With a minimum five different stops on this tour – and forIrelandthis is a tour as well as a World Cup – we get to have those ‘hotel moments’ which are part and parcel of any trip. We can recall with utter clarity our first impressions of whatever hotel we arrived at, in whatever town.
So whether you’re in a hire car or a taxi, you’re on red alert for those last 100 metres scanning left and right trying to spot your lodgings. If it looks like a kip then your heart sinks. If it’s the other end of the scale then you breathe a sigh of relief and pray that some of your colleagues have got the short straw. Unlike players who secretly wish injury on teammates competing for their spot, we openly delight in the misfortune of others.
Very few of us struck gold in Auckland. I was in the Copthorne City which must have been the poor relation of the other Copthorne down by the Viaduct. The fat arsed telly is still alive in some NZ hotels, and the Copthorne City is one of them. It featured all of seven channels. The jacks had a sliding door. And the ‘private balcony’ was a ledge two and half feet deep.
We reckoned the gym would be crap as well, but we were wrong. There was none. “This is more of a corporate hotel,” the nice girl explained as she was moving me to a room that had a desk instead of a small card table. Do men in suits not like to exercise?
Whatever, the staff were nice and it wasn’t so bad that you dreaded going back there at the end of the day.
We didn’t get to Taupo until Sunday afternoon and struck it lucky with the Quality Inn Sails on the lake front. Not flashy, but decent sized, clean rooms with a cracking view of the lake, and, wait for it: free wi fi!
Connectivity is the oxygen of the travelling hack. We wage guerrilla wars with hotels trying to impose exorbitant wi fi charges, and then we come across a place that gives us unlimited access – gratis. And if that wasn’t enough, the sun came out.
Having been rained on every 15 minutes in Auckland, a cloudy start in Taupo was followed by brilliant sunshine. Man, what a difference. The Taupo tourism people did their bit to make us feel at home, and if you’re ever in that neck of the woods then don’t leave until you’ve gone jet boating on the Waikato River. We were lucky enough to have at the wheel a man who could scare the life out of us without pitching us all into the drink, and in the quieter moments give us a bit of history about the area without sounding like he was a tour guide.
And so to Rotorua. A year ago last June when Ireland were playing the Maori in here we stayed in Taupo – an hour down the road – and made the spin over and back any number of times that week, and always in poxy weather. It looked like a different country this time.
There’s no easy way to say this but Rotorua stinks. I learned a new thing this time though: you don’t have to go far out of town for it not to smell at all. On the edge of the city – for that’s what they call it – is a spot called Geyser Point, which is where the sulphur smell is at its worst. I’d swear this is where we stayed when Ireland played Bay of Plenty here in 1992, but once you get clear of that it’s fine.
Anyway, the place I’m staying in is a 15 minute spin out the road. “Turn left at the McDonalds,” we were told. On we drove looking for the golden arches, heart sinking with every kilometre covered, for out of the way places tend not to be good. Found McDs and turned left and my buddy could hardly keep the car on the road he was laughing so hard as we slipped further into the nether reaches of the Bay of Plenty.
And then we happened upon it: the 5 star Wai Ora Resort (pictured above). A view of the lake, upgrade to a suite, a health spa for the hard working hack, a tranquil nature reserve next door, and staff who treat you like you have the power to enrich their lives. And more free wi fi!
I sent my buddy back to his smelly lodgings in town and settled in for a few days of deserved pampering. We’re making the long trek to Auckland and back for the NZ v France game, and then tomorrow Ireland will set about the Russians in Rotorua. After that it’s down to Dunedin on Monday where we’re told a cold snap has sheep farmers worried. Are they not always like that?