If you are travelling around New Zealand in September and October 2011, you are either a rugby fan or run the risk of becoming one.
From the opening kick-off at Auckland’s Eden Park on 9 September, much of the country will be in high spirits as the Rugby World Cup tournament returns to its birthplace. Over the course of six weeks, 20 teams will play 48 matches in 12 stadiums, in 11 towns and cities from one end of the country to the other. Not since the 1990 Commonwealth Games has New Zealand had such a chance to show off.
The fact that you do not know your blind side from your break down will have no bearing on your enjoyment of the tournament, because much of the action will be off the field. The ardent All Blacks fan base will be entertainment in itself, as the lint-roller is zapped over the old black jersey and the masses take to the pubs in droves. These hijinks will continue right through to the final, even if the New Zealand side gets knocked out (in which case you can expect to see a bit of the ol’ switcheroo in support of anyone but England). It pays to be prepared in these situations: what team might you “adopt” if (heaven forbid!) your team gets knocked out or did not make the cut at all? Namibia and Georgia might be grateful for some extra cheering from the sideline.
Yes, there will undoubtedly be a whole lot of “World in Union” going on as New Zealand rolls out the grassy carpet to its visitors, expected to number around 70,000. From Northland in the North Island, to Southland in the South, you can guarantee that New Zealanders will be showing their guests that despite a lack of imagination in naming their regions, their creativity knows no bounds when it comes to having a good time.
And even those who are not rugby fans will benefit from the ridiculous number of festivities planned to coincide with the Rugby World Cup. A scrum-load of off-the-ball action has been packed into the Real NZ Festival’s mind-boggling countrywide programme of events taking place alongside the tournament. It includes everything from the predictable (Hard on the Heels: Capturing the All Blacks) to the unexpected (West Coast Whitebait Challenge). Some events will be stylish and uber-creative (World of WearableArt), while others will be downright cool (Maniatoto Curling Festival). They will illuminate (“Light by Night"), educate (The Story of Ka Mate, the World’s Best Known Haka) and translate (Style Pasifika). By our reckoning, just about every man and his dog is getting involved, and occasionally even some sheep (Shearing and Wool Handling Championships).
Do not for a minute think that Christchurch has been kicked into touch. No sirree! They may have lost their games because of stadium damage after this year’s quakes, but their “Fanzone” in Hagley Park is set to go off. You can guarantee that those flinty Cantabrians will prove that they can still party hard and show visitors a good time.
While it will be essential to book accommodation in towns and cities holding games and on major routes in between, you will have more options and get better value if you “go the long way round”. If you are looking for budget-end accommodation on the road, do not forget New Zealand’s holiday parks, located in some spectacular settings.
Oddball obsessives may think that it is all about the rugby, but there is much more to this than a game of two halves. With events all around the country, and the Kiwis geared up to welcome you, this will be a great time to tour one of the world’s favourite destinations.
The article 'A guide to New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.