Latest posts by Martin Moodie (see all)
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Aotearoa, rugged individual
Glisten like a pearl, at the bottom of the world
The tyranny of distance, didn’t stop the cavalier
So why should it stop me, I’ll conquer and stay free
– Tim Finn, Split Enz, Six Months in a Leaky Boat
Nau mai. Haere Mai!
The Maori greeting (given in audio as well as in writing) translates loosely as “Welcome, come on in.”
And so I did. To Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud. New Zealand. My homeland.
I’m in Auckland, eight years since I was last here to witness the great national god who is Richie McCaw lift the Rugby World Cup high into the autumn night sky. I shall never forget that moment after watching 24 years of near and not so near misses by the team that always went into Rugby World Cups as hot favourites and somehow never delivered.
But then they did. And they did it again. And, as you will have read in yesterday’s Blog, they may be about to do it all over again (#AllBlacks3peat) in Japan.
Rugby fever, always a simmering condition in this country, has erupted to full-scale epidemic status. The newspapers are full of stories about this weekend’s blockbuster pool match v the All Blacks’ most-feared foe, the Springboks of South Africa, the arrivals duty free shops are buzzing with rugby-themed promotions. There’s a big sign of Dan Carter, second only to Saint Richie McCaw in demi-god status in ARI’s The Loop arrivals duty free store.
I had forgotten just how far New Zealand was away from just about anywhere. I set off on Sunday evening from Heathrow and landed here at noon on Tuesday. When you look at the inflight screen flight path and you see the Antarctic looming up as next stop beyond your destination you know you’re a long way south.
Split Enz (later Crowded House), among New Zealand’s favourite musical sons, wrote of the tyranny of distance but frankly if it’s tyranny it’s a very benign form. For it’s that very isolation that keeps this land as pristine and unspoiled as it is. I’m only here in the city of sails for four days, before a quick jaunt down to my hometown of Christchurch for the weekend – and the chance to watch the big match with my oldest and best friends – a frustratingly short stay but, hey, after eight years away it’ll do.
Arriving at Auckland Airport is a lovely experience. As the plane approaches land after a couple of hours flying across the blue,exquistely blue Tasman Sea, the familiar surrounds of Manukau Harbour loom into view. Its rugged heads tell Kiwis that they are home. The southern end of the Waitakere Ranges, remnants of an offshore volcano that erupted about 20 million years, form the north head. The south head lies at the tip of Awhitu Peninsula, formed from mighty sand dunes that have taken shape over the last million years.
It’s the panoramas that really get you about New Zealand. Due to my work gig at the airport this week (more of that in a subsequent blog) I’m staying right opposite at the Novotel Auckland Airport. It’s an unprepossessing, functional hotel but I love the majesty of the views over the airfield, the harbour, the green reclaimed land and the ring of hills stretching far into the distance.
Thanks to the imbeciles at the New Zealand Commerce Commission a few years back, Auckland Airport has twin duty free retailers in arrivals (and departures) – Aer Rianta International’s The Loop and Lagardère Travel Retail’s Aelia Duty Free. One would have been enough. They each have their own character but sell the same categories, many of the same brands and at similar prices. And it’s all simply too much.
The main passenger flow (there are two) takes you right down the middle of the two stores left and right. The expressions of the staff, friendly almost to a fault, almost plead with you to choose their side. I felt guilty opting for one over the other, much like I once did when I selected a puppy from the last two in the litter and had to leave the other behind. On either side there are even rival local Sim card representatives pitching (albeit silently) their respective offers.
I just wanted to browse for a while (though I did buy a bottle of Woodford Reserve at The Loop – a full 10 cents cheaper than on the other side) and take some snaps, not be approached by what seemed like every member of the team. That’s not being critical of the staff – they have their jobs to do in an archly competitive environment – but of the crazy dual operator model.
Both are excellent arrivals shops, however. Unsurprisingly, given how much arrivals shopping is entrenched in our culture, they are extensively ranged and there are plenty of attractive promotions and price-offs.
I’m really looking forward to the departures experience here on my way back through on Monday morning. Auckland Airport, remember, won the FAB Airport Food & Beverage Offer of the Year at our annual FAB Awards earlier this year. The airport and its partners have done an awesome job in creating a diverse culinary offer with a real Sense of Place and sense of difference.
First though, there’s a big launch here on Thursday to cover. And then, oh yes, an even bigger game of rugby to watch. #AllBlacks3peat