The All Blacks - they’re the world’s best sports team with the highest winning average – but what’s made New Zealand’s rugby heroes into the force that they are?
The one thing most of them have in common is growing up in New Zealand, a land where rugby is a way of life and the outdoors is a natural landscape for adventures.
Kurow is an unassuming town, 45 minutes west of Oamaru in the Waitaki region of New Zealand’s South Island. The rural town is set on the banks of the Waitaki River, overlooked by the Southern Alps.
This sleepy little town also produced arguably the greatest rugby player to have ever played the game. Richard Hugh “Richie” McCaw was raised here and played his first games of rugby at the Kurow Rugby Club.
McCaw still visits the Waitaki Valley whenever he can, but it’s not to suit up for the Kurow rugby team, it’s to follow his other passion, flying.
Just a 30 minute drive further west along the river is Omarama where McCaw likes to unwind in command of the air. With Glide Omarama anyone can enjoy a glider trial flight in a modern high performance sailplane with a fully qualified instructor in one of the world’s best gliding conditions.
Across the Lindis Pass, Lake Wanaka is a favourite escape for the All Black captain. When he’s at his Wanaka holiday home, you may spot him on the Mt Iron Track on the impressive glacier-carved, 240-metre rocky knoll. From its summit the sweeping views of Lakes Wanaka and Hawea, the Cardrona and Upper Clutha Valleys and all the surrounding peaks are somewhere to celebrate the highs and lows of the sports field.
McCaw makes no secret of his love of flying and is a regular visitor to Warbirds Over Wanaka. In the past he co-piloted an Air Force Fighter Jet at the biennial airshow. Taking place in March 2016, Warbirds Over Wanaka is an aviation extravaganza featuring extraordinary flying with warbirds, loud modern fighter jets through to the manoeuvrable STOL aircraft. There’s also a fairly good chance you will rub shoulders with McCaw himself.
Something in the land and water?
Many of the players of old were tough farmers, who worked the land first and foremost with rugby coming in second. Despite the game having gone professional the rural areas of New Zealand continue to churn out world-beating All Blacks.
Just off the Thermal Explorer Highway between Rotorua and Taupo is a small town called Reporoa. Reporoa is in the Bay of Plