Hobbits, Sheep and More Rugby!

Hey all!

I’m sorry this post is so delayed. I got back from New Zealand Tuesday morning and had to jump into non-stop school mode for a few days. Things have cooled-off now and I’ve finally got a chance to provide the detailed account that my 11 days of kiwi travelling deserves.

I’d been planning my New Zealand trip ever since I found out I was going to be down under while the World Rugby Cup (RWC) was taking place there and was not disappointed! Before this trip, I knew the Aussies loved the sport, but I had no idea how absolutely insane the Kiwis are over rugby. The New Zealand national team, the All Blacks, are heroes over there.

This quickly became apparent as we boarded our flight with Air New Zealand and watched the airline safety video dedicated to the All Blacks. I’ve attached a link to the safety video, I think it’s hilarious! Afterwards, we were served tea in All Black cups and, upon landing, we received New Zealand passport stamps that said “World Rugby Cup” and had a rugby ball in the top, right corner! I still can’t believe my customs stamp says RWC!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDgWR6YrOCI

My Air New Zealand All Black cup

We spent our first two days in Auckland where the main stadium is and did some exploring of the rugby “Fan Zone” there.  There’s this beloved giant, inflatable rugby ball in the zone.  Inside the ball a video is played which highlights some of the All Black history, as well as the story of the creation of New Zealand. The Maori people (New Zealand’s aboriginals) believe it was created by their sky father and earth mother.   It was all very interesting and entertaining.

Me, Tristan & Christina in front of the rugby ball

The really great thing about Auckland, and everywhere that we visited on the North Island, was how genuine and inviting everyone was.  People from all over the world were in New Zealand for the games and everyone seemed interested making the best out of this RWC experience with everyone around them. The kiwis also seemed more than happy to host the world for this event. I loved it!

A random rugby inflatable

While in Auckland we also did a little exploring of the landscape. We hiked a very old, former volcano in the middle of city, Mt. Eden, and took a ton of pictures from there.  There were endless views of the surrounding hills and ocean.

Christina & I on top of Mt. Eden

Following our first few days in Auckland, we headed to the middle of the North Island, to the city of Napier.  Two of Canada’s four rugby games where played here.  We were there for the Canada game against Japan.

The two Canada games were actually the only games played in this city and because of this, it seemed as though the city of Napier kind of unofficially adopted Canada as their country of choice to cheer for.  The city was divided into four cheering sections, three of which were for the three teams that played at the stadium, plus one section for the All Black fans. Canada’s section was definitely the biggest and busiest!

Outside of the designated Canadian pub in Napier

It was really cool being surrounded by so many Canadians so far from home. It was also my first time since being down under, that people automatically assumed I was Canadian instead of American! (It probably had something to do with the Canadian flag I wore as a cape, 75% of the time I was in New Zealand).

Christina and I in our Canada gear with a Japanese player

In addition to being in Napier for the game, we also spent some time touring the city.  My friend and I did a tour of one of the 30 wineries in the area.  The kiwis are well known for their high-end wine and I can definitely understand why.  We also visited the beach, but given that the spring weather in New Zealand is much more alike with the Canadian spring, we didn’t do any swimming.

Outside of the Winery (with vineyard behind me)

After our few days in Napier, we traveled to the town of Taupo.  The entire purpose for this trip was to bungee.  We didn’t do the traditional, head-first bungee jump into the water, rather my friend and I did the tamer and more scenic bungee-swing option.  The ride consists of a 180 degree swing over the very pretty Waikato River Valley.  I loved it!

The Bungee-Swing in Taupo

After Taupo, we travelled to Hobbiton, where some of the Lord of the Rings was filmed. I’m not a gigantic fan of the film, so it wasn’t that exciting for me (especially given the price), however, I could see how LOTR extreme fans would love it. The hobbit holes were cool, but I can’t “legally” post any pictures until the filming of The Hobbit is done and the movies are released.  Until then, you’ll just have to watch the LOTR trilogy to get an idea of the sights in Hobbiton.

