Home New Zealand 2019 Warming up in Whangarei

Warming up in Whangarei

by Midnight

Kia Ora all

I left Taupo on Monday morning, after the T20 series clincher, to travel to Auckland for my rendezvous with Five-O. Thankfully, the weather had cleared up a little after Sunday’s washout and I hoped this would make the 275k drive more straightforward.

Ron, the motel owner, popped out of his office to ask if everything had been okay.

“Yes, Ron. You can’t help the weather, the rooms been very comfortable and the Thai restaurant is great. I’ll be giving you a good review.”

“Well, remember that noisy fella I was arguing with when you arrived? I hope your review is better than the one he’s just given us. You ought to read some of the stuff he’s written. All because I asked them to be quiet. They’ve gone and played the Maori card!”

I cannot tell a lie, I was giggling to myself about that one until I reached Tokoroa, some 60 km north on SH1. Lofty and I had found a decent cafe in this little town on our last visit, and it was still thriving. It was here that Lofty ordered a bacon and egg breakfast slider – at least that’s what I think it was called, as most of it tipped into his lap when he accidentally leaned on his plastic tray! Sorry Lofty, no offence. I’m sure you can laugh at this episode now. I played safe and ordered a non sliding cheese sandwich.

Up through or rather around Hamilton. A new motorway, called the Waikato Expressway, enables the driver to avoid Hamilton city centre, which is an absolute blessing at any time. Think M6 Toll, but without having to pay. You can even get the car up to 110km per hour legally for short stretches as opposed to the usual 100kmph.

Things were going so well untiI I reached the outskirts of Auckland. This is the Ellerslie Panmure section of the Southern Highway, which is the hunting ground for TV’s Motorway Patrol. Anyone who has seen this programme will know of the carnage that can ensue on this busy stretch. Sure enough, the drive became a Road to Hell, with idiots undertaking at high speed and people generally driving like dickheads.

Trying to concentrate on staying in one piece, I missed my exit for Mount Albert, and spent the next hour trying to locate our motel from memory using the wrong exit and from the wrong direction. Arrival, eventually, at 2pm.

I had a mission to perform at the Canterbury Sports Outlet on Auckland Harbour, buying Xmas presents for my pal’s kids (they all have extravagant Antipodean tastes) so I threw the bags into the room and caught the train to Britomart.

Where an unpleasant surprise awaited.

My usual ‘tourist bulk discount’ was denied by the young lass working in the shop.

“Last time I came in, the guy gave me 20% off for buying five shirts!”

“Well he’s not here today, and I can’t do that, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t suppose he is working tomorrow?” I innocently asked.

The stunning Auckland harbour front has been annexed by Fulton Hogan Contractors, and the fantastic view is now obscured by a forest of road cones and hoardings. Calling at the Brit for a quick pint after my errand, the friendly barmaid told me the works had been seemingly never ending, and were mainly to do with property developers trying to cram more office/hotel space into the waterfront.

Seems a bit ironic to me that if it stays like this for any length of time, nobody will want to go there!

On returning to the Motel, another unpleasant surprise. Wi-Fi is only available at a cost of $10 per day.

Bollocks to that!

I was so annoyed by this rip-off that when I returned to our unit I pulled out and activated the plug – in storage heating radiator, which will now be left on all evening to keep me warmer than usual tonight.

Revenge isn’t always a dish best served cold!

Mount Albert is predominantly Chinese in character with its high street dominated by takeaways and the like. Lofty & I have stayed here in the past mainly due to its easy access to Eden Park by train.

The lack of a decent pub had always been the main drawback, so imagine my delight on turning the corner past the railway station to find that an old Chinese giftshop has now been converted into a craft beer bar, the Albert Post, which in addition to the ale offers a happy hour, good food, and free WiFi.

