required.

One of the reasons we came to China, apart from Martin getting to teach in a school that caters for his love of maths ALL the time, is that we can use it as a spring board to travel to places that if we remained in the UK, would be a pipe dream. Or maybe a dream fulfilled in retirement. We wanted to go to New Zealand.  Everyone who goes, says it is a country that should be on everyone’s list. So with the British and Irish Lions Tour going to NZ in 2017, it seemed to tick all of the boxes – it would fulfil seeing a rugby match of the best British and Irish players and seeing a country we wanted and could visit. When the tour dates were released we looked at which matches we could see live, given our term dates it was only the two Test matches and the last non test match against the Hurricanes in Wellington that we could see. Here was the sticking point… I couldn’t book either of the test matches without going on the approved supporters tour. The tour which you can only start in the UK and Ireland. Or you enter a ballot with a New Zealand address. That was too risky (we thought). With term ending on the 23rd June, we thought that the first thing we would do is go and see a rugby match in Wellington, so I booked the Hurricanes match. Tickets were to be couriered in May to an address of someone’s parents. (Maia who used to work at Pax Lodge and Girlguiding – yes those Guiding contacts do come in handy!)

May arrived and no tickets. I phoned ticketek, the provider, twice. The tickets in the middle of May when I phoned the first time hadn’t been sent, but “give it until the end of May and phone again”.  I phoned again in June, the tickets had been sent (Maia said they hadn’t been received), but “they can be collected at the theatre or at the stadium”. Confirmed I would do that. Still not quite believing that we would get them and get to the match. As it turns out, the tickets would never have arrive. On collecting them at the theatre in Wellington, the address that was on them was mash up of the New Zealand address provided and the debit card address – my Chinese address. But all is well, we got the tickets. Major relief on the 27th June.

We booked the flights through Sydney to get to Wellington with QANTAS, leaving China on Sunday 25th, arriving 26th, rugby 27th. The flights were a little bit cheaper than all three of us returning to the UK for the summer.

Then we booked accommodation. For two nights many of the hotels were already booked, or they were super expensive (Lions surcharge!), so we booked a hostel. For whatever reason we didn’t book the YHA, so our first two nights were spent in a hostel that, well, wasn’t as nice as our other hostels. It was run down. But it was somewhere to sleep, well kind of, the walls were paper thin and doors slammed. Lodge in the City was a base.

On the way from Washington DC to Orlando earlier in the year, I had taken the New Zealand Lonely Planet Guide, a pen and a highlighter and I read the book pretty much cover to cover, highlighting places of interest. In April and May we booked the rest of the hotels, hostels, cars and experiences, so that by June we had pretty much paid for everything in advance that we wanted to do. All we needed to do was pay for food… and a few more clothes.

Wellington was our first stop, and where I would meet my third cousin, Graham, on my paternal grandmother’s side all the way from Northern Ireland. I also have family in New Zealand, but on this occasion we didn’t meet them, though Graham managed to visit a fair number. Graham was doing the entire 6 week or so tour with the Lions, and so we met up with him for lunch, which just happened to be at the team hotel, Rydges. We got there, just as a few of the British and Irish Lions were coming back from a practice. We sent Eleanor to go and take some pictures, she had no idea who she was taking photos of, but I was quite pleased with the pictures. Johnny Sexton didn’t play for the non-test against the Hurricanes that night, but I was pleased that Ulsterman, Rory Best was named captain for the evening. p1010066.jpg

Wellington was definitely in the throes of Lions fever. Everywhere we went, people were dressed in red, the place had atmosphere. Eleanor and Martin treated themselves to some more Lions gear and indeed Eleanor got a new coat out of it, being red. That coat was to be useful when in Auckland some three weeks later, I left her other winter coat behind in the hotel. (She was reunited with it, as the manager of the Crowne Plaza in Auckland just happened to be going to the Holiday Inn at the airport the day that we were due to stay there before flying back to China, she brought the coat with her!)

I also ditched my 12 year old walking boots in favour of a pair of snow boots that were fur lined. My walking boots I had bought in Canada on a Guiding trip.  They had never fitted me comfortably so I left them at the hostel, they were gone by the time we had checked out!

