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Commonwealth Bank Ashes Series 2013/14
Tour Reviews

What an amazing time we had in Australia! Just don't talk about the cricket. Here are the thoughts and words from our tour managers Des, David and Stephen, and our customer Peter Moon.

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Des Newton's Tour Review

The line between victory and defeat is a very thin one. Maybe that statement is understandable when talking about a one day international which has been lost by two runs or a tied test match, but if I say I am going to apply it to a test match series that has finished with a 5-0 whitewash to the home team then you might think that I have had one VB too many. I promise you I have not, so please read on and hear out my theory.

Howzat Travel took 500 customers Down Under and had over 300 in Sydney alone for this Ashes tour and each one of you will have your own recollections and special memories. Although we may have gone hoping to see Kevin Pietersen score hundreds, Graeme Swann take wickets and Alastair Cook hold up the little urn, we did in fact see some wonderful sport. Unfortunately for the English it was from the Australians. How amazing to witness the renaissance of Mitchell Johnson, the runs from an ageing wicket keeper Brad Haddin and the team spirit and self belief with which the Australian team surrounded themselves.  Maybe it is easier for me to say this as an English South African…. But the beauty of a cricket tour is that, however the results have gone on the field, there is still so much else to take part in; the sights, which on this trip alone included the Great Barrier Reef, the rivers of every city, the winelands of Australia, the Blue Mountains, Sydney Harbour on New Years Eve, the wonderful restaurants that have been eaten at and most importantly the friendships that have been formed.

To take you back to my theory; how come we witnessed what was seen as a total thrashing yet I believe England could actually have won. The difference was that Australia won the ‘moments’ and they also had the ‘individuals’. Those of you who watched every ball will remember in the 1st Test Australia were 83 for 4 during their first innings and England were 87 for 4 in theirs, in the 3rd Test Australia were 143 for 5 and England were 190 for 5, in the 4th Test England were 202 for 5 and Australia were 112 for 5, in the 5th Test Australia were 97 for 5 and England were 23 for 5 and in the second innings Australia were 91 for 4 England 87 for 4.  I am labouring the point and certainly test matches are not decided half way through an innings, but these stats suggested that the matches should go on to be good contests. Yet, England lost all five test matches by huge margins. The ‘moments’ included England not being able to take the vital 6th wicket and Carberry dropping Brad Haddin when he was on 6 in Adelaide. No-one drops a catch on purpose so no blame on him. Haddin made a century, got his eye in, and Johnson backed him up and so the ‘momentum’ all went Australia’s way from then on. The individuals were the aforementioned Haddin with the bat and the one and only Mitchell Johnson with the ball. Whoever thinks this is a team game where you can pass the ball to someone to score for the side should stop dreaming and realise this is a game made up of individuals in a type of sport where you cannot pass the ball but, much like boxing, it is just the two of you in the arena, per ball. One will dominate and I know who I would like to have in my side. Someone who the opposing side does not like or someone they fear or admire. My theory is that this series was won by individuals like all series have been and we should treasure those winners.

That’s the cricket out of the way. We lost, but like the Phoenix we Howzat Travellers rose again out of the ashes. Now for the winning part of my story...

A tour to Australia is something out of the ordinary.  We went to watch a cricket tour and win the ashes again.  This did vehemently not happen. However, can anyone truly say they did not thoroughly enjoy the trip? Is that in itself not a win or an unexpected bonus?  This win- win situation can be attributed in part to the variety offered by not a land but a continent and to Ian Kerr and Steve Eatherington’s Howzat Travel Company’s  itinerary. I kept reminding myself that the reason for the distances being so great and the weather so divergent were exactly because of this. Steve Amos, that great Geography teacher on our tour, would be appalled by my ignorance. In mitigation though, which land or country has three different time zones?  It must be a continent.

The variety offered outside of the cricket was vast. What a singular delight it was to relish in the honesty and sheer guts of Sir Geoffrey Boycott in Brisbane during the very first test when he told us all to go home if cricket were our only interest in Australia. England would lose 5-0. He did not predict that but said it as a fact. Along with the elegant Jonathan Agnew (twice) and England fast bowler Mike Selvey, John Etheridge, Paul Newman, Ed Smith, who was exceptional, all interviewed by our erudite and expert Dave Stewart, and the Boycott and Aggers show at the Farewell dinner. Such cricket forum heights were a pleasure to attend.

