Thursday, March 25, 2010


Hope you have enjoyed the Trip!

We will be returning the van to the rental agency tomorrow morning. The drive from Lake Taupo was a breeze, comparatively.

The scheduled activities from the previous day had left us more than a little exhausted.

It all began with the walk to Haku Falls. The girl at the desk gave us a sketchy map, with little direction. Off we went before noon, on this supposedly easy leisure walk to see a waterfall. At that point in time, we had three choices: 1. We could walk from the caravan park to the entrance to the Falls, then do the walk. 2. We could drive to the entrance, then walk. 3. We could drive through the town, about three kilometres, and end up about 20 metres from the Falls. We were not aware of option 3 at the beginning.

In total, the walk was likely eight to ten kilometeres. We were fine for the first half hour, until it started to pour. Then we began to climb, perhaps two hundred metres, then descend to the river bank. We repeated that process several times. By the time we got to the Falls, we were wiped. I saw several people there, far more than could be accounted for by the number of cars at the start.

It`was then that I realized most of the people had`driven to the Falls. It was devestating. We realized, of course, that we had to retrace our steps. The only consolation was that we recognized that our hearts could take such a beating. The legs, the hips, the mind, the breathing apparatus: all pretty well euchred. In all, about three hours of pretty gruelling work.

An hour in the hot tub, several peanut butter and jam sandwiches and a Coke, and we were ready to go to the evening Maori show.

These occasions give one the opportunity to witness customs and habits, in a relatively short period of time.

In a nutshell, almost fifty years ago, the thermal energy plant was activated about two kilometres from the site of the tribe. It completely changed the nature of the tribe, as they depended on the thermals for their lifestyle: cooking, bathing, what have you. Ten years ago, the company drilled a hole "3.8 kilometres deep", according to our guide, on the tribal site. As a result, the terraces have reformed, from the geysers, and the tribe has revived some of its activities. Their history is an oral one, covering the eight hundred years that they have been in New Zealand.

They have preserved their history through song, and through traditional carving. Tatoos are also important to the Maori. They always challenge newcomers, through a delightful dance called the "Haka". The All Blacks rugby team performs the activity before each game. You will catch it as they host the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

Following a trip around the village, we were entertained and fed in a reception area. The song and dance routines are quite special, with fine harmony, twitching hands, bugging eyes, and intimidating shouts. The males are scantily clad, capturing Joanne's intense interest.

Highly recommended at just a little less than a hundred bucks a pop.

A couple of days in Auckland, then off to Canada. Cheerio!


The Final Stretch

We are now in Taupo, on the final leg. Auckland is about four hours from here, and we will head out that way tomorrow. We are on our way to a walk to Huka Falls, a thermal waterfall about an hour from here. This evening, we are heading out to Wairakei Terraces for a Maori Hangi dinner and concert.

We left Westport, headed east to Murchison, then north to catch the ferry in Picton. Much of the trip was along the Buller Gorge, and was exciting. Incidentally, because of the up and down travel along the coasts, through the gorges, and through the mountain passes, we have put a fair number of New Zealand dollars in the tank of the faithful van. It runs like a top, with almost 400 000km on its odometer. It starts sharply, and responds well; however, several times at the pumps it has required more than a hundred dollars to fill the pig. That usually gets us about 400 kilometeres. Regular unleaded is $ 1.80 per litre, and diesel considerably less at $ 1.20. Next time, rent a Mercedes.

North of Murchison is the town of Motueka, near Nelson. We had been in touch with Lizz Conroy, formerly Corke, and decided to pay her and her husband a visit. Lizz is the daughter of the late Ben Corke, former Belleville mayor. Ena Corke lives with Lizz, and looks great. She is 92, I believe. I assumed that Lizz lived just outside Motueka. Wrong again. It was almost an hour, down side roads, over secret bridges, along rivers to their place. Earl is a naturopath and chiropractor, and they live the vegetarian life. They declined my request for a burger and fries for lunch. I have a photo of Lizz at Denise Porter's garden.

We camped at Motueka, near a delightful couple from Denmark. Amongst other things, he told me that he had been to Iceland, and had walked on a dormant volcano. He said that they were warned to run like hell if there happened to be any rumbling. (That same volcano is currently making headlines.)They are on the road for several months with three daughters. I left them my last Canada pin to fight over. (Note to travellers: Get some pins from Daryl Kramp. They are always appreciated!)

