Backing the ‘Blacks

Rugby fever is gripping Auckland at the moment as you would expect. (This blog post is stale – newest one coming shortly). It is a big event in a relatively small community. To start with there is a massive party on Friday night for the opening game between the All Blacks and Tonga. The Auckland waterfront will be throbbing with many thousands of people dressed mostly in black and watching the ceremony and the game on giant screens. The Naudé family will be among them. We’ll be catching the ferry and elbowing our way through the crowds. There is going to be a fireworks show on a scale not seen since the new millennium – so we are quite eager to get there.

The Kiwis are generally an understated lot – quite reserved and not very enthusiastic (unless there is a tax error or something like that). On Saturday we went to the local sports grounds (Lloyd Elsmore – see previous blog for details) to see the All Blacks! Yup, the real thing. The team is very accessible and they are sponsored to death. So the sponsors create events at which the general public can interact with the team while being inundated with free deodorants and beanies – all very black.

Dan (the man) Carter with a young fan

The grounds were crowded and we had to park a fair distance away. There anticipation was tangible and not a Springbok jersey in sight. Finally the people gathered outside a hall where the team were changing into their togs and there was a huge crowd gathered along the path along which the team was going to walk. And then… they appeared! In pairs they came walking among their fans, whose patience had worn thin and whose enthusiasm was palpable. The team was met with one huge, enormous, overwhelming… silence. I’m not kidding. I fully expected whoops and ululations. I expected girls to toss of their bras. I expected little boys to yell in delight, little girls to scream and faint. But no, that would be too much to ask for the legendary Kiwi restraint. Instead the crowd “bristled” – that’s about the best description.

Kids with RWC 2011 Mascot

I asked one of my colleagues about this tremendous restraint and she said if one person in the crowd had started yelling or applauding the whole lot would have given in to such emotions, but on this occasion there was no such trigger. I was astonished.
I was also gobsmacked when a well-respected rugby writer tore into Graham Henry (the coach) for the mistakes he has made up to now and why these are likely to cost the team dearly. For goodness sake! At a time when they need encouragement, support and focus some little twit feels it necessary to undermine them and be a doomsayer.
But back to the “event”: the ABs were accessible to everyone. They signed autographs, had photos taken, taught youngsters to throw and kick, got patted on the back and generally filled people with awe. It was a great thing for them to do and our kids were both very chuffed. It is not often that they can get this close to sporting greats.

The clan with Israel Dagg and Corey Flynn

I also did some research on the haka. The traditional one is called “Ka Mate,  Ka Mate” and is actually a less than flattering story about a guy who is being chased by a bunch of savages who want his blood (and probably his head too). He finds refuges in a subterranean food store whose entrance is guarded by a rather bolshy woman. His pursuers don’t believe he could possibly be hiding there so they move on. And the haka is an expression of his feelings in the hole in the ground – “will they kill me or will I go free?”. Not really that illustrious an anthem. The newer version is the “Kapo o Pango” which is complete with dangling tongues, throat-slitting movements and fisted arms shoved heaven only knows where. Here is more history and footage. Nice site anyway.

Well the hype and the haka came together the other day in central Auckland with a haka flash mob – which must have been quite impressive (or frightening). See the Guardian version here or search it on YouTube.

You might have heard that about three weeks ago we had some cold weather. This was variously reported in the news-starved media as “an arctic onslaught”, a “polar blast” and similar other expressions aimed at selling newspapers.

The truth was slightly different. “First snow in 70 years!” – well actually it is true that the last snow that fell in Auckland was in 1939. However the “snow” this time was not confirmed – people saw that the rain was not falling down hard but was fluttering so they said it was snow. There was no evidence on the ground but if you watched the rain carefully you would swear it was not falling down completely straight (!) There was snow on the mountains around the city. The temperature dropped way down to 7°C (!!). It really was the first bit of truly cold weather we experienced.

Other cities were hit far worse. Wellington had real snow (that you could see, on the ground and it was white). Other places like Queenstown had a bumper year for snow and they loved it (they make money from skiing). There were some tourists trapped in the snow for up to three days! Actually they could not get out of the ski resort and had to drink glühwein and eat pancakes – the poor dears.

Large scale disruption ensued in Wellington and there was no mail for two days! This might sound ridiculous, but for a nation that posts everything from credit cards to voting ballots this is a major inconvenience. This is illustrated by this article Karen found in the local rag about outraged citizens.

They take things very seriously and while we as spectators can titter on the sidelines it is very reassuring that they still take things this seriously. Take this story, for instance.


On the way to work the other day I saw another illustration of Kiwi life which was astonishing (in a good way). Ti Rakau Drive is a major road (about as big as they get here). Not only does it have three lanes in either direction is has a speed limit of 60km/h which is VERY generous. And there, in peak hour traffic at 7:45 the entire system ground to a halt as a bus driver (who had pulled over her bus) herded a duck with eight ducklings across the six lanes of the road! They wanted to get from one part of the river to the other and instead of swimming across they decided to be pedestrians. No one hooted, they all just waited patiently and then drove on.

And to end a picture by Karen – low tide at Eastern Beach.


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