I have more interests then aviation. I am also a keen supporter of Ruby Football. I find it more enjoyable than Football itself. So when my rugby club thought about doing a once in a lifetime trip to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand – I jumped at the chance.
OK so a year later than when this should have appeared! The England win over New Zealand at the weekend made me think about my trip just over a year ago down under to the Antipodes for that festival of rugby – the World Cup.
This was not with any flying by me or with me on the flight deck but of course there was a lot of flying involved: Heathrow – Hong Kong / Hong Kong – Sydney / Sydney – Auckland / Auckland – Los Angeles / Los Angeles – Heathrow. So it was literally a round the world trip!
The rugby club I have been a member of for over 15 years – Racal Decca RFC, has a superb tour manager/organiser. Working in the hospitality business helps!! He organised for club members to go to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Eight of us (Dev, Mick, Cookie, Tony, Anthony, Harry, Simon 1 (myself), Simon 2) took up the offer and coughed up the money to experience this possibly once in a lifetime trip to a festival of a game we all love to either play or watch (some have done both but the latter has been forced on us). An old member (Mike) of the club had emigrated to New Zealand a few years previously and so it was going to be an ideal opportunity to meet up over a few beers.
Tuesday 11th October:
Seven of us met in an Aussie themed bar in Wimbledon whilst we waited for our taxis to take us to Heathrow Terminal 5. The Eighth member (Tony) was already on a tour of South East Asia and would meet us in Auckland. The ninth member (Mike) would meet us there too having driven up from his home near Wellington, as we had arranged to hire 2 motor-homes for the duration of the stay in the Land of the Long White Cloud, it would help with the logistics to pick them up.
Terminal 5 is the terminal infamous for its baggage mis-handling on its opening a few years back. Thankfully we had no such problems. It went swimmingly. It is an impressive place and straight forward to get through to your aircraft.
The 7 of us Boarded our British Airways flight BA25 and took off at near 7 pm and landed in the heat of the jewel in the South China Sea just gone lunchtime the next day.
Wednesday 12th October
It had been 16 years since I was last in Hong Kong, it was warmer too as it was March and I was visiting my sister who lived there and I saw the Hong Kong 7s. I was there for 3 weeks. This time would be only 1 night. The weather was mixed but mainly rain and cloud. It had changed (as expected). The new airport (Chep Lak Kok) was on the island of Lantau and further away from Hong Kong and Kowloon than Kai Tak was. No more amazing approaches over the skyscrapers and CheckerBoard Mountain.
Our hotel was the Novotel, Nathan Road in Kowlooon. It was going to be luxury compared to what lay ahead in New Zealand! We had a walk around the area, to soak up teh atmosphere (and the rain). We returned back to the hotel to change for the evening. We wandered over to a bar on the harbour front. A row of bars frequented by expats from around the world lines the street facing the harbour and looking out towards Hong Kong Island. Quite a view.
later that evening Dev had booked a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui. Quite plush! It was busy too. A chef even gave a demonstration of making noodles. Fantastic. Afterwards went into a hotel for a relaxing aperitif before retiring to our hotel for our one and only night in Hong Kong.
Thursday 13th October
Another overcast day and our last in Hong Kong. We had a decision to make – Victoria Peak or Sky 100. The latter is a new skyscraper open to the public to view Hong Kong and the surroundings from the 100 floor. We opted for the skyscraper. At least we would be undercover from the rain. It actually wasn’t raining, just very cloudy. The cloud did clear. From the Sky 100, a tremendous view was possible, including what Kai Tak looks like now – a very sad sight to a once great but notorious airport.
We then caught the famous Star Ferry across the harbour to Hong Kong Island. We had limited time as our flight was in the afternoon. As we crossed the harbour a Chinese Junk sailed across in front of us. The Iconic Chinese cargo vessel is actually quite rare so it made an interesting sight sailing with full sail.