We headed east from Nelson, and discovered we could save a day by getting on an evening ferry. The drive east was really nasty, with a driving rain and powerful winds. I could feel the sideway shifting of the van as I drove. Not much fun in the mountain turns with recommended speeds of 25 kph. We caught the early ferry, and stayed at the Gateway Park.

We headed north from Wellington to Lake Taupo, on the Thermal Explorer Highway, once again. We passed through Te Rangiita, and Waitetoko, both professing to be the "Trout Fishing Capital of the World". I will leave it up to you to decide. I will also leave it up to you to pronounce both of those names correctly.

We are in the park with at least two of the top schools in New Zealand for cricket. The under 15 tournament is being held down the road. If Joanne insists, I will take her over to catch a few bowls. We met a couple of the boys in the hot tub last night. They bemaoned the fact that New Zealand has not done well lately on the pitch. In fact, they have beaten arch rival Australia only once this summer. They seemed to be keener on rugby.

We dined last night with the Jeavons, from Australia. In a couple of hours, I learned a great deal about their country. It is really a pleasure to meet knowledgeable folk en route, willing to chat about this and that. They now live north of Sydney, on the Gold Coast in Byron Beach, one of our favourite places in Oz. We chatted about roofing, insulation, rugby, and Kenny. I was advised to look for Charley and Boots, a follow-up to the Kenny adventure. We will not leave for home without it.

Off to the waterfall now. Later.


Sunday, March 21, 2010


Greymouth to Murchison

Not far from Greymouth lies Shantytown, more or less New Zealand's history in a nutshell. An old locomotive pulls a couple of cars down a track, and stops at a lumber mill. From the mill, one encounters a gold mine. The process is explained, from the sluicing to the panning. Tourists are guaranteed a find of gold for the five dollar panning fee. Joanne will be returning to Canada with her gold; I assure you there is more gold in a bottle of Goldschlager.

More than thirty buildings had been moved to the site from the area, and they were tastefully reassembled: the school house, the fire station, the Masonic Lodge, the pharmacy, the jeweller, the church, and many others.

A pleasant night in Greymouth, another very impressive beach. I did attempt a swim, as far as the ankles.

Because the town is at sea level, the graves are set up the same way as those in New Orleans. Hopefully, the photo will help.

On down the road, with a stop at Punakaiki, to see the Pancake Rocks and Blow Holes. Well defined, well explained, with a fine path to the site on the Sea. Back on the road, just a few kilometres north, is the Truman Track. We took the suggestion from Lizz (Corke) Conroy, who lives just outside Nelson, on the South Island. Another fifteen minute walk to the Sea. A great way to get the feel of the New Zealand rain forest, as well as another wonderful view of the sea.

Further up the coast, a slight detour to see the seals. Tarunga Bay hosts the seals at Foulwind Point, and they are spectacular. We watched them frolic on the rocks, jockeying for position, perhaps thirty or more. About half an hour off the beaten track, well worth the trip.

The trip on highway 6 to Murchison involves the navigation of the buller Gorge. The river runs at the bottom of the gorge, and is followed on both sides. occasionally, there are guard rails to keep you on the road. There are other times when the New Zealand authorities trust your driving ability. Straight down, a thousand feet. Seems I am adjusting to the phenomenom, simply by keeping my eyes glued to the road. Rain on the windshield for 30 seconds. Nice day to drive.

This camper van park is again an international smorgasbord. Finns, Czechs, Swedes, and the usual Australians and New Zealanders. It is the weekend, and they hike to these places while there is still good weather. The summer has ended, and it is early fall. Still unnecessary for a sweater at this point.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Tekapo to Haast to Franz Josef

Tekapo to Haast to Franz Josef

Due to some time restraint, we chose to pass two excellent locations: Mount Cook, and Milford Sound. Next Time.

