Monday, November 21, 2005

A question of Venues: India Vs England in India, 2007

So, the pre-tour jostling has commenced in earnest. It seems to me that, prior to almost every tour of either Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh or India, the ECB has some problem or the other that is brought up! Some of the issues that the ECB throws up (like those relating to the 'legitamacy of' or the 'need for' a Zimbabwe tour itself) are often legitimate. And some of them are a mixture of needless pedantry or insulting positioning.

Earlier, the ECB used to whine about almost every tour. Some things have improved. However, the English method still remains the same! Clueless...

The latest spat involves the same actors -- Lord McLaurin and Dalmiya. And this time, the issue is about the venues for the England cricket tour of India 2006. The negotiation method chosen by the ECB was to play out their whining through the media. Nothing gets Dalmiya's goat more than this! If McLaurin wanted to wave a red rag to a raging bull, he could not have chosen a better method!

Not only was the ECB's request for changing the ODI/Test venues turned down, the BCCI decided to allocate the warm-up matches to obscure little towns! It was a deliberate ploy on the part of Dalmiya to thumb his nose and deliver an unpleasant upper-cut to the upper-lipped!

The ECB had sent its officials (Carr and Bevan) to meet with the BCCI to sort out the venue negotiations for the Tests and ODIs. The choice of venues was, apparently, non-negotiable. But along the way, something must have irked the businessman from Kolkata. It is said that Dalmiya personally attended the planning meetings and is said to have exerted his influence on the outcome! This was, perhaps one slap in the face too many for the ECB to tolerate.

However, the ECB must blame their own method for the impasse. Much of this drama was played out in the media through well-placed feeds and leaks.

Scyld Berry, in his article in The Telegraph talks of the BCCI being the cricket world's "most eccentric organisation". It is actually quite a funny read and exposes a deep sense of subcontinental distrust and Anglo superiority that the English have! It is little wonder that they lose most of their Test matches in the subcontinent even before the itinerary is mapped out! While the choice of venues for the Tests is attributed to India's need for the spin-friendly pitches of Ahmedabad, Mumbai and Nagpur, the choice of the poor ODI venues is attributed to the fact that India does not want English fans at these grounds! Scyld should know that Bangalore and Chennai are probably more spin friendly than Ahmedabad and Nagpur! The regional politics of "rotation" seem to be lost on the English.

Things took a turn for the worse when Carr and Bevan were sent to India by the ECB to sort out the mess. The damage was done, however, it seemed. The previous weeks' rumblings in the press seem to have had a bad effect on Dalmiya & Co! Not only did Carr and Bevan lose the negotiations, they suffered the ignominy of seeing the practice games allocated to Jameshedpur and Agartala!

The chess game enters a new phase with the ECB having made informal requests to Pakistan to see if the warm-up games could be held in that country! This was seen by Scyld Berry as a diplomatic snub to the BCCI! If this were true and if I were Dalmiya, I'd be rubbing my hands in glee! The snub is bound to backfire. It just provides Dalmiya with another opportunity to rub it in! Although Scyld Berry quotes Pakistan media manager Naushad Ali as having accepted the request to play the warm-up games there, The Guardian report says that the approach to Pakistan has only been informal. Wonder what happened to the ECB theory that Pakistan is an "unsafe place"? :-)

On November 20, Rediff reported that Colonel Naushad Ali, Pakistan Cricket Board's Media Co-ordinator, confirmed England had made an approach to stage the warm-up games in that country. He is reported to have said, "I'm sure we can arrange something between Islamabad and Lahore,".

This has all got out of hand really!

If all of the above is true, Dalmiya would calmly say to Pakistan that Team India will play its warm up games (prior to its tour of Pakistan early next year) in Bangladesh or in Afghanistan! Faced with that insult, I am pretty sure that the PCB's invitation to ECB to play warm up games in Pakistan will be hastily withdrawn. Naushad Ali will receive a gentle whip on his backside from Shahryar Khan. With the PCB invitation withdrawn, the ECB will have no choice but to come back to the negotiation table with its tail between its legs!! At that point, a face-saving move would be arranged of changing Agartala to Bikaner or Udipi or Tirichi or someplace else :-)

Such are the methods of the Dalmiya world!

In reality, the ECB does have a valid case, in my view. Olympics committees do take into account infrastructure facilities and plans prior to allocating a city the "right" to host the Olympics. And when they do that, they do not merely look after the needs of the athletes. It is, in fact, a very minor factor in their consideration. The major factor is lodging facilities, infrastructure facilities (hotels, restaurants, business meeting places, theatrettes, seminar rooms, night clubs, pubs, etc) and logistics/transport facilities. This is because it is the responsibility of the host nation to ensure that it has sufficient facilties to ensure player comfort as well as fan-follower-comfort. And given the amount of business that gets transacted at (or around) these major events, the consideration is not just about the ground, the stadia, player comfort and the rooms that athletes stay in. That would be way too myopic.

The ECB is right, in my view, to enquire about facilities for their fans and supporters at the various venues. Their method is, however, quite shocking!

At least the ECB is looking after the comfort of their fans and families. In India, we tend to take the comfort of every one else (apart from the BCCI invitees and the players) for granted. In that regard, I applaud the ECB.

The organising host (be it of the Olympics or a wedding or a cricket match) has a Duty of Care towards his/her guests/fans.

Although the presence of restaurants, pubs and theatres may be inconsequential for cricket (although I'd disagree if one looks at the bigger picture, which I will come to in a minute), good accommodation and good fan-comfort falls smack-bang in the middle of the venue-selection remit.

The bigger picture... Sports tourism is a fast growing industry. The World Cup Soccer is going to be big news where millions of sports tourists are going to thrash through Germany next year. It is not just about soccer fans. It is more than that. Even cricket-based-tourism is a growing industry. India does not tap into it in a big way. If India did want to tap into it, it would/should junk the rotation policy and schedule England and Australian matches in major venues where fan-comfort is much better than at Agartala! Moreover, at these other places, there are often many other tourism-products to on-sell and cross-sell.

Why Australia and England? Well, their fans are perpetual travellers. The FANATICS (an Aussie fan club) has many many fans that will travel with the team to most places. The West Indies has benefited from this in a major way.

This whole sage has been sordid. Anand Vasu has provided a nice summary on CricInfo.

I think the ECB was right in making their request. I think the BCCI has been needlessly pugnacious and inflexible in their defence of their stance. The ECB method has been shocking and smacks of their Imperial past.

Unfortunately, as a result, they will play in Agartala and, if they carry-on like they have been, they may end up playing a Test match in Outer Udipi or Jhumritalaiya!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

On the use of SuperSubs

I get the feeling that, while India have come to grips with the optimal use of their powerplays, there is still work to be done in thinking through her use of SuperSubs. This is a new concept in world (limited-overs) cricket and it will take time for it to be worked out by teams around the world.

