Midnight's New Zealand Travels 2017
Come Back Lofty - all is forgiven!
Kia Ora all.
Throughout the winter I have been haunted by the twin spectres of flooding / poor weather at home and the prospect of watching 43 year old Shivnarine Chanderpaul bat for Lancashire next season, no doubt making his way to the wicket with the aid of a zimmerframe.
So when the chance of a prolonged vacation in New Zealand with my mate’s son Paul came up, I seized it faster than a Yorkshireman would pick up a 20p coin from the pavement. However, I was soon in for a rude awakening. Unlike my normal sedentary travelling cricket companion Lofty, Paul is a 36 year old fitness freak from Manchester with a broader accent than Mani from the Stone Roses. His primary vice is smoking, which allegedly only occurs "when I'm having a pint". Plenty of fags needed on this trip then?
In a nutshell instead of the usual gentle outing with Lofty to a motor museum or two, I have so far been well and truly put through the bloody mangle.
For the benefit of any Addis readers who may be thinking about visiting New Zealand for the England tour after the next Ashes, I shall try to colour my painful exploits with a little additional information about this splendid country.
Our trek started in Whitianga where I had envisaged a gentle acclimatization after the brutal 25 hour flight in cattle class. Not a bit of it. On our first morning in New Zealand I am rudely awoken thus:
"Come on Al, you lazy bastard. Its six am! Let's go for a swim in the sea!"
The sea was in fact only yards over the road but this process resulted in my feet being cut to ribbons by sea shells and other lethal items together with hypothermia which has resulted in the permanent man flu I have suffered since arrival.
Next we travelled south in the pouring rain to smelly Rotorua and the more desirable Taupo taking in the geothermal activities. On turning right off the main road into the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland in a downpour, our hire car was almost taken out by a road train, which I can assure any reader produces more adrenalin than a bungy jump. The hot geyser we chose to observe, the Lady Knox, needed to be hand started, which is probably a profound metaphor for my fading love life these days.
Cricket never being far from my thoughts, in Taupo we heard the shock news that Joe Root has been confirmed as the new England skipper.
I consider this a very welcome turn of events as whilst I admire Alastair Cook as a batsman, his captaincy has never done a lot for me.
Even less, the ahhm, errm, yes, no, listen, Frankie Howerd - like post match interviews.
Root has always come across as very confident in addition to his cheeky chappie persona and I hope he does as well as I expect him to.
In Wellington we enjoyed an excellent Chinese meal at the now legendary Beijing Restaurant in Newtown (frequented by the film director Peter Jackson) followed by the early Interislander ferry to spectacular South Island. The main coastal South Island motorway SH1 was destroyed by the recent earthquake and tsunami meaning there was only one central route south through Murchison and Arthur's Pass. The locals warned us there would be major delays and traffic implications due to this, and they were right - we saw at least six other cars heading our way along the road. Absolute mayhem.
Our route through the Buller Gorge enabled us to experience the swing bridge and jet boating outside Murchison, which I consider to be the best value in New Zealand compared to the more commercial outfits in Queenstown and Taupo. From here we drove to Oamaru with a view to seeing the little penguins waddle inshore to their burrows, but when we were told that watching this experience from a grandstand would set us back thirty dollars each, we decided to stay in the pub.
No wonder the penguin colony is shrinking charging those prices - greedy little buggers. Just how much fish can you eat?
A little walk round Mount Cook next day - the 13 kilometre Hooker Valley Track. Hiking boots, rucksack, thermal clothing, the whole caboodle. As Paul bounded along like a metronomic mountain goat, I traipsed behind like a distraught casualty of war.
Just what my throbbing feet needed - I don't think. Shiv, mate - I'm beginning to realise how you may feel this summer at Old Trafford!
Terrible weather enveloped us as we drove further south to Manapouri, and Doubtful Sound. Doubtful you could see anything, if you ask me, but the experience was eerie and quite humbling against the elemental forces of nature on display. The sandflies enjoyed an excellent meal from the blood vessels of the punters on the trip - the cuisine this time consisting mainly of an Anglo - Japanese fusion.
It has been a poor summer weather wise in New Zealand thus far but in the evening we got the chance to watch a day night ODI between the Black Caps and their summer guests South Africa - who will of course be appearing in blighty later this year.
This fixture, at the Westpac Stadium at Wellington, brought back some nightmare memories of the last cricket world cup....but this time it was New Zealand on the receiving end.
Bowled out for just 112 runs chasing a fairly average SA total of 271. No outstanding bowling performances to report from South Africa, save perhaps the annoying histrionics of Imran Tahir when he took a wicket - which as I recall wasn't very often!
In the batting the man to watch was as usual ABDeV, who made an outstanding contribution of 85 here to lift the SA innings out of trouble.
Our tour took us next to the Blackpool of New Zealand - Queenstown.
Abandon your wallet, all ye who enter here.
If you plan to visit Queenstown, which all first time visitors to New Zealand should do for a couple of days, it is strongly advised to book the pricy accommodation there well in advance. Even so, you can still end up with rubbish. We did!