The drive from Lake Tekapo involved heading south around Lake Pukaki, most spectacular. Another interesting mountain pass called Lindis, south again to a called called Wanaka, on the lake of the same name. The drive along Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka proved harrowing, at times. On one occasion, I climbed for almost a mile, straight up. Near the top of the hill, I could see nothing ahead. The view over the brow was spectacular: straight down another mile to the lake. (Always a little prayer here that the brakes will not fail.) We neared Mount Brewster when we approached Haast, on the West Coast. Mount Brewster is 2 423 metres above sea level. Naturally, we climbed and descended similar amounts all day long. Such is the topography of the South Island.

We camped near the village of Haast, near the beach on the Tasman Sea. Not swimmable, but fascinating. The beach is rarely cleared of debris, and there were thousands of enormous pieces of driftwood. There was also a mysterious pirate's cave, which we avoided. The beach was five miles long, perhaps three hundred yards wide. We were the only people on the beach. Remember, the summer is over. Winter is almost here!

The morning was again frosty, but I was reminded by a local fisherman that there was a front moving in.

The drive up the coast was again tricky, but awesome. On one occasion, we travelled close to the Sea. There were many vehicles at the side of the road. People were photographing huge pieces of driftwood, some decorated in most demonic ways. There were also many stone piles with the pieces of driftwood, perhaps for almost a kilometre. A little creepy, I assure you.

We dipsy doodled past Mt. Cook (3 754 metres) and Mt. Tasman (3 498) up the coast. We neared the Fox Glacier when the fuel light went on. I had earlier promised myself that I would not let that happen again. I now know that for certain. At $ 2.09(NZ) per litre, the van took in $113 in fuel. Next time: small car and diesel, which is almost half the price.

The Fox Glacier was well worth the four kilometre side trip. It has recessed significantly over the years, but still is an awesome sight, and the path reaches the mouth of the glacier. The walls created by the glacier's recession are likely 300 feet high. Quite a canyon. The Franz Josef Glacier is also remarkable; however, the walk is much longer for a decent look.

For the first night since we rented the van, I talked Joanne into taking a motel room, the Scenic in Franz Josef. An excellent decision, I am sure at this moment.

Off again in the morning. Up the west coast, through Hokitika to Greymouth. Always an adventure. No wonder they filmed most of the Lord of the Rings and Avatar here. Later.


Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

We went to Murphy's Place for lunch in Christchurch. The lamb sandwich was most respectable, as was Joanne's shepherd pie. We headed back to catch the bus, and found a group of twenty young Maoris performing at the Cathedral Square. They danced, they tried to intimidate us, and they sang in wonderful harmony. It was a real treat at the end of our time in Christchurch.

The drive down the coast from Christchurch was much more civilized than was expected. We headed west and passed through the town of Geraldine. Ah, yes. Geraldine. The song rings through each and every time I hear the word: "I was born with the name Geraldine, and hair coal black as a raven; I travelled my life without a care, but all my love I was savin'".

The works crews were busy putting crushed rock on the road, and I passed a young lady directing traffic. Shortly thereafter, I heard a nasty noise coming from the rear left wheel. For all I know, it could have been a bearing. (I leave that area to Jack Dall.) I decided to go back into the town to a garage to investigate. I did not want to enter mountain roads with a faulty wheel. Again I passed the perky traffic girl. I asked her about garages. She said: "There are some in town. I heard your noise when you went by me. You've got a stone in your wheel. It's very common here. Find a street, put 'er in reverse, and slam down the pedal. That usually takes care of it!" By cracky, it did too. Always trust a local.

We continued toward the foothills of the Hunter Hills and the two Thumbs Range. The task ahead of us looked daunting. Massive mountains to climb, somehow. But the ranges opened, and there was a pass. Not Arthur's Pass, which we had seen earlier in the day. But Burke's Pass, and a beauty too. It got us to a massive plateau, albeit very windy, and an easy drive to Lake Tekapo.

This area certainly rivals Lake Louise, in the Rockies. The Lake is Caribbean blue, and surrounded by majestic mountains. We walked over to an area near the caravan park and found a restaurant, spa, and an outdoor arena. There is no ice at the present time, but the rink rat told me the ice is going to be laid down in a couple of weeks, as they approach winter here. It is used in the off-season as a roller rink.

Pig shit and gravy for dinner, a la Dot Molaski. Peas, potatoes, ground beef and there you have it. Off to the spa.