Sri Lanka came up with a brilliant strategy for optimal use of the fielding restrictions in the first 15-overs of a limited overs game of cricket. And, in Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana, they had the personnel to execute that strategy to a 'T'. Similarly, some team will come up with the best SuperSub execution strategy.

At the moment, however, I feel that India is groping in the dark on this one. I'd love to be proven wrong, but a look at the last few games suggests that SuperSub-thinking is constrained either by (lack of) available personnel or by other pressing issues (like fitness, goals, "processes", etc), which may have pushed this to a lower priority!

In the recently concluded matches against Sri Lanka the SuperSubs used were:

Toss - India, Decision - Bat First
SSub - Murali Kartik, employed, Subbed Venugopal Rao

Toss - India, Decision - Bowl First
SSub - Sree Santh, not employed, --

Toss - SL, Decision - Bat First
SSub - S. K. Raina (DNB), Subbed Murali Kartik

Toss - India, Decision - Bowl First
SSub - S. K. Raina, Subbed Sree Santh

Toss - SL, Decision - Bowl First
SSub - J. P. Yadav, Subbed Darvid (injured)

Toss - India, Decision - Bowl First
SSub - S. K. Raina (DNB), Subbed Murali Kartik

Toss - SL, Decision - Bat First
SSub - S. K. Raina (DNB), Subbed R. P. Singh

And in the first match of the series against South Africa (RSA) lasy night (17 November):

Toss - RSA, Decision - Bowl First
SSub - G. Gambhir, Subbed Murali Kartik

The choices seem a bit ill-conceived to me. It is not as if the selections lack logic. It is evident in most cases bar one! It seems to me that the choice of the SuperSub has almost influenced what Dravid will do at the toss! It is almost as if Dravid and Chappell are saying "If the SuperSub that is chosen is a bowler, then I will bat first" or "If the SuperSub that is chosen is a batsman, then I will bowl first".

As it stands, the SuperSub rule is loaded against the team that loses the toss. Team sheets have to be exchanged prior to the toss. If a team includes a batsman as a SuperSub on the team sheet, there is little reason why that team would bat first if it wins the toss! Likewise, if a team includes a bowler as a SueprSub, it would bat first.

And this is perhaps one reason why Darren Lehmann dislikes (and Gilchrist backs Lehmann in his hatred of) this 'innovation' in limited-overs cricket. If the advantage is properly exploited the team that wins the toss is better placed to exploit the advantage of the 12th man!

So, in a sense, I agree with both Gilchrist and Lehmann -- who says that the SuperSub innovation is a "shit rule"! Ahem! So much for diret verbal feedback!

In Match-1 of the India-SL series, Sree Santh was the SuperSub. India won the toss and bowled last! In Match-3, Sri Lanka's toss-decision aided India's SuperSub choice (Raina). In Match-4, Raina was the SuperSub. India won the toss and batted last! In Match-5, Sri Lanka's toss-decision aided India's choice of Yadav (essentially a bowling allrounder). In Match-6, Raina was the SuperSub. India won the toss and batted last! In Match-7 Sri Lanka's toss-decision aided India's choice of Raina.

One example that somehow does not fit this bill is the choice in Match 2 of Sree Santh as SuperSub. That choice was as bizarre as Dravid's choice of bowling first, thereby effectively negating the SuperSub trump card that he had at his disposal (Sree Santh).

In the recently concluded match against RSA, it seemed that Dravid went in with a "I have to bowl first because Gambhir is the SuperSub" mentality. When he lost the toss and Smith elected to bowl first, Dravid's SuperSub trump card was effectively negated.

Agreed Smith (and in the previous examples, Attapattu) will do what is best for his (their) team on winning the toss. However, Dravid's choice of SuperSub -- at the time team sheets were exchanged at the toss -- would give Smith enough clues as to what Dravid would do if he won the toss!

I think this is one area India does need to do its work.

In my view, the best SuperSub choice would be an all rounder. In the recently concluded match against South Africa, J. P. Yadav would have been a better SuperSub. In the event of a batting collapse (and there indeed was one), he could have come in (as a SuperSub for Murali Kartik), hung around as a bat and then been India's 5th bowler too. Unfortunately, India does not have too many utility allrounders like Yadav.

Depending on how you read it, Dravid himself hinted in an interview yesterday that he would prefer having a few good allrounders to choose from. Perhaps his confidence in Yadav's abilities is not that great after all? Well, in that case, does the team need a journeyman? Would India not be better in grooming an allrounder who would be a super SuperSub by 2007? Where are Robin Singh and Ajay Jadeja when you need them!

And why not end this piece with a bit of a controversial opinion?

In my view, Saurav Ganguly is probably the best SuperSub in India today. He can bowl a bit. And he has been turning his arm over -- quite successfully too, I might add -- in the recently concluded Duleep Trophy games. It is almost as if he wishes to remind one and all that he can bowl too -- now why he won't do that often enough when he was captain of India still remains a mystery! If needed (like India did in yesterday's 1st game against RSA) he can come in and bat decently too. After all, he is a player with over 10,000 runs in one-dayers!

Well worth a look into, in my view...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Letter to SMH

Mike Duffy wrote an opinion-piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on The Changing Face of Our Professional Elite in Australia. It bothered me enough to write the following "Letter" to the editor of SMH. Don't know if it will be published but, here it is anyway!

Dear Editor

I was suitably alarmed by the tone of innuendo in Michael Duffy’s
article in the SMH (12 November 2005). Hence this letter. I am
almost sure that Michael Duffy would be the first one to jump up
and down and claim an Australian victory if an “Australian” of
Indian origin or Chinese origin won the 100m freestyle at the
next Olympics. Indeed, have we not celebrated Kostya Tszyu’s
victories in boxing as “Australian”? Why, we even claim Russell
Crowe’s Oscar as an “Australian” Oscar! Pray why the double
standards when it comes to excellence in education and in the
professional workplace?

Instead of learning from and applauding the Asian value systems,
which place extraordinary emphasis on a strong work ethic, erudition,
scholarship, exemplar social behaviour, professional/moral integrity
and a strong will to succeed in their adopted homeland, Duffy seems
to have, perhaps, gone down the route of paranoia.

Sentences like “a nation's elite has invited another group to come
in and replace it” demonstrate a mix of shallowness and a degree of
patronization that is potentially damaging. Immigration policy is
not a zero-sum-game, which it would be if “replacement” was a
mantra. It is about how we grow the pie to a substantially different
size than it would otherwise be. Kostya Tszyu did not “replace” an
Australian boxer. He added to the existing medal chest.

Just as the European migrants contributed strongly to Australian
society in their own unique ways, the current wave of Asian
immigrants will shape Australia as she moves into a brave new
world. Let us embrace it like America has and move forward with
purpose and vision.