After walking around the streets of Hong Kong Island, we then caught a taxi back to the Hotel to grab our bags and catch the bus to the airport. A long 40 minutes drive over new bridge and road system.
After check in at the new modern airport terminal we awaited for the departure of our (well 5 of us) flight at 2055 (2 others left earlier due to availability of tickets). We left on Qantas at 20:55 to land at Sydney the next day for a 4 hour lay over.
Friday 14th October
We arrived at 0855 and hung around and had a bite to eat and ventured into Duty Free. No time to see the sights of this famous city. Except from a distance from the terminal. The guys who had caught an earlier flight had landed in Melbourne and we were going to meet up again in Auckland. We departed Sydney on Qantas and arrived 5 hours later in Auckland. Now the fun was really beginning. Tony and Mike had picked up the motor-homes and made sure that they would not be locked away in the company compound as we landed after its closure.
Going through customs, the officers were joking with us about why are we here? – England are not!! The atmosphere was great with loads of banter being thrown around. We hadn’t seen Mike for over 3 years so it was good to see him on our exit of the baggage and customs hall. Tony was his usual effervescent self. I went off with Tony and Mike to pick up the motor-homes (Mike was in his own car) and bring them back to the airport.
We were altogether by now and so loaded up and headed off to our campsite – home base for the next few days. Orewa Beach, north of Auckland and as the name suggested – on the beach! The motorhomes were something different but ideal fr the upcoming stay in New Zealand – ‘Land of the Long White Cloud.’
I had bought a pair of walkie talkies over from the UK. They turned out to be ideal for talking between the motorhomes in our mini convoy instead of using expensive mobile phone calls.
The evening was spent exploring Orewa town and sampling the local hospitality. Travelling can be so tiring!
Saturday 15th October
Up for Breakfast outside our mobile homes and an early morning sunshine. We could have gone for a dip but decided against it.The camp site was I believe listed as one favoured for travelling supporters. There were French, Welsh and even New Zealand supporters staying here. The banter and atmosphere was great between all and sundry.
Today was the first day for us to see some rugby – The first Semi Final – Wales v France. It meant getting into Auckland early to soak up the atmosphere and get some lunch. The organisers had laid on free bus services. There was a free bus from our campsite to Auckland and free trips back via Albany.
When we got to Auckland we could either catch a train to Eden Park or go on the Fans Trail – a pedestrian route along pavements and through parks passing various entertainments – rugby related, juggling etc. There were of course the usual pubs and bars and it would have been rude not to try them!
The first game was France V Wales.
Sunday 16th October
Day of the 2nd Semi Final – but as with yesterday it was not until 9pm! So a day to get to look around the local area.
In Auckland later that day ready for New Zealand v Australia
The transport arrangements to the grounds, even from our campsite was fantastic. Free bus from our campsite to Auckland and free train to Eden Park, if you had game tickets. There was even a Fan Trail – a 5 mile walk with street entertainers and bars along the way. We did this once then opted for the train after that. The return an equally well organised. Bus to a stop at Albany from the stadium and then a connecting bus to the town of our campsite Orewa Beach.
Monday 17th October
A fairly relaxing day although it meant driving for a few hours to the famous Sulphur City of Rotorua. After breakfast we bumped into some friends from teh UK, who also had played for the rugby club but had booked independently, their trip to New Zealand.
We then set off to Rotorua. Walkie-Talkies at the ready and vans fuelled up. Mike, the expat came with us in his car and left for his home near Wellington, as we pulled into the camp site that had been booked. On the way down , the lead van decided to undress itself from the rear. This is where the walkie-talkies came in handy as we in the second vehicle passed on the news. The fault was remedied by means of Duct Tape, that stayed on the van through our time in New Zealand When stopped to make the repair there was an Emu (Australian native bird) in a field taking it all in.
I have a friend in Rotorua so when we parked up at the campsite I rang them and they kindly acted as taxi to a local pub – The Pig and Whistle . This was the old Police Station.
