Midnight's New Zealand Travels 2017

Of Kittens and Keith Lard

Kia Ora all and further greetings from New Zealand.

On our way back up to Auckland we visited sunny Nelson to chill. Little did I expect that our third day there would find me sat on a bright orange plastic kayak, paddling furiously out to sea in the Abel Tasman National Park.

After one of those interminable drives that seem to last all day, including a climb of the fearsome Takaka Hill (dangerousroads.org.nz) we finally arrived at Golden Bay Kayaks and young Paul promptly took charge, positioning me unsteadily in the rear seat then dragging the canoe into the water.

After the first few miles of paddling, my arms started to tire markedly.

"Can I just rest in the back and bang a little drum to pace you while you row?" I asked.

The expletive laden response cannot be repeated here but suffice it to say this included the word 'no'. It might also have included 'cox' too but my ears were full of sea water.

As we approached a large rock formation a seal appeared in the water next to our kayak doing flips as if just for our entertainment, and later we came across another, basking and posing on the warm rock as if it were a catwalk. A truly special experience and even I have to admit well worth the sore arms and numb bum - when we finally returned to the beach, my old legs had gone and I just toppled sideways out of the kayak into the sea.

We had booked the 8am ferry to North Island after our stay in Nelson, which meant an early two hour drive to Picton the next morning to check our car in. We hadn't meant to drink a lot that night, really, but after multiple pints and a Thai meal with lots of wine, I truly felt like death warmed up next morning when Paul calmly announced at 5.30am:

"Mate, Im too pissed to drive."

At least it proved that old gits with spongy livers are still useful for something, although the first hours drive in the dark was horrendous, hung over as I was and being pursued up a large twisty hill by double - loader logging wagons with lights on full beam anxious to get on with the days timber business.

Anyone remember 'Duel'?

We got to Picton just in time to meet the ferry check in deadline. I was so knackered after that drive that the rest of the day is just a blur.

Eventually, we arrived in Turangi at about 6pm - what a f*cking slog.

Paul was hoping to complete the Tongariro Crossing the next day. This consists of a 19km trek up and down on rough terrain over three volcano cones in the middle of New Zealand's National Park. The place where Peter Jackson filmed 'Mordor'.

No roads. No food. No water. No toilets. Not even a gift shop as you exit the track.

Not for the faint hearted and most definitely not for me. However on the intended day Paul's hopes were dashed by rain and high winds, meaning all the bus shuttles to the jump off point were cancelled. Instead, we had a fun afternoon in Taupo and in particular at the impressive AC Baths complex. More torture for Midnight - a half hour sauna followed by a cold shower and 32 lengths of the outdoor pool against a force ten gale.

I slept well that night.

The following morning we were supposed to drive up to Thames in the Coromandel, but as the weather forecast had improved during our day in Taupo the Tongariro Crossing just had to be attempted. While Paul was in the office booking his bus shuttle an American couple were in front of him at the desk.

"Hey, we wanna do the Tongariro Crossing....how long?....how far?.....really?......gee, that sounds like a long walk. Is there any way the shuttle guy can pick us up somewhere about half way?"

Yeah, sure buddy, just so long as he is dropped into the caldera out of Thunderbird 2's green pod in a Centurion tank.......maybe Donald Trump could tweet Lady Penelope to arrange it!

All this talk of suicide trekking has diverted my interest to the first Test, which started yesterday in Dunedin, the city incredibly basking in full sunshine.

We managed to watch the third session of day one in its entirety on tv, but absolutely nothing happened. The Kiwis were sitting in for the new ball, not having taken a wicket for ages. The Saffers were also sitting in whilst batting, for reasons less clear.

In fact the whole thing was like listening to paint dry.

Watching this sporting tedium, Paul had some difficulty understanding my enthusiasm for our wonderful game of cricket, with the pithy but accurate observation that "This is shit!" so I gently explained that we often visit the pub during sessions like this one, especially if Mr. Blade is with us.

South Africa had won the toss and batted, very slowly.