The spa worked out just fine, a few lazy hours in three different pools.

Yet again I met a chap who wanted to know about hockey. Most interested folks are fanatic rugby players, and like the contact that hockey offers. They want to know a little about the game. They are surprised to find that there is constant contact with sticks, sometimes leading to scraps. I also tell them that people rarely run to the concession stands when fights break out. There was `great interest in the Canada-USA final at the Olympics. Murphy's bar was jammed to the rafters at 9:30am for the game.

The weather has taken a bit of a turn for the worse. Very cool morning in Lake Tekapo. Off to the West Coast.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Wellington to Picton to Christchurch

Wellington to Picton to Christchurch

There are two main islands which make up the country of New Zealand. The ferry ride between the two takes about three hours, and, from North to South, from the port of Wellington to the port of Picton. For those of you from Prince Edward County, it must come as a shock to realize that it takes three hours to go from Wellington to Picton. It is what it is.

The night before we headed to Picton, we were treated to a fine New Zealand storm. We had just returned to the trailer park on the outskirts of Wellington when we were hit with hail, driving rian, and gale force winds. They say that you can have four seasons in one day in Wellington.

It is an incredible trip from Welly to Picton. Once we had tucked our vehicle away in the bowels of the ship, we took our place on board. There was plenty of sunshine, and rough seas leaving Wellington; however, as we approached the South Island, through the Cook Strait, the seas calmed and we began to approach the harbour. It takes perhaps an hour to get into the town of Picton, through the fiords. Cliffs on either side tower several thousand feet above the sea.

We struck out from Picton, down the coast to Kaikoura. distances and times are deceiving here, as some roads twist and wind with recommended speed limits of no more than 30 kilometres per hour. As you crawl along the ledge of the ocean, or the side of a mountain, with inches between the edge of the road and eternity, you begin to respect the speed limits.

There are whale watching expeditions out of Kiakoura. We passed on this because we had seen the orca whales performing in Wellington. But the mountains, with snow, and the grinding ocean at our feet, made the stop worthwhile. The Pacific was not inviting at this location, with a deep drop-off, slashing waves, and a difficult pebble shore. (friends from Holland who did take the whale watch trip received 80% back when they returned. That is the guarantee if you do not see any whales.)

We were treated to a wonderful display of seals, old and young, basking in the late afternoon sun, just before we arrived at Kiakoura. There were more than a hundred of them: young ones fighting over the turf, old ones keeping an eye on the flock, all taking advantage of the sun. As we headed off, one large one was attempting to cross the road, right in front of me. Put up a sign! All I needed was anothere headline about Canadians killing seals!

The road from Kiakoura to Christchurch is made up of two entirely different venues. The first, from Kiakoura to Cheviot, is your basic shit-your-pants twists and turns. The second, smooth sailing at 100kph. Go figure: they look identical on the map.

We stopped at a little craft fair in Cheviot. There were eight ladies at the side of the road, in front of the elementary school selling their wares. Spinning and weaving, working the wool. One lady told us she gotr the wool from Peggy Sue, but only once a year. Beautiful sweaters, scarves, and other knitted items.

Christchurch proved to be somewhat enigmatic, on the Sunday afternoon. We took the tram route around the city core, and it was a pleasure. I watched the Salvation Army band, with a thought for Bram Humphries, at the Art Gallery stop. They played the Army standards: How Great Thou Art, and`added an upbeat When the Saints Go Marchin' In. I particularly enjoed an exerpt from handel's Xerxes. Fine stuff!

The area around the bus terminal needs a little attention. Pretty grungy, for such a fine city. We watched the boys and men prepare for an afternoon concert at the cathedral, saw the cricketers in the park, but passed on the punt ride. Careful with that one, George!
Moving on.....

Sunday, March 15, 2010

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


Becoming a blur, somewhat, in Napier

As time flies, all of this is becoming a blur, somewhat. A very pleasant melange of history, lifestyle, culture, excitement, surprise, and confusion.

The first day, the camper van took us from Auckland to Rotorua. A pleasant enough roll through some of the interior of New Zealand, as we make our way south to the South Island. Most of the signs along the way have Maori names, adding another touch of mystery and intrigue to the driving experience.