I point Duffy to an article in Business Week by Abigail Ann Fraeman
(March 21 2005)
. In it, she talks about how new migrants offer an
opportunity to celebrate their personal successes even as they make
a “significant difference in their new country”. That is the
opportunity that is offered by Duffy’s Asians that “aspire urgently
to enter the middle class”.

A healthy public debate and discussion on this topic would be
necessary and great. But let us carry it out in an environment
of the opportunity that is afforded rather than one of paranoia.

Mohan Krishnamoorthy

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Is this warranted?

For some time now, the website has had me somewhat bemused! I am an itinerant visitor to that site. My opinion of the wesbite (not that it matters to anyone, really) is that it veers towards sensationalism at the best of times and always has something to say against the Aussies!

The intensity of the chest-beating in the editorials shifted a few gears ever since the infamous Ganguly-Chappell spat in Zimbabwe.

Things were taken to a new level today with this article on Greg Chappell... The graphic is utterly disgusting...

While everyone should have a right to say what they want to, I think the Greg Chappell graphic is really an unwarranted low-blow and is in poor taste.

The Aussification of Indian Cricket

Since the arrival of "I will take both your eyes if you are after one of mine" Ganguly, Indian cricket has travelled a few notches higher. Ganguly instilled in the hitherto meek Indian cricketers a sense of pride and a will to fight.

There was the immediate heady successs of an enthralling series win against Australia in India, best remembered by the epic Laxman-Dravid partnership in Kolkata. Getting to the World Cup finals in 2003 was a big boost to a cricket-starved nation. India drew with Australia in Australia and came close to beating them at home in what was to be Steve Waugh's farewell Test Series. Then came the series win in Pakistan.

It was after that that the rot set in and something had to give. Ganguly did.

Since the arrival of Greg Chappell as coach of Team India, the "Aussification" of Indian cricket has taken on a newer meaning. There are many things that are not great about Aussie cricket, but there is no doubt in my mind that they are a champion team. In recent years, I have seen some wonderful batsmen play cricket. Batsmen like Richards, Gavaskar, Greenidge, Haynes, Miandad, Tendulkar, Lara, Dravid, Kirsten, Chappell & Chappell, Waugh & Waugh, Kallis, Inzamam, Anwar, Gower, Border, et al were greats. Bowlers like Marshall, Roberts, Garner, Holding, Walsh, Ambrose, Lillie, Thompson, Imran, Sarfraz, Hadlee, Akram, Younis, Akthar, Kapil, Botham, Prasanna, Chandrashekar, Bedi, et al, were some of the best bowlers we will perhaps ever see.

However, there has been only one team that has stood out since the early 90s. The Australians are a champion team. In my view, Simpson moulded them. Border endured them. Taylor built them. Waugh strengthened them and now, Ponting will take them to newer heights. Australia will continue to innovate in every aspect of its game. Unlike the West Indian decline, there is significant bench strength in Australia. The game has never been more popular than it is right now. Indeed, after Australia's loss in the recently concluded Ashes series, sales of cricket gear (bats, helmets, gloves, etc) were bigger than ever before!

The Aussie method starts in the paddocks and backyards where their cricket is played initially. Even at the junior levels, the moulding, the hardening and the strengthening is evident. Junior cricketers are hardened in these lush green fields. Sloppiness is not tolerated. Discipline is rewarded. Youngsters throw themselves on wet and well-watered grass to stop sure fours. Even a 12-year old can effect a slide-stop to cut off a sure four. The Team is always bigger than the individual. Players stand up for their mates. It is tough out there on the field. No quarter is asked. None will be given. However, at the end of the days' play, everyone has a beer and a laugh.

The Aussie method builds on this strong representative-level foundation. The domestic competition is tough in the Pura Cup. Overall the method is simple and yet effective. It is the process that matters. It is clinical and efficient, demanding and ruthless.

In a recent article, Simpson talks about the Aussie way of doing things. It is clear that every single aspect is ironed out and discussed. The demystification process involves the dismantling of a complex solution landscape into a collection of easy variables that one can attack and address.

Today, the coaches of India (G. Chappell), Sri Lanka (Moody), Bangladesh (Whatmore) and West Indies (Bennett) are all Aussies. Not long ago, the coach of New Zealand was an Aussie too! Geoff Marsh had a stint in Zimbabwe recently. They are all over the place, putting in "processes" to lift the level of the game around the world.

Indian cricket needed Greg Chappell. He has brought into the game in India fresh thinking and a clear focus on goals and process. There are, now, individual goals within team roles. The focus is on fitness and performance. It doesn't matter if one wins or loses as long as one plays to the best of one's potential. This mantra has sunk in and the team is finding fresh legs everywhere.

Story has it that when Sreesanth, the new Indian fast bowler won his cap, Chappell asked Tendulkar to say a few words and present the pup with his cap. Apparently, Tendulkar made a stirring speech in which he is reported to have said that the cap is not just a piece of cloth that sits atop a cricketer's head, but that it was what every cricketer in India would easily die for. He asked Sreesanth to wear it with pride and ensure that he gave off 120% every time he stepped onto the field with it. He is reported to have added that that would be a moment Sreesanth would never ever forget whether he played 150 games or a mere 10! It is said that Sreesanth had tears in his eyes. Nearby, Dhoni was heard mumbling that he'd have loved to have had a ceremony like this when he won his India cap. Instead, he just turned up for his first game and found his cap in amongst his kit!

Yet another sign of the Aussification of Indian cricket. Each Aussie cricketer's cap is presented by a legend of the game. This is a ceremony that is said to bring a lump to even the most hardened throat. For the recipient, it is said to be an unforgettable experience.

Only time will tell if Chappell is successful in raising the bar, but for now, the portents are good. India is increasingly embracing processes, thoughts and strategies that made Australian cricket what it is today. And with a hardened Aussie in charge and with Dravid, a constant learner, as his 2IC, Indian cricket is certainly in safe hands.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Is Greg Chappell good for Indian Cricket?

I write this at a time when Team India is winning and winning well against the Sri Lankans in cricket. The 7-match ODI series is in the bag for the Indians and, with one match to go in the series, the scoreline reads 5-1 in favour of Team India. Everyone in India is smiling. Sahara has re-engaged with Team India as its official sponsor. BCCI elections fiascos are suddennly forgotten and fogrgiven! No one cares anymore who is running BCCI today! And it appears that all roads are already pointing to an Indian victory in the 2007 World Cup! Mandira Bedi has already selected her pasta strap dresses from her wardrobe (perhaps noodle straps are passe now?) in readiness for the 2007 World Cup! Soon, someone will write a song-and-dance sequence for the team that will bring back the cup! Another movie like "Lagaan" will, no doubt, hit the production desk soon!

