1st Test Match
In February this year, George, Debbie and I boarded our 16-hour direct flight to Perth full of anticipation of reaching one of the world’s bucket-list destinations and the next stop of England’s winter cricket tour, New Zealand. Ahead of us, 2 test-matches in Mt Maunganui and Wellington, and a full itinerary of discovering the beauty of North Island before some of the group continue their adventure further south.
As clients began to arrive at Auckland, we transferred to hotels and enjoyed a nights’ rest and recuperation after a long period of travel. The next day, we were up and away after a relatively lazy morning and enjoying our first proper opportunity to witness the rolling landscape that so many had tried to describe prior to our trip. As we drove to Tauranga and Mt Maunganui to settle in ahead of the 1st Test at the Bay Oval, the coach was silent in awe of the sheer beauty of the country they had just arrived in… either that or the jetlag had set in, and clients had taken the opportunity to catch 40 winks! The harbourside city in the Bay of Plenty, Tauranga, home to 80% of the country’s (and approximately 25% of the world’s) Kiwi fruit production, was our home for the next 6 nights and served us brilliantly in providing short 20–30-minute transfers to the Bay Oval.
With Day 1 of the 1st Test now upon us, we enjoyed a relaxing morning around the hotels given that the Day/Night Test meant an early afternoon start time. On arrival to the Bay Oval, clients were provided with the option of taking a collapsible camping chair, provided by Gullivers, into the ground to afford those with General Admission tickets a little more comfort on the grass banks which accounted for approximately 90% of the stadium’s capacity. This gave this Test a particularly special feeling as it felt like a club cricket ground and created a sense of rapport with the players in the outfield.
It took only 4 days for England to dismantle a struggling New Zealand side, eventually winning by 267 runs. A Harry Brook masterclass, scoring 89 & 54 saw him take man of the match plaudits with Jimmy and Broady also surpassing Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath as the most successful bowling partnership of all time.
Exploring North Island
A free 5th day allowed us to use the coaches to explore the lazy beach-side town of Mt Maunganui with many, George and I included, choosing to ascend the sacred Māori site and extinct volcano to gain sweeping vistas across the shimmering, azure Pacific Ocean. Others chose to relax on the white sandy beaches or get in some shopping at many of the area’s boutique shops.
We took in one last final appreciation of the area as our bus driver, Bruce, drove us up to a panoramic viewpoint across the Bay of Plenty before continuing down to Rotorua for a one-night stay. The town, set on its namesake lake, is renowned for its geothermal activity and Māori culture. We were able to absorb this over the next day with included excursions to Te Puia’s Whakarewarewa Valley with bubbling mud-pools and the 30m tall Pohutu Geyser and Te Po, an interactive and immersive evening of Māori storytelling and song culminating in a traditional Hāngī (the method of cooking underground using heated rocks) dinner. The next morning, we continued our adventure through palm fronds, indigenous to the New Zealand Forest, to the beautiful mirror-like Lake Tarawere (not on the formal itinerary but suggested by our brilliant coach driver, Bruce) and then onto the National Kiwi Hatchery. After learning about the plight and conservation of the native bird, we continued through more fantastic scenery to Lake Taupo for another one-night stay.
Taking a stop en route at the powerful, Huka Falls, where up to 220,000 litres of powder-blue water pass through the narrow 15m gorge every second, we made our way into Lake Taupo for a quick lunch-stop before checking into our hotel. The largest freshwater lake in Australasia, roughly the size of Singapore, Lake Taupō sits in the caldera of one of the largest super-volcanic eruptions, which occurred approximately 25,000 years ago in the centre of the North Island. With no activities planned for that evening, clients had the opportunity to relax and enjoy a leisurely dinner. The next day we set off through the Volcanic plains of North Island for New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington and the 2nd and final Test of this tour. Centrally located hotels in the city meant that clients were off and about on arrival to various bars, pubs and restaurants, soaking up the atmosphere as the thousands of fellow England fans began to arrive.
2nd Test Match
Known to locals as the largest roundabout in the world, the Basin Reserve played host to the 2nd test and its city centre location meant that clients had the choice to either make their own way or jump onboard the coach transfers to the stadium.
First innings centuries from Man of the first test, Harry Brook (186) and former captain Joe Root (153*) allowed England to enforce the follow-on on Day 3 after bowling the Black Caps out for 209.
With the match set to follow suit with that of the 1st Test, clients had begun to start making plans for a free day 5 until resolute and stoic batting from Tom Latham, Kane Williamson and Tom Blundell meant that England were going to have to bat again, chasing 258 to win the match and the series. Both teams had seen their fortunes ebb and flow during this Test and that continued into Day 5 after 4 early wickets, including the run-out of superstar Harry Brook who hadn’t yet faced a single delivery, had all but silenced the largely English support. A Joe Root (90) and Ben Stokes (33 off 116) partnership had seemingly steadied the ship and England’s position had changed from 5-80 to 5-201. A late collapse, saw Root, Stokes and Broad all lose their wickets within 5 overs with Ben Foakes following just 10 overs later leaving Jack Leach and Jimmy Anderson at the crease at 9-251. Needing just 8 runs to win, the question of whether Leachy could recreate his Headingly heroics must have been running through the mind of every English fan in the stadium. As the runs started to trickle away single by single, the anxious feeling around the Reserve was palpable until Jimmy nicked off to Wagner on 256 and New Zealand had won the 2nd Test by 1 run. 5 days of cricket, 1 run, 1 wicket. A remarkable test match that will be remembered by everyone in attendance! In all, a shared series felt a fair result after a determined and stubborn 2nd innings performance from the Black Caps.
As well as watching five days of incredible cricket, on the morning of Day 3, Debbie, George and I had also taken the opportunity to hop in the hire car, stacked to the roof with collapsible camping chairs from the 1st Test. Our plan was to donate as many of these as we could to schools in the locality. The staff, particularly at Te Aro school, were incredibly grateful to receive the chairs given that a large portion of their pupils were from families across the globe seeking refuge.
The evening of Day 5 saw all Gullivers clients come together at Dockside Restaurant & Bar for our Group Dinner evening where we all enjoyed each other’s company to the tune of some fantastic food and a couple of bottles of Vino. For those travelling back to the UK the next day, it was a fitting way to see off the tour and a great opportunity for those continuing to the South Island with Murray to discuss the excitement of the days to come.
I was also set for some more adventures and after seeing off the Group at the airport and George and Debbie at the dock, I boarded the inter-island ferry for a self-guided adventure of the South Island.
- Harry Barrett, Commercial Executive