Day One – Flight time!
Hi, my name is Matthew Hanman and I’ve been lucky enough to be chosen to be the diary for Lions Supporter Tours. I booked online over a year ago and booked onto the three test tour – I’m glad that I booked early because I had a choice of tours and hotels that means I could fit in in my budget. I’ve been saving for four years since the last tour and managed to convince my wife that it was ‘our’ holiday of a lifetime. A couple of glasses of Pinot and hopefully it’ll be a lifetime holiday every four years!
I’ve just landed in Auckland after a long old flight. We left Heathrow at 1pm and it took around six hours to get to Dubai. The staff on the Qantas flight (why doesn’t it have a ‘U’?) were superb and food was actually quite nice. The ‘long’ leg was flying from Dubai to Melbourne – it was overnight our time, so I wanted to get some sleep. I was really happy that I bought a neck pillow as I don’t think it would have been half as comfy. I bought one called a TRTL pillow which you sort of wrap around your neck and it supports it – it doesn’t take up as much room as the conventional ones and really worked a treat!
The last leg was Melbourne to Auckland where we were met at arrivals by one of the super friendly Supporter Tour staff, Alex. He showed us to our coach and gave a brief rundown of what to do in Auckland. We’ve just got to our hotel and to be honest it’s time for a power nap!
It's been a fabulous first few days of exploring in Auckland. Once we'd found our bearings, it's actually a pretty easy city to navigate. The Main Street is Queens Street which has plenty of designer stores, from Dior to Louis Vuitton and its fair share of souvenir shops. I did notice out of the corner of my eye a Tiffany & Co, so a quick turn of direction and my wife didn't notice! One of the main attractions is the Sky Tower which we went up late evening. The views are fabulous and with the sun setting over the city it was the perfect end to our first whole day in New Zealand.
After a couple of days of fabulous 25 degree sunshine in Auckland, it's a little bit drizzly today... I suppose you can expect it, it is winter after all.
One thing that surprised me is the amount of fabulous places to eat in Auckland. There are independent coffee shops galore and the restaurants are fabulous. If you love your fish (which I'm not a massive fan of but have tried some and may be converted!) then Auckland is for you.
Even though our hotel has breakfast included, I fancied trying one of the coffee shops too, so the drizzle gave us a perfect excuse for elevenses Egg Benedict. We chose "The Coffee Club" which has a couple of places in Auckland and it was some of the nicest I've ever had! Perfectly cooked eggs on ciabatta. Delicious!
In the evening we went to a contemporary Indian restaurant. We didn't know what to have so gave the waitress free reign to bring her favourites. It's the first time I've been this free with my food choices, but if you ever don't know what to have, let the waitress choose. Quite honestly the most fabulous Indian meal I've ever had.
Wow, just wow. I knew the Lions fans took over, but I didn't realise it was this big.
The streets of Auckland are literally red with fans. I've never known anything like this, everyone wears a Lions shirt to show their colours and it turns the city red!
Tonight we were treated to an evening of food, drink and entertainment at a cracking venue on the harbour side. When we arrived, food and drink was being served and soon, Andy Nicol was inviting Lions legend after Lions legend on stage. They seemed to have every nation covered from Martyn Williams to Will Greenwood and Alan Quinlan, with many others.
Will Greenwood took a video of us chanting "Lions, Lions, Lions" and posted it on his Twitter feed. If you get the chance, search for it, it'll give you just a little flavour of how great this Tour is. What ever you imagine, multiply it by 10 and that's what it's really like. First Test tomorrow...
So, to Christchurch, what a superb city. It's full of All Blacks fans, but everyone wants to talk to you with humility and the honour of having the Lions here.
Christchurch is a city that's still devastated with earthquakes in 2011 and the signs are still there. Make sure that if you do get here, you walk the city and find all of the huge wall art which has been created to breath life back into the city.
The Cathedral still shows the signs of the earthquake but the cardboard Cathedral is a sight of modern architecture. When you eat out be sure to have a meal at the OGB, the Old Government Buildings, probably the best Tuna Steak we've ever eaten.
So, on to Wellington and the test...
Wellington, 2017. It’s why The Lions live.
It’s impossible to know where to begin. How do you sum up a few of the greatest days of your life? It might sound dramatic but that is what it has been – a giant Lions party from start to finish.
We arrived in Wellington on Thursday to chilly, wet and windy weather – it was a like a dank Saturday at Twickenham, Murrayfield of Cardiff – and already the streets were littered with red jerseys, club shirts and flags. The Sea of Red invasion had begun.
Wellington is a lovely city, even in the wet. It buzzed from the moment The Lions drew with Hurricanes – but in a friendly, absorbing way. The locals marvelled at this juggernaut of people, spilling out of bars, wandering streets, mingling with All Blacks in hotels, visiting the brilliant Te Papa museum, sweeping a wave of excitement into the city.
By Friday, the city was ready to boil. I attended a wonderful Eve of Test event at Te Papa, fantastically hosted by Sky’s Alex Payne and we were treated to a surprise appearance from Brian O’Driscoll and Dan Carter – for a rugby fan of any nation, to hear them first hand on the night before the Test was beyond my expectations.
And so, Saturday. Test Day. Lions jersey. Check. Lion Den Passes, Check. Match tickets, check. I was ready. What I was not ready for was the atmosphere in The Lions Den.
Dressed as a pitch with posts, dug outs and shirts, the TSB Arena flooded with fans for one of the best pre match build ups I have ever experienced. Laura Wright sung superbly, her rendition of ‘500 Miles’ with MC Andy Nicol will live long in the memory, Scott Quinnell was on fire and we had great food and plenty of Guinness. It was the perfect build up to the Test.
And then, it happened! After everything, it was fitting The Lions gave their adoring fans the win they craved. Even against 14 men after Sonny Bill was sent off, the All Blacks seemed simply unbeatable – but then it happened. Owen Farrell picked out a long miss pass and Faletau slid in at the corner. Cue pandemonium. The Lions battled on. Sam Warburton was terrific, Sean O’Brien a missile, Maro Itoje remarkable and when Conor Murray jinked over and Farrell kicked a late penalty, The Lions had history.
Wellington welcomed back its visitors with open arms, the pubs were packed, the bars sang. The Sea of Red was at high tide! What a day.