ON THE WEST coast of New Zealand it is easy to feel isolated, the landscape is unforgiving and the nearest town is always at least an hour’s drive away.
But a small group have congregated here, in the middle of nowhere, sharing a common bond and a common jersey.
On the way from the bleak town of Westport the dominant feature of the scenery is the sea. All along this coast, giant seven to 10 foot waves rise like a frothing Sean O’Brien throwing himself relentlessly against the jagged coast.
We stop in Punakaiki to have a look at ‘pancake rocks’, layer upon layer of limestone towered high on the shoreline. The rock has been eroded in typically random shapes and the blowholes that result are its main attraction.
The sea will build its enormous pressure, waves hurtling against each other like two props in full flight. When the force builds, the water will finds an intermittent release, tunnelling up through the rock and spraying a jet of liquid high into the air. It’s totally free to view and quite incredible sight.
We turned our back on Rotorua, so it is our own fault that we felt so detached. Everything seems so very far away; the World Cup, home and at times, even people. Watching the All Blacks play in Westport was eerie. It felt as if they knew this as their national team but would have much preferred to watch the local side.
The streets of the one-time mining town were ghostly quiet, the odd car went by, en route to their viewing perch for the night – but not a soul was on foot. In a bar of around 20 people, six wore the blue and red stripes of the Buller club, only one had a silver fern. They got suitably excited when the host nation scored, but seemed only mildly interested any time there was no line break being made.
Guck the dog thinks ROG should start against Italy.
Thirty minutes before the kick-off against Russia (after travelling 280 kilometres) we arrive into a bar in Franz Josef, a town that seems to cater almost exclusively for tourists as it exists below a massive 12 kilometre long glacier. The bar is themed as an alpine log cabin, panelled with wood, it has two roaring fires and a dog named ‘Guck’ roaming after dinner plates with impunity. Our campsite is attached at the back and the first Irish fan we see has swanned in wearing nothing but his beach shorts and a towel around his neck.
It feels so long ago since the dizzy highs we experienced in Auckland, but you can always rely on the Irish to make you feel part of a group, at kick off 20 people have drifted in behind us. By the time our national team take a 17-0 lead, the numbers have swelled to over 50.
The Irish fans enjoy the comprehensive win over Russia in their wood-cabin bar.
Everyone here is on their way to or from Queenstown, the adventure capital of the hemisphere. With plenty of hard yards done over the last few days, tomorrow, we’ll aim in that direction too.
For now though, we have a bonus point win to celebrate.