Now, on the beer and online once more, I checked my e-mails which included a request from Booking.com to review Ron’s motel in Taupo, the Asure Prince. Out of curiosity, I had a look at the ‘noisy fella’s’ review which had so annoyed Ron as I was leaving. Bloody hell. I can well understand why he was upset.

Anyone trying to run a customer service business can do without tripe like this being posted and I make no apologies for repeating ‘Manuel’s’ review below.

It will make you laugh, or cringe, or both.

“RATING 2/10. Disappointed and disgusted with the treatment we got from him. We definitely won’t be going back….also didn’t appreciate getting accused of having Visitors in our room when we Didn’t! Then got accused of partying till 2pm (sic) in the morning ha ha what a Joke. Didn’t see him harrasing the other quest (sic) though…he’s clearly got an issue with Maori people. Shame on you….”

I’ve nothing against Maori people but I certainly have got issues with professional victims like this who whinge and moan to the world on social media and the like whenever they don’t get their way. The owner’s response to Manuel on Booking.com is an absolute pearl of logic and wisdom and worth a read!

Five-O turned up as expected at around 9am and after his long flight was surprisingly chipper. He is trialling a new shampoo called ‘Head, Shoulders and Luggage’. All you have to do is leave the shampoo bottle in your suitcase, let airport baggage handlers bounce the case about, then all your clothes get impregnated with shampoo and it saves on washing powder. I can’t see it catching on myself.

The weather had taken a turn for the worse, but as it was expected to clear up in the afternoon, we decided to take the ferry across the harbour to Devonport. A quick look in Five-O’s favourite second hand bookshop – which is the only one I have ever seen that sells second hand books at a higher price than the ‘new’ RRP – then a couple of pints in the Patriot.

Back over the water and it is happy hour in the Albert Post. During the next three hours, we resolved the thorny issue of Brexit, leaving everybody in the UK happy and content. Maybe our politicians should just get pissed.

Five-O’s policy of only drinking halves to stay sober backfires, mainly as he is drinking six halves to each of my pints.

He has so many visits to the loo, the visa has almost paid its way already.

Stumps are drawn around 7pm. A great effort by Five-O given his marathon flight and he returns to the motel to slip into oblivion.

A relaxing straightforward drive over the Auckland Harbour bridge next morning to the Northlands aided by Five-O’s phone satnav, which amazingly found us a great route out of Mount Albert avoiding all the traffic.

One brief stopover in Wellsford for elevenses, a couple of Great Pies, and we were in Whangarei by 1pm.

Five-O decided that a short stroll into town would be in order after the drive, and no arguments from me so we set off for the Cobham Oval in the hope of seeing the final throes of the two day warm up match. This turned into a five mile hike, after which my arthritic right knee was radiating dire warning signals.

Entry to the ground involved a circuitous route along the riverside and then all the way around the cricket ground – all the gates were locked – and on reaching the pavilion entrance, we were told that we would have to walk still further round the adjacent rugby stadium to find the one way in.

I protested to the stewards that we had already walked for several miles and my old joints were suffering, whereupon without further ado we were invited inside onto the pavilion balcony.

Five-O seemed quite impressed. “Fuck me. Is there anywhere you can’t blag into?”

We watched the cricket for a couple of hours in the pleasant company of Nick Hammond, a young Worcestershire second teamer who is here in the capacity of professional for the Northlands Club. A lovely lad who is just starting out on his career and on the basis that no publicity is bad publicity, we signed him up for the Addis site.

If he has read the first three blogs from this tour he will probably soon be having nightmares about what this one might say, but you can relax Nick and best of luck for your season in New Zealand.

England had a very strong side out and we watched Woakes, Archer, Stokes and Parkinson toil with the ball for little result.

Five-O had found the pavilion bar, meanwhile, and couple of halves were enough to set him off.

At the sight of Jack Leach leaving the pitch we were treated to:

“Aaaargh. Ooh aaargh. Come on, Somerset!”

