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"Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia

a travel blog by Shane & Norma

Sometimes you have to follow your heart and step outside the box when opportunity knocks. This is one of those times...it's about having no regrets later in life about 'the road not taken'.

We hope that our travel journal inspires you to follow your heart and travel the roads of your dreams.

Opportunity has knocked and we have answered the door to adventure. Join us on our travels...

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Victoria, Canada

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on March 18, 2009 from Victoria, Canada
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
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The Final Countdown...

Victoria, Canada

I woke up this morning to a new reality...I'm on leave from work until November 2. Another new reality quickly took over...only 19 days until my departure date - April 5. Excitement and nerves make a strong cocktail!

Our planning started years ago when my rugby club decided to tour New Zealand in 2009. Norma and I heard opportunity knocking, and we have planned a seven-month journey together through NZ, Samoa and Australia.

I arrive in NZ with Ebb Tide RFC April 7 for a three-week six-game tour of the country where rugby is king. Norma arrives April 21 and will join the group for the final days of the tour - brave girl! We start our own adventures after we see the group off to Canada April 26.

Today is 'T minus 19 and counting'...not much time to tie up loose ends so I'd better get at it!

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on March 18, 2009 from Victoria, Canada
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged Rugby, Australia, NZ, NewZealand, Samoa and EbbTide

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T Minus 7 and Counting...

Victoria, Canada

Lists...I have never been a fan...must be a male thing...well, that's my excuse and I know it's lame! Truth be told, lists are a reality check: "You need to.." and sometimes it's overwhelming to see how much needs to get done. I must admit though that I have done better than usual keeping and actually using lists over the past week. Better to deal with reality now rather than let it kick you in the butt later, eh!

I had a 'Plan B' as a fall-back for tour/trip prep but, as luck would have it, I needed a 'Plan C'. Plan B didn't cover getting injured before tour, which happened in the last minute of my last game at home Sunday March 22. With the help of two opposing tacklers, I sprained the MCL in my right knee. Immediate pain followed by even more painful visions of not playing on tour!

Something like this sure can knock your spirits down and I'm lucky to have great team-mates who have helped me stay positive. I found a great sports physiotherapist, too, who has put things into proper perspective for me physically which really lifted my spirits. Positive thoughts, rehab, tape & brace for games...good to go!

'Plan C' means less time in the gym = more time at home knocking things off the list, which never seems to get shorter.

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on March 30, 2009 from Victoria, Canada
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged Lists, Rugby and PlanB

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Fear Factor - NZ Style

Queenstown, New Zealand

Touchdown in Auckland 11,450+ km and 13 1/2+ hours after departing Vancouver...a little bleary-eyed but none the worse for wear. It was just the beginning of a long day and for some, a potentially long tour!

We gathered at Victoria Airport at 3:00 pm Sunday (April 5) for the puddle jump to Vancouver at 5:00 pm. Very few had any problem shifting into tour mode and we quickly engaged the first of many bartenders that we will encounter over the next three weeks. Nothing like pints and laughs to pass the time before boarding the Air NZ flight at 8:00 pm.

We arrived in Queenstown late morning and managed to catch a glimpse of the Remarkables before the clouds rolled in as we headed off for some adrenalin activities. Apparently, jet-boating and bungy-jumping are considered a cure for jet-lag...nothing like a good dose of fear to straighten things out!

Loved the jet boat run up and down the Shotover at 75 kph, shaving the Canyon walls with the occasional 360 spin thrown in for good measure to keep everyone alert. "Been there, done that, got the t-shirt" sizes up the joy of leaping off the bridge 43 m above the Kawarau. Absolute terror wiped the grin off my face the moment I stepped off the platform. I was still vibrating an hour later and I'm sure that the microseconds of stress shaved a few years off my life! Our group earned bragging rights over the others with the most jumpers and the oldest jumper - Irish Jimmy @ 70 yrs. No prizes, no free beers at the bar that night...winners none the less!

A day of travelling, a day given up to the date line and an outstanding day one in Aotearoa New Zealand! Onward and upward!