The obligatory Starbucks mug for Wellington was duly purchased, and I made a considerably bad decision, though I wouldn’t know it for a week… Our Starbucks mug collection grows with every place we go to that has a Starbucks. Most major cities will have a souvenir mug. The shop in Wellington sold Queenstown mugs and Auckland mugs. I said “it’s ok, we will get the Queenstown mug in Queenstown”. When we got to Queenstown – they had no mugs left – I bought the Auckland mug there though. However, thanks to Graham we have a Queenstown mug. The week between the 2nd and 3rd test matches some of the supporters went to Queenstown, this coincided with our stay there too. We had kept in touch with Graham, who, on the day we were to meet him was going to Invercargill, one of the most southern cities in the world. “City” not like a Chinese city! I asked him to see if there was a Starbucks there. Yes there was. They don’t sell Invercargill mugs because they aren’t a big enough city, (and I wouldn’t have got one anyway because we haven’t been there) but they sold the coveted Queenstown mug. Mug was purchased and handed over. Funnily enough, when we got to Auckland, the nearest Starbucks to the hotel only sold Wellington mugs having sold out of Auckland mugs. Those darn Lion supporters probably bought them all up. Always buy something when you see it. (A motto which I learnt about in Mongolia, and didn’t follow through twice on this trip!)

Anyway, back to Wellington. The first morning, we went to the Great War Exhibition, which Sir Peter Jackson created. The hostel was only a 10 minute walk away. The exhibition was child friendly and very informative. They had recreated the war year by year, artefacts were on show and the black and white photos that had been taken at the time, have been made into colour. Photos taken a 100 years ago and colourised doesn’t feel like history any more.  It makes the scenes real. I know they are real, but when you look at them again, the colour brings it to life. There is a 10 tonne tank on view and equally as big gun on display, and then you enter a room and see 5000 hand painted figurines on a battlefield.  Overhearing the tour guide, we spotted that Peter Jackson had put himself in the field with a camera. This was the best museum I have been to, and if you are in New Zealand, have a look.

Had Martin placed a bet on the match when he said “the score will be a draw”, we could have made some money. But as we don’t bet, and as I didn’t take Martin seriously, it was in disbelief that the match between the BIL and the Hurricanes ended in a draw. It would only serve as a predictor for the final test!

The next morning, Wellington was quiet. As we came out of the hostel, a Lions supporter was coming in. He hadn’t been back all night on the pretence the hostel was that bad! Our ferry, the Interislander, was not leaving until mid-afternoon that day. The ferry from the north to the south island would be about 3 hours and is from Wellington to Picton. This was again something that I had pre-booked, a booking that unlike the crossing, had not gone smoothly. I booked the wrong crossing…Picton to Wellington. On immediately logging back in, Martin easily changed the direction of travel… it was so easy to do it made us think that perhaps I had not been the first person to be stupid enough to get my places mixed up.

With the morning free, we went to WETA workshop in Miramar, on recommendation from Graham. A playground for designing and making props, costumes and make-up effects for films such as The Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, and others, that I only pretended to know about. We also saw the studios for the Thunderbirds series. The 1960s series has been remade for the “next generation”, and while the Croziers were oblivious the remake, it was fascinating seeing the sets of Tracy Island, the swimming pool which has the rocket launcher underneath, and just how the sets are made with household goods. A lemon squeezer, the inside of a tumble dryer, pen lids. All sorts of items that you would never think would be used on the set of such a popular series. We also found out out that Stourhead, our local National Trust property that we used to visit regularly in Wiltshire, is the mansion, ok a mini replica, where Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward lives. The outcome of that day was that children were told to be inventive and not throw anything away.  The tour was well worth it. We got an Uber back to the hostel and then a taxi to the Ferry Terminal. Many of the Lions supporters had woken up and were on the ferry with us to have a mini break before heading back to Wellington for the test match against the All Blacks the following Saturday. We wouldn’t be heading back with them, something that we would have to explain time and time again.

The ferry crossing has got to be one of the best I have been on. I have sailed across from Vancouver to Vancouver Island (Canada), even Larne (Northern Ireland to Stranraer (Scotland) in the old days when that was a ferry route has some great views of Scotland. This crossing also has great scenery, which my photos don’t do justice to as it was getting dark when we approached land, and it was very windy on deck!IMG_8237

Stay tuned for more New Zealand, Part 2 and more. It was a 4 week holiday!