Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Guide to the Rugby World Cup Venues

The Cats (now the Lions) playing the Sharks.Image via Wikipedia

The 2011 rugby world cup is in full swing and swathes of tourists have descended upon the "land of the long white cloud" to be part of the action and soak up the fevered atmosphere. New Zealand is staging the tournament across the length of the country, so in the spirit of investigation we decided to find out a little bit more about the venues that are hosting tourists, teams and matches. The aim of the organisers was to try and give everyone a taste of this rugby loving nation. The biggest matches take place in the large cities, however following the devastating series of earthquakes in Christchurch in 2010 and 2011; the city could not host any games in the world cup. This was a huge, saddening setback for an area of New Zealand that has consistently produced some of the game's finest players. Despite this awful news the spirit of rugby and unity remains strong in New Zealand, so, from north to south, here's a guide to the venues.

Whangarei

Situated at almost the very top of New Zealand's north island, Whangarei is the Northland region's biggest urban and commercial centre. It sits at a latitude that gives the region a lovely sub-tropical climate, so it's certainly one of the better places to be at this time of year. The stadium at the Northland Events centre, has a capacity of 20,000 - which may be small compared to northern hemisphere grounds like Twickenham - but punches above its weight in terms of atmosphere. The stadium hosted a very memorable game between Canada and Tonga that saw the North Americans win at the last gasp in a tight game.

Auckland

New Zealand's biggest city is home to over a quarter of its citizens, despite a somewhat uninspiring centre, it is a beautifully located city, with many bays and rolling volcanoes and is a major draw for many tourists. Auckland has two stadiums that will be hosting games at the world cup. The 30,000 seater North Harbour stadium, which is located around 15 miles north of the centre of Auckland, and was the location of Ireland's famous victory over Australia. Eden Park is the other venue in Auckland and is arguably the most famous stadium in the country. It will host a rugby world cup final for the second time and all New Zealanders will hope the All Blacks will replicate their 1987 success.

Hamilton

The fourth largest but fastest growing city in New Zealand is normally home to regional side Waikato and Super Rugby team the Chiefs. The city is noted for having a high number of scientists concentrated in the area, making it something of a Cambridge for New Zealand. Situated in the Waikato region on the banks of the river of the same name, Hamilton is easily reached from Auckland both by road and rail. The Waikato Stadium can currently seat 30,000 spectators and is one of the most popular venues in the country, the original stadium opened in 1925 and by 1996, was in need of an upgrade. Today's incarnation of Rugby Park opened in 2002.

Rotorua

This inland city is one of the north island's major tourist destinations as visitors come to sample the hot springs, which can make the town smell like rotten eggs on occasion, its array of adventure sports and the incredible beaches to the north of the town. Rotorua is not the largest city in the Bay of Plenty region but is certainly the most popular, attracting well over 800,000 international visitors every year. The imaginatively named Rotorua International Stadium will host group matches including the likes of Ireland, Samoa and Fiji.

New Plymouth

Cunningly named after the town in Devon from where the original settlers came, New Plymouth is the largest city in the Taranaki Region, which can often be overlooked by tourists. The west coast of the north island has some spectacular scenery and is very popular with surfers, with some excellently located beaches able to make the most of the swell off the Tasman Sea. Stadium Taranaki, which will host the games at the world cup, is the heartbeat of rugby in the region and has a capacity of 26,000. Owing to a somewhat exposed location on the west coast, it can be susceptible to tricky conditions.

Napier

Napier is one of the more attractively situated venues for the rugby world cup. Nestled on the pacific east coast, it enjoys a warm microclimate, which has made it one of New Zealand's more famous wine producing regions. Following an earthquake in 1931, the town was rebuilt in an Art Deco style, and the buildings are today considered to be among the world's best surviving examples of the era. The stadium is among the world cup's smaller venues, seating 15,000 people, however it packs in a lot of history, with the genesis of McLean Park dating from the turn of the 20th century.

Palmerston North

This city lies at something of a cross roads in the north island, while situated only a few miles from Wellington, it is one of the more easily accessed cities from the east and west. The Manawatu River flows through the city and various sections of the waterway offer impressive vistas. Palmerston North is also home to the New Zealand Rugby Museum, which is testament of how much the game is loved in the country. The stadium is situated very close to the city centre and comprises of over 30 individual venues, including the rugby ground, which can seat up to 15,000 spectators.

Wellington

While it is only the third largest city in New Zealand, this strategically and beautifully located capital often lays claimed to being far and away the coolest. Situated right at the bottom of the north island in a natural harbour on the Cook Straights, Wellington mixes a student feel with a bohemian but grown up nature that can be expected of a capital city. The venue, which for the world cup is called the Wellington Regional Stadium, is colloquially known as the "cake tin" - as its metallic circular design bears a resemblance to said baking apparatus. It once served as a film location for a battle scene in one of the Lord of the Rings films - fans of the franchise will probably know that direct Peter Jackson hails from the region.

Nelson

Nelson is something of a secluded gem of a city that enjoys a pleasing microclimate and, along with the neighbouring Marlborough region produces arguably the finest white wines in the whole of New Zealand. Appropriately enough the city will host games that including other wine producing countries including Italy and Australia. Nelson can also lay claim to being the location of the first ever rugby match in New Zealand. The city's stadium is called Trafalgar Park, named in reference to the famous naval battle won Admiral Nelson, can seat up to 18,000 fans and located a short walk from the town centre.

Dunedin

The south island is more sparsely populated than its northern counterpart, this is in part influenced by its more rugged and spectacular scenery, making it harder to build on. Dunedin is found on the south east corner of the island and is one of the most European-like cities in the country. Dunedin was founded by Scottish settlers and the name is the Gaelic translation of Edinburgh. For the Rugby World Cup the stadium has been completely rebuilt and now has a permanent roof - so that during more inclement months rugby can still be played. The old stadium was known as the "house of pain" owing to difficulties suffered by visiting teams and because it was located in a steep sided valley, often afforded views into the ground from the surrounding streets.

Invercargill

Sitting at the foot of the south island, Invercargill has long been an important fishing and farming settlement. New Zealanders are fond of using the expression "four seasons in one day" to describe the weather in the country - and Invercargill certainly lives up to this billing - having a very changeable climate. One of the most famous landmarks is Bluff Point, the most southerly point in New Zealand, which is home to an iconic signpost showing distances to other major cities around the world - and demonstrates just how remote New Zealand is on the planet. The stadium has been the centre of Southland rugby since the early 20th century and has been redeveloped for the Rugby World Cup, in order to accommodate up to 17,000 spectators.

Jonathan is a keen sports fan with special interests in writing about rugby, tennis and cricket

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