Dean Elgar looked particularly solid, going to a hundred and effectively shoring the innings up after Cook, Amla and Duminy had been dismissed cheaply.

The next morning my hyperactive pal was up at 5.30am to greet his shuttle to Mordor complete with a large rucksack full of essentials such as water, crisps and cigarettes, so I was able to watch some cricket without sarcastic interventions.

A much more interesting morning on day two during which four wickets fell leaving South Africa on 301- 8.

Having bowled out SA just after lunch, with Trent Boult the pick of the bowlers taking 4-64, New Zealand finished the day on 177-3 although I didn't manage to watch much of their innings due to driving duties in the afternoon.

I have to say although perhaps stating the obvious, that without AB de Villiers, South Africa do not look a particularly potent threat.

The Kiwis have not ignored Australia's latest abject failure in the second Test in India.

Their evening sports show, "The Crowd Went Wild" featured a female Playschool presenter (who reminded me of Su Pollard) singing a "goodbye song" after the fall of each and every convict wicket in their abortive run chase, ending with a vision of Steve Smith looking up at the video screen with an expression like he was chewing a wasp.


It must be a toss-up between ourselves and the New Zealanders as to who hates Australia most.

Given we have the vitriolic Herbie in our ranks, I think England might just shade it.

At about 3pm Paul returned from his historic Tongariro trek. Early.

To say he was underwhelmed would be an understatement:

"It was a nice walk but it was that cloudy, there was no view. I couldn't see a f*cking thing. I've been sat in the car park for two and a half hours waiting for the shuttle back to Turangi, I was thinking about walking back to town I had to wait that long for the f*cking bus. Its only another 9 miles......!"

I hope this gives the reader an indication of what I have had to try and keep up with!

An afternoon drive to Hamilton followed while the intrepid trekker snored away in the passenger seat. Paul's last night in NZ and not really an ideal place for it.

Hamilton has a seedy air these days. Its a bit of a dump. The Barmy Army pub we frequented last time we were here is now closed, indeed all the locals we asked for directions were totally unaware it had ever existed. So on arrival, after a few hours of quaffing ale at an outside bar on Victoria Street we went for a Chinese meal - which proved hilarious.

"Szechuan chicken is about the only dish I order at home" said Paul, being pleased to find this on the menu. When the Szechuan chicken arrived though, it looked like a large dish of chicken nuggets garnished with peppers. Worse still, each nugget had a bone and piece of ligament at its centre.

"Which cut from a chicken is this?" was Paul's immediate question, followed by further speculation as to whether the nugget meat was in fact chicken at all.

Finally, when the beer took hold, as Paul had not seen any cats in Hamilton, he decided he had been served a plateful of battered kittens knees for his dinner. Needless to say not much of his meal was eaten. About four knees, as I recall.

My meal was quite acceptable, and the Cute Puppy and Sweetcorn soup was especially delicious!

A short drive to Auckland airport next morning. We returned our hire car intact with just under 6,000 km on the clock in three weeks and even got a refund due to our having to replace a faulty windscreen wiper in Rotorua. A cursory check on the bodywork and off we go. Omega Car Rentals, I love you. Thanks for the recommendation, Mr Warburton.

I am hopeless at farewells so I will just say that I came to Auckland with my friends son and will leave Auckland now having made a really funny, sparky new friend.

I hope Qatar Airways look after him on his way back to Manchester and that the in - flight meal isn't a kitten.

Wellington now for me via Jetstar, the Rolls Royce of the Antipodean skies.

Can you believe that a return flight from Auckland with this company is cheaper than a couple of tankfuls of unleaded petrol for a Nissan Tilda?

Arrival at Wellington on Friday afternoon sees me emerge into baking sunshine and in direct contrast to grotty Hamilton, the pubs and bars are buzzing and the shops are doing a roaring trade.

Despite my overwhelming tiredness I feel my spirits rise. I can't think of anywhere else I would rather be right now.

A nice pain free journey then until I arrive at my posh hotel, the Thorndon Rydges.

When I enter my 'refurbished' room, which will be my home for the next 18 days, the bed hasn't been made and there are wet towels all over the bathroom floor. By now it is 4pm.