Just prior to the Sri Lankans arriving in India, the team had gloom and doom written all over it. Ganguly, the then captain, and Greg Chappell, the coach, had had their public spat. Rediff called it the Maha Yudh (or, the "Big War") of Indian Cricket. Indeed, there were many writers (and their ghosts!) including Ranatunga and Charlie Austin who had written Team India off. Charlie Austin compared the contrasting fortunes of the two Aussie coaches (Chappell and Moody) in their "honeymoon periods" with their respective teams. Writing on Cricinfo, he said:

Chappell, meanwhile, was plunged into controversy. During his first tour, the Indian Oil Cup, the first murmurs of dissatisfaction leaked out as some players privately indicated unease with his love of theory. Then a damaging rift opened up with Sourav Ganguly during the Zimbabwe tour that followed. The Ganguly Issue, a spat played out in the full glare of the Indian and world media, openly divided the team and uncertainly now lingers over both Ganguly's and Chappell's futures. Ganguly's timely tennis elbow created a convenient opportunity for the selectors to appoint Rahul Dravid as captain, easing the tension, but the road ahead still looks rocky.

Ranatunga weighed into the captaincy debate. At the start of the India-SL series, he talked about the "huge chasm between the two teams". He also bemoaned the lack of planning in Indian cricket and talked about the excellent work of the Sri Lankan Cricket Committee, of which he is the chair. After the finals of the Indian Oil cup (which India lost to Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka) he also talked about India's fielding. Writing on Cricinfo, he wrote:

India could be the worst fielding side in the world at present. They allowed extra runs in the field and lost a few while running between the wickets during the final of the Indian Oil Cup against Sri Lanka. Add them all up and you have the difference between winning and losing.

Meanwhile, in Kolkata, Kiran More, the chair of the selection panel had other fires to put out as his effigy was burnt by irate fans!

And despite scoring a century against a good, young, agile and solid North Zone team, Ganguly was not considered worthy of being India captain or indeed, a player. Suddenly, like a mushroom that shot out the ground overnight, a website was launched "to mourn, condemn and discuss the pathetic state of Indian cricket embodied by Sourav 'no-fastbowling-please' Ganguly".

Things were dire for Indian cricket!

Flash back to 2001, when the betting scandal hit Indian cricket, India had just been trounced in Australia and Sachin Tendulkar resigned as captain. A courageous leader was born then! Ganguly stepped forward then with pride and passion and took the proverbial by the horns.

He infused in the team, a sense of pride. He stared his opponents in the eye. He abandoned Gandhism in the land of Gandhi and took more than an eye for an eye. When an opponent slapped him on one cheek, he demanded both cheeks of the perpetrator. He never shirked a fight. When reason demanded it, he even took his team shirt off and swirled it with pride that would have brought a smile to a lion's face. It hurt him when India whimpered to defeat without a fight. He taught the team how to fight back; how to win. He soon became India's winningest captain! He backed youth. He backed his players and built a trusted band of followers around him. He was a great captain and a terrific leader of men. Make no doubt of that.

But then more was needed. He could not dig deep and find it. The troubled man perhaps could not find more amidst his own batting woes. And just as even the best wine turns to vinegar with a sense of sorrowful inevitability, the team trudged more and more into the cancer of self-preservation. The captain was the worst perpetrator in this regard. He had to go...

The change of coach hastened the highlighting of the malaise that all of India knew.

The Holy War was waged and Chappell emerged successful. The deposed captain retreated with a bruised elbow and a shattered ego.

Enter Rahul Dravid, stage right -- or is it "the right stage"?

The new coach and the new captain set about the repair job? How can a team that is so badly in the dumps stage a recovery? And stage a recovery they indeed did.

Together, captain and coach are mouthing management speak that would make Jack Welch wince with embarassment! Dravid talked about individual goals and processes. Greg Chappell talks about attitude, individual goals, aims, vision and process. Ranatunga is suddenly a convert! Not only does he think that Team India is raising the bar in every game, albeit in a cocky manner, he thinks India is the only team that can beat the Aussies! In his article on November 10, he writes:

Greg Chappell has practically built alternative for every spot. Instead of 11, India now have 22 players to choose from. As I hear names of VRV Singh and Piyush Chawla, it seems there is no let-up in experiments yet.

Interestingly, Australians are not doing the same. The nucleus of their side is still the same old faces. These men have been irrepressible gladiators but are already in their 30s. If in two years time they lose their edge, Australia could have a problem on hand. The new faces we see in their side from time to time have not looked exceptional.

What an amazing turnaround from the wily old master ex-SriLankan captain in the space of three months (to the date)!

So, is Greg Chappell good for Indian cricket? Yes, without a doubt. He has brought a new steely edge to Team India. If Ganguly believed in youth, Greg Chappell takes it to a different level. He has brought in youth. He has assigned them seniors as their mentors. In a manner similar to throwing meat into a lion's den, he has chucked these strapping young men into the thick of things with the mantra "Perform or Persish". Not original maybe. But it is working!

There are two things that worry me though! It is not the first time that I have heard Greg Chappell say that "cricket is a game of failures"! Duh! Serve me right for wanting India to win! I was backing the wrong horse! Chanderpaul may lay claim to being the best captain in the world if failure was the yardstick!!

The other aspect of his leadership that worries me a bit is his over emphasis on process and under emphasis on outcomes. Yes, there is no doubt that good processes will yield good outcomes. As I continually say to my own team, good outcomes are a result of a good plan (strategic and operational plan). However, an over-focus on process may just lead to a stifling of creativity. It may mean that the means are more important than the end. To me, they are both important. One can't lose sight of end outcome as well as the important smaller outcomes (signals) along the way.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that, the time was right for lifting the bar in Indian cricket. Greg Chappell is the right man at the right time. The team did need to be lifted from the cancer that had set in. Time to move onwards and forwards...

New Zealand Trip: A Travelogue

New Zealand Travelogue

South Island (Te Waka O Aoraki)

We travelled to South Island of New Zealand for 11 days. It was a short but wonderful holiday for us. We had a great time and saw some spectacular sights.

Given that this was our first holiday in these parts, we booked all of our accommodation in advance, hired a car and drove around. But you really do not need to do that. There are plenty of motels and hotels and car hiring is accomplished easily.The next time we visit (and we will most certainly do that!) we will land up and take it 2-3 days at a time. The partial map of South Island will give you some idea of where we travelled and this travelogue may assist in your future plans. Here is our itinerary in brief:

  • Day-1: We commenced our journey at Christchurch. We spent our first day getting organised in Christchurch. We hired a car there.
  • Day-2: Drove south to Twizel and Mount Cook.
  • Day-3: We continued southward via Lindis Pass to Cromwell and then on to Te Anau.
  • Day-4: Drove to Milford Sound and did an overnight cruise on the Sound.
  • Day-5: Drove back via Te Anau to Queenstown, the thrill-seekers capital of South Island.
  • Day-6: Drove to Wanaka, just a short drive from Queenstown.
  • Day-7: Headed west and had a long drive to the Franz Josef Glacier town via Haast and Fox Glacier.
  • Day-8: Undertook the all-day glacier-walk on the Franz Josef glacier.
  • Day-9: Drove via Hokitika and Greymouth to Punakaiki.
  • Day-10: Drove back to Greymouth, dropped off our rental car and caught the TranzAlpine train back to Christchurh.
  • Day-11: Headed back to Melbourne.

