Australia & New Zealand Tour 2017/18

Take me out to ball game

Having been a long - term admirer of Ms Nicola Sturgeon and her plans for Scottish world conquest, the choice of Dunedin to celebrate my 60th birthday was a logical one.

Here is the new Scotland, the Scotland of the South Pacific. The very name Dunedin is the Gaelic for 'Edinburgh'. A statue of Robert Burns is centrally positioned in the middle of the Octogon, the city centre. Most of the buildings look like pop-ups from Robert Louis Stevenson novels. And most of the residents seem to be called Angus or Hamish, apart of course from the very large Chinese population that now seems to inhabit the City. Get rid of all the sassenachs? Be careful what you wish for......

The main difference between Dunedin and the Scotland at home seems to be that in New Zealand, the residents have to pay for prescriptions and further education. What a pity this novel thinking will never catch on in the UK, lest votes and alliances be lost.

Anyway enough of politics I'm sure you are all dying to know what we got up to here.

Well, on arrival a pleasant surprise. We found a pub called 'Bransons-home of the $10 jug!' on a back street, and sure enough, this proved to be the cheapest beer yet in New Zealand. I must have some Scottish blood, as I really liked the cheapness of this place.

The Barmy Army pub from England's last tour in 2013, 'The Terrace' on the Octogon, is no longer there, having been replaced by a Craft Beer Emporium. Another one bites the dust.

We were lucky enough to be able to visit the places a cricket tour does not normally allow time for. A day out at the fabulous Larnach Castle, for instance.

An afternoon at Olverston, a stately house donated to the city by its last owner who had no children.

Olverston is a must - see. Built by a wealthy Jewish family called the Theomins from Bristol piece by piece and block by block, with all the materials ferried over from England. The house contains a treasure trove of art and valuable antique furniture.

At its peak the house was inhabited by just four original family members and seven servants, again all brought with them from blighty in the 1800's. That is an even greater principal / retinue ratio than the England Cricket Team!

On my birthday, a train trip along the coast from the splendid Dunedin station, unbelievably the second most photographed building in the Southern hemisphere after the Sydney Opera House.

A visit to Cadbury World which alas will soon never be the same again due to Machiavellian cost cutting by the parent company Mondelez - as happened when the same smartie - counting buggers took over Cadbury in England. Closure of the factory in Dunedin in March 2018 is a sad reality now, not just a Wispa. Still, enough free chocolate on the tour to give me spots until my 70th birthday, as Lofty kindly donated his bag of freebies as a birthday present.

Finally, a great meal at Etrusco in the Savoy.

Not a late night. We crammed in so much on the day I was 'Kerry Packered', and all the texts and good wishes from home had the opposite effect, I think, from that intended. After almost three months away I am missing my friends at home and beginning to feel a little homesick. Well, at least I lasted longer than Steve Harmison in 2008!

Our final day in Dunedin involved an evening visit to the home of the $10 jug, followed by a Chinese meal in cheap and cheerful Wong Gok.

For several weeks Lofty has been trying to perfect a 'Benny Hill' style non - PC Chinese impression, but he got his come uppance tonight from a table of eight Chinese folk who were sat adjacent.

After several clich├ęd 'Kung Fu Fighting' noises from Lofty, an old chap at the Chinese table turned round to engage with us, asking what we were drinking with our meal - a bottle of Oyster Bay Pinot Gris which we had brought ourselves, as it happens.

Next, one of the Chinese group appeared at the door carrying two bottles of wine he had just been out to buy and wandered over to our table to offer us a glass. Hopefully this embarrasing episode will cure any future ambitions Lofty may have about becoming the Chinese Ambassador of Culture for Guernsey. 'Why they no crapping', indeed.

We had planned to turn south towards Invercargill after leaving Dunedin, but due to difficulties obtaining accommodation due to the imminent Bert Munro Motorcycle Challenge, with every petrol-head in New Zealand seemingly headed in that direction, it was necessary to change our plans. Instead, we headed south just for a short while with an overnight stay in Milton before cutting back up north.

"What made you decide to stay in Milton?" asked our Dunedin host Andy on checking out.

I explained, and enquired about the local amenities.

"Well, there's a prison....." said ex-copper Andy, before ruefully scratching his head. He couldn't come up with anything else!

Milton was nowhere near as bad as we had feared and we enjoyed a comfortable nights stay and a rather good meal at the nearby pub, called 'Kink in the Road'. Allegedly the main road through town started construction from north and south simultaneously then failed to meet in the middle. Nobody seemed too bothered though!

