THE SOUTH ISLAND greets us like the walls of Shawshank.
We first glimpse it from the ferry, great big steep brown and green hills acting as a bulwark, a warning to all who approach that you better be prepared.
The boat discovers a hidden gate and enters into a maze of fjords. Huge tracts of uninhabitable land form the view out of either side – the few homesteads that exist here are reachable only by boat.
The wind picks up as it is funnelled between the hills and we sail south towards the port of Picton.
On board we encounter Desmond, a 20-something Wicklow native who has lived here as a logger for the past five years.
He uses the weather map of the Dominion Post to tell us all the best things to see and do while we’re here. But there are just so many choices I’m not sure we take half of it in.
Desmond’s travelling companion was a grizzled New Zealander. With tough features and a healthy brown beard he’s exactly what you’d imagine if someone said the word ‘logger’ to you.
But he will not be tied to any one job title or place. His eyes light up when we speak of various parts of his country and he gleefully says “I do what I want” after listing off his recent CV entries from Wellington, Melbourne and Christchurch.
Back on dry land, Cian is pumped with $90 of diesel and we set off cross-country. From Blenheim we follow the Wairau River west. The road is straight as a runway; surrounded by vast flat fields and flanked by show-topped peaks in every direction. The Wairau turns into the Buller and the plains are gone, the sleepy town of St Arnaud fits in well with the alpine landscape.
It was another early start in Wellington this morning, 7 am at the ferry terminal. With the Aussies in town, we shacked up on the outskirts of the city, in Porirua, and catch a train to spend Friday evening chanting ‘USA, USA’.
For any Irish people with Wellington still ahead of them, you are in for a treat. The train leaves you in the heart of the waterfront area, a stylish stretch of boardwalk gazing across the bay. The city seems to have adopted a carnival theme to its World Cup and we are greeted at the fan-zone by beating jungle drums and a dance troop which leads the way up to Westpac stadium.
Aussie, Aussie Aussie?
We don’t manage to procure a ticket. There are enough Americans and star-spangled Kiwis in town to eat up any potentially cheap seats, but we sidle up to an American themed bar complete with overweight plaid-wearing waitresses.
The Wallabies were out sung again. Although there are plenty around you get the feeling they are saving themselves and will flood into the country when the knockout stages come around.
A young group (complete with didgeridoo) arrived in amongst us having left the stadium before half time. They were dressed for Bondi but got Baltic, all ye following Ireland to Wellington and the South be warned.