After the T20 defeat in Hamilton we travelled north to Rotorua and then to Whakatane, where friends of Lofty’s, Berny and Trish, had kindly offered to put us up for a couple of days.
Rotorua is a typical tourist-trap operated by Maoris and as usual I fell for it.
We visited the Te Puia geyser park, where the giant geyser is supposed to erupt at hourly intervals.
Lofty’s theory was that the guide was pressing an ‘on’ button when the tour group reached the geyser, and he kept muttering:
“Press the button. Press the button. Press the button.”
We were also treated to admission to a kiwi house , which apparently contained two genuine kiwi birds.
The hut was so dark, it resembled a photographic darkroom. I was also wearing shades. To be honest, I wouldn’t have seen the kiwi if it had rushed out and bitten my leg off.
On arrival at Whakatane town centre I had to physically restrain Lofty from booking into the backpackers dorms over the Irish Pub during a nostalgia attack, and thus it was we eventually arrived at Berny and Trish’s house.
Whilst Trish is a 100% New Zealand lady, Berny is actually a Manc from Didsbury who left the UK at the age of 9 in 1952.
Berny is a character.
I think he could be best described as a champion of all downtrodden minorities, and he related his devotion and support for, amongst others, the local Maoris, The Asian Community, The Chinese Community, The Gay Community, Extremist Eastern religeous groups, and the poor unfortunate people all over the globe who have had to spend their lives living on benefit.
If Berny had not emigrated from the UK I suspect he would now be a Liberal MP, banging the drum for minority rights within our wonderful and popular UK Coalition Government.
Over several beers, the world was well and truly put to rights that afternoon.
As a gesture in recognition of his wonderful humanitarian beliefs, I gave him my treasured Lancashire T20 shirt (worn just once !) as a reminder of his northern roots.
The next day Berny and Trish took Lofty and myself on a nature ramble – at last, the real New Zealand, firmly off the beaten track.
We drove 15 km down an unsealed road until we reached the path to the Tarawera Falls, which was a further 90 minutes walk – uphill.
Lofty’s lungs were wheezing like an accordion after a week without smoking, and seemingly unable to cope with the amount of fresh oxygen flooding in, but eventually we reached the lovely waterfall and then, several minutes further up the track , a wonderful swimming hole.
Trish and Berny indicated it was safe to swim and so I stripped off and jumped in – ahh, lovely and warm, and so scenic!
As I ventured further out into the middle of the pool, I noticed a rather strong current pulling me downstream and had to grab hold of a fallen tree to maintain my equilibrium.
On getting out of the pool and drying off, Trish alerted me to the following sign , which we had all missed:
“DANGER – NO SWIMMING. AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POOL IS ONE OF THE ENTRANCES TO THE UNDERGROUND RIVER.”
F*cking great. I was just one slip away from Hades. I did wonder why everybody was staring at me as if I had two heads as I jumped in!
After this, the idea of a bungee jump in Queenstown appears quite tame in comparison.
When my pulse rate had returned to normal, Berny and Trish took us to the local Returned Services Association Club, where it was ‘Happy Hour.’
Three pints of excellent beer and a rum and coke for Trish – just $12 – unbelievable, compared with what we have been paying everywhere else.
I have asked Lofty to dig out his World War I medals to exhibit so that we can both formally enrol in this club when we hit Napier.
We watched the final T20 on the big screen at the RSA Club and Berny cheered loudly for the Poms as he sat there downing pints and wearing his new Lancashire top.
You can take the lad out of Manchester…….
Berny and Trish were enrolled in the Addis Army and after saying our goodbyes we set off again on the road to Hamilton, where in the evening we saw that the first divisions of the Barmy Army had arrived.
Sat outside the Quadrant were Robbo, David, Ian, Fred, Phil and Eric, most of whom we had fraternised with in India.
Also waiting in the pub for us was Charlie, who you may recall from the last diary.
Charlie informed us that the morning after we had left Hamilton three days ago, young Sean the Dutch student was still snoring in his backpacker dorm at 10.30am after his cider session with Lofty – so it looks like the big hitch-hike to Raglan will have to wait for another day.
Charlie had also now visited ‘Hobbiton’, and he enthralled Lofty for about two hours with stories about ‘Lord of The Rings’ and all things Tolkien.
Charlie was so enthusiastic, he made me sound like a Hobbit-hater, and I cannot emphasize how enchanted Lofty was to hear all these stories.
On Sunday the first ODI took place and we had seats in the temporary stand. Seats which were absolute garbage – watching a cameraman’s umbrella from low down at mid-wicket, to be exact.
Ticketec were most obliging when I turned up at their kiosk ranting about how far we had travelled to watch this game and our seats were duly exchanged and upgraded.
That, in a nutshell, was the good part of the game.
England managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as on so many occasions previously.
From a strong first innings position of 190-2 after 40 overs, we subsided to 258 all out, not even using up our 50 overs.
Even we could see that 280 was a minimum par score on that wicket, and after some initial success in taking an early New Zealand wicket and keeping it tight, we lost all control as soon as the pressure was on and bowled a load of absolute crap to Brendan McCullum, who proceeded to launch it into the crowd – as the bowling fully deserved.
The fielding was also quite poor and Finn especially looked uncoordinated. Trying to return one ball, he slipped on the dew in the outfield, and tried several times unsuccessfully to regain his footing.
The comedy effect was superb and Finn looked like a felled giraffe trying to stand up in a pair of roller skates.
Alastair Cook’s excuse after the game was a classic.
” I think we need more practice.”
How much more practice, pray tell?
After watching this rubbish, we retired to the Quadrant to drown our sorrows with Farmer John and Lord Halifax, our two latest Addis Army recruits. Farmer John seems to share my unholy appetite for beer after midnight, as we were the last two people to be turfed out of the pub.
We left Hamilton the following day and I cannot say I am sorry, having now lost T20, ODI and Test matches at this venue on this and previous visits without having a sniff of a win – I can sympathise with Mr Blade more easily now.
On the way to Napier we stayed at the wonderful Chateau Tongariro – situated at the foot of Mount Ruapehu and surrounded by three other volcanoes. A setting to die for. Lofty and I played golf on the afternoon of our arrival on the difficult nine-hole course at the front of the hotel, and counted the cost later over our evening meal as the aches and pains kicked in.
Lofty was so sore the following morning, I had to do all the driving to Napier via the Kaweka Forest Park Road – ‘over the top’ from Waiouru to Fernhill.
This route is a ‘B’ road of some 110km which is normally closed in winter, but with the sun shining on it, ranks a close second to the Swartberg Pass road that Tremers and myself climbed over in South Africa – a truly marvellous drive, providing you are not towing a caravan!
The scenery changed as we climbed, through rich green dairy and sheep farms to orange coloured, treeless hilltops, a gorge with a fast-flowing river far below, a huge pine forest, and finally views of the sea at Hawkes Bay on the horizon, and I could only marvel at God’s handiwork all around me.
The road chippings about half way along the road were a f*cking nuisance though.
But then, that would be Man’s handiwork!
I am now about to go for a swim in the seemingly-permanent blazing hot evening sunshine with about two litres of sunscreen on my body.
It is the Napier ODI tomorrow and we can only hope for better things.
Love, Midnight xxx