Thursday, 29 September 2011

Diary of a Volunteer - Opening Day

Thankfully the  opening day of the tournament dawned fine and clear. Thankfully because  New Zealand's weather is unpredictable in spring which is famous for having four seasons in one day and no one wanted it to rain on our parade. And it seemed as if the whole of Auckland was excited at the prospect of a truly memorable occasion.
A glorious day and the crowds start to arrive on Te Wero Island
By mid afternoon the numbers grow

At our workforce centre we were briefed and divided into teams.  I was allocated  Te Wero Island, certainly a case of drawing the long straw as it was a perfect vantage point and turned out to be one of the least congested areas of down town Auckland.  Te Wero is not really an island, rather it is a finger of land running along the Northern side of the Viaduct Harbour. As the balmy, sunny afternoon wore on the crowds swelled and I enjoyed my role as a host..meeting, greeting and helping visitors from all over the world.  I was impressed at what lovely people these international rugby supporters are,  mostly middle aged and in excited anticipation of the tournament.  Many had saved for years to come and were thrilled to be here.  Others go to all the major  rugby international tournaments around the world. All were keen to chat and grateful for assistance and I loved the interaction.The Te Wero crowd was a combination of family groups settling down with picnic baskets who had come for the fireworks display and enthusiastic rugby supporters many of whom were heading to watch the opening game at Eden Park.

The first of the waka arrives


At 4pm the festivities began with the arrival into Viaduct Harbour of 20 ceremonial waka, Maori canoes, paddled by crews of between 20 and 40 paddlers in traditional dress.  It was a stunning and moving sight as the canoes arrived one after the other to the chants of the paddlers, the haunting karakia ( a call of welcome from a maori woman), from the shore, and the echo of the conch shell. The paddlers walked the length of Te Wero island to a small square, as Dave Dobbyn, one of New Zealand's top entertainers, sang his song Welcome Home for them.  The words of this song are poignant and moving and I felt quite emotional at that point.   Then the paddlers performed the haka, the Maori war dance, causing the earth to tremble beneath their feet.
The waka paddlers prepare to do the haka

The crowd relaxed, picniced and waited for the opening ceremony and the fireworks display to follow.  While they waited they were entertained by the royalty of New Zealand pop music, Tim and Neil Finn and Dave Dobbyn, among others. Then at 7pm the opening ceremony at Eden park was  screened on the huge screens located at various places around the Auckland waterfront and what a magnificent ceremony it was, portraying some of the history of New Zealand and rugby in spectacular style.  A moment for us all to feel very proud.  Finally came what  the children were waiting for, the fireworks display.  It was to be the biggest display that New Zealand had ever seen and it didn't disappoint.  I felt so lucky to have a prime view, with the harbour to one side of me and the Sky Tower to the other.  At times I didn't know where to look...it was amazing, wonderful, exciting.  At one point a downtown skyscrapper was spotlit to reveal two men performing acrobatics high up on the side of the building.  They appeared to be running up and down the building and turning somersaults and landing on the wall.
By late afternoon the crowds were increasing...but still comfortable

Once all this excitement was over everyone settled down to watch the first match of the competition, New Zealand versus Tonga, on large screens (NZ won 41 - 10) and we volunteers went for our first meal break.  No complaints there!  Delicious catered food served in our workforce centre  with a wide view over the viaduct.  I know I'm going to enjoy this volunteering!
I'm far left with fellow volunteers and some rather bewildered looking young rugby supporters

Auckland had been inundated with people, an estimated 200,000 people flocked to the down town area for this opening night, much higher numbers than predicted, and causing traffic chaos in some areas, but I was lucky, missing out on the worst of it and loving every moment of the experience.  I left to get my bus home at 11pm and it arrived only 10 minutes late.  I ended my first shift tired, with an aching back from nearly 9 hours standing, but happy and so proud of our beautiful city and country.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Diary of a Volunteer 2011 - Part 1

About a year ago I was invited to work at a seminar held at Sky City Convention Centre in Auckland to recruit volunteers to assist at the major world sporting event being held in Auckland from September to October 2011.  For copyright reasons I am not allowed to use the official title of the event but most readers will know about it and for those who don't, it involves New Zealand's national sport, rugby.  The organisers of the seminar were thrilled to find the convention room packed, but it was amusing, nevertheless, to see many of the attendees' enthusiasm drain away when told they were most unlikely to see any of the games.  I was blown away by the professionalism of the presentation and the enthusiasm of the presenters, so much so that, while not particularly a fan of rugby, although I do always watch our national team, the All Blacks, I applied to be a volunteer myself. 

Why did I volunteer?  Well there are several reasons,  Firstly, I love the work I do as a guide for  Auckland Tourism, I enjoy meeting people from all over the world and this would be an extension of that.  Secondly, I am very proud of New Zealand and my city, Auckland, and wanted to show it in a good light, make our visitors feel welcome and help make the event  a success.  And lastly, I wanted to be a part of the buzz and excitement surrounding it all.

Just volunteering did not mean you were accepted. There was an interview process to go through and after acceptance the allocation of a role appropriate to your skills.  My role is as a Festival Host and I am eagerly looking forward to this role.   Next we were measured for the uniform, still enticingly top secret at that stage.   Then there were 9 lessons to be completed via the internet and at the end an exam requiring a 100% pass mark.  That sounds harsh but to be honest if you had completed the lessons it wasn't too challenging. Then there were 3 more role specific lessons delivered via the internet, an afternoon of training at Auckland University of Technology and another  at Sky City Convention Centre.  Accreditation photos were taken, we visited The Cloud and Shed 10, the two major features of Auckland's Fanzone and  walked the 4.7km Fan Trail to Eden Park, Auckland's premier rugby stadium where the major games of the tournament will be played.  So, all in all, it was comprehensive, top class, training.
Watching a game on TV during a meal break.  I'm 3rd from right top row.

Finally, it was time to collect our uniforms, in shades of turquiose and teal they stand out in a crowd and reflect the sea, sky and paua shells of New Zealand.  We are all delighted with them. Then our rosters arrived and, at last, we were ready, willing and raring to go.  Bring it on!!