Cricket World Cup goes off the pitch in NZ

With long lunches, high tea on the lawn, and bubbles on the waterfront, New Zealand has swung into a high summer of cricket.

With long lunches, high tea on the lawn, and bubbles on the waterfront, New Zealand has swung into a high summer of cricket with an opening week that has partied all the way to the grounds.

On and off the pitch, since last Thursday’s (12.02) vibrant opening ceremony on Christchurch’s leafy Hagley Park to downtown Wellington, the party atmosphere has never been far from the cricket action as New Zealand has welcomed the cricketing world with warm Kiwi hospitality and a festive calendar of cultural and quirky events.

As each team arrived into a New Zealand city for their first match, there was a traditional Māori welcome / powhiri – a warrior challenge, a symbolic peace offering and a ceremonial hongi (touching of noses) as a greeting between visitors and locals.

On the eve of the England v New Zealand match in Wellington on Friday (20.02), there were bubbles and cheers on the waterfront as New Zealand faced off with England in a ‘Battle of the Bubbles’ that saw two teams of Kiwis and Brits – celebrities, cricketers and wine experts – testing the fruits of the vine.

Wellington has gone all out for cricket with the installation of The Village Green in Wellington’s usually formal Civic Square hosting outdoor films, backyard cricket, and cultural performances – long lunches in local restaurants and a Kiwi bake-off featuring scones and lamingtons.

The thrill of hosting the opening match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 went to the city of Christchurch on Saturday (14.02) with the Sri Lanka v New Zealand match on historic Hagley Oval – the spiritual heart of cricket since that first game back in 1867, now redeveloped as a major international cricket venue for the world cup.

Hamilton danced to the beat of African drums with a ‘Safari Weekend’ celebrating African culture – featuring world-class African performers, family events and fireworks - in the lead up to the Sunday (15.02) game South Africa v Zimbabwe.

In southern Dunedin, there was the skirl of the bagpipes on Tuesday (17.02) as fans flowed from the city to University Oval along the newly renamed Brendon McCullum Drive – an honour for the native-born Kiwi hero – for Scotland v New Zealand. In the Edinburgh of the South, the Cross of St Andrew flew from the Municipal Chambers under the watchful eyes of the Robbie Burns statue dressed for the occasion in the Otago plaid and a Tam o’ Shanter.

Sunny Nelson welcomed the teams from Ireland and West Indies on Monday (15.02) then Zimbabwe and UAE on Thursday (19.02) in the biggest sporting week ever held in the northern South Island city and with a party atmosphere that had fans standing on one leg, attempting ‘the Nelson’ – one of cricket’s more curious traditions – at picturesque Saxton Oval.

Meanwhile, just outside the Hawke’s Bay city of Napier – an Art Deco marvel on the eastern North Island coast – the locals and a smattering of celebrity cricket greats are getting into 1930s cricket gear for the Legends of Cricket match. The friendly 20/20 game is set to take place this Wednesday (25.02) on the beautiful Clifton County Cricket Grounds.

And Auckland’s downtown Fanzone is warming up with sun loungers, a giant screen for watching the games and served up in close proximity to the buzz of the Britomart entertainment precinct and waterfront walkways. Auckland’s first match of the tournament will be a big one – Australia v New Zealand next Saturday (28.02).