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on April 13, 2009 from Queenstown, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged Shotover, JetBoat and BungyJumping

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Facts, Figures & Shrek

Christchurch, New Zealand

Christchurch, our first NZ city. Bodies eased themselves down from the bus after the long trip from Queenstown.

The landscape on the way to Ch-ch reminded many of the Cariboo, sans sheep. Sheep, sheep sheep! The hills and paddocks were alive with them, as one well expected would be the case in NZ. None compared to the legendary Shrek., a Merino ram. Our driver, Brian, related the story of drovers finding Shrek deep in the high hills with a coat of fleece beyond belief. The soon-to-be celebrity had lived as a rogue for six years, escaping the shears until discovered. He was rounded up and transported to civilization where he met the paparazzi and the shearers. Shrek's fleece weighed 60 lbs. and provided enough wool to make vests for 20 men! The average fleece weighs 10 lbs. and an exceptional fleece weighs up to 35 lbs.

Shrek was only one of many "-est" facts and figures that we heard along the way - oldest, largest, first. We didn't doubt Brian's knowledge but Rick-Kyle turned it into a new drinking game, not that the Ebb Tide needs an excuse to tipple! So, whenever Brian described something using an "est', everyone called out, "DRINK!" and tipped backed their beer with a laughter chaser. Every ear was tuned into Brian as we headed for Ch-ch, hoping to be the first to holler, "DRINK!" No one missed a fact or figure. However, the question is how many remembered them!

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on April 29, 2009 from Christchurch, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged Rugby, Shrek and Sheep

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Snowballs, Pints & Pies

Christchurch, New Zealand

Lindis Pass is a long way to come for a snowball fight, even by Kiwi standards! Leave it to forty-two crazy Canucks to ask the bus driver to pull over so they could test out NZ snow. Nobody was homesick., it was just too tempting not to have some good old Canadian fun! Snowballs flew everywhere and few found their intended target...just like on the rugby pitch. Go figure!

Snowballs excepted, we are trying our best to get into the Kiwi culture starting with food and drink. Meat pies are the answer to every meal that isn't a sit-down affair. They're everywhere and filled with everything from mince to lambs' fry, aka, liver. Taste and quality range from "Wow!" to "Bugger me, that's horrible!" You will find the former in the local bakery; the latter are massed produced in a factory and languish on garage food racks.

And what goes with a pie...beer, of course! Despite its reputation, Speights is the beer of the South Island. "What's their reputation?", you ask.
It starts with a local saying, "Drink Speights, lose your mates!"
"What's that mean?", you ask.
Speights is known for its gaseous side effects...it appears to be true, too!

So, beware the man with pie and Speights in hand!

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on April 29, 2009 from Christchurch, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged Rugby, Beer, Snowballs and Speights

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In the Beginning...

Auckland, New Zealand

A plane and taxi ride to remember!

Step into the time tunnel so Norma and I can catch you up with our adventures from the beginning. I will recap the rugby tour at a later date, however, you must keep in mind that I faithfully follow road code!

Norma, Sharon, Beau and I bid the tour "haere ra" Sunday April 26 and saw them onto the bus bound for Auckland Airport and their Air NZ flight home to Canada. It was bittersweet to see them go, however. On one hand, it meant that Norma and I were now starting our long awaited journey through NZ and beyond. On the other, it meant that the Ebb Tide tour that had been so much fun was over and that we wouldn't see our friends until late October.

Tours are a special part of the sport that we so dearly love. All aspects of a tour bring team-mates and supporters closer together starting the day that the decision to go on tour is made. Everyone works hard preparing for a tour and plays hard while on tour. Tours are filled with laughter and special moments that make friendships stronger and lasting memories. Good times!

I digress so back to the task at hand... Beau and I had long planned to celebrate the end of the tour with a long night in a pub. Our bodies told us otherwise though; three weeks of tour on top of two+ years of planning and organizing takes a toll on fifty-year olds! We each went our separate ways with our wives for a quiet evening and much needed rest!

Norma and I thought we would spend at least another night in the hotel in Takapuna until they said our room, complete with single beds, would cost us $159/night! We did not have to wander far though for something more reasonable. We found a funky one-bedroom travel trailer in the local holiday park located right on the beach.