What can only be described as a superlative drive to Wanaka next day. A great road this, passing wonderful scenery under powder blue skies. In Livingstone I spotted a contender for the world's largest thistle. Alexandra, Cromwell and Clyde offered lookouts with spectacular views over the River Clutha. Finally the twisty climb over the Cardrona pass, which Lofty chose in preference to the main A road to Wanaka. At the summit, the view is biblical, across the valley which is the flight path for large passenger planes landing in Queenstown. At the lookout over the top of the valley an American f*ckwit decided it would be a good time and place to play with his new toy - a large drone. Thankfully by this time most if not all of the scheduled passenger jets had landed safely.

Reaching Wanaka in time for seven o' clock beers we headed down to the Water Bar, where a pool competition was being held. On entering our names the young manageress Laura asked where we hailed from. On hearing that Lofty was from Guernsey, a look of utter shock as she called over her boyfriend, Danny. On further investigation, not only do this couple hail from the island, but they also know Loftys lad!!

The pool competition didn't go so well as we were both eliminated 2-1 in the first round by the local hustlers but as you can imagine we are getting used to losing by now.

We settled down to watch the first game of baseball between England and Australia, televised on Sky here from 9.30pm. After a bright start, England underachieved with the bat once again losing loads of wickets in the middle overs for not many. Only a careful last wicket stand took the total towards respectability, 155. Nowhere near enough when designated hitter Glenn Maxwell hits a century. First blood in the World Series then to Australia.

A heavy drinking session then followed with Laura, Danny and their mates leading us to the pub the locals frequent after all the tourists are tucked up in bed - Woody's Sports Bar. Lofty has hardly troubled the scorers on the drinks front so far on this trip, but he made up for it tonight with his fellow Gurns. Strangely enough, he didn't feel like any beer the next day!

Our three day stay in Wanaka was relaxing and enjoyable. I hiked both sides of the lake in baking hot weather, whilst Lofty took the car and visited a couple of local transport museums and the local curio, 'Puzzling World'. On expressing his disappointment with the latter in the pub, Laura's comment was a pearl.

"I told you Puzzling World was crap on the first night when we met you!"

Yes well, beer does funny things to your memory.

I could see that Lofty was quite sad when we had to leave Wanaka. It is a special place, like Queenstown in its own smaller way and without the hype.

Six hours on the road next day, using a full tank of fuel on the way up the West Coast. Having done this journey before, planning the petrol regime is vital unless you don't mind being royally ripped off for fuel in remote places like Haast, Fox Glacier and Franz Josef. We had just enough fuel to reach Hokitika, where I knew there were a couple of reasonably priced garages from my experience on last years trip.

"Bet you a fiver this is another rip off" said Lofty as the fuel gauge veered towards zero and we approached Hokitika. "No way, it will be less than $2.20" I said, snatching at the bet like a drowning man for a rope. Sure enough, $2.09. Another five bucks in the beer kitty.

When we reached our destination for the next two nights, Kumara, the $5 smile was wiped right off my face. I thought we were staying in a cottage behind a pub / restaurant, but oh no.

On checking in:

"Well, here are the keys to the Miners cottage. Its about 600m down the road just before you leave town. There's no Wi-Fi, but you can come up to the hotel to use ours.

That will be $400 please....."

Fearing the worst, we drove down to said cottage, which is indeed at the end of town, in fact on the edge of civilisation as we know it. The Cottage at the Edge of Forever.

Not only is there no WiFi, but the TV offering is basically not worth trying to work out the various defunct handsets. So not only are we unable to watch the second baseball game of the World Series, but also unable to even find out the score. Tonight, as the West Coast rain hammers incessantly down onto the tin roof making sleep impossible, I can easily imagine how a man could go mad in this place. We take contact with the outside world for granted nowadays, and when it is removed..........!

Every cloud has a silver lining they say, and missing the second game of baseball did us a great favour. Another insipid performance by England's overrated pinch hitters saw us being hammered by Australia. Thank you, Theatre Royal Hotel , Kumara for depriving me of having to sit through this performance.

On to Westport (pop circa 5000) then. Last time we visited ten years ago with Tremers, this small town left a slightly menacing impression. Everything seemed to be run down, and we attracted hostile glances in pubs and the like.

We are here for four nights this time, so there should be plenty of opportunity to befriend the locals!

A visit to the seal colony on day one, including a walk along the splendid if inappropriately named Cape Foulwind Walkway. Lofty made it only as far as the ten minute stroll to the seal viewing platform then turned back, which was quite handy for me as it meant the car was waiting at the other end when I finished my trek.

One of the best short walks - highly recommended.

In the evening, we discovered the dubious charms of the Black and White Hotel.