During my year in Europe in the early 1970's, Bill Whitman and I purchased a Volks Van in Lahr. They may have reintroduced that vehicle here. It has suspiciosly similar rattles and vibrations. The gauge indicates that it only has 377 854 kilometres on the beast. We all know how they can roll back those suckers. The main difference is that they have moved things around a bit from the German vehicle, and renamed it a Toyota: the gear shift is on the left, the signal arm is on the right, the windshield wipers are on the left, the steering wheel is on the right. I have concluded that this is a left brain-right brain exercise, and I am not doing well. When I need to make a desperation signal, I always put the windshield wipers on first, in thirty degrees gorgeous weather.

There is no doubt in my mind that these countries which insist on living backward should put labels on tourist vehicle: "Dummy at the wheel. Give lots of space!"

The Maori have established an area not far from Rotorua called "Hell's gate". Most aptly names by George Bernard Shaw, on his first visit. Picture the man, with his entourage, strolling along the two or three mile path between these bubbling thermals. He named several of the individual areas at the heat park. Hone, a man we met at the end of the walk, was quiely carving a wood block with the symbol for strength. He smiled, I gave him a Canada pin, thanks to Daryl Kramp. He gave me the wood block, after coating it with shellac. He told me he went for a thermal bath every day after work, always followed by a couple of cold beers. Where is the employment office? I know I have a couple of friends who need application forms! No names. (Malette, Svboda, Vos. Might even suit Mav!)

The drive from Rotorua proved to be interesting. Massive stretches of rolling hills, a gorgeous lake, the largest in New Zealand, climbing and rolling down hills with the loggers. We have ended up in Napier, Hawke's Bay, on the east coast. The surf is dangerous, according to the signs. The beach is made up of very small black rocks. There are about thirty vineyards nearby, and the bangers went off early in the morning to keep away the varmints. Just like home! Lewis, Kevin, and Lee used the same to keep the raccoons at bay. We are in the incoming flight path of planes arriving at the Napier airport. No big deal: only two after 8:00pm and a couple around 8:00am this morning.

While waiting for the "Hop On, Hop Off Bus" in Auckland, I noticed a Canada hat on a chap. One thing led to another. His wife went to D. R. Atkins and Moira. She asked if I knew her cousins Jack and Gary Thomson, who went to BCI. Gary lives in Napier. A couple of emails from them to North America, and we were locked in. We will be dining with him and his wife this evening. Of course it is a small world.

We also reconnected with Bill Dalton and his wife Cherl here in Napier. Bill will be driving from Chicago to LA this year, on Route 66. That is where one gets one's kicks, according to Ed "Kookie" Burns, if I am not mistaken.

March 10, 2010

Monday, March 08, 2010


Australian Sport-Rugby

Jason Lees is having a fine time in Australia. He recently became a father for the first time; he is thoroughly enjoying his teaching experience at the junior level; and he is thriving on the rugby pitch as a referee.
Jason learned the trade in Ottawa. He played all of the other sports, but excelled at rugby, and that became his game. And in the following years, he traded in his playing shirt for a whistle.
He is certainly a dedicated official. We watched him ply his trade on the outer field often used for practice by the Queensland Reds of the "Super 14 Rugby League". The Reds have moved into new quarters for their games in Brisbane, but still practise on their old stomping grounds.
To my mainly untrained eye, it was fascinating to watch Saia Faingaa practising his “throw ins” to his coach. The coach was perched on a platform about eight feet off the ground. Faingaa attempted to hit the coach's hands, as it would be in game conditions. He was most hospitable, explaining his technique from the sideline. His twin brother Anthony also plays for the Reds.
Saia attended Australian schools in 2003 and 2004. He captained the Australian Under 19's to a World Championship in Dubai in 2006.
The Super 14 media guide indicates that Saia is preparing for the game as a "mobile hooker", and should step up in 2010 as the successor to Sean Hardman. (You likely knew that!)