Only picture from Hobbiton that I'm "legally" permitted to post.

Following the Hobbiton visit, we traveled to the city of Rotorua.  It’s a very pretty city, however there’s a lot of geothermal activity that takes place throughout the city, which provides a lot of neat views, but the sulphur smell isn’t the most pleasant! The city smelt a bit like rotten eggs.

Rotorua Hot-Spring

Stinky smells aside, we had a great time in Rotorua.  We spent our second day there rafting the Kaituna River. The route we did had the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, the 7meter Tutea Falls.  The success rate for rafts clearing the fall without tipping is only 50%.  Our raft lost about half of our boat. And, I was one of the lucky few who ended up tumbling around under the waterfall.  I had a temporary, life-flashing-before-my-eyes type of moment, but ended up surviving. Fortunately.

Christina & I, back two rows from the top, right-hand side, still in the raft...

Christina & I no longer in the raft, but under the waterfall

All in all, the rafting was amazing. The company blended the rafting with a touch of Maori culture. Before we were even allowed to enter the river we had to say a quick prayer to the past Maori peoples buried throughout the river. Essentially we were rafting through an ancient burial ground and the closer we got to the 7m fall, the closer we were to the past superior Maori people. It was pretty neat.

Everyone alive & happy (but far from dry)

After the rafting, we had a Maori Hangi Dinner in the Tamaki Maori Village, 15 minutes outside of Rotorua.  We were greeted by the Maori people with a traditional powhiri (welcome ceremony), where the warriors try to intimidate their guests prior to allowing them to enter the village. The idea is to welcome the visitors, but let them know that if they were there for a fight, they will lose. It was very interesting, and kind of funny to watch, but we were not allowed to laugh out of respect for the culture.

Maori Welcome Ceremony

Inside of the village we learned about some Maori traditions, such as how they tattoo their faces. It’s actually pretty barbaric. They dig quite deeply into the skin and it is not unheard of for people to die during the tattooing.  We also watched some of their traditional dances, such as the Haka. I have a small obsession with the haka.

Then we had dinner. They cook their hangi feast in food ovens in the ground.  Essentially, they bury their food in fire pits. Then leave the food to smoke for about four hours. The meal was pretty good too. It resembled a traditional thanksgiving meal, which was really appreciated since I’m going to be missing the Canadian thanksgiving. Some of my Canadian friends and I will try to replicate it this weekend, but it won’t be the same as Grandma’s traditional turkey.

Dug up dinner

After our time spent in Rotorua, my friends and I headed to the city of Wellington, which was our final stop and where Canada was to play the All Blacks. The rugby game was on the Sunday and we arrived on the Friday.  We filled our pre-rugby game time by visiting some museums, shopping in downtown Wellington and meeting with fellow Canadian fans.

Shopping on Cuba Street in Wellington

On Sunday I spent the day with my few Canadian friends surrounded by thousands of All Black fans. They were pretty sympathetic to the fact that we all knew Canada had next to no chance against the All Blacks. I convinced the All Black fans around me to help cheer on my dream of Canada scoring two tries against New Zealand, which they did! However, the final score was 78 to 15 for New Zealand.

The time Canada was winning against the All Blacks! (for about 2 minutes)

It was still a really great experience seeing Canada play one of the world’s best rugby teams. Especially while in New Zealand. I’ve also been in love with the Haka that the All Blacks perform prior to every game – it’s essentially to intimidate the opposing team – and was so excited to see it live in Wellington! All in all, the game was worth the 7 month wait since our tickets were purchased!

All Blacks perform the Haka

After the game we went out with some of our new Canadian friends to celebrate Canada’s final RWC game. The vibe in the city was amazing. Everyone really lived up the experience.

Kellie & I with some All Blacks Fans

That pretty much sums up my mid-semester break. I’m kind of keeping it low-key for the next little while. I need some time to re-coup before my next Aussie adventure.

Kellie & All Black eightman Kieran Read

Cheers!

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