One of the most disturbingly scruffy pubs on earth, where most of the locals look like animated villains from Captain Pugwash or Tintin.

There is a sign behind the bar as follows:

"Be patient with the barmaid. Even a toilet can only deal with one arsehole at a time!"

Our barmaid is a huge unit with more facial metal than 'Hellraiser' so we will indeed be very patient.

However, the beer is impressively cheap at only $11 per jug, and there is a big sports screen - just the place to watch the third World Series Baseball game on Tuesday night!

When we turned up after an early evening meal, the baseball was already on with New Zealand well into their innings, slamming lots of home runs in every direction.

The England pitchers were particularly wasteful, offering plenty of 'balls' as opposed to strikes.

When England began their chase, after a promising start, the innings disintegrated.

Lazy posh-boy Vince was once again run out attempting a suicidal single, had he put in a dive he might have made the plate but it seems he doesn't like getting his trousers mucky. Now, where have we seen this before? (The Brisbane Test. Ed.)

During the England innings I had been befriended by the local stoner, who was watching the cricket in between putting Jimi Hendrix tunes on the juke box and nipping outside for a blow.

As Jos Buttler arrived at bat, the stoner was telling me during one of his brief periods of lucidity how good Buttler was and how he would rip New Zealand apart.

Given the paucity of Buttler's contributions for Lancashire, I'm afraid I know better, and sure enough he came marching down the wicket after just four balls trying to hit a home run. Oh dear. Mistimed it. Caught on the boundary. How sad. Never mind. IPL soon.

The stoner turned to me.

"I'm going outside to smoke some pot now. You can have some, if you like!"

Unfortunately for me I gave up smoking ten years ago. Maybe dope is the antidote to the England cricket performances we have endured these past months. Maybe not. I've already seen too many dopes watching this bloody lot.

Westport was very pleasant and relaxing overall, and we followed this up with three nights in Tahunanui Beach, Nelson - a favorite spot. The weather turned hot and sunny, and after three days of sunbathing and applying the sunscreen too sparingly, I now resemble the contents of a tube of Signal toothpaste.

Yet another classic game of baseball, this time from that historic, dripping-with -heritage Test ground at Eden Park, Auckland. Short boundaries at each end of the wicket meant that batsmen were miscuing, but being rewarded with six most of the time.

New Zealand racked up 247 in their 20 overs - which Australia knocked off in 19.

Call it what you like - but it isn't cricket. What is the point or excitement in a game where nearly every ball goes to the boundary?

What next - eight runs for a crowd member being hit in the face by the ball and losing teeth - which happened to some poor old sod here?

England's final baseball fixture occurred while we were in Nelson, beamed from a packed Seddon Park, Hamilton.

Playing under a blood red sky, England still haven't found what they're looking for.

Setting NZ 195 to win, in reality England had to contain the kiwis to 174 or less to reach Wednesdays final in Auckland against Australia. Our new ball pitchers found a perfect line - perfect anyway for Munro, who hit sixes at will. Burger King are offering 2-4-1 (for any Welsh readers, that's two for the price of one!) burgers if New Zealand hit more than 9 sixes in an innings, Munro wasn't far short of that total on his own.

When the 'spinners' came on, more control was exerted for a while, until the kiwi batsmen realised that hapless Hampshire trundler Dawson puts every ball in the same area. His last over was pure carnage.

Although England actually won the game, New Zealand qualified for the final by virtue of run - rate.

It seems although our team is full of 'match winners', it isn't full of series winners.

An illuminating if graceless interview by Clown Emperor Bayliss afterwards in which he inferred that International T20 matches should be scrapped. Just the sort of bitter crap I'd expect from an Australian. Maybe someone at the ECB should gently tell him that International T20 fixtures are now in tablets of stone until 2025. Or maybe he isn't bothered about anything post 2019.

I can already hear Messrs Lehmann and Hesson singing "Just because you're losing."

Finally, a message for the CEO of Hampshire, a Mr Mann.

You wanted to know why the Rose Bowl has not been selected for an Ashes Test for the next five years, according to the BBC Sport website.

Well, I can hazard a guess, if that's any good.

Perhaps its because it might take the Australian fans longer to travel from Southampton to the Rose Bowl than their flight from Perth to Heathrow?

We now sit in Picton, on our way to North Island, awaiting Tropical Cyclone Gita, due to hit New Zealand overnight.

Lofty was very quiet on the drive from Nelson until we approached the Queen Charlotte Sound, then:

"I'm not looking forward to that ferry crossing tomorrow!"

Ha ha ha. Never mind Lofty, at least as we are foot passengers you won't need to go down with the car!



Click here for other tour diaries