England Cricket Tour to New Zealand 2019
Tours Managers’ Reviews

New Zealand 2019 - Tours Managers' Reviews

November – December 2019

As tends to be the case when touring New Zealand, our travellers could not be disappointed with the scenery or the competitive cricket during this tour. The ODI travellers were lucky enough to witness an incredible series, of which England were on the winning side of (!) while the spectators who flew out for the Test Matches witnessed an almighty collapse, the first day-night Test Match in New Zealand and a landmark moment in Stuart Broad’s 400th wicket. This is before we even get to the sightseeing options! See how our Tour managers’ enjoyed the tour here…

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Nick & Carole Joyce

Auckland can experience four seasons in a day but we all arrived to beautiful summer sunshine which set the scene beautifully for the next three weeks, welcome drinks setting the scene perfectly as we met up with old friends and made new ones in an air of anticipation.

We travelled to Mt Maunganui, our home for the first Test, the next day after a short tour of Auckland city and a visit to Parnell CC, New Zealand’s oldest cricket club, who hosted us for lunch. Some wonderful memorabilia was on display and there was a buzz of excitement at the possibility of Lockie Ferguson, (one of their 800 current playing members!) making his Black cap Test debut.

Mt Maunganui proved to be a delightful home indeed; right on the ocean front providing wonderful early morning walks round the mountain or along the beach before breakfast and ample restaurants for us to gather and debate the cricket after a day’s play.

The ground was equally impressive, our seating was situated right by the pavilion and players area, we were surrounded by grass banks and greeted with welcome and friendship. After seeing the ball parachuted in to celebrate this being the first Test match at the ground, we won the toss and elected to bat. Throughout the match the sessions were steady Test cricket on a slow wicket but New Zealand came out winners, deservedly so as principally they batted to suit the match and England didn’t. Whilst a disappointing result, the match was enthralling in parts and we all gathered for a meal together on the final evening looking forward to the next set of adventures, and maybe a better result at Hamilton.

Between the two tests we journeyed to explore the thermal region of Rotorua, stopping on the way at Rainbow Springs to see the work being done in the vital kiwi breeding and conservation programme. We also visited the thermal pools of Waiotapu, the largest of which is aptly named the Champagne pool for its bubbling waters, this was a remarkable experience as we walked over the raised wooden pathways watching ( and smelling!) the sulphur steam rise from the landscape. Our hotel in Rotorua was ideally situated for a choice of free time activities, some people explored the town’s history and gardens, some went to the local race meeting and some of us visited the Polynesian Spa pools where you can soak in the hot pools whilst overlooking the lake. Not to be missed!

On our journey through to Hamilton, the venue of the second Test, we experienced the caves of Waitomo, taking a silent boat ride within the cave structures to see first-hand the magnificence of Glow-worms in all their glory. The largest cave, the cathedral cave has perfect sound as our guide demonstrated with a Maori song.

Hamilton is New Zealand’s largest inland city so whilst lacking an ocean view it does benefit from the beauty of the Waikato River running through it. Our excellent hotel was perfectly situated on the river and within walking distance of Seddon Park and plenty of amenities. At the ground we had the choice of stand seating or chairs on the grass banks each day which gave a real festival feel to the match. We won the toss and bowled the Blackcaps out for 375, which looked far more competitive than the previous Test. Again, the wicket was slow but we batted well with Joe Root scoring 228 – much to the delight of all supporters and his teammates too. We would have dearly loved an exciting end, preferably with an England win but neither the weather nor the wicket was going to oblige.

On the fourth evening of the Test we held our Howzat Travel Farewell dinner, and what a night it was! The venue overlooking the river was perfect; we were treated to wonderful food, wine and beers, topped off with a splendidly entertaining Q&A with Jonathan Agnew and Stephen Finn. This was Finny’s first commentators ‘event’ as it were, and in true Howzat travellers style he was so warmly welcomed and embraced that he thoroughly enjoyed himself and spoke candidly and amusingly to entertain us all.