For our initial set of travellers, Brisbane was the first port of call. Rivers in all the major cities seem to be the lifeblood. The Brisbane riverbanks are home to a number of restaurants and bars adjacent to lovely walkways, so to meander there with the soothing lapping sounds of the water and the traffic sounds of the city seemingly distant is recreational. The river itself offers a variety of ferries and Rivercats (Catamarans) capable of high speed which is a good way of getting around the reaches of the city. One can hop on and off at the parks, restaurants, the cultural museums or Southbank and beyond. Norman (82 yrs young) casually visited Surfers Paradise an hour’s train journey away. The free buses to the cricket were efficient and easy to use. We soon realised that Australia had become very expensive, so the pubs arranged by Carl and Ian, where a deal was done for food and beer, were very welcome. The Station Hotel and Bar proved very popular for fish or steak and chips.  Strangely enough the Gabba stadium and staff proved to be very friendly compared to our hostile previous visit, which was a welcome change. The city centre with its various malls, pubs and restaurants was always bustling with energy so could be held responsible for some bleary eyes at the breakfast table. 

The next stop on the Howzat itinerary was Port Douglas. This proved to be a healing balm for some cricket-disappointed supporters. We were far away from anywhere in a seaside town staying in a lovely resort, close to Four Mile Beach, with swimming pools, table tennis, pool (water and table), large self-catering suites with laundry facilities, a large open sided bar and wonderful breakfasts. The town itself offered good pubs in the centre and on the waterfront with some typical Aussie entertainment like Racing Frogs! Our party certainly was busy at all these venues. It was a lovely holiday feeling to be able to walk into any pub or restaurant and be sure you would know some fellow Howzat Traveller and if not the next place you would. And then have some fun. It was a good time.

Our group adventures to the Great Barrier Reef and the Kuranda Train and Skyrail Tour, organised by Laurence and Helen, were exceptional. There is always something exciting about going on a boat on the ocean waves. We did exactly that but with much more anticipation than usual as we knew we were heading for one of the New Wonders of the World - the famous Great Barrier Reef. We docked at a huge floating platform and immediately donned our latex type wet suites. Some went scuba diving but most of us enjoyed floating on the surface with lifejacket, goggles, snorkel and flippers.  The water was warm and clear and the beautiful world just below the surface was awe inspiring to be enjoyed as part of the undisturbed silence of the world of the fishes. The colours of both the marine fauna and flora lit up by the sunshine through the prisms of the water are wonderful. Some spent up to an hour held captive by this beauty. Others went in the submarine which followed a course through valleys and hills under the waves. Schools of fish swam by darting this way and that all in unison to some unseen signal followed by a turtle using lazy strokes to look very elegant and composed. A world without the harsh sounds of humankind? Wonder what that would be like all the time. And all the while the beautiful colours shone in the reflected light of the watery sun.

From under the sea to the top of the forest. We’d come by plane, ridden in a bus, been on a boat and so Laurence thought we should take a train to somewhere followed by a skyrail journey. The Kuranda train took us on a wonderful old railway line deep into the World Heritage Tropical Forests crossing 36 bridges and scooting through 15 tunnels to see tall waterfalls and stunning valleys reaching down to the sea as we headed for the Aboriginal Cultural Centre. There we watched some rhythmic dancing telling stories through that medium, threw boomerangs, watched spear throwing, saw crocodiles, koalas and much more followed by a handsome buffet lunch. Then the skyrail beckoned. It took us on a breathtaking silent ride hundreds of feet above the rain forest. I now have a glimpse of what it is like literally to have a bird’s eye view of the scenery below. We flew a long way too - 7.5 kilometres. It was awesome.

The cultural city of Adelaide was calling. Lovely architecture was all around us. Glenelg and Henley beaches were not far away and Kangaroo Island too. The Barossa winelands tours were popular and many went on organised trips and thoroughly enjoyed them. Others went in limousines and enjoyed them more, I think. The stadium has been almost completely rebuilt so St Peters Cathedral is no longer visible and one can no longer wander around the ground and enjoy the stalls and shade behind the West Stand. All ‘progress’ I suppose. It’s very up to date but is now a modern footie ground.

I’ve mentioned before that Australia is expensive. In fact, it is more expensive than London. Well, Perth is more expensive than Australia. This is a lovely city on the beautiful Swan River. It is also the most isolated city in the world. It is also the business centre for all the vast mining activities in Western Australia. If it could become an independent country it would be enormously wealthy. The city is beautifully organised and easy to negotiate.