We had booked a motel called the Sherwood, which doubles as a local rock venue. Faded stars from the UK are regular performers and in fact appearances by Lloyd Cole and Midge Ure straddled our stay.
There is clearly some kind of hippy thing going on at this motel, as there was a tepee pitched outside our patio doors and the swimming pool was filled with gravel, not water, and surrounded by bean bags to allow the guests to contemplate their navels / commune with nature.
Clearly, hippies do not approve of technology, as we had no TV, fridge or phone in our twin room. However, there were joss sticks and a huge tome written by a Californian stoner about enlightenment. A word to the Sherwood management - at the age of nearly sixty I am now as enlightened as I'm about to f*cking get and I would prefer a fridge to keep my beer and wine cold, please, instead of a load of incense sticks. I bet Midge Ure gets a f*cking fridge when he arrives.
Fellow Manchester United supporter Paul liked the vibe at the Sherwood even though he had to miss the Mickey Mouse Cup Final due to the lack of a tv. Having read the review of the motel I placed on Booking.com, he has accused me of being a miserable, Victor Meldrew - like old git, but I can't see where he gets that impression from.
However I think the main reason he liked the Sherwood was the young lass serving behind the bar - who as well as being attractive, was as mad as a box of frogs.
Extreme activities are all the rage in Queenstown and a highlight of our trip occurred when Paul attempted the Nevis Bungy - the highest and longest drop in New Zealand. Brown corduroy pants were the clothing of the day but the lad did it and has a tee-shirt and certificate to prove it. Personally I do not see the point in shelling out $275 to risk detached retinas, or knee and ankle damage so as you may guess I gave this one a miss.
I have an easy escape clause, there is a weight limit!
A drive up to the glaciers followed. Fox Glacier has receded alarmingly and what used to be a gentle stroll to the face is now a much longer trek with the final lungbusting section almost vertical to a rocky viewing platform - from which you can see very little.
Visiting not recommended now, this glacier is going backwards faster than Leicester City.
The neighbouring Franz Josef Glacier has also declined, although more gradually at say a Liverpool FC rate. Paul got close up and personal with Franz Josef during a costly heli - hike on to the top of the ice. His credit card balance must be going the opposite way to the glaciers!
In the evening we watched a further ODI from Hamilton in the pub. Two toes Guptill reinforced his claim for a Test place with a wonderful unbeaten knock.
He flayed the Saffers all over the place, winning the game single handedly for NZ and it was obvious for all to see that he has benefited greatly from his experience gained last season playing evening baseball in the rain for Lancashire.
After the pub closed, we were forced reluctantly back to our accommodation for the night, the Climbers Rest Backpackers in Fox Glacier. During the last war, forcing people to sleep in conditions such as these would have been described as 'an atrocity'.
The squalor of the third world is as nothing compared to the Climbers Rest. I suspect even PC Tintin would turn his nose up at this gaff, and whatever you do, if you visit the glaciers, don't stay here. Anyone in need of a laugh should read the guest review comments on Booking.com, as it seems I am not the only 'Victor Meldrew' in this world!
A killer drive up the West Coast the next two days via Hokitika and Westport. We lunched at the Bay Cafe at Cape Foulwind en route - highly recommended. We also visited Pancake Rocks, where a poster sited next to an evocative display of eroded coastal rocks asks the question:
"What do you see?"
I put the question to Paul.
"F*ck all mate. I couldn't see a f*cking thing!"
This proved to be a prophetic statement, as during our long and tiring drive to Nelson, a bee flew in through the open car window for some interaction with Paul and, as he succinctly put it, "stung me in the f*cking eye!"
Thankfully Paul recovered enough to enjoy a Friday night beer session at the Sprig and Fern on Tahunanui Beach without the need for additional medication. Mard bastard, I've suffered a fatal spider bite in New Zealand and lived to tell the tale!
Saturday morning hungover in Tahunanui and I am dragged from my slumbers at 9am for another Bataan Death March in the baking heat - this time 4km into Nelson City. Thankfully the excellent Mac Bar awaits at the end of my ordeal and I drink the first pint of ice cold shandy faster than John Mills. My feet now have calluses topped with corns and I am dreading the chiropodists bill when I return home.
Lofty, when you read this article you have my solemn promise never to complain about visiting motor museums again.
The final ODI took place on Saturday afternoon. I didn't pay much attention really as this was from the unlovely Eden Park in Auckland, which I don't really class as a cricket ground. Despite the ridiculously short straight boundaries New Zealand scored a paltry 150 in their innings, and the Saffers knocked these off easily with nearly twenty overs to spare.
In the evening an amazing reunion. Steve the Leeds Fan who took me on a late night pub and club crawl on our last but one visit to NZ is now the manager of the MAC Bar in Nelson and despite the passing of years when I went to the bar to order:
"F*cking hell.....its Midnight isn't it!"
Just goes to show once again what a small world we inhabit.
A further report will follow after the Wellington Test starting 16th March - after my Daley Thompson like buddy goes home!