There was no way I was missing this world cup! Even if it meant bankruptcy, which luckily it didn't, I would be there. I've always wanted to go to New Zealand and having a huge love for rugby I saw it as a perfect opportunity to do both.
Now to get to NZ from London you're looking at 20+ hours of flight time, there are several different routes all depending on which airline you fly with however there are no direct flights. I flew via theMiddle East, stopping in Dubai and then Brunei. Each flight lasted around 8 hours with about an hour or two in-between each one. My total travel time was something like 32 hours, from leaving my house to arriving at my hostel. I have no idea how many time zones you cross flying to NZ but it really isn't easy on the body “ I arrived in Auckland with the bloodshot eyes of a raging alcoholic and hair that would give any scarecrow a run for their money! As for tips on how to handle jetlag I just try to power through it, sticking to my usual routines and timings “ despite this for the first few days I was still naturally waking by 6am!!
Due to work commitments I could only take 3 weeks for my trip. When you combine this with the flight times and consider how much there is to see out there I had a lot to fit in. When over there I had three RWC tickets taking me from Aucklandto Dunedin and back. NZ has a brilliant infrastructure and so getting about is relatively easy especially with companies such as Intercity and Naked Bus. There are passes that vary according to how many stops or trips you need and all for a reasonable price “ for my 2 week pass including 5 trips I paid around NZ $160. The drivers were very helpful and also acted as great tour guides when driving. Getting from island to island is also very easy with regular ferries and flights. You can book just about anything from bus passes to day trips from one of the I-Sites (Tourist Information Office) located in every city.
What really attracted me to NZ was the rugby culture down there, when I say they live, eat and breathe rugby I'm not exaggerating. It's great to see a country so supportive and passionate about their team. As soon as I arrived in Auckland I was greeted by Richie McCaw's face staring down at me from every billboard in the city. Every business and shop had some form of poster showing their support for the All Blacks. Every restaurant had photos showing an All Black had eaten there previously, I really got the impression that the whole country was backing the team. Something a local said to me sums up their attitude, 'If aliens landed tomorrow they would struggle to figure out who was more popular, Jesus or Dan Carter'.
There is no better atmosphere than that found on game day- and that goes for any sport. I love the sense of anticipation you feel waiting for kick off. Hundreds of thousands of people descended on NZ for the World Cup, and for those without match day tickets the Fan Zones were a great alternative. Most cities had one, an area with beer tents, entertainment and giant communal screens so fans could watch the game together. For me the RWC was simply a chance to watch world class rugby, it goes without saying that I had an England match ticket however I also had tickets to see South Africa, Samoa and Wales. I was there to see the global spectacle, to support the game of rugby itself, then my team. I wasn't alone in this, my first game, Wales vs Samoa, I had an American on one side of me and a Japanese man on the other “ not something I've experienced at Twickenham! There was always a positive atmosphere, no home or away fans just people there to enjoy themselves.
One thing that did surprise me was the number of opportunities to meet the teams, at the end of the day the players are travelling too, they are based in whichever city their next game is in and obviously can't stay in their hotel room all the time. I was very fortunate, I bumped into the All Blacks in Nandos, I met Wales and Australia players outside their hotels, I met some Scotland players in a Canterbury store, walked past the Fijian squad at the airport and to top it off met some of the South Africa team in Starbucks! As a fan travelling all that way, meeting your heroes and the players you look up to is really rewarding and really made my trip.
Rugbyaside,New Zealandis a fantastic place to visit. The scenery is spectacular and the people are some of the friendliest and most chilled out your ever likely to meet. The most popular way to travel is to hire a campervan and then do your own thing. I was slightly more restricted and had a schedule to stick therefore missed out on some of the sights “ Waitomo Caves, Fox Glacier and Milford Sound to name a few!
It is immediately obvious why NZ was chosen as middle earth and being a Lord of the Rings fan I was intrigued to see more. Hobbiton is a must see! It's actually located on a working sheep farm outside a town called Matamata. Your picked up from the I-Site and taken there on an old rickety white bus aptly named 'Gandalf'. As soon as you arrive it feels like you're leaving NZ behind and entering The Shire, there are luscious green hills and dozens of Hobbit holes. I seemed to time my visit perfectly as the following week the site was closed off to the general public so filming on The Hobbit could commence. During my tour some areas were screened off from the public so the gardeners could add the finishing touches to the sets. Photos were allowed but the guides were very strict on the no go areas and we all had sign a document ensuring we weren't then going to publish the photos before the films release.
Wellington was one of my favourite cities; it reminded me of San Francisco with its steep streets and coastal winds. I did another LOTR tour here taking in the local filming locations, another must do. Again I booked this in the local I-Site and was picked up outside my hostel. The tour began with a tour of the city and its filming studios (Welly-wood) and then headed to the Weta Cave which was fantastic. The gift shop is full of props and costumes and left with a considerably lighter wallet!
Dunedin was probably the wettest place I went to, situated on the east coast of the South Island it is the furthest city away from London before you start coming back on yourself. Being a major student city it has a very lively nightlife. I watched the England vs Romania game here in the new Otago stadium, a great piece of architecture with its transparent roof and natural turf.
Unfortunately Christchurch still resembled ground zero when I visited in late September, the devastating February earthquake had really reduced the city to rubble. The CBD (city centre) was a no go zone. I had to see it for myself before I believed it but the inner city was actually fenced off and was a ghost town, it was tragic to see some of the ruins that were once people's homes. There was a still a Fan Zone for people to watch the games but I only stayed for one night before moving on, it's such a shame, with the bunting on the river and the willow trees the city is really picturesque.
Queenstown, the adventure capital. There is so much to do here; rafting, bungy jumping, ski-diving, jet boating, mountain biking the list is endless. I saved myself about $40 by booking a bundle package in the AJ Hackett Bungy Centre and so went white water rafting and did the 134m Nevis Bungy Jump! Surrounded by mountains it is a top skiing destination and at first glance you could easily mistake it for a Swiss skiing resort. As with Dunedin, Queenstown is also a big nightlife spot with hundreds of bars to choose from. It would be rude of me not to mention Fergburger, world famous for its enormous burgers the size of dinner plates.
NZ did a fantastic job of hosting the RWC. It felt like the whole country came together, there was transportation and entertainment provided at every game and there was always someone available to help. I only had 3 weeks over there but I still came back satisfied and wanting to return, there is still so much for me still to see and for anyone thinking of heading that way my advice would be to go for it. It's a really long way to go so as long as you schedule enough time and plan your trip properly you'll have a great time. I now look forward to 2015 and hope England can do as good a job as host as NZ did (the same result wouldn't go amiss either!).