All at the top of his voice, which sounded like a cross between an inebriated Delia Smith and one of the Wurzels.

I didn’t know where to look, but Leach is clearly used to such cider-fuelled adulation and he waved up to us and smiled happily in acknowledgement.

\”Are you from Gloucester, then?” quipped another chap on the balcony, which seemed to have a calming effect.

The lack of penetration from the English bowlers was a concern.

None of the New Zealand team were familiar to us, but we may just have seen a name for the future. A 19 year old called Finn Allen made 104 not out (retired) and to do that against such a strong England attack was no mean feat. It was a classy century full of fluent shots, and chanceless.

As the game petered out we headed into town for a rendezvous with an old friend.

In 2013 when last in Whangarei, Lofty and I drank almost exclusively in a city centre pub called Judges House of Ales. The landlord, Ross Kneebone, was a cricket buff and a bit of a character to say the least. The ex Whangarei Chief of Police, no less. Nick Hammond had confirmed to us that Ross, or ‘Bones’ as he is known locally, was a local legend and still behind the bar, and as we walked in I wondered if he would remember me. I needn’t have worried.

“Bloody hell, its the Addis boys back in town! I still look at that bloody website of yours occasionally, are you still going strong?”

Top man Ross. An incredible memory, it is over six years since I set foot in that pub and yet his recall was instantaneous. He also vividly remembered Samit Patel being in there playing and losing on his TAB machine!

We only managed three pints today but I am sure further visitations during the course of the next warm up match starting on Friday will drastically increase that count.

Thursday started with a thunderstorm and torrential rain, but we set off nevertheless early doors in the hire car as we intended to visit Cape Reinga – the very northern tip of New Zealand. Clocking in at 260km each way this is a tiring journey at the best of times and with the rain tippling down we decided upon a breakfast stop in Kawakawa, 60km up the road.

As usual, Five-O paid his customary visit to the town’s public toilet but was astonished with what he found in there. Never mind waiting for the NHS money to filter through from Brexit, the Visa money raised from us tourists for the NZ toilets is already rolling in & being put to good use. This public convenience is surrounded by a building site and has already been done up and decorated like a courtesan’s bathroom.

I need say no more except have a gander at the photograph!

By the time we reached Cape Reinga the weather had perked up, which was just as well after nearly four hours in the car.

The spectacular promontory is the confluence of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean and is sacred to the Maori, who believe spirits gather there on their way to the afterlife.

After another four hour journey travelling back to Whangarei, Five – O and I know how those spirits must feel as we were both at deaths door ourselves with aches and pains from sitting in that bloody car. I’ve been up to the Cape three times now, but this will be my last visit.

The journey was partially soothed by an eclectic mixture of music including The Who.

Five – O admitted he had seen the group at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969 – I was only eleven!

“What was your preferred festival drug of choice mate?”

“Oh, just lots of dope, Midnight, nothing stronger. Mind you, there was that much of it going about you didn’t really need to smoke it, just breathe in!”

Cricket for me on Friday. Five-O chose to use the car to visit the Bay of Islands instead, but he kindly gave me a lift to the Cobham Oval first.

A very small crowd. No more than 150 people here even though admission was free. There were fifteen portaloos straddling the entrance, that is one for every ten people according to my maths, and it amused me think of that ratio being applied at a Lords Test, with St Johns Wood brought to a standstill by a forest of 2800 portaloos. It might improve the character of the area!

The first person I met was Howzat Richard, recently arrived with his colonial ‘Empire’ scorebook and suffering the effects of jet lag. I plotted up with him on the hill, and together we watched what may be the England Test team make a Horlicks of the elongated morning.

Also present and sat with us Harry from Cheltenham. A world traveller of some experience and a devotee of ayurvedic spa holidays in Goa with none other than my pal from Lancashire Bury Phil, who I’m sure will be reading this.

Duncan, a Surrey member, and Toby, a young backpacker, completed our small English enclave on the grass bank.