Tuesday 18th October
What to do today? There are loads of activities to do and see around Rotorua but we were only going to be there less than a day we had to decide on something. Therefore the famous Thermal Park –
The Thermal Park is a living Maori village. It has shops, a church (and cemetery) and allotments for growing of vegetables. Fascinating if a little smelly due to the sulphur.
We then went to Hell’s Gate. A thermal pool one could bathe in to get a taste of the good the sulphur filled water spring water does to your body.
We were now getting on and we had to move onto Taupo, location of the largest freshwater lake in the southern Hemisphere and like most New Zealand has an active volcano beneath it.
Wednesday 18th October
A couple of mad thrill seekers from our group decided to do a typical New Zealand activity of Bungy Jumping!
We then left the town of Taupo to drive to the Coromandel Peninsula and Hot Water Beach. On the way we stopped at a Hydro Electricity plant for the daily release of the water that makes its way down through the valley in a quite impressive cascade.
There was a scenic trip to our next camps ite at Hot Water Beach. Mountainous with windy roads that just seemed to climb for eternity.
Thursday 19th October
Today was our trip to Hot Water Beach via the Coromandel Peninsula. It was here we had a lunch break and stretched our legs. Hot Water Beach is a stretch of sand covering a vein of volcanically heated water. You dig (you can hire spades) less than 6 inches and you have a bath that is warm,in paces boiling, yet the Pacific Ocean is yards away and is cold in comparison. We ventured to the beach by means of another beach as the vein of water is most accessible at low tide.
Friday 21st October
Back to Orewa Beach, ready for the Bronze Final Australia v Wales
The weather had decided to be more settled over these last few days and this added to the beauty of some of what New Zealand had to offer.
The match today was earlier then the last 2 matches so we had a little time to sightsee. We made the most of where we were while we waited for the time to catch the bus to Auckland. WE had become ‘regulars’ at a bar that had music and so had a good time when we ventured into it. Being English (with a few additional home country allegiances) we sparked a bit of humour due to England being knocked out before we got to New Zealand, but it was all in great jest.
This was a great match and the last one we would see.
Saturday 22nd October
We had a free day now and decided to visit Auckland and see what it had to offer. The Sky Tower, The Lord Nelson pub and many more attractions.
In the evening, one of the guys had a friend who lived in a suburb of Auckland and had arranged for us to have a meal in South African run restaurant. It was a great meal, lovely food and great company. A good day was had by all.
Sunday 23rd October
Cup Final day – New Zealand v France. No tickets but we had decided to watch it in a pub in Auckland to soak up some of the atmosphere. In teh meantime we had a day free to relax, unwind as only 2 days before were due to fly off to the USA. Some of us took a walk along to the local Life Saving club where the bar was open and as it was a miserable day weather wise we had a relaxing drink to while away a couple of hours.
After the final we decided to call in at our local bar before retiring to bed! Most in a reflective mood due to the impending flight away from New Zealand and the nearing of the end to a fantastic trip.
Monday 24th October
We stopped off for lunch in a local bar on the banks of an estuary. Then returned to the campsite to start the unenviable task of packing up and getting the vans ready for return to the hire company. There of course was a final trip to the local bar to drown our sorrows.
Tuesday 24th October
Off on the next trip of our round the world trip. We had to be at Auckland Airport by at least 1200 and the included returning the camper vans to the hire company. We were due off at 1430 tp Los Angeles. Flying Qantas. At Auckland Airport is Jean Batten’s Percival Mew Gull. The record breaking plane she used to fly UK-New Zealand.
Some of the LAX (Los Angeles) airport officials are a bunch of jobsworths. They wanted written confirmation of when we were leaving (having only just landed). They marched one of our group the end of the Terminal for ‘interrogation’. Welcome to the US where we treat you with respect and courtesy. These guys obviously missed that lesson on their training course.