The air of expectation and anticipation at the welcome drinks on our very first night had truly been fulfilled in this land of plenty. New Zealand welcomed us with open arms both socially and on the cricket field, we will take home many stories and also a lasting memory of a country of people proud of their community and surroundings.

After the conclusion of the second test a small group of adventurers set off from Auckland airport to Christchurch eager to experience the beauty and diversity of the South Island.

Christchurch is still in recovery from the earthquake of 2011 but exudes creativity and vibrancy in its new buildings and lifestyle. Its museum, transitional cathedral (also known as the cardboard cathedral), botanical gardens and art gallery provided something for everyone to explore after arriving at the excellent Distinction hotel centrally situated in Cathedral Square. We also dropped in to see Hagley Park, one of the nicest places to watch International cricket in the world let alone New Zealand.

Driving across the Canterbury flatlands in bright sunshine the next day demonstrated the openness and scale of the Island and its farming life, dairy herds of up to 2000 cows are not uncommon. As our altitude increased the terrain changed dramatically from paddocks to deer farms on the approach to the snow-capped Southern Alps. We know of course that deer produce wonderful venison steaks but eyes were widened at the mass export of ‘antler fur’ to China – we were learning about all sorts of new cultural practices!

Once over the mountain ridges we descended towards the turquoise waters and glacial beauty of Lake Tekapo which provides the perfect setting for the tiny lakeside Church of the Good Shepherd. The clear glass window of the church is as awesome as any cathedral stained glass window in the world.

The South Island was experiencing some extreme weather, which thankfully we were ahead of most of the time, but on arrival at the Mt Cook Centre in the National Park the peak itself was not visible. However, just to be at the site of Sir Edmund Hillary’s home training range was both moving and humbling. Having two Scottish climbers in our group added to our learning and John Bartlett had actually met the man himself. We all dined together that night revelling in the experiences of just one day of our tour.

The journey to Queenstown, New Zealand’s four season playground, took us over the breath taking Lindis Pass before descending into the vineyard areas of Central Otago, particularly well known for its Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Due to the extreme weather, or I should say trying to avoid it, we had to be somewhat creative with our sightseeing so we called into Arrowtown, the historical centre of the gold rush era, a day early and thankfully enjoyed a dry visit enabling us to walk along the riverside to experience the historical story. We also took the opportunity on route, to call at the Gibbstown Valley vineyard for some wine tasting and it has to be said and we all agreed – the wine in New Zealand simply has to be sampled as its quality is exceptional.

There was yet more excitement for us all before arriving into Queenstown as we dropped in (no pun intended!) at Kawali Bridge, world famous for its Bungy jumping, and Michael Smith became the first Howzat Traveller to jump, much to the delight and support of all our group. Sightseeing and experience new cultures go hand in hand with travel but the camaraderie of our group was illustrated at its best on that afternoon. I mentioned the weather earlier and Michael was held up on the bridge when a lightning strike took out the camera system – and he still remained completely calm!

We were centred in Queenstown for three nights in the excellent Millennium hotel which gave us easy access to lakeside and mountain activities. The view from the top of the cable car ascent was exhilarating even with some low cloud, not quite as exhilarating though as the view our mountaineer John had from the summit of Ben Lomind which he climbed that day, again to the great pleasure, and congratulations, of the group.

There was ample time to take part in any of the 200 plus activities on offer from Queenstown. Many of us took the 100 year old Steamboat TSS Earnslaw trip across the lake on the Sunday which offered wonderful views, a farming demo and a BBQ that was accurately described as gourmet, all the meat being produced from the farm itself which boasts 18,000 sheep and 800 beef cattle.

On leaving Queenstown we headed for Te Anau, another lakeside town which was our base for exploring the magnificence of the UNESCO Fiordland National Park leading into Milford Sound. Our driver John had never seen the lake so high, it was flooding the footpaths and we heard that the main highway further north was closed as the 800m long river bridge was underwater. How lucky we were to have missed that problem. If you think Lord of the Rings scenery you will have a perfect minds view of what we actually saw for real in the National Park. Words again fail to be adequate – you just have to come and do this for yourself.