What heat we experienced at the WACCA! 40 degrees plus. Everyone was suffering or at least uncomfortable but for Andy Tyler, just returned from his final stint in Afghanistan, who was cheerfully sipping a beer in the direct sunshine in his seat, relishing not having his full military combat gear on and marching in 56 degrees of hell looking for the Taliban. He was cool. Rottness Island by boat was a wonderful trip to see the big rats who looked like Wallaby wannabees  and the lovely beaches. Kings Park is the biggest inner city park in the world with wonderful views of the city. The city centre itself with many restaurants and the London Street theme setting the scene for some upmarket shopping amidst some cultural centres. So much to do. A ferry ride to Fremantle with a ‘must see ‘visit to the gaol where they take you into the hanging cell and pull the lever which resounds in a death-like clanging noise to frighten the living daylights out of you, A boat ride down the Swan river and visit a brewery on the way, and best of all go on a big boat and relish in a Howzat Travel Dinner Cruise with David Lloyd entertaining you as a guest speaker of sheer brilliance. The cricket was not important anymore.

What can one say about our Christmas Dinner in Melbourne? It was a huge event in every way. We had 300 Howzat Travellers in a lovely big venue overlooking the Yarra River. Smoothly run by Steve, with good Australian fare accompanied with better Aussie wine and everyone out with the positive intent of enjoying themselves, I thought that would have been enough. Not for a Howzat Christmas Lunch. We had to match the temperature outside so we turned the heat up with our celebrity guests - none other than the inimitable Henry Blofeld Esq. and his beautiful bride, Valeria.  No-one can imitate him properly. He is unique. Cricket might be his forte but I think speechmaking is his game. He was wonderful. What endeared him to me and I suspect all of you, was when he undertook to do the horse racing commentary, never having done it before, and he tried deliberately to make clever mistakes and make a fool of himself. The mistakes were greeted with huge laughter and nobody was fooled. Thank you, Henry, for being our special guest. In fact so 'special' is our Henry that I have already recruited the founder members of his new fan club. 

There was no time for a quiet Boxing Day for it was off to the fourth test. The MCG is a mighty animal. What a privilege it was to be there on the day of the world record crowd with 90,831 persons present. This must be the closest in modern times we will get to the atmosphere of the Colosseum of Roman times. Challenge folk at home on this one. Who says that being only one of the crowd is not important? We are part of a world record where everyone is counted therefore It counts. Never personally held a world record before? You do now. Well done. It's amazing what Howzat can arrange.

The lack of cricket gave us time to explore. St Kilda was a popular destination at the end of an easy train trip across Melbourne. It revealed a lovely beach with plenty of restaurants and a pub virtually on the waterfront. Peter Baring walks across his lake at home in winter, every year, on the ice - a family tradition. Last year the ice broke and he fell in. He nearly froze to death until he realised he could stand. Peter is the only one I know of who actually went for a swim at St. Kilda and said the water was beautifully warm.

We travelled to Sydney with the hope of seeing one English victory, as those who were there in 2002 had witnessed. But again, alas, forget the cricket. One of the highlights of our fabulous tour down under could not have been more spectacular and took place before the final Test match. The World Famous New Year’s Eve Fireworks Display seen from many angles; some from boats, some from the shore, some from restaurants, some from the door (of a pub?), has one thing that is unanimously agreed upon - it is a special event in the calendar down under. There is only one spot in the world that could bring in the New Year, with a warm wind in the air under a perfect starry sky and 1.5 million people on the banks of the river roaring the fireworks to greater heights. Sydney. We were there.

What a Farewell Dinner! It will be many years before even Howzat Travel will better this one, even though the company was with us in the name of Steve Eatherington who was his normal energetic, intelligent self running the show - not from his office but as the Master of Ceremonies. Howzat had secured a great venue on the waterfront; good food, wonderful company surrounded by travelling friends, free booze, a successful Laurence Brown auction fundraiser for The Broad Appeal,  Heads and tails quiz  and then the coupe de grace  - a double Header with Aggers 'interviewing’  Boycott. So many truths were told by Boycott and taken to heart by us. Geoffrey for chairman of selection?  Many photos were taken and memories recorded. I have seldom seen a better spirit of happiness at this type of function than this in my 20 years of tour leading.

All our travellers participated in many extra mural activities in some way or another depending on their interests and desires and will have personal memories to last a lifetime, climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge, Blue Mountains, Bondi Beach and other pre-mentioned activities. I have, through the years, managed to do many of the excursions too but have not managed a hot-air balloon ride welcoming the dawn in the skies above Melbourne nor a helicopter flight over the many waterways and beautiful bays of Sydney. Angela and Liz quietly did just that as an extra because “We’re here now and might not have the chance again”.  Well done. Real Howzat-style people.
 