It turns out the cleaner has omitted to pay a visit, but this time I land lucky with a fistful of cheap bar vouchers and an offer of free dinner in the restaurant tonight from the manager by way of compensation.

An offer I cannot refuse, as Marlon Brando would say!

Eventually I gain access to my room at 5pm and eagerly tune the tv onto the cricket channel for the last hour of the Test.

South Africa are now batting again and facing a 33 run first innings deficit, and they have already lost the wicket of Cook.

The weather in Dunedin has reverted to type ie bloody freezing, with the crowd huddled together for warmth on the new grass banks. Even Umpire Oxenford is wearing a pair of black gloves, of the kind trademarked by Alvin Stardust when performing 'My Coo Ca Choo' on Top Of The Pops in 1972.

Then.....a fire alarm resounds across the Dunedin ground.

My God, the whole crowd is being evacuated - and there are still loads of overs to go! This is ridiculous. It looks so cold, Ed Stafford would probably struggle to light a fire with a box of matches and a can of petrol.

The sarcastic comments emanating from the commentary booth and in particular from Messrs Smith and Doull about the nonsensical Health and Safety regulations meet with my complete approval, but quite abruptly the cricket is dragged off the screen and a 'lunch interval' type holding programme comes on.

Twenty minutes later cricket is back on live, replete with more withering sarcasm from Simon Doull about "the fire risk to the grass banks". Unfortunately though, it looks as if the vast majority of the crowd have 'evacuated' to the nearest pub. Stumps are drawn early due to a Scottish sea fret hovering over the ground with South Africa on 38-1. A lead of just 5. Game on.

The 'complex weather front' (otherwise translated as 'its gonna piss down') we have been promised finally arrives on Saturday.

Wellington in the rain resembles a dank Manchester suburb today. Play is also delayed in Dunedin although finally gets under way at 11.30am local time.

Seems to me at first that the Saffers don't really fancy the conditions and Amla is dismissed by the aggressive Wagner soon after the start. The crowd is sparse and even though it is gloomy I easily spot New Zealand's 'number one fan' the obnoxious Sonny Shaw, cavorting behind the wicket with his fluffy kiwi as the wicket falls. I suddenly ponder why 'number one fans' of cricket teams nearly always seem to be confrontational, aggressive idiots.......!

Hashim Amla is very unlucky because just after he is out the players go off briefly for bad light. As the light meter is brandished I notice that Umpire Oxenford is sporting a pair of 'Dr No' style black leather gloves today. Umpire Dharmasena prefers a pair of knitted elbow - length black mittens. Who knows, they might help his decision making.

Some injudicious reviews by New Zealand and dropped catches by Tom Latham and BJ Watling allow South Africa to wriggle off the hook and they reach 100-2 at lunch, with Dean Elgar once again the 'glue'. The afternoon session was another paint drying exercise with Elgar still batting at tea, 157-3. In fact, Elgar was given out by Dharmasena in the last over before the break caught behind, but once again the umpire got it wrong and the decision was overturned on referral by DRS. Just 57 runs scored in 31 overs, seems a scant reward for the hardy spectators risking hypothermia in Otago to watch this 'entertainment'.

At last some excitement after tea as wickets started to fall, including the obdurate Elgar.

Incredibly the umpires allowed play to continue till 6.30pm, albeit they were consulting light meters after almost every ball. Their gloves never came off.

South Africa reached 224-6, a lead of 191, so the game was set up for an interesting finish, weather permitting. However, being New Zealand, the weather is never guaranteed, and the 'complex weather front' hit Dunedin on Sunday, consigning this match to the dustbin of rain-affected draws.

A real shame, but after the nonsense with the fire alarm evacuation I wonder if Fire Safety Officer Keith Lard has been doing a rain dance up in Bolton to protect the Dunedin crowd. Fire doesn't kill, ignorance kills!

A further report will follow after the second Test at Wellington, which I will be attending, and I am pleased to advise that the weather forecast is for five days of glorious sunshine.

Regards, Midnight

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