Our cruise into Milford Sound was almost a private sailing as most other tourist parties were still the wrong side of the floods – and as we boarded the vessel the sun came out. Nick claimed it was Howzat Travel planning at its best again! As we neared the Tasman Sea, bottle nosed dolphins put on a show for us, watched calmly by dozing seals on the rocks. Words like unreal and special sang out.

Our day was rounded off perfectly on the journey back out of the park by spotting a Kia bird, New Zealand’s native parrot, which cheekily obliged our very own parrot breeder Denis Lawson by coming up close for some wonderful photos.

Next day we travelled on to Dunedin, via Gore which is the trout fishing capital of New Zealand, it was also as far south as we were travelling and probably the furthest south most of us had ever been without visiting the South Pole. We had a short tour of the city which included dropping into the rugby and cricket venues used for the All Black and Black Cap internationals played in the south. Dunedin also boasts one of the world’s most famously decorated and distinguished railway stations. Sadly time didn’t allow for a steam train journey out to the wildlife peninsula but it certainly whet our appetite with the thought of returning one day to this amazing country of diversity, both in its nature and outlook. As a practical tourist, it is also a country of great welcome, a ‘want to help you’ attitude, splendid wine and incredibly comfortable king size beds in nearly all hotels!

Our last day saw us return to Christchurch via a slightly longer route as the main arterial road was still closed but we still managed to get into the city in time for some individual revisiting of sites or a circuit on the historical city tram system – and the sun shone beautifully for us.

Our last evening on New Zealand’s soil was spent altogether in a lovely kiwi restaurant enjoying fine food, fine wine and fine friendship. This is a tour which will be savoured by us all for a long time to come.

 

Gordon Bacon

Between the T20 matches and the Tests I took a small group of tourists, who had arrived for the two Tests, to the Bay of Islands. On the way we stopped to see the England warm-up game against a NZ XI at the lovely Cobham Oval ground at Whangarei. After the game we travelled further north to our base for 3 nights, The Copthorne Hotel, just outside the town of Paihia. We went back to the warm-up game the next day and were invited into the Pavilion and made very welcome by the members.

On our last morning in Paihia we had a very informative guided tour of the Waitangi Treaty House and grounds. There were a lot of Police in attendance as Prince Charles and Camilla were visiting the following day. It was on 6th February 1840 that Maori and British settlers signed an historic agreement in the house that gave birth to the nation of New Zealand.

On the way south we stopped at the impressive Whangarei Falls to take more photos of beautiful New Zealand. It was then back to Auckland to join the newly arrived tourists who had come for the Tests.

On the first morning of the Kiwi Tour we had a guided tour round Auckland. Thanks to a contact of fellow Tour Managers Nick and Carole Joyce, we visited, and were made very welcome at the Parnell Cricket Club, the oldest in New Zealand. Jonathan Trott’s parents were also there to chat with people over lunch.

The venue for the 1st Test was Mt Manganui, close to the town of Tauranga on The Bay of Plenty. It was a lovely ground and the first time it had hosted a Test. The bay was so named by Captain James Cook in 1769, because he found the people were generous and there were lots of fish, timber and other supplies. Add meat, beer and wine to that list and it’s the same today! It was a lovely area to stay, with many choices for restaurants and bars when the cricket was over.

Between the tests there was an excellent itinerary so the tourists could see some of the natural beauty and cultural history of New Zealand. Rotorua which forms part of the “Pacific Ring of Fire” with its air often thick with the smell of sulphur was our base for 2 nights. We visited Rainbow Springs Nature Park with giant Redwoods, massive rainbow trout and a kiwi enclosure, before a ride on the Skyline Gondola to Mount Ngongotaha. Some of the more adventurous descended on the Luge rather than the Gondola. The fascinating geo-thermal area of Waiotapu, with different coloured and shaped thermal pools, bubbling mud and the Lady Knox Geyser was enjoyed by all. As was the Maori Cultural evening at the Tamaki Maori Village.

