As rugby experiences go the recent world cup in New Zealand is hard to top. Fanatical international support, jubilant host cities and at times some great bone-crunching rugby! New Zealand and its people did themselves proud. Amidst the anguish of watching my beloved Ireland fail to turn up against our Celtic Welsh cousins (which was gutting considering how we destroyed the Wallabies only a few weeks before!) I managed to attend three games in two separate cities, namely Wellington and Auckland.

Both cities have their separate charm and it was a pleasure to sample their wonderful RWC nightlife however, it was the pre-game atmosphere and surroundings which for me added much more to the world cup experience. Take Wellington, its harbor side opened up to facilitate a slow procession of colour and passion winding its way along the quayside from city to the Westpac Stadium (affectionately known as the ‘cake tin’ by locals!). What struck me most about this quayside was not so much the plethora of tastefully designed bars / cafes / restaurants but more the workings of the quayside itself. A truly mixed use area containing working cranes, boatsheds, maintenance yards and so on; all things you rarely see these days in waterfront areas! It quite simply just works.

The jing to the cities jang has to be the beautiful New Zealand countryside. On a sleepy journey north east from Wellington to Hawkes Bay I thought I was dreaming of homeland pastures so similar is this area to the green terrain of Ireland. Set in the shadow of Te Mata Peak, Havlock North provided us with an idyllic respite from both rugby and beer for a few days! A stunning setting with all the the fresh air and hill walks you could wish. As with all my travels, I am unashamedly eager to look at development potential and in this location one would expect fairly strict regulations. Not so it would appear as many contemporary large dwellings straddle the hills surrounding Havelock North. In fairness, most dwellings that occupy the surrounding hillsides are well designed and heavily screened however, with the likelihood of ever increasing development pressure in the very near future, a delicate balance will have to be struck between the built and natural environments in order to protect the beauty of these surroundings.

A further journey from Hawkes Bay to Auckland via Lake Taupo confirmed my initial survey of the countryside and landscape…it is Ireland in disguise! Rolling green hills, steep treed mountainsides and more sheep and cows than you can imagine all generated memories of home. Lake Taupo provided entertainment for a day via water rapids, bungee jumps and a quick foot wash in the volcanic sands underneath its calm waters. Then it was onwards to Auckland.

Auckland, the largest and most populous urban area in the country with 1.3 million residents, 31 per cent of the New Zealand population, was as good a host city as you could wish. A full contingent of French, Australian and Welsh fans joined their New Zealand hosts in preparation for the semi-finals. Not to be out done however, a significantly large number of the Irish contingent remained preferring to continue the party for as long as possible in preference to returning home to the post-GFC depression.

One of my best memories of Auckland was the walk from the City to Eden Park before the semi final kick off between Wales and France. A selection of fans from many different nations all wandered through the early night and accepted the generous hospitality of the residents surrounding Eden Park. This for me summed up the hospitality of the New Zealand people during the world cup and produced what has been described by many as the best RWC tournament yet.

Enquiries Neil Badger at Collie (njb@colliepl.com.au)