Thursday, 29 September 2011

Diary of a Volunteer - Opening Day

Thankfully the  opening day of the tournament dawned fine and clear. Thankfully because  New Zealand's weather is unpredictable in spring which is famous for having four seasons in one day and no one wanted it to rain on our parade. And it seemed as if the whole of Auckland was excited at the prospect of a truly memorable occasion.
A glorious day and the crowds start to arrive on Te Wero Island
By mid afternoon the numbers grow
At our workforce centre we were briefed and divided into teams.  I was allocated  Te Wero Island, certainly a case of drawing the long straw as it was a perfect vantage point and turned out to be one of the least congested areas of down town Auckland.  Te Wero is not really an island, rather it is a finger of land running along the Northern side of the Viaduct Harbour. As the balmy, sunny afternoon wore on the crowds swelled and I enjoyed my role as a host..meeting, greeting and helping visitors from all over the world.  I was impressed at what lovely people these international rugby supporters are,  mostly middle aged and in excited anticipation of the tournament.  Many had saved for years to come and were thrilled to be here.  Others go to all the major  rugby international tournaments around the world. All were keen to chat and grateful for assistance and I loved the interaction.The Te Wero crowd was a combination of family groups settling down with picnic baskets who had come for the fireworks display and enthusiastic rugby supporters many of whom were heading to watch the opening game at Eden Park.

The first of the waka arrives
At 4pm the festivities began with the arrival into Viaduct Harbour of 20 ceremonial waka, Maori canoes, paddled by crews of between 20 and 40 paddlers in traditional dress.  It was a stunning and moving sight as the canoes arrived one after the other to the chants of the paddlers, the haunting karakia ( a call of welcome from a maori woman), from the shore, and the echo of the conch shell. The paddlers walked the length of Te Wero island to a small square, as Dave Dobbyn, one of New Zealand's top entertainers, sang his song Welcome Home for them.  The words of this song are poignant and moving and I felt quite emotional at that point.   Then the paddlers performed the haka, the Maori war dance, causing the earth to tremble beneath their feet.
The waka paddlers prepare to do the haka
The crowd relaxed, picniced and waited for the opening ceremony and the fireworks display to follow.  While they waited they were entertained by the royalty of New Zealand pop music, Tim and Neil Finn and Dave Dobbyn, among others. Then at 7pm the opening ceremony at Eden park was  screened on the huge screens located at various places around the Auckland waterfront and what a magnificent ceremony it was, portraying some of the history of New Zealand and rugby in spectacular style.  A moment for us all to feel very proud.  Finally came what  the children were waiting for, the fireworks display.  It was to be the biggest display that New Zealand had ever seen and it didn't disappoint.  I felt so lucky to have a prime view, with the harbour to one side of me and the Sky Tower to the other.  At times I didn't know where to was amazing, wonderful, exciting.  At one point a downtown skyscrapper was spotlit to reveal two men performing acrobatics high up on the side of the building.  They appeared to be running up and down the building and turning somersaults and landing on the wall.
By late afternoon the crowds were increasing...but still comfortable
Once all this excitement was over everyone settled down to watch the first match of the competition, New Zealand versus Tonga, on large screens (NZ won 41 - 10) and we volunteers went for our first meal break.  No complaints there!  Delicious catered food served in our workforce centre  with a wide view over the viaduct.  I know I'm going to enjoy this volunteering!
I'm far left with fellow volunteers and some rather bewildered looking young rugby supporters
Auckland had been inundated with people, an estimated 200,000 people flocked to the down town area for this opening night, much higher numbers than predicted, and causing traffic chaos in some areas, but I was lucky, missing out on the worst of it and loving every moment of the experience.  I left to get my bus home at 11pm and it arrived only 10 minutes late.  I ended my first shift tired, with an aching back from nearly 9 hours standing, but happy and so proud of our beautiful city and country.