The real winners on this tour to Australia were you the travellers with Howzat Travel.  Sportsmen’s whole careers, and therefore their lives, depend on ‘what ifs’. For us travellers, we can enjoy the journey and everything else there is to see and do. So when we return to Australia in four years time and win it will be even more special. Hope to see you there.

Des

If you wish to read about more of Des' travel experiences, you should check out his book 'Sporting Travels of a Karoo Son'.

"A great read. It took me right back to my growing up years, working alongside and playing cricket and rugby against Des, so real. It then took me on a tour to some of the countries I played in and showed me that while us players are out in the middle we are only a part of the action as other stories are unfolding all around the game." Allan Lamb

You can buy it here - www.desnewton.com

 


David Stewart's Tour Review

For a lot of people, this tour will only remembered as thumping 5-0 England defeat, and understandably so.

Not by me. My recollection will be of a large group of cricket lovers in Brisbane, larger still by the time we got to Melbourne and Sydney, who adamantly refused to allow the feeble on-field efforts of their team to detract from their enjoyment of the one tour nearly every cricket supporter wants to undertake.

Australia is known as the ‘lucky country’. Those fortunate enough to take part in the whole tour had a perfect overview as to why that phrase is so apt. Each city has its own characteristics: the muscular advance of Brisbane; olde worlde class and charm in Adelaide; the space of Perth with ocean to the west, a wide river alongside its CBD, and fuelled by a mining boom; the majesty of Melbourne, with a European feel and world-class sporting venues; and finally the sheer vibrancy of Sydney with a famous bridge astride that magnificent harbour.

Add to these the unique pleasures of the Great Barrier Reef and the rugged beauty of the Great Ocean Road, plus world-class wines and a microbrewery culture emerging with promise from its infancy complementing a terrific range of fish and meats - from sizzling steaks to kangaroo burgers (seriously) - and you have a destination that cricket people understandably find difficult to resist; quite a few coming back again, and again.

It was a happy party that took some unexpected weather conditions in its stride. There is a bit of a myth in the UK about Australian summers being all uninterrupted blue skies. Neither the Gabba (hailstones on 4th afternoon), nor Adelaide Oval (chilling winds on 1st morning) conformed to that stereotype; mind, there was the 40+ degrees intense heat which challenged everyone during the Perth test.

Memories? Ian, our prison service man with artificial lower limbs attacking touring life with such gusto that others were unaware of his difficulties; cheerfully accompanied by his lieutenants Brian and Viv (quoted in the local Sunday times, if you please). The expression on Colin’s face, being a former hotelier and landlord, when told one night the hotel bar was closed at 10:01 PM, and the next night that a nearby pub had closed early to clean the beer pipes! And Derek, on Jane McGrath day at the SCG, with a pink hanky tied round his head, Rambo-style – a noble effort, but one suspects Elaine would agree, it didn’t quite provide ‘the look ’he was after !

David

 


Stephen Newman's Tour Review

The dedication, endurance and sense of humour of the long suffering England cricket fans were truly tested during the Howzat Ashes tour to Australia.

The deep pockets and rewards for 24 hours cooped up in a sardine can were a scene reminiscent of of the Christians being thrown to the lions, or the worst excesses of a Hammer horror movie. As always, the lions won of course. Adding insult to injury to disbelief that the England team, so triumphant only months before, we're perfecting the impression of 'I'm a cricketer, get me out of here'.

The Australian cricket supporter, brought up on a diet of Pommy bashing, were loving it - go for the jugular and keep pressing! They are not noted for cheery, light hearted banter with visiting fans, especially the English, and the MCG and SCG became bear pits to be endured with only minor periods of optimism. The odd fifty by Pieterson, a brief flurry of wickets by Anderson, a hefty blow or two by Broad or Stokes were fantastic, if fleeting ripples in an ocean of Haddin, Haddin and more Haddin. Always the hope of a breakthrough foundered on his resistance, with support from several from the lower order who should have been swept away with bouncer or yorker.

Still, at the end of play Howzat clients could find comfort with their fellow travellers and, of course, it is only a game we are told. A shandy or two, a glass of Barossa's finest, a decent dinner and the state of play becomes almost bearable. Sagging shoulders became uplifted, new friends lightened the mood and by the end of the evening the world had been to right. After all, the weather back home was a joy to be missed and the Aussie weather was beautiful, hot sun in December feels so energising and invigorating. The Australian hospitality was marvellous, they really are so pleasant and friendly, just don't mention the cricket.