The intention of this travelogue is to share some of our views on New Zealand and our holiday with all of you.

At the outset we agree with the commonly held belief that God made New Zealand on His day of rest. It is a blessed country. It has excellent and spectacular landscapes. Its inhabitants care for the natural beauty and the wilderness that is found there aplenty. We lost count of the number of mountains and lakes we passed by. Rugged mountainous terrains and virtual cliffs alongside most roads create spectacular instant waterfalls, which look even prettier when it rains.

Aristotle once said, “Nature does nothing uselessly.” It seemed most apt after we saw New Zealand. Everything seems to have a place. Everything seems designed and fits perfectly. Yet there is that randomness that one associates with Natural beauty.

In general, we found the Kiwis to be extremely friendly genial and hospitable. They are extremely helpful people. They are also totally geared for tourism. Although there is ample evidence of tourism it is seldom “in your face”. Although the country is modern in every sense of the word, there is no rat race here. The Kiwis love their land and respect it. They appreciate that visitors respect it too.

The following is a travelogue. Please let us know what you thought of it…

Christchurch - Twizel

We landed in Christchurch at 2pm on 3 March. After securing our hire car, we spent the afternoon getting ready for the journey ahead. We spent the night in Christchurch.

The start of the highway from Christchurch to Twizel was somewhat boring and presented nothing unusual by way of scenery. This hardly prepared us for the views that were on offer later on that morning. We drove past Geraldine and Fairlie. We could see some ranges off to our right as we drove through what was essentially farming country. We stopped at a few places for pit stops and to get some coffee. Somewhere near Fairlie, as we drove onwards and upwards from grass plains towards more hilly country, the landscape started to change dramatically.

The landscape was more rocky strewn scrubland. From then we were in the pleasant and dramatic company of the 420 Km natural barrier that forms the Southern Alps (which are shown in the picture to the right). We were now in dramatically different territory – MacKenzie country. New Zealand lies directly on the intersection of the Pacific and Indo-Australian plates. As these active plates move towards each other and over one another, the land in New Zealand, which sits atop these plates gets pushed up more and more; hence the Southern Alps. As we drove we could see snow-capped peaks that pierced into the sky for as far as the eye could see.

Lake Tekapo

Now we were in the heart of Alpine country. We passed this small and pretty village of Tekapo. There are some small restaurants and accommodation units along the roadside before the road heads South to Twizel. Most small towns in the South Island of New Zealand consist of accommodation houses (motels, cabins, houses and B&Bs), a restaurant or two a and coffee house or two on the main highway and close to a spectacularly beautiful spot.

So also here at Tekapo which is close to Lake Tekapo (in the picture above). This is where the natural rich blue and the pristine pure green of the various lakes, streams and rivers first hit us. So much so that by the end of the trip we suffered from acute SFS (scenery fatigue syndrome)!

Tekapo is just past Burke's Pass. The Lake itself is spectacular and has an astronomical observatory on its banks (called Mt. John Observatory).

Pukaki - Mount Cook

Deep in the Mackenzie Country is a town where the tussock plains reach the horizon, the rivers run slowly, and the mountains touch the sky. From Tekapo the road twisted south to our first night’s stay at a town called Twizel. Twizel is in dam country. Twizel nestles among peaceful lakes, where the broad plain meets the foothills of the Southern Alps. It is also mountain climbing area. Twizel is also an alpine village and is styled similar to European villages. The chalets here are quite nice to stay in. Twizel is situated near Mt Cook and Lake Pukaki.

We checked in to our motel in Twizel and departed almost immediately to Mt Cook (Aoraki). The drive from Twizel to Mt Cook is spectacular – why do I have a feeling that this word is going to be the most often-used word in this travelogue?

Mt. Cook is truly impressive even at 15 miles distance rising to 3,744 metres (12,168 ft.). Behind it lies the lesser peak Mt. Tasman, named after the explorer who discovered Tasmania off Australia. As you drive up the scenic road, all along the road on the right is the massive Lake Pukaki. We definitely thought it was a massive lake (27.2 Kms long and 3.2 Kms wide) until we saw a few other equally large (if not larger) lakes further south (Manapouri, Te Anau, Wanaka, etc). The lake is a spectacular blue as opposed to the gemstone green of Lake Tekapo.

The lake is renowned for its water purity, and for its distinctive glaciated landforms, such as ice-melt depressions and lateral terraces. The backdrop of snow-capped mountains inspires awe.

Lindis Pass, Cromwell

We drove along the southers shores of the long Lake Pukaki before heading off towards Omarama and into Lindis Pass.

Lindis Pass is another spectacular sight that lies between the St Bathan and the Ben Ohau ranges. Landscapes chanted yet again. Quite dramatically and quite soon. Gone were the craggy, rough and angry peaks of Mt Cook. What we saw was more orange-brown scrub-grassland type setting. The change was perceptible.

Trees are rare here and the wind constantly buffets your car as it funnels down between the ranges. The 100km stretch from Omarama to Tarras over the Lindis pass is just incredible. You will not see too many houses in this section and it almost looks bereft of humans too! You may see a stray tourist car wandering along the road at a sluggish pace towards some unknown destination. Or you may see an odd couple on a bicycle peddling away through these peaceful surrounds. And peaceful, it certainly is. We stopped our car several times on this 100km stretch to just step out and see the dramatically different landscape and to smell the fresh air.

Lindis Pass, at 3,180 ft. is the area's highest road and after that it is fast and downhill into Tarras. We stopped just North of Cromwell at the southern shores of Lake Dunstan; another one of these beautiful, sparkling-water lakes.

Lake Dunstan is another one of those wonderfully blue lakes that one gets to see in New Zealand (and there are many of these vast lakes about the country). The colours are always striking. The waters are always clear and clean. And there are several (like the photo alongside) for picture-postcard photo opportunities.

Cromwell is surrounded by broad tussock hills. Entering the town you know immediately what its speciality is, as a giant fibreglass sculpture of delicious ripe fruit towers above the highway. Cromwell is fruit-growing country! We did not stop here, but did catch some of the sights – including the lovely Lake Dunstan, the Clyde Dam near Cromwell and the township itself.

Cromwell is actually close to Queenstown which is a town made for adrenalin addicts; with mountain biking on tortuous trails, water-skiing on Lake Dunstan, jet-boat skiing, white-water rafting, (tandem) skydiving, speed-boat canyoning, river surfing, mountain climbing or bungy jumping off the Kawarau Bridge or the colossal Nevis High Wire. Bungy jumping was invented in Queenstown by the A.J.Hackett & Co. However, we did not head directly to Queenstown from Cromwell. We dug further south before heading west towards Te Anau.