We actually met a few of the players from the Chiefs who play out of Hamilton, New Zealand. We had boarded the flight from Aukland to Sydney, Australia, and I was pleased to see there were plenty of vacant seats. I was ready to stretch out when the flight attendant waved a critical finger at me. "Not so fast," she said, "there are a few others ready to board".
On they came, the members of the Chiefs, who were actually tucked away in a VIP lounge awaiting thier flight. Once they were seated, there was no room to spare. In essence, it was like sharing the plane with the Green Bay Packers. For example, John Afoa is a prop, and tips the scales at 123 kilograms, about 270 pounds. Some were larger, some slightly smaller. All were in superior condition. The League is, in fact, comparable to the National Football League.

As indicated, there are fourteen teams in the league. There are four teams in Australia, five in New Zealand, and five in South Africa. All players are paid six digit figures, with some taking home more than half a million dollars. Australian, Canadian, they are pretty much equal. Most of the players grew up near their home stadia, with one remarkable exception. Matt Dunning, who plays for the Western force out of Perth, Australia, was born in Calgary. He needs ten more "caps" to reach 100 Super Rugby games, after playing 90 games for the Warratahs from Sydney.

The season began on the 12th of February, with the final slated for the 29th of May.

Jason Lees was officiating a "Sevens" game between two schools from the area. The game is played on a regular field, but with only seven players aside. He had recently returned from Dubai, where he officiated at the World Championships for school age players. He plans to work a few games in Canada this summer while on vacation.

Jason explained to me that many of the players on the school teams were on a scholarship. Many were from the islands near Australia: New Guinea, Fiji, Samaoa, Tonga, Indonesia, to name a few. Not unlike fine Canadian hockey players who elect to play university hockey in the NCAA in the United States.

Lees had a big weekend lined up following our visit. He was officiating at a preliminary game in Brisbane at the Suncorp Stadium, in front of 50 000 fans, wearing the yellow jersey. "Good on ya, mate!"

March 5, 2009

Monday, March 01, 2010


Up the Coast to Sydney!

A quiet Monday evening in Lakes Entrance, on the east coast of Australia. There is a footbridge from the mainland to the beach area. The beach is part of ninety mile beach, and seems to stretch forever. The water is swimmable, but the sky was slightly overcast, so we just dipped our toes.

We started the day on Phillip Island, primarily known for its penguin parade. Every evening, just after sunset, more than a thousand penguins come ashore from the ocean, cross the beach, and waddle up to their homes. They live in burrows, some perhaps 500 metres from the shore. They return to these burrows every evening, after swimming and filling their bellies all day in the ocean. We paid our fifty bucks to witness this "parade", and went through the reception area filled with penguin items for sale.
We headed to the beach, even though the parade was not supposed to start for more than an hour. There we sat, in howling winds, and driving rain. Always the gentleman, I had given Joanne the jacket. I scrunched under the poncho I was given at the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Hawaii. I froze my ass off.

Finally, the penguins arrived. I could not see them because my spectacles were covered in rain, and`were all fogged up. But I knew they were there because I could see little white flashes coming off their chests. I cleaned the specs, and enjoyed the spectacle. They are the smallest penguins in the world, and smart little buggers too. Once they left the beach they squealed and squawked until they found their mates, their young 'uns, and their homes. No photography allowed, unfortunately.

Certainly an interesting way to end the day. But the visit to the koala sanctuary was a highlight as well. One little koala decided to clamber over his mother near the top of a tree, climb down, and visit with Joanne and me. He remained there, munching on the eucalyptus leaves. A really splendid show. The heritage farm on Phillip Island left a little to be desired, but the meat roll and chips were good.

The truth is, the chips (french fries) are wonderful. Fish and chips have been a hit with us.

We switched on the television this morning just as the first period had ended. All by ourselves, and the game was broadcast live! As you now know, Sydney Crosbie tried to split the defence, lost control of the puck, and ended up on the side boards. He fought off the referee, got the puck to Jerome. Iginla returned it to Syd, and Crosbie slid the puck by Miller. Game, set, match. Gold. As far as I am concerned, hockey was the real winner. All of the players have spent many hours honing their skills in Canada and the United States. The border has become completely blurred, perhaps even when Brett Hull declared his Americanhood.

Off we sped after breakfast, to finish the day in the Best Western here in Lakes Entrance. A few more days in Australia, then off to New Zealand.


