Monday, 31 October 2011

Victory at last!

We won, we won! After a thrilling, nail biting final, in which we managed to hold off a determined French team to win 8 to 7,  it's all over and the whole of New Zealand is basking in the sweet satisfaction of once again being the world champions.  Rugby is our national game, some would say religion, so winning the world cup has raised morale in our country which has been battered by  major earthquakes, a serious mining disaster and the world wide recession during the last 12 months.  The world cup has been an opportunity for people to escape their worries, if only for a little while, and victory a cause for celebration.
A triumphant Richie McCaw, Captain of the All Blacks, with the World Cup

We wait to join the victory parade...yes, that's me with thumb up..

We volunteers were invited to join with the All Blacks in their victory parade and it was a thrilling experience to walk the length of Queen St, Auckland's main street, amidst joyous crowds elated at seeing the All Blacks.  We basked in their cheers and shouted thanks to us for our work and contribution to the success of the event.  It is estimated 250,000 people watched the parade and it was just wonderful to see everyone so happy and up lifted.  It is something I will never forget....a truly memorable occasion.

What an amazing and memorable experience...I'm on the left, camera in hand

The following night the wind up party for volunteers was held in Shed 10 on Queen's wharf, with over 1000 attending.  On a glorious balmy evening it was fun to mix with fellow volunteers, enjoy good food, drink and entertainment and say a sad farewell to people we have worked with and are unlikely to see again.

Relaxing with fellow volunteers at the wind up party

I have never been a fanatical rugby fan although I have always enjoyed major games played by the All Blacks. Being involved in this was, for me, never about the actual sport but more about being a huge fan of New Zealand and of Auckland,  having a passion for making the event successful, giving visitors to New Zealand the best possible experience and enjoying an amazing feel good festival. And I think it is fair to say that it has been an outstanding success.  It was a privilege to be a part of it and I have to say I loved every minute.

So now life abruptly returns to normal. It is back to catching up on things I have neglected over the last few weeks like tackling the weeds in my garden, catching up with friends  doing  a few needed odd jobs around home and looking forward to what the weather forecasters predict will be a long hot summer.  Bring it on!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Diary of a volunteer - Fans, Fanzones, Fan Trail = Fun

We are now down to the final nine days of the tournament and many of the volunteers are starting to feel sorry that it will soon be over.  It has been the most uplifting of carnivals and Auckland has been a constant buzz so things are bound to feel a bit flat after all this excitement.  I have carried out eleven volunteer shifts, so far, and have enjoyed every one of them.  For the most part I have been stationed at the central fanzone on Queens Wharf at the foot of Queen St, Auckland.  The fanzone has a multitude of attractions which ensures a constant flow of visitors any day of the week. The most popular attraction has been the giant rugby ball which is actually a small theatre holding around 200 people.  The entire interior surface of the ball, apart from the floor, is a movie screen which showcases the beauty of New Zealand and aspects of our history.  It is brilliant and some days the queues for this attraction have been extremely lengthy. I spent one day working in the ball organising people in and out and seating, or should I say, lying, them for the shows.  The best way to view it is lying on your back on the floor.  people are taken aback when you tell them this but, in the end, most do lie on the floor, even the elderly,  and are glad they did. It was the most exhausting of all my shifts, so far, but also rewarding to see how much people enjoy the show.
Volunteers at the giant rugby ball cinema
Volunteers outside The Cloud
 The other outstanding feature on the wharf is the stunning Cloud building.  Designed as a long undulating cloud, to reflect New Zealand's name, Aotearoa i.e.  "land of the long white cloud",  it is quite spectacular and has certainly been a major draw card.  During the tournament it has hosted trade shows, public lectures, childrens' ukelele exhibitions, fashion shows, comedy shows and, best of all, the Taste New Zealand food hall where, for a fee, people can taste the very best of New Zealand food and wine. The Cloud also houses two giant TV screens, both measuring 16 by 8 metres, these show films showcasing New Zealand and televised tournament games.  At night the interior is lit with a changing light spectrum which looks beautiful from the outside. For hard core rugby fans there is Shed Ten, certainly the biggest bar I have ever seen and am ever likely to, I think.  There have been nightly performances there of bands of all types from loud rock to soft and mellow.  This is where thousands of fans have watched the rugby games on giant screens.  Other attractions are scattered along the wharf including an interactive display of New Zealand film and a huge memorabilia shop.

My shifts have been between five and nine hours long, some during the day and some right up until midnight.  For the most part our role is to meet and greet people and to provide any information about the tournament, or Auckland/New Zealand, requested.  The fun part has been meeting people from all over the world. I have been astonished by the number of people who have travelled from places such as Georgia and Romania to follow their teams, however, there have been people from every country in the competition.  They all came with the intention of having a great time and their positive attitude has been a joy. On game days the fanzone has been awash with good natured team supporters in their national colours and costumes waving flags and chanting. I have met many very interesting people, including a group of English parliamentarians here to play rugby against a team of New Zealand parliamentarians.  They were real gentlemen and good to chat with. The most popular fans of all, though, have been the Irish.
With a vibrant and joyful Township band from South Africa......

.......and Irish and Australian supporters..........

....and let's not forget our own enthusiastic if colourless fans.
One day the volunteers were invited to have a private meeting with the French rugby team.  They were most generous with their time spending about an hour signing autographs and posing for photos.  Some of the young female volunteers were quite weak at the knees.
Enjoying meeting the French rugby team.
Two of my shifts have been spent standing in pretty steady rain....and, surprisingly, I have still enjoyed them.  One shift was at Eden Park lapping up the atmosphere and another I spent along the Fan Trail.  The Fan Trail has been a particular success of this tournament.  In order to free up public transport it was decided to encourage people to walk the four and a half kilometres from downtown Auckland to Eden Park.  To make it interesting there are all sorts of activities, buskers, art works and refreshment spots along the way. Fans, people going to the games and just Aucklanders generally have embraced the Fan Trail with enthusiasm, so much so that thousands walk it every time there is a game on simply to enjoy the carnival atmosphere.