Te Anau & Manapouri

No other region in New Zealand can match the breathtaking mountain scenery of Fiordland National Park. You can’t access the Fiordland National Park without touching Te Anau. The Te Anau village is situated on (yes you guessed right) Lake Te Anau. This is the touch-off point for tours, cruises, treks and flights through the New Zealand’s most remote and rugged landscape. The entire region has 14 fiords, the two deepest lakes in the country, Te Anau and Hauroko, and stupendous valleys - all gouged out by grinding glaciers. Lake Te Anau (picture alongside) is the country’s second largest lake (53 kms in length and 8-9 kms wide).

The largest lake is Lake Taupo in North Island, which fills a crater that had been formed by the world's largest known volcanic eruption.

The quiet township of Te Ana-au is situated on the tranquil lakeshore. More often than not, the surface of the lake looks like a glass. The peace, the quiet and silence in near-wilderness is so awe inspiring that one will simply want to sit and stare into the many different scenery options! Apart from all of this, a major attraction is the Te Anau Caves, a honeycomb of waterfalls and luminous caverns lit by millions of glow-worms. The name Te Anau is derived from these glow-worm caves, for, in Maori Te Anau means 'cave of the rushing water'. We absorbed the sights and sounds of Te Anau before heading off on a cruise on the lake to see the glow-worm caves.

A cruise from the waterfront takes you to these caves and back. We went on this cruise and would highly recommend it to anyone. A thought that struck us at this point was the way the whole economy and people are totally geared towards eco-tourism. However, having said that, the people and the tour-operators seem to have this enormous amount of respect for the ecology that they allow tourists to discover and see.

Te Anau is also a walkers paradise. Several great (2-4 day) walks either start here or start close to here. The Kepler Track begins here. The Routeburn, Caples, Greenstone and Hollyford Tracks are accessed from the Milford Road. Of course, the famous Milford Track commences from Te Anau Downs, which is a half-hour drive away from Te Anau.

Manapouri is a Maori word which means “lake of the sorrowing heart” – Maori legend has it that Manapouri’s waters are the tears of dying sisters. Lake Manapouri is the deepest lake in the country and this depth gives it its character. The colours are different even to Te Anau which is a mere 10 km away! Lake Manapouri is another one of those wonderfully serene lakes. Spectacular natural beauty, tranquil (mirror-like) waters and huge mountains that tower out of the water are the norm. Like so many of the lakes in the South island, it is also a lake that was formed by glacial activity within an existing valley. The lake empties into the Waiau River at the quaint little town of Manapouri. The Manapouri Lake Control Dam, which was completed in 1975 amidst tremendous protests from the locals (the “Save Manapouri” campaign stretched from 1959 to 1972 and is still regarded as New Zealand’s greatest environmental battle), regulates the lake's water levels for hydroelectric power. A generating plant that was built some 200m below ground and uses the lake's water discharged into the Tasman Sea via a tunnel.

Lake Manapouri, which is just a half hour drive from Te Anau, is the jump-off point to crusies on Doubtful Sound. We chose to go on the Milford Sound cruise instead, although I am told that the Doubtful Sound cruises are terrific too.

Milford Sound

After seeing Lake Manapouri early on our 3rd morning in New Zealand (5th March), we set off to Milford Sound (Sound is the New Zealand word for fiord). We were on an overnight cruise on the Milford Sound. The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound through the Homer Tunnel is a spectacular one. The Homer Tunnel is at the top of a canyon at 1207 metres (3900 ft.). The drive from Te Anau to Homer Tunnel and then to Milford Sound is… yes, that word again… spectacular!

The route to Milford Sound is littered with many wonderful lakes and spots to stop and have a look. Be prepared for a longer drive than that which is advertised in most papers. Invariably, one stops a million times in the Eglinton Valley before getting to the Sound! Snow-capped mountains tower several hundred metres above the road. The road itself is patterned with many natural waterfalls. There are some clear blue lakes and at least one Mirror Lake as well. Remember to emerge from the Homer tunnel very slowly. The view of the canyon and the winding road that descends into Milford Sound is truly breathtaking. There were many times in the New Zealand holiday when I wished I was the passenger and not the driver of our car! This road was certainly one of them! I’d heard that the water that you find in New Zealand lakes and creeks is so pure that you can drink straight off it. Well it is true. We filled several bottles of water at Cascade Creek enroute Milford Sound. It tasted better than several bottled water drinks I have had in my lifetime!

There is no better way to experience Milford Sound than a boat cruise. In fact, I am not aware of too many other ways to explore the Sound. It is such a calm and serene place. The waters are still and clear. One almost fears touching the still waters, lest it breaks! The rock faces are steep and virtual. There are few compromises! It is as if the cliffs rise out of the water with anger! Some of cliffs are 1700 metres high and plummet into the black depths of the fiord. Apparently Rudyard Kipling has described Milford Sound as the eight wonder of the world. It truly is magnificent.

Milford Sound records a huge amount of rainfall – nearly 7m of rain per year! This is a phenomenal amount of water that buckets into the fiord system. After Tahiti, this area records the maximum amount of rainfall per year. The driving rain adds to the mystique of the place.
As one cruises across the fiord, one can see a thousand natural waterfalls that are automatically created by the sheer cliffs.

Our cruise took us past Bowen Falls, Mitre Peak, Stirling Falls, Stewart Falls and Postman’s Island and into Anita Bay. Apparently Cook passed Anita Bay several times before realising that it was the start of a wonderful system of fiords. The sheer mountains adequately hide the treasure that lies in wait. Anita Bay is a wonderful spot for the cruise to drop anchor. Most cruises allow for passengers to travel out for a bit in Kayaks and the like. If you are lucky, you may get to see dolphins, fur seals and crested penguins there.

We would love to go back and do the 55 km Milford Track, which is reputed to be one of the finest walks in the world. The Milford Track (need to book in advance for this) takes 3 days and links up Lake Te Anau with Milford Sound.

I have talked to many of my friends who have been on the three major fiord systems in New Zealand (Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Marlborough Sound). Most have them have placed the Doubtful Sound higher than Milford Sound. I personally liked Milford a lot and would definitely recommend it.


After spending the night on the cruise, we were dropped back at Milford Sound. We set off for from there to Queenstown, which appears to be the capital of commercial tourism in New Zealand.
Queenstown is busy and hectic in winter months because of the excellent access it provides to ski slopes. Summer months are busy with a plethora of fun things that
New Zealand invariably throws up. Shotover Speed Boating takes you at breakneck speeds through the canyon that is created by the Shotover river! I’d thoroughly recommend this, but it ain’t for the weak-hearted! Another not-for-the-weak-hearted activity is bungy jumping (which, incidentally, was born in New Zealand) on the Kuwarau River.

