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The British & Irish Lions in Rotorua

The British & Irish Lions in Rotorua

A Maori Welcome in Rotorua in New Zealand

After a week in the south island against the Crusaders and the Highlanders, Warren Gatland’s Lions have travelled back north to prepare for Saturday’s clash with the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua.

Rotorua International Stadium is known as ‘The Hangi Pit’ as a reference to a traditional Maori cooking technique

With a population of under 60,000, Rotorua’s largest industry by a considerable margin is tourism making it the perfect destination for those looking to enjoy near Test-level rugby against the New Zealand Maori as well as a spectacular array of activities.

People have been travelling to see Rotorua’s thermal pools and geysers since the 1800s and with over three million visitors arriving each year, it is clear that its appeal has yet to dim.

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The Pohutu Geyser at Whakarewarewa will never cease to amaze and with a population that is over one-third Maori, it is the perfect location in which to imbibe the indigenous music, legends and arts.

From Dunedin in the South and the Forsyth Barr Stadium – where the Lions took on the Highlanders in their fourth match of the Tour – it is a fair journey to the heart of the North Island.

But for those following the Lions, any journey North will be more than compensated for by Rotorua’s many delights.

Opponents

The Tourists will be keen to avenge a 19-13 defeat inflicted on them by the Maori in 2005.

Legendary All Black fly-half Carlos Spencer came on as a replacement and inspired the hosts to hold on to beat the Lions for the first time in their history – and that fact will not be lost on those wearing the famous red jersey this weekend.

Photo: Hannah Johnston/PHOTOSPORT

The Maori though – who have beaten the USA and Fiji over the past two years – have enjoyed huge success across the globe, winning the Churchill Cup in 2004 and 2006 and can count greats Sid Going, Christian Cullen and Zinzan Brooke among their alumni, as well as current All Blacks Dane Coles and Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

Coached by Colin Cooper and skippered by hooker Ash Dixon, they claimed their 70th win over a full international side when they overcame USA 54-7 in November.

Blues back-rower Akira Ioane impressed with two tries against the Eagles and he starts in the back row again having played against the Lions for the Blues ten days ago.

Two-cap All Black Damian McKenzie, in superb form for the Chiefs at full back in Super Rugby, starts at fly-half and Leinster-bound back James Lowe wears the No 15 jersey.

World Cup winner Nehe Milner-Skudder also starts in what looks to be a very potent back line while the forwards include All Blacks Elliot Dixon and Liam Messam.

Stadium

Rotorua International Stadium – with a capacity of 26,000 – is known as ‘The Hangi Pit’ to locals as a reference to a traditional Maori cooking technique.

Located in the Westbrook suburb of Rotorua, in 1987 the stadium hosted the third-place play-off in the Rugby World Cup and then a further three matches in the 2011 edition of the tournament – including Ireland’s 62-12 victory over Russia in the pool stage.

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Rotorua has been a successful hunting ground for the Lions in the past and it staged the official welcome when the Lions last toured the land of the long white cloud.

In 2005, the Lions played their first match in New Zealand at The Hangi Pit, winning 34-20 against Bay of Plenty.

Josh Lewsey grabbed a try double, while Tom Shanklin, Gordon D’Arcy, Dwayne Peel and Mark Cueto were also on the scoresheet in an impressive win.

The stadium has hosted a number of international rugby league matches, most notably in 2010 when it hosted a Four Nations clash between New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Lions Record 

After winning their first-ever fixture with the Maori All Blacks in 1930, 19-13 at Wellington’s Athletic Ground, the Lions would go on to enjoy a 75-year unbeaten streak against the native side.

The Lions were victorious against the Maori – again at Athletic Park – in 1950, at Eden Park in 1959 and 1966, as well as a powerful 23-12 victory on the historic 1971 Tour, John Dawes and co turning a dominant display in their sixth Tour match.

Further victories followed in 1977 and 1993, but as with all great runs, the Lions’ record against the Maori had to end at some point when in 2005, the Lions lost out 19-13 to a Maori outfit including Piri Weepu, Carl Hayman, Rico Gear, Leon MacDonald, Jono Gibbes and Marty Holah in Waikato.

At the Rotorua International Stadium itself the Lions enjoy another distinguished record, remaining unbeaten in Sulphur City.

The Hangi Pit is, along with Tauranga’s Baypark Stadium, one of NPC side Bay of Plenty’s homes and it staged the official Lions welcome in 2005.

What is there to see and do?

If you only have time to attend one geothermal site during your time in Rotorua, then the general consensus is that Waiotapu is the one to go to.

Though it is 27 kilometres south of Rotorua, the dazzling array of colours and geothermal pools are completely unique.

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Within the area, you can see the phenomenal explosions of Lady Knox Geyser, Champagne Pool, the other-worldly Artist’s Palette, Primrose Terrace and a series of boiling mud pools that will take your breath away.

The area can be fully explored on foot via three different walking routes, there are a plethora of information boards to ensure your experience is a well-informed one and you will be left with some spectacular photographs.

If the sulphurous smell of the thermal pools is too much, then the sublime Whakarewarewa Forest is just five kilometres south of Rotorua.

Home to a breath-taking system of suspension bridges that allow you to walk among 22 Californian coastal redwoods to get a unique perspective both of the undergrowth and the gigantic trees.

Whether your preferred mode of transport is on foot, by horse or mountain bike, you will find the ideal venue at Whakarewarewa.

With the Lions facing New Zealand Maori on June 17, Rotorua’s Tamaki Maori village presents the perfect opportunity to learn about the area’s rich heritage.

Tamaki has received more awards than any other tourist attraction in New Zealand and from the traditional dancing, music, Hangi cooking and the chance to stay overnight in the village, it offers a comprehensive insight into Maori heritage.

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