New Zealand reached lunch on 123-1, aided and abetted by Sibley dropping Phillips off a sitter in the slips. Hamish Rutherford 59 not out, Phillips 48 not out.

During the morning we discussed the amazing number of adverts during televised T20 matches and wondered how the banned betting adverts had been replaced by those for erectile disfunction remedies. There must be a correlation between that, and staying up to watch cricket till 4am. Especially if England are playing.

During lunch I watched the England bowlers netting. Jobs for the Silverwood Yorkshire boys? Darren Gough is here acting as ‘temporary bowling consultant’. A welcome addition actually and based on the mornings action he will have his work cut out.

A wicket straight after lunch as Rutherford was strangled by Archer and the third wicket, that of Seifert, fell at 165 caught Denly bowled Stokes. Jimmy Neesham was then caught behind off Stokes for a duck, leaving NZ in a bit of trouble with only less experienced batsmen to come. 167-4.

No collapse sadly and as the play was slow I went for a walk and came across Jonny Bairstow buying a shipping order of coffee from the grass bank vendor. He is heading home to a training camp shortly and very much doubts his selection for the Tests in South Africa. As he turned to leave with two trays of coffee piled high, two kids arrived for photographs.

Fair play to the Ginger Druid, he turned back round and obligingly posed, piled up with trays as he was. He didn’t have to do this – especially as he had bought all the coffee out of his own pocket – but then again, maybe the kids were Welsh!

Tea 200 – 4.

England ploughed sand for the rest of the afternoon and the runs piled up steadily. I met Ian Ward on the bank and tried to entice him into agreeing to an Addis interview. Alas, my sales skills are not a patch on Freddie’s and he politely declined, but at least posed for a photo to decorate the website.

New Zealand declared just before the close on 302-6 and managed to dismiss Burns before stumps. A tough day for England, 26-1.

A lively night in the Judge followed, after all New Zealand is the home of the Friday five – o’clock swill. And it was Friday! We spent a great deal of time talking with the lovely Candice, a young local lass of South African origin who seemed strangely attracted to ageing English cricket supporters. Richard and Harry from the grass bank were with us and a little later Duncan also came to see ‘the Judge’.

A rare event. Richard bought the first round, so this was clearly going to be a memorable evening. Five-O and I managed to stick it out until the bar closed then played a game of pot luck wondering whether our hopeless Whangarei taxi would turn up. A late one.

In the morning, Five-O was feeling too trippy from his alcohol intake to drive, so I had to negotiate the journey into town by bus and on foot, carrying a collapsible chair, rucksack and a bag of food for the day. Meanwhile Five-O went for a walk to find the hair of the dog before hopefully picking me up in the car after stumps.

The mornings play was dull in the extreme, with night watchman Leach in particular batting for far too long and far too few runs. Nobody could understand the point of this, given the sole purpose of this game is to give our top batsmen time in the middle.

Bored, I went to see who was in the nets. Matt Parkinson bowling to Zak Crawley. I shouted down to young Parky to congratulate him on his new Lancashire contract, inked yesterday. When the roles were reversed and Parkinson had to bat, he spent about ten minutes putting on all manner of body protectors. As Coach Collingwood hurled the ball down, I shouted:

“For gods sake don’t hurt him Colly. He’s just signed a new deal, and we don’t want to upset Paul Allott. Nobody upsets Paul Allott!”

Collingwood looked up and grinned, as if he understood the full import of my comment.

Young Toby was sporting a sharp new convict style haircut, which was very appropriate as he is off to Melbourne later. I learned that Toby, Harry and Duncan have all been staying at the same place – backpacker cells in old Whangarei Jail! What better acclimatisation for Australia?

If the morning session had been turgid, it got a lot worse after lunch. Root and Stokes, who most of the sizeable crowd had come to see, were dismissed cheaply.

