New Zealand All Black legend Richie McCaw has retired from his rugby career in search of new heights – flying the skies above his homeland.
Some would consider 35 years of age a tad young to retire, but when you’re Richie McCaw and your skill is playing openside flanker for the New Zealand All Blacks, the years take their toll.
It is no surprise to learn that Richie McCaw is enjoying retirement from rugby after playing for the All Blacks in 148 tests over 15 years. Arguably the greatest rugby player of all time, McCaw is spending his non-playing days following his other passion, flying.
The Christchurch local has taken on a role as a pilot with Christchurch Helicopters. McCaw has been flying since he was nine-years-old. Flying runs in the family, his grandfather Jim McCaw was a decorated pilot in World War II and it was this history that piqued a young Richie’s interest in flying.
Now Richie is on a different kind of mission and that is to show visitors to Christchurch parts of the region that are otherwise inaccessible.
“Flying gives you a chance to see a lot more of what we’ve got here in New Zealand,” the former All Black captain says. “In a helicopter, you get to fly to places that you wouldn’t normally get to see and discover hidden spots”
He may have spent his rugby career in the spotlight but Richie McCaw is understated and relaxed in typical New Zealand fashion. His southern roots – growing up on the banks of the Waitaki River in the small central South Island town of Kurow (Pop: 312) – shine through, an example of the laidback attitude which is so much a part of New Zealanders.
“The people here in New Zealand is what sets us apart from the world, everyone is friendly and has a really good attitude,” he says. “As Kiwis, we are happy to have visitors come to have a look around our country.”
McCaw takes pride in being able to show visitors his city, and what’s out in the wider region of Canterbury.
“The scenery and the mountains are unbeatable; you can see some really amazing things.”
“Flying gives you a good perspective of the place, Christchurch from the air is very unique as a city in terms of the landscape around it.”
Christchurch is home to Richie McCaw’s Super Rugby team The Crusaders and is the second largest city in New Zealand. Five years on from the earthquakes that changed the face of Christchurch, the resilient South Island city is emerging with a strong and intriguing new edge. The new development in the city is something to get excited about, says Richie.
“In Christchurch at the moment, there are new places popping up all over the show, cafés, restaurants and shops. When someone comes to visit there is always a new place to take them.”
When the British & Irish Lions come to town in 2017 to take on the Crusaders, McCaw believes it will be a special time for Christchurch and the entire country. Richie was in just his fifth year as an All Black in 2005 under the captaincy of Tana Umaga when The Lions last played on New Zealand soil and the series was one of his most memorable moments.
“You only ever get one chance in your career to play The Lions. The hype, their supporters and the atmosphere is what makes the tour so special” McCaw says.
“You’re playing the best of the northern hemisphere and that’s pretty cool.”
No doubt when The Lions run out on Saturday, 10 June 2017, at AMI Stadium in Christchurch against Richie’s beloved Crusaders, there will be a moment where he wishes he was out there too, but watching from the side lines with the noise of the supporters will be ok by him.
There’s every chance that some visiting Lion’s fans could get a guided tour of Canterbury with Richie himself – something, he says, would be his pleasure.
“We take the helicopter up into some of the high country which is only a short flight away. Up there you can be sitting on an amazing high country station, enjoying lunch and appreciating the views.”
“You wouldn’t get a chance to experience what Canterbury has to offer as a tourist if you didn’t jump in a helicopter.”
Christchurch helicopters offer a range of scenic flights from winery focused visits, to flying across local rivers and landing upon mountain tops. You can enjoy beautiful cuisine by landing lakeside at top lunch spots as well as having golf course access allowing you to turn up in unprecedented style. Richie recommends a flight over Banks Peninsula, a local hot spot with plenty of hidden bays, a thriving artisan culture and a marine environment teeming with wildlife.
So what’s Richie’s perfect day in New Zealand?
“My perfect day out in New Zealand would start with a flight up to Mt Cook summit with the glaciers below. Then head up one of the high country rivers on a jet boat, get the barbecue out, with no one around but your mates.”
It may sound impossible but a day like that is entirely doable in New Zealand and this is why Richie McCaw loves his home so much.
Christchurch Tight five with Richie McCaw
Best Cheap Eat: Ace Wasabi - 106 Papanui Rd, Merivale, Christchurch
Fancy night out: King of Snake - 145 Victoria St, Christchurch Central, Christchurch
Christchurch’s must do activity: A scenic flight, you get the best view
Best place to visit in the wider Canterbury region: Mackenzie Country
Best kept secret: Flock hill – in the Canterbury hills, the scene of the great battle from The Chronicles of Narnia.
Film star Richie: Chasing Great
Richie McCaw’s final year as an All Black was one of his most successful; and it came with one pretty big expectation.
McCaw had the weight of the nation on his shoulders, yet again, as the All Blacks attempted to become to the first team in history to win back-to-back Rugby World Cups.
We all know how the story ends but few saw what went on behind closed doors. In a rare glimpse into McCaw’s private life in his final year as a player, a film crew documented the highs and lows.
Chasing Great – released in cinemas in New Zealand on 1 September - follows Richie’s last season in the black jersey.
With unprecedented access to Richie and a remarkable family video archive ‘Chasing Great’ is the story of how a shy farm boy went on to be one of the greatest rugby players of all time.