Queenstown is not my kind of city. It is horribly touristy and there are plenty of things that you can blow your cash on. However, I must say that even in this terribly touristy environment, my view is that New Zealand manages to retain its charm and uniqueness. Although a lot of the offers are very much in-your-face, operators aren’t quite falling over themselves to get your custom

Shotover Speed Boating is certainly a must for “Thrill Therapy” seekers. The Shotover Jet Company is the world’s largest jet boating operation and is the only company permitted to operate in the spectacular Shotover River canyons in Queenstown. A shuttle bus takes you from the Queenstown town centre to Arthurs Point, where the adventure ride commences and ends. The speed boats (which seat about 10-12 people) then take over and send one’s adrenaline soaring. The boats zoom through the Shotover River (picture alongside) and into the Shotover River canyons, the walls of which tower over. The drivers are skilful and extremely experienced. So it is all quite safe. They whip the boat past the rocky outcrops and, at times, it almost feels as if you can kiss the boulders when they whip up close and personal as the driver slams the brakes and performs a 360 degree turn! The best part of the thrill drill is the water spray that hits you. The water is fresh and crisp and the spray is intense.

If that wasn’t enough, there are helicopter rides, white water rafting, black water rafting, bungy jumping. Name it. Queenstown offers it. For rafting enthusiasts, the Shotover River is excellent. The ride takes you through several rapids and then an unforgettable rafting trip through the darkness of the 170 metre Oxenbridge Tunnel. You then do the Cascade Rapid to complete the trip.

Another attraction is the Skyline complex that towers high above town. It can only be accessed by a chair-car (gondola) or by a helicopter ride. The Skyline Gondola, Restaurant and the Luge are things that we managed to do as well. The Luge is quite nice. One can, of course, indulge in paragliding, skydiving and several other activities too including Bungy jumping into the Kuwaru River (photo alongside).


We drove to Wanaka. One of the main attractions for me was that it had this Math Puzzle world place (more of that later). Apart from that and the fact that it was a convenient break from driving non-stop from Queenstown to Fanz Josef, there is really nothing much at Wanaka. Wanaka is a town that sits aside a… you got it… a lake! Lake Wanaka is one of the more prominent of the Southern Lakes. It is in New Zealand's alpine country, in the southwest of the South Island. Like most of the other lakes, Lake Wanaka was carved by a glacier. It is pretty and quaint, but by then we had perhaps developed a YAPL (yet another pretty lake) syndrome! Wanaka is a gateway to the Mt Aspiring National Park.

There are many things that one can do in Wanaka that are somewhat similar to what one may do in a place like (say) Queenstown. However, one can indulge in these sorts of things without the kind of commercialism that one faces in Queenstown. So there are possibilities canyoning, climbing, sky-diving and river surfing activities that one can engage in while here. Skiing is a big pastime in winter. Lake Hawea is very close too.

We spent much of our time at Stuart Landsborough’s unique “Puzzling World”. It is interesting. It is unique and it is eccentric too. One of the attractions is the Great Maze. It is a 3D maze in the sense that it is two storeys high and has more than a kilometre of confusing passages constructed from wooden barriers.

The place has several “Illusion Rooms”. At the “Hologram Hall” we saw some absolutely amazing holograms. The “Hall of Following Faces” is an illusion room where 168 giant models of famous faces seem to turn to follow you around the room, wherever you go! The illusion room I liked most was the “Ames Forced Perspective Room". The shape of the room is distorted (although it appears ‘normal’ when viewed from a window from the outside). This makes people in the room look either very tall or very short. Other illusions are water travelling upwards (up a pipe) and a chair defying gravity by appearing to travel up a slope! Besides these there are some fun puzzles in a large play area. All in all, it is a fun place to spend an afternoon, if you have one!

Haast to Franz Josef Glacier

The next morning, we set off on what was supposed to be a longish drive from Wanaka to Franz Josef. The drive was made slower by the fact that rain bucketed down on us. So much so that, when we reached Franz Josef, we heard that a section of the road we had just travelled on had collapsed (sunk) during the day and had to be closed off. However, this wet weather led to what was undoubtedly the best drive of the trip! All along we saw numerous natural waterfalls that cascaded either onto the road or across the road. On several stretches the mountains alongside the road were white from the milk of the instant waterfalls that were created. There were at least five points when it looked like we drove through a waterfall that arched across the road!

Haast Pass (at 1,842 ft) is a low pass in the divide of the Southern Alps in New Zealand. It is actually not far at all from Mt. Cook! The low lying Haast valley was possibly carved up by glacial activity. The Pass itself is quite spectacular. If possible, try and organise to get there on a wet day! It looks even more stunning.

The Haast area is also host to extensive wetlands. So, there are plenty of birds here and it is supposed to be a bird watchers’ paradise. Lake Moeraki is just 25 minutes drive north of Haast. It is well worth the drive.

Enroute to Haast, I pulled to the roadside to enjoy the beautiful waterfalls that were being created on the opposite side of the road. The ground, however, was so wet and soft that I lost traction on the road. The car was slowly, but surely, dragged sidewards onto a creek by the side of the road. I managed to jump off the road and hailed a 4-wheel-drive headed the opposite way. The driver and a passenger, both Kiwis, seemed to know exactly what had happened. Although it was raining hard, they u-turned, got their ropes out and winched us out of the soft creek with much aplomb and no fanfare.

I narrate this incident to talk about the Kiwi spirit. We found them to be (mostly) very helpful. They seem to want to help and seem to also love tourists as much as they love their own country. They seem to have a lot of pride in their own country and the beauty that abounds in it (and why not?). At the same time, they are very welcoming of tourists and are generally, very helpful.

We drove past Fox Glacier and into Franz Josef. Fox and FJ are two temperate climate glaciers in the West. We had to decide which of the two we’d go to and after much reading and talking to others, we decided we’d do FJ. This turned out to be an excellent and an inspired choice.