Tuesday 25th October (2nd time)
Due to crossing the International Date Line, we had 2 Tuesdays. We landed early morning in Los Angeles and took a taxi to our hotel in Santa Monica. We would be here for 2 days. As we were so early, we looked for somewhere to have breakfast and found a restaurant that seemed to be catering for better dressed people then us, but they served us all the same. Very well too. It was quite an overcast day too.
After a rest from the flight we ventured around Santa Monica and in the evening headed for Hooters! Santa Monica is famous for Venice Beach and settings of many TV shows. They had just completed filming one whilst we were walking but alas no ‘extras’ were required. The other more famous aspect to Santa Monica is the end of the historic Route 66.
We had returned to our hotel but were informed of a night club below a museum, just across the street. So we traipsed over and experienced an underground club with bar. It was a fun evening, especially being the foreigners in town. We then ventured back to the room (more an apartment) that was part of our hotel but where 3 of our group were staying. We had invited back a couple of girls and their friends and had an impromptu party. Careful not to wake those sleeping but I think we failed on that score!
Wednesday 26th October
A day for seeing more of Santa Monica and Hollywood. Nursing hangover and lack of sleep. A scenic bus tour around the area. We actually started off at a shopping centre whilst waiting for the next tour bus.
Nothing much in the shopping centre so on the bus – open-topped, a great view of the surrounding hills and city scape. Into Beverly Hills and we were dropped off near the City hall (setting for Beverly Hills Cop) and walked along the pavements (sidewalks) down Rodeo Drive and found a restaurant for lunch in a parallel street.
We then entered the Wilshire Hotel,Beverly Hills. Not quite the regular dress code that the hotel would serve – t-shirts shorts and flip-flops but we were served a decent liquor cocktail. The name of which escapes me. There was a young lady in the hotel, looking for a wedding location. She got chatting to us and then said she was off to the Beverly Hills Four Seasons. She left and after our drink, we went on a walk about, something the Americans cannot always fathom.
We walked up a road and there was the Four Seasons Hotel. bearing in mind there was 8 of us, the valets thought we were paparazzi. There were statues of various figures on the forecourt , the most famous being of Marilyn Monroe. The girl we had met in the Wilshire, drove out, saw us waved, stopped said hello again and couldn’t believe we walked from the Wilshire to the Four Seasons. The Valets came running over and asked who she was – we had no idea. They thought as we were speaking to her, she was famous.
We carried on to the next bus journey – this time deeper into the more famous sites around LA and Hollywood.
We were too late to get to see the famous sign but had a good time on the Walk of Fame and The Chinese Theatre.
We had a table booked at a restaurant near our hotel. It was had an interesting interior. The food was good.
Thursday 27th October
Well our last day of our epic trip. My sister’s birthday was at the end of the month so I had found a card to send her from Santa Monica. Luckily not far from the coffee shop that shared the forecourt to our hotel was a sho selling handmade cards. Halloween is very big in the US, and my sister lived in Transylvania County – on the east coast of the states. How appropriate!! I found a last remain Halloween referenced card for her and off it went
Our flight was not untill 1555 so we had to be at the airport but at least 1230. What an interesting place LAX airport is. Quite soul less really. No atmosphere. For such and advanced country there were aspects to be considered. toilets upstairs – how would disabled people get there.
We left and BA took us to Heathrow.
Friday 28th October
Arrived at Heathrow around 1000. Tired and sad but god to be home. Taxis caught and back to where we picked them up. Some went for a midday drink, others carried on t their respective homes.
Reflecting on such a trip and so glad we did it. Something not to be forgotten.
Qantas – a better service than British Airways. Far more friendly staff too. There is an arrogance about the BA attitude, that has nearly always been there but compared to Qantas it was (to me anyway) more obvious.
Ok ready for the next adventure – who knows where that will be to or indeed what it will be.
More pictures of this trip