The park was a ten minute walk from the hotel and the trailer only cost $75/night! We made it home for three nights and explored the local area by foot and bus. It was the perfect wind-down for me before heading out on our journey!

We left Takapuna early morning Wednesday April 29 via shuttle to the airport for a flight to Queenstown. The Qantas koala was not a happy critter that day! The screen in the departure area told us that our flight was delayed. After finally boarding the plane, we waited and waited in our seats while the captain told us...twice...that it wouldn't be long until an undisclosed "mechanical problem" was corrected. Not so! The crew soon ushered everyone off the plane to wait for a replacement...plane, that is!

Norma and I watched the two-hour window for catching our pre-paid bus from Queenstown to Te Anau closing rapidly and the customer service rep in Auckland didn't seem to care. We boarded our new plane and arrived in Queenstown about 1/2 hour after the bus left. Thankfully, the customer service rep there came to our rescue and had us loaded into a cab with apologies for delays. We arrived in Te Anau two+ hours later and the meter read $540!

A memorable start to our adventures in NZ!

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on April 29, 2009 from Auckland, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged FlightDelay and TaxiFare

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South of the South Island - Te Anau thru The Catlins

Te Anau, New Zealand

The south of the South Island...vistas extraordinaire! We saw absolutely stunning scenery as we walked tracks, drove back-roads and cruised inland waters in and around Te Anau, Milford Sound and the Catlins.

The summer crowds had long deserted Te Anau, leaving its lakefront and surrounding parks empty. It is still a jumping off spot however for tramping the many tracks dotted with DOC huts and this keeps the local hostels busy before winter grips the mountains. We were hostelling newbies and so we learned a few things about communal living right away. To no surprise, many young travellers still think that, just like at mom and dad's, elves and pixies clean the kitchen while they sleep!

Te Anau's lakefront walk includes a bird sanctuary that houses several threatened species. It was sad to learn that so many birds unique to New Zealand have become extinct since the arrival of man, particularly Europeans. The remaining species are under constant threat of attack from ferrets, stoats, rats, mice and feral cats, in addition to habitat damage by possums, deer, feral goats and pigs, and habitat loss by man. No mammals, save a small bat, existed in New Zealand before man arrived. Conservation groups are making efforts across the country though to protect remaining species and their habitats. It's been an ongoing battle for over a century and progress is always fragile.

The drive to Milford Sound is an exceptional experience in its own right. Lakes, forests, valley floors and mountain ranges continually change shape and color. The beauty of the areas through to Milford was breathtaking. Clear blue skies and bright sun certainly contributed to the experience! Later, our guide aboard the Milford Sound cruise advised, with a chuckle, that we would see few waterfalls because it hadn't rained for the past five days and the area was in a drought! The Sound was still spectacular with its massive rock walls towering high overhead and calm seas. We were able to steam out onto the unusually gently rolling South Tasman Sea before turning back into the Sound for the return leg.

We moved further south to Invercargill after four wonderful days in Te Anau. Urged by fellow travellers and my NZ family, we hired a car and left the city to tour the Catlins.

Their descriptions of the area were understated and we are challenged to give an account that gives the Catlins justice. Deserted beaches, massive headlands, wide expanses of rolling grazing lands dotted with sheep, thick rich forests, rivers...and peaceful solitude! We filled four days with beach and forest tramps, wildlife spotting and getting use to driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. We even stood at the most southerly point of the South Island and felt the winds from Antartica on our faces.

We didn't get to Stewart Island, which lies off the south of the main island, due to poor weather. Tossing around in a water taxi for 90 minutes and knowing that the heavy rain would all but silence the renown birdlife made our decision to leave that trip for a return visit to NZ.

The south of South and its extraordinary vistas can be summed up in one simple word..."Wow!"

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on April 30, 2009 from Te Anau, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged MilfordSound, TeAnau and TheCatlins

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Fast Forward - The Past & The Present

Timaru, New Zealand

Well, you're probably wondering what's going on with our travel blog. Understandable given that entries have been very few since we arrived in NZ. Our apologies...we've been on the go, go, go and without internet connections for most of the time. Okay, enough excuses...let's share our most recent experiences with all of you!

