"Cian Healy" is still going strong as the Happy Camper and company hit Queenstown.

The Happy Camper: counting down the seconds to Sunday

Sean and company found their home away from home as they rolled up to the ski slopes of Queenstown.

THE IRISH POPULATION of Queenstown is buzzing with anticipation.

For them, next week’s meeting with Italy is the big one, the distance across to Dunedin being a relative hop, skip and a jump to the east coast compared to the previous three North Island fixtures.

We spend our day skiing in Coronet Peak, one of four ski fields that surround the area. This place is a haven for migrant workers, eager to work outdoors with a breath-taking backdrop. The name tags of each employee are marked by not only their Christian name, but their country of origin.

Except for Adrian, whose tag says not Ireland, but County Kildare.

“Ah, there’s another one,” he says when Tosh scrambles up the ski lift with his green beanie hat. “The Irish have taken over this mountain today. I didn’t know this many Paddies could ski.”

Everywhere you turn, and every time you fall, a familiar accent can be heard hurtling down the mountain side. At home in Leixlip, Adrian sold car insurance. He moved to Queenstown five months ago when the work dried up and today he stood by the ski lift overlooking the glorious green valley below.

Once up on the beginner slopes, myself and Del get our first experience on two thin planks. Tosh – accomplished athlete that he is – had already mastered skiing and opted for a board instead. Several wipe-outs later, I have exerted all my energy trying to pick myself off the powder (without sliding on down on my shoulder), so I go inside for some rehydration.

Del finds his feet on Corenet Peak, high above Queenstown.

There I meet Niamh working in the café. She too is only a recent addition in town; she moved here from Australia for the winter work.

Niamh seems keen to get back to Ballybay, County Monaghan. She enquires “How are things at home? Getting better?” I can’t bear to say that it’s not much better, that for every business that opens, one twice as big seems to shut. Instead I just say “kind of” and skulk outside with my isotonic drink, or as close to skulking I can get in these rented RoboCop boots.

Since we left Wellington, we have been behind a vast mountainous curtain on the West Coast of the South Island; it cuts the coast off from the rest of the country.

Today, the geographic features remain consistent, but the isolation ended. Once you cross the Cardrona Pass and onto the shores of Lake Wakatipu, civilisation is fully restored. It is tourism but it is still (just about) civilised.

On the North West corner, we found it difficult to detect a World Cup going on five minutes before the hosts kicked off. Here you may as well hang a big neon clock from every cliff-face counting down the minutes until Ireland set out to seal their fate in Dunedin.

Read more of Sean’s postcards from the edge here >

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