"Footy" Australia's Game

Last Friday night, we took a tram to the Docklands in Melbourne to attend our first game in the Australian Football League. According to the expert prognosticators, the Hawthorn Hawks were supposed to dispose of the Western Bulldogs, in short order. The game was part of Round Two in the National Australian Bank Cup Series, a pre-season tournament that sparks some fervour in the lands down under. The game was held at the Etihad Stadium, easily accessible by the metro train or by tram. Attendance was somewhat disappointing at 17 000, in a stadium that holds more than 60 000 fans. Little different from an Argos game at the Rogers Centre, where the limited number of fans is dwarfed by the enormity of the stadium.

Hawthorn had disposed of the Richmond Tigers a couple of weeks ago, and were keen to move on to the semi-finals. The Bulldogs had other plans for the Tigers. The Bulldogs had moved into the quarter final by disposing of the Brisbane Lions on Valentine's Day.

We sat several rows behind the players' bench during the game. But the fun begins long before the umpire drives the ball into the ground for the "opening bounce of the ball" to start the game. Loyal fans, dressed in their respective team's garb, press their noses to the fence to watch a bit of the warmup before they are even allowed to enter the gates. There are a few chants and cheers, and a few "coldies" quaffed long before the game gets under way.

Pre-game warmups are much the same for all professional sports. Get out the kinks, stretch a little, stretch a little more, get acclimatized to the surroundings. But there are many things that are very different with this game. The long passes in this game are done by foot, the short passes by hand. The ball must rest on one hand, and is punched to an opponent.

But the kicked passes are truly fascinating to my untrained North American eyes. Players must direct the ball with their feet, most accurately, from ten to fifty yards. Distance is a key in this game, as the oval field is at least 170 metres in length, and more than 100 metres wide at centre field. One of the drills before the game has players running at each other, full tilt, and passing the ball by foot when they are twenty yards (metres, whatever) apart.

The object of the game is to score goals. There are two sets of goal posts, high ones in the middle, with shorter ones beside them. A goal, six points, is scored when the ball goes between the high posts. A single point is attained when the ball goes between the outside posts. There is an official who signals the result of a kick with hand motions, followed by flag waving. I tended to rely on the giant score board.

There are eighteen players on the field at any given time, give or take. Injuries do not result in stoppages of play. Trainers rally around fallen competitors, tend to them, assist them off the field---while the game continues. There are four quarters, all about twenty-five minutes long. (The exact length of a quarter is determined by mysterious circumstances, like soccer. We hockey folk will never adjust to that. Twenty minute periods are just that, no more, no less.)

Another odd wrinkle is the messenger. Players in bright green uniforms run on and off the field with messages for the players. There are banks of coaches in the upper levels of the stadium, sending messages to bench coaches. They, in turn, send the messengers on the field to the players.

The score usually runs up pretty quickly, and there are often more than one hundred points scored by the winning team. The final score was 111 to 54.

I am now convinced that every huge and menacing star in any game of physical activity should shave his head. Such was the case in the game I watched. Barry Hall was unquestionably the star of the game for the Bulldogs. He perched near the Hawks' goal, and dominated his opponet with brilliant catches, called marks, within the fifty metre line. On a couple of occasions, he hoofed the ball between the goal posts from almost impossible angles. Mark Messier played a similar style in the National Hockey League, and was respected and feared by his opponents, especially the young rookies. A wily veteran, Hall is entering his fifteenth season in the AFL, but his first with the Bulldogs.

Hall plays ferociously, and has faced suspension in the past; however, he appears to be the missing link for the Bulldogs to make a run at the title this year.

All of this NAB Cup business is strictly exhibition play. Round One of the regular season begins on March 25th, and ends on September 25th with the Toyota AFL final, to be played at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, capacity more than a hundred thousand. Follow the action on the internet. Better yet, Quantas would like your business!

Credits for this column go to the AFL office, David McNamara from the Bulldogs, our host Paul Granger, and super fan Bill Mc Donagh, who presented me with his Bulldogs hat at the end of the game.

"Sons of the 'scray, red, white and blue.
We come out snarling, Bulldogs through and through!
Bulldogs bite, and bulldogs roar, We give our very best,
But you can't beat the boys of the Bulldog breed
We're the team of the mightly west."

Note: The team was formerly Footscray, another suburb of Melbourne in Victoria.

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