In addition, we had become aware of the brooding presence of a rather unpleasant individual on the grass bank behind us. Advertising himself as a Yorkshire fan who lived in London, this man looked like a cross between Martin Samuel and Oliver Reed, in shades. I shall simply refer to him as Mr Knowitall. He had the extremely annoying habit of interjecting into our conversations without being invited: and invariably disagreeing with everything that anyone said. In the end we just tried to ignore this disagreeable prat.

On a more positive note, Denly hit a workmanlike fifty, and later there were fifties for Pope (who was caught off a no ball) and Buttler (first scoring shot a straight six) as the pace accelerated.

Duncan had a bag of Wasabi Peas, and I very foolishly agreed to try one, despite having seen him try one on a seagull, which immediately spat it out.


These things don’t melt in the mouth, they simply melt your mouth, and if they had been fed to the inmates of Japanese POW camps during the last war, it would have been classed as an atrocity.

The dismissals of Root and Stokes meant they had to net, and their arrival brought hordes of photographers and autograph hunters towards the practice area.

Both were very respectful and obliging with the many fans. I had my photo taken with Stokes.

“Ben, I was lucky enough to be at Headingley and I’ve only one thing to say to you – thanks.” That brought a big smile to his face despite having failed here with the bat.

As Buttler and Pope progressed after tea, the latter was caught trying to hurry things up on 88. Buttler remained not out also on 88 and there was a very strange passage of play in the last few overs, where Jofra Archer consistently blocked it out for five balls then kept stealing the strike from Buttler , which mystified us.

A lead of about 50 – surely England do not intend to bat on in the morning. If they do declare overnight then Buttler will be deprived of a deserved century.

Five-O arrived to pick us up just before the close, having now had sufficient hair of the dog to drive once more. That must be how they roll in Cornwall!

After a couple more interventions from Mr Knowitall, Five-O had heard enough even after just half an hour on the bank with us and started chunnering. Putting up with Knowitall for the whole day required some feat of tolerance.

England did bat on in the morning. Lancashire non-playing legend Buttler completed his ton.

As wickets fell, as if just to prove that the game was being played at Test intensity, Stuart Broad came in and played his normal Test Match innings – out for a duck first ball to a short pitched delivery.

England reached 405, a lead of 103, and New Zealand were in early difficulty, with three wickets falling before lunch. Further wickets fell in the afternoon, and at 104 -7 just before tea it looked entirely probable that England would record a win. The NZ tail enders had other ideas however. Patel and Somerville defended well, and put on 40 for the 9th wicket to save the game. In the case of Somerville, ‘Never Can Say Goodbye Boy’ appeared highly appropriate, as none of our bowlers could get rid of him!

An honourable draw then.

There was one very, very funny moment during the afternoons play. Graham Thorpe and Bruce French were on walkabout with a younger coach and passed in front of our area, where a local kiddie was waiting with his autograph book.

“Do you want this guys autograph?” the tall young coach said to the kiddie, while pointing at Thorpe.

“Nah!” said the kiddie as he ran off, leaving to hoots of laughter from everyone in earshot and, to be fair, Thorpe himself!

A final farewell pint in the Judge with Richard, Harry, Russ and Keith, who we chatted with on the final day, and who appears to have an even more garish taste in shirts than Five-O. Unfortunately, landlord Ross Kneebone wasn’t at work. Probably nursing a sore head from last night’s party, I bet! Regards to you Ross and you will see me next time England are in town, for sure.

This has been my most enjoyable warm up match since the ones in lovely East London in 2009. A great little town. A fine cricket ground. A cracking local pub with ultra-friendly locals. A bit of access to the players, sunny weather, free admission, and good company on the grass bank – with the notable exception of Mr Knowitall.

Off on the road again towards Mount Maunganui in the morning and a further diary will follow from there after the First Test – I can hardly wait, and like Tom Harrison of the ECB I am now officially ‘giddy with excitement’.



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