After the culture and sightseeing it was time to head to Hamilton for the 2nd test. On arrival we went to the world famous Hamilton Gardens which were well worth a visit. Once again there were excellent restaurants and numerous bars a few minutes walk from the Howzat hotels.

For the final dinner at the Ferrybank Centre, to complement and follow the excellent food and wine, Aggers “interviewed” his BBC Radio colleague Steven Finn. It was a very good end to the Kiwi Tour.

It was a great trip in a fantastic country full of wonderfully welcoming people.

Gordon Bacon

There were some weary looking England cricket fans that arrived in Christchurch for the start of the T20 tour. However, for most of the group the welcoming New Zealanders soon helped to get them in a cricket and holiday mood!

As the majority of the group hadn’t been to Christchurch previously, our excellent driver Julie made sure that they got to see the most interesting places in and around the city and learn interesting facts. This of course included details of the dreadful earthquake of 2010 which killed 98 people. Julie also told us background information about “The Long White Cloud” the Maori name for New Zealand.

Our morning tour round the city concluded with lunch at The Laboratory in Lincoln. This bar restaurant has its own brewery attached to the premises and the building along with all fittings, including a lovely wooden bar, had been made from materials salvaged from earthquake ravaged Christchurch. The owner’s previous bar ‘The Twisted Hop’ was destroyed in the earthquake.

November 1st saw the first T20 at the picturesque Hagley Oval. As there was very little seating at the ground the group members were each given a “Director’s Chair” which had longer front legs to compensate for sitting on the sloping embankment.

The next morning we had a very early start to get the train from Christchurch to Picton, where we would take the inter-island ferry to Wellington. On the way we had a brief stop at Kaikoura, famous for whale watching and in the Marlborough area we saw the extent of the vineyards which produce some of the best wines, not only in New Zealand, but in the world.

The morning after the match in Wellington we went back to the ferry terminal to return to Picton. When organising the schedule for the 5 matches, the travelling public don’t seem to have been taken into consideration by the NZ Cricket Authorities. To see matches 1 to 4 it was necessary to cross from one island to the other 3 times by ferry or air, obviously increasing the cost of the trip. Being in the big cities of Wellington and Auckland at weekends, hoping for large crowds, seemed to be the commonly held belief for the order of the matches.

Julie met us off the ferry at Picton and took us to the Blenheim area to visit the Wither Hills winery. A lovely setting with great wine was thoroughly enjoyed before heading to Nelson for the 3rd T20.

The morning after the Nelson game we had an excursion to the Abel Tasman National Park and had a lovely 3 hour cruise before a light lunch and return to the hotel. Julie took us to Nelson airport where we bade her farewell as we took a flight to Wellington and then on to Napier, the Art Deco city, for the 4th match.

After Napier it was a long ride to Rotorua where we stayed for 2 nights and visited the geo-thermal parks. We also had an excellent Maori evening at the Tamaki Maori Village. Traditional Maori greetings were followed by a series of demonstrations of different Maori culture, which include the men being invited to perform “The Haka”! There followed a delicious traditional hangi buffet dinner, cooked in an earth oven.

The last stop on the T20 tour was Auckland with the series standing 2-2. The weather forecast was so bad it was feared the game wouldn’t be played, but as things turned out it was a very exciting match, ending in a tie with England winning the super over. I remember something similar not long ago – England v NZ tie!!!

It had been a great trip taking in 5 New Zealand cities, enjoying the wonderful scenery, great hospitality with fine wine and excellent food. The final dinner was at the excellent The Grill by Sean Connolly in Auckland and Jonathan Agnew was our guest speaker. Aggers ensured the tour ended on a high note.