A Major Throwback, Day 2: Auckland, New Zealand (A Rugby Game & John Kirwan!)


06.02.2015: Auckland, New Zealand

This was one of the best days of my life for a few reasons. Firstly, I was back in New Zealand (aka. my favourite country in the whole wide world) after 12 years. Second, I watched a rugby match (quintessentially Kiwi) between Blues and Hurricanes, which are the Auckland and Wellington rugby teams respectively. Third, I MET THE JOHN KIRWAN AND DAD EVEN MANAGED TO SAY ‘HELLO’ TO HIM OVER FACETIME. (Fun fact: My Dad and Mr. Kirwan are actually friends!)

— — —

As the clock struck midnight, Niki and I landed in Auckland, tired and terribly in need of sleep. However, the first airport shuttle bus out of the airport will only depart at 7.30am so we had a solid 7.5 hours to kill, hoping that most of it would be spent sleeping. Now here’s the thing about sleeping at an airport, aka. a public space: There can’t be a time during which both of us are asleep — at any point in time, either one of us has to be awake to look out for ourselves and the other. This ‘one of us who was awake’ was, unfortunately, me for the entire 7.5 hours because my slight anxiety kept me awake while Niki caught up on her sleep debt. (We couldn’t find a bench to rest on, so we slept on seats that belonged to the MacDonald’s outlet in the airport! #travellingwoes)

Fortunately, a kind gentleman settles down on a bench near us and, unable to fall asleep too, strikes a conversation with evidently wide awake me and introduced himself as a photographer who lives slightly north of Rotorua. He shared with me places I should visit if I had the time — Coromandel being one of them (thank goodness we included it in our itinerary!), and also urging me to visit an amazing ‘secret mud spa’ which is located off the beaten path, so it isn’t terribly crowded. If only I had taken down the spa’s name… 😦

Fast forward 6 hours, the shops open and we got breakfast at TANK juice bar before purchasing some local prepaid numbers. There was a huge ‘Kiwi Slang’ poster that was hung in the Vodafone store and some of them were hilarious — e.g. ‘chocolate fish’ is said to someone for a job well done; as in “Good on ya, mate. You deserve a chocolate fish (a chocolate covered marshmallow fish)”!

After a 30-min ride on the shuttle, we arrived at our accommodation in the middle of the Auckland city centre, Ibis styles. We couldn’t check-in yet because it was still too early in the day so we left our luggage in the lockers, used their wifi to inform our parents that all was well, and then headed out to begin our Kiwi adventures!

Our accommodation was located centrally near the main bus and ferry stations, grocery stores, shops and tons of restaurants, which was absolutely beaut. (Picking up on the slang, hey!) We were going around with no less than the constant look of a deer in headlights, trying to figure out where we fit in in the mass network of public transportation here. We needed to get to the QBE Stadium to catch the rugby game!

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Dad was especially excited about this because we were to watch a game between Blues and Hurricanes. One of the major profiles in the Blues’ management is Sir John James Patrick Kirwan, who is a New Zealand rugby union coach and former player of both rugby union and rugby league. Mr. Kirwan was the former head coach of the Blues in Super Rugby, and with a playing career that featured 35 tries in 63 tests for New Zealand, he is one of the highest try scorers in international rugby union history!

In recent years, he has openly spoken of his battle with depression, and been honoured for his services to mental health — he is actively involved in mental health and depression awareness campaigns in New Zealand. He has even written about his depression in the books All Blacks Don’t Cry and Stand by Me.

We safely made it to the stadium (thank goodness) and as we walked in, the electrifying atmosphere in the stadium became very apparent to us. There weren’t too many people there yet as we arrived, so we had an easy time getting our bearings, finding our seats — 11 & 12, Row A, Section GA004 — and to top that, we also had the luxury of watching the players warm up and getting last-minute coaching before the game. Soon enough, spectators began pouring in and the speakers’ volumes dramatically increased to commence the start of the game. It was so exciting, super duper thrilling and without a doubt intense — we could barely keep seated as we cheered alongside the passionate Blues fans (we had unknowingly booked seats in the Blues box). I utilised some of my 3G here to FaceTime Dad and show him a little of what we were enjoying in the stadium. He urged me to find John Kirwan after the match, so I went up to the fan store and bought myself a Blues poster (I was hoping for an autograph)!

Post-match: Niki and I were neither confident about coming up to these big guys (they had an average height of about 2 metres!) and asking for their big boss, John Kirwan, nor lucky with getting our message across to the locker room at first… but just as we were about to leave, a kind grinning gentleman tells us to wait because he told us that Mr. Kirwan was making his way out. We couldn’t believe it!!! I fished out my phone and FaceTimed Dad again, making the connection just in time as Mr. Kirwan made our way to where we were in the stands. They exchange greetings and reminisced about their past together. Dad was soooo happy. :’) In that moment, I asked for the possibility of an autograph and a photograph (featured above). My day was made a million times over.

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I thought I’d share two of my favourite quotes from Mr. Kirwan:

“Yesterday is gone from my control, so I don’t worry about it. I can make decisions that will feed my soul and give me the life that I can feel good about.” 
― John Kirwan, All Blacks Don’t Cry

“I’ve got a good heart, I’m a good person… this is the illness, not the person here.” 
― John Kirwan

— — —

New Zealand is big on their rugby dynasty — the team’s continued success is a great source of national pride. In 2015, the All Blacks became the first team to win three Rugby World Cups! The All Blacks are New Zealand’s premier national rugby side and have rated amongst the best in the world for well over 130 years.  Within New Zealand, the All Blacks are one of the country’s strongest and best-loved sports teams.

‘The black strip and the silver fern on the breast originated with the New Zealand Natives side, which assembled in 1888 and won 78 of their 107 matches on the first of the long rugby tours. In 1893, the then-New Zealand Rugby Football Union formally adopted the black jersey as the national playing strip which was worn by the first NZRFU-selected national team on its tour of Australia. Throughout the 1890s, the team became known to supporters and local media as “the Blacks” and “the All Blacks”.’

There’s so much to read about the All Blacks if You’re interested:

Whoopeee what a day! Tomorrow we’re off to Tiritiri Matangi!
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More photos on Flickr!

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