What a pleasure to be entertained by Henry Blofeld on Christmas Day. Typically Blowers dear old thing, great anecdotes and cricketing memories and time for all, photographs or autographs not a problem. A sumptuous Christmas lunch in a great Melbourne Casino setting, excellent wines, superb service and Christmas fun and games were outstanding given the numbers attending. Everyone felt that it was a proper Christmas celebration and a wonderful enjoyable and inclusive event.

Who wouldn't want to be in Sydney for New Years Eve? One of the first cities to welcome the New Year with fireworks across the stunning harbour and city. Such great memories to take home.

The Aggers and Sir Geoffrey show for the Farewell Dinner was a brilliant occasion. Just to hear Boycott in person say that his granny 'could play Mitchell Johnson wi' a stick of celery' made the evening for all dedicated cricket fans. He was at his combative best and had answers to all the world's problems, cricketing or otherwise.

The consensus was what a great time everyone had enjoyed in Australia. Thoughts now turn to a rum punch in the Caribbean or a vineyard near Cape Town... and of course the cricket can only improve!

Stephen

 


Peter Moon's Tour Review

I had not heard of Howzat Travel before coming across the website so there was a small amount of trepidation before committing.

However after having spoken to Steve Eatherington on the phone, I got the feeling that this was the one for me as I felt his enthusiasm in wanting to provide a good cricket tour package came across. He also had an interest in me as a customer i.e. I did not feel that I was just another punter added to the 'sold' list but felt I was part of a large family group. So, I duly booked the Melbourne & Sydney Opal Tour and we were not disappointed as all that I had presumed during the booking conversation came to fruition.

We arrived in Melbourne on Chrismas Eve after a very long flight, and because we needed to wait a short while for our room to be prepared we decided to go to the nearby Wharf Bar overlooking the Yarra and have a couple of cold beers in the sunshine. That moment in time was quite surreal. Here we were on Christmas Eve in Australia, in the sun, having a cool drink watching the world go by, on the opposite side of the planet !

The hotel in Melbourne was by the Yarra located close to the Crown Complex and CBD so we were spoilt for choice for bars and restaurants. Howzat Travel put on a Christmas Day dinner in the Crown Complex which was a huge success. Henry Blofeld was the guest speaker who also stood in as an hilarious horse race commentator during the after dinner racing.

Boxing Day came along and this was the start of the cricket and I could not wait. We walked along the picturesque route by the river to the MCG in eager anticipation. Boxing Day provided a great days cricket and both teams came out of it honours even and after the second day England had the game by the scruff of the neck. After that it transpired that England let us down badly and to use the cliché snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. However this did not detract from the occasion. To sit in the MCG and soak up the atmosphere amongst a world record crowd of 91000 fans was a fantastic experience. My Scottish wife Helen who had never followed nor had been to a cricket match in her life before was now totally hooked.

We arrived in Sydney on New Year’s Eve and spent the evening on the the South Steyne which is an old Manly Ferry refurbished as a waterside restaurant berthed in Darling Harbour. Once more our hotel was located in an excellent position. We were close to Darling Harbour and the CBD. The Dundee Arms next door proved to be a popular watering hole 'post cricket' for a lot of the tour guests. After the New Years Eve celebrations, we had two days free to explore Sydney and only a short walk away were 'The  Rocks' and Circular Quay. So we had the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House and the Botanical Gardens only 20 minutes walk away from the hotel. January 3rd was time for the New Year Test at the SCG. My thoughts were, England, please play for pride and prevent a 5-0 whitewash. Well, what a first day start by England, after winning the toss we had Australia on the rack at 97-5. Then we inexplicably allowed the Aussies to reach 326 all out. Australia then proceeded to blow England away within the next two days. A whitewash,but there was a silver lining as we now had two days free to enjoy the sunshine and sights of Sydney.

Howzat put on a end of tour party which was again a great success with guest speakers Jonathan Agnew and Geoffrey Boycott who let it be known in his inimitable way that England were a major disappointment ( expletives edited out).

To sum up, our tour representatives Stephen & Karen were brilliant throughout our stay and we met some lovely people on tour. I cannot name them all – but thanks to Ray & Megan Julian, Baz & John from Barnsley, Arthur ($40 excess), Richard (minus one bottle of expensive red), Graham, Mark & Ann, Mark & Nicky, and the wonderful Sue for making this a tour to remember for the rest of our lives.

Christmas in South Africa 2015 is looking very inviting!

Peter

 


 

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