We're currently in Timaru, which is about three hours south of Christchurch. We spent the past two weeks meeting the NZ Muldrew clan. What an experience! I have met so many second cousins and their families - almost 50 so far. In fact, there are hundreds of Muldrews and descendents in NZ that all have a common connection to my great-great grandfather and grandmother, James and Ruth Muldrew, who came here from Ireland via the sailing ship Auckland in 1874.

We arrived in Dunedin May 10 and met the first of the cousins, Ann Padman, and her family: husband, Wayne, and daughters, Alison, Jackie & Bronwyn. We all have so much in common and we hit it off right away...rugby, hunting, fishing, camping, cold beers and rums & coke just to name a few things!

We stayed with Jackie and her partner, Tups, for three nights; their home is strategically placed one block over from the 'House of Pain', Carisbrook Stadium! Sadly no games were on but the stadium staff allowed me inside to see the grounds. All Blacks will play the French there June 13, and Dunedin is awash with banner advertising the match.

We then stayed with another cousin, Helen Brathwaite, and her partner, David, for several nights. Helen received the Member of NZ Order of Merit in recognition of her 40 years as a special needs teacher and the amazing things she accomplished with her students. David and Helen toured us all over the local area, including a trip to Taiaroa Head to see the royal albatross flying.

Ann organized a family gathering for the May 16/17 weekend at the Girl Guides Lodge in Waikouaiti, a short drive north of Dunedin. Family came from near and far, including Lindsay Brinsdon from Tasmania and Neville Mattingly from Perth. Thirty-six descendents sat to a home-cooked dinner Saturday night and shared stories from the past and present. We continued over breakfast Sunday and then slowly trickled away home. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the weekend that Ann and Wayne put together for the family.

Norma and I moved on to Oamaru Tuesday May 19 to spend time with two of my dad's first cousins: Hugh Muldrew and his wife, Trixie, and Mary Rapson.

All are in their eighties and full of life! Hugh put me behind the wheel Wednesday and Thursday to travel about meeting more cousins and seeing sights important to the family. We met the oldest family member, Ruby Orlowsky, who is 94 years old and living in her home across from Waitaki Girls' School.

We were fortunate to see the Maheno cemetary, north of Oamaru, under clear skies Thursday. We saw the resting places of my great-great and great grandparents, as well as great aunts and uncles. It was a very powerful experience.

We also saw several sights such as the Moreaki Boulders and rescued penguins at a nearby lighthouse. The highlight for me was seeing the original land that my great-great grandparents homesteaded and Muldrews Road that marks the area. Hugh regaled us wih family history and stories everywhere we went.

We ended our time in Oamaru with an overnight stay with Mary who showed us her scrapbooks and shared her recollections of the family long ago. It was a wonderful evening.

It was hard leaving Oamaru yesterday afternoon and moving on with our journey through NZ. After all, my visit had only reunited us for a short time. It had been 117 years since Ruth Muldrew sailed from Ireland with her brothers and sisters,save my grandfather who was too young to make the journey and remained behind with his maternal grandparents. He never saw his family again...I guess that explains my tears at the bus depot.

I met my third cousin, Max Muldrew, today and we spent a large part of the afternoon discussing the family tree. Max has done considerable research and he provided me a copy of the family tree from my great-great grandparents to present that he compiled. It fills 74 pages! A true labour of love!

We leave Timaru for Christchurch tomorrow morning...I have some reading to do on the way and it will be fascinating to say the least! The past forms the present...

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on May 24, 2009 from Timaru, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged Family and Muldrews

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Chillin' in Hawke's Bay

Napier, New Zealand

Chillin' in Hawke's Bay and sressin' on the coast highway...