Franz Josef Glacier walk

The next day was to be one of the best days I have spent in recent memory. We set off to the Glacier Walk office nice and early, fully kitted out in our walking gear. This was all somewhat wasted because we were supplied with almost everything we needed for the day-long walk on the glacier: a jacket, beanie, heavy-duty socks, walking shoes, gloves, a walking axe, talonz (to get a better grip on the ice) and more. An extra layer of clothing (or two) is recommended although the pace and the walking activity will mean that one layer will disappear soon! Don’t forget your sun cream and sunglasses. You’ll need it if the sun is out. The reflection off the ice can be quite powerful…

The Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef Glacier are two of three temperate climate glaciers in the world (with the other one being in Argentina). They cut through breathtaking glacial valleys to flow into a temperate rainforest. Apparently, many glaciers in the world have been retreating. However, these two lil’ beauties in New Zealand are still going strong, reaching almost to sea level! The glaciers here are created because of a unique combination of the tall and virtual mountains of the Southern Alps of New Zealand and the hot winds that blow into it from the Tasman. The Southern Alps lies in the path of the 'roaring forties' (the name given to the band of wind that blows into it). The hot wind is forced to immediately and abruptly rise over the Southern Alps. This process rapidly cools the weather and the result is that condensation drops as rain and snow. Approximately 30 metres of snow falls onto the resultant glacier every year! This gets immediately compacted and forms blue glacier ice that is channelled into the Franz Josef and Fox Glacial valleys. More and more snow falls on top of the structures and what you get to see is wonderful layers of blue and aqua-green. The continual snow falls also push the ice down these valleys continually. This also causes ice breaks and icefalls and the result is a set of unstructured and stunning mazes of deep crevasses, ice tunnels of breathtaking beauty and steep pinnacles of ice!

Maori called Franz Josef (named by Haast, its ‘discoverer’ after the Austrian King) Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere or “The Tears of the Avalanche Girl Hinehukatere”. It is said that Hinehukatere loved climbing the mountains and persuaded her lover, Tawe, to climb the mountain along with her. It is said that Tawe got caught up in a mighty gust of wind and fell to his death. Hinehukatere was devastated and her tears froze to form the glacier!

Franz Josef is a truly wonderful experience. If you are even averagely fit, take the day-long walk and not the half day walk. You’ll have an unforgettable experience. If you are not so fit this is not something that I’d recommend for you. Groups of 10 are guided by a professional who will cut her way through the ice to explore tunnels, ice pyramids, crevasses, ice caves and more. Remember to take an extra roll of film (or an extra bit of storage device if you have a digital camera) with you. You will need it! The colours are splendiferous.

We set off by bus to the foot of the glacier from where we walked. It took us nearly an hour to get to the mouth of the glacier. We strapped on our talonz (for additional/required gripping), got our safety and use training and set off on a 7-hour adventure that was truly memorable. I’d certainly go again, and again, and again! Our coach (Kate) was extremely helpful and supportive. She made sure that the entire pack travelled together and guided us really well. She stopped to provide both information as well as quirky anecdotes. And this made the trip all the more enjoyable. Given that there are no signs or marks anywhere (it is ice and more ice and more ice everywhere you see), she did get lost once or twice. However, she never lost her composure or her wits. Indeed, this made our walk all that more interesting!

I managed to fall more times that I could remember (and most people in the group fell at least once)! But who was complaining.
The bruises and the scars made the walk all the more satisfying! One fall was memorable. I sat on my haunches, ready to negotiate a tricky 10m long ice tunnel that inclined downwards. I perhaps hadn’t gripped the ice properly enough and my ice-axe wasn’t supporting me against the side wall. My legs went from under me! The next thing I knew was that I was sliding down the ice tunnel at the rate of knots! Luckily, there was no one else in the tunnel. Moreover, everyone at the other end of the tunnel was perched atop a slight incline. Or else, I may have taken them with me!! My backside was sore for at least a day after that but boy, was that fun or what!!


After a thoroughly satisfying but tiring day on the glacier, what we wanted most was a quiet day to recover and to also soak in what we’d experienced. We found just the right recipe in Punakaiki. We drove North from Franz Josef and onto Punakaiki via Hokitika and Greymouth. There is nothing much to write home about Hokitika, in my view (except if you want to shop for Maori paintings and art or if you happen to be there around the famous food festival). Greymouth is not my kind of place either. Punakaiki is something else, however.

It is the place with the famous “pancake rocks” and blowholes. Until I’d seen the “pancake rocks”, the limestone structures along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia (the 12 Apostles) would have to count as some of the most spectacular natural rock formations I’d seen. The Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki gives the Twelve Apostles a good run for its money! They are wonderful and are made even more spectacular by the blowholes.

It is also the place where a platform collapse killed quite a few people! In April 1995, a viewing platform at Cave Creek collapsed and the occupants (mostly students from a nearby college) fell 30 metres into the waters and rocks below. Fourteen people lost their lives and 4 others were injured badly.

Since then, it seemed to me at least, that the place has been developed with greater care and attention to safety. It is really quite a spectacular place with ample spots for viewing many of the wonderful natural delights that the place has to offer.

Punakaiki is the gateway to the dramatic limestone country of the Paparoa National Park. One can indulge in some terrific treks and canoe adventures while here. There is a nice caving tour that we did not undertake. This is also horse trekking country, if you are into that sort of thing!

But the main attraction are the “Pancake Rocks” and the blowholes. These are limestone formations that began forming 30 million years ago. Lime rich deposits and dead marine creatures were continually deposited on the rich seabed and overlaid with more and more weaker layers of soft mud and clay. Repeated deposits have created thin plates that seem like layers of pancakes; very spectacular.

While you are here, indulge yourself in sumptuous breakfast at one of the cafes. What’s the specialty, you ask? Pancakes! But, of course!

Greymouth to Christchurh

We drove back South to Greymouth the following day to take the TranzAlpine train from Greymouth back to Christchurch. Given another chance, we’d have driven on further North, perhaps to Marlborough and descended into Christchurch. Greymouth is a grey kinda place! Nothing much there for us to enjoy. It is perhaps more a function of the type of people we are than what Greymouth has to offer! The only place of much interest to us was a place called “Shantytown”, a historical attraction. This is a mini-town, much like Ballarat in Victoria, Australia. It is a snapshot from the gold-rush period and features a few period buildings, a sawmill, and a functional steam train that trains you around the place. It is located 11 km south of Greymouth and if you are not interested in this sort of thing, it is best you arrive in time for the train that takes you back to Christchurch!

We dropped off our car at Greymouth and took the TranzAlpine scenic train from Greymouth back to Christchurch. The journey takes you up the Southern Alps, past lush beech rain forest landscapes and then through some spectacular river gorges. All along the colourful Waimakariri River and the varied colours of the river basin follows alongside the train. The train also has an open air viewing carriage! One highlight is the 16 tunnels and the 5 viaducts (including one called the ‘Staircase’, which stands at 73 metres!) that pepper the journey. If you are a train freak, this may be one for you!

Back to Melbourne

And so we were back in Melbourne after a terribly satisfying holiday. If we were to do it again (and we are tempted to go again, soon!), we would learn a lot from what we did. We’d do things differently. New Zealand is indeed a wonderful place to visit and its people are extremely friendly.

Eddie Cantor once said, “Slow down and enjoy life. It's not only the scenery you miss by going too fast - you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” This seems to fit the New Zealand way of life to a T. They seem to enjoy their life set at their pace in their land which they love intensely. It seems to me that they seem to want to share that sense of happiness and contentment with anyone who cares to want it too. So be prepared for a lovely and hassle-free experience. You will enjoy it tremendously.