Everyone needs to take a break, even when they're travelling, and find a sanctuary for some solitude and sense of space. It was a 'no brainer' to choose Victoria's sister city, Napier, renown for its Art Deco architecture, as the place to toss our backpacks into a corner and chill. It's located in the Hawke's Bay region with its Mediterranean climate, beautiful scenery in every direction and home to no less than 70 wineries. We hired a 'bach' (cottage) at Wishart Vineyards in Bay View, about 10 km north of Napier. A ten minute walk through the vineyard takes us to the beach where we can watch the waves break and crash after their long journey across the Pacific. We hired a car, too, so we can explore the local area in all directions.

Truth be known, I had already arranged to spend time shadowing Napier Boys' High School rugby coaches at practices and figured that Norma would enjoy the shops and vineyards in a warmer clime. I was right, too! We were in our shorts and t-shirts having morning tea on the veranda when we heard that Dunedin is covered in snow this morning (Tuesday June 16).

We arrived last Wednesday (June 10) and have had a mix of busy and quiet days. We explored the vineyard and beach Thursday while our laundry was on the go, then visited Esk Winery across the road for a tasting. I headed off to practice at NBHS that afternoon and afterwards found myself madly scribbling notes about drills and plays.

We walked the streets of Napier Friday to see the Art Deco buildings contructed to restore the city after an earthquake devastated it in 1931. It is literally a city that rose from the ashes; its architecture is fascinating and its story is inspiring. We'll walk the opposite sides of the streets before we leave so that we can see the buildings from a different perspective.

Norma was a content rugby widow Saturday. I hit the road before 7 am on the drive to Gisborne, 200+ km north, to watch the NBHS teams play their rival, Gisborne Boys' High School. These lads play hard exciting rugby! The 1st XV game would be a close equal to any of our local premier games for skill and speed. I arrived back at the bach shortly before 6:30 pm and then headed to the local pub to watch the All Blacks vs. France game because we don't have Sky Sports on our bach telly. The game was a disappointment (France won with help from the All Blacks) and it was rebroadcast on a regular telly channel half an hour after I got back to the bach!

The road to Gisborne is the mother of all Malahats. In fact, it makes the Malahat look like a prairie freeway! It's a challenge in daylight with its twists and turns. Speed limits change from 100 kph to 25 kph in the blink of an eye. Steep climbs through the hills apparently aren't challenging enough for Kiwis - they narrow the roadway so that loaded semis almost brush cars in the opposite lane and bar any escape with a sheer drop on one side and towering overhanging rock faces on the other! None of this seems to phase the Kiwis, though. The way that they drive leads me to believe that they have visions of being the next Formula One great! Throw darkness into the mix and the whole experience requires a few stiff drinks when you get back to the bach!

Sunday...we drove down to Haverlock North and up to the top of the peak of Te Mata. The sheer escarpments and the incredible clear-day views in all directions from the 399m summit gave Norma the 'woozies'! Stops at the Arataki Honey Visitor Centre and the Te Mata Cheese Company brought her back to life.

The sun was out in all its glory yesterday (Monday June 15) so we jumped into the car and headed north for a soak at Morere Hot Springs. 40o C hot pools under the canopy of a lush rainforest of towering nikau palms, ferns and other native trees. Bird song mingled with the steam of the pools as we simmered in the mineral waters. We drove out to the Mahia Peninsula, which was once an island before sands filled in the gap over eons to join it to the mainland. The beaches and coastline were spectacular, and we found a wonderful spot on the shore to relax with a beer and snack on Te Mata blue cheese. The waves continually crashed onto the sandstone formations that waves through the millennia have etched and carved into stunning sculptures. Before leaving the peninsula, I had to stop at the local rugby pitch and marvel at its setting on an escarpment high above the wide open Pacific. The view is unobstructed and only the ocean separates the pitch from South America.

We turned onto the highway for the trip home as the sun started to set and the skies ahead glowed with its fiery colors. The marvels of nature disappeared with darkness and the challenges of driving the coast highway took over. The experience gripped Norma and she too found comfort in a stiff drink once back in the comfort of the bach!

Yep, you have appreciate the ying and yang of chillin' in Hawke's Bay and stressin' on the coast highway...

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on June 15, 2009 from Napier, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
tagged Hot, Napier, TeMata, Morere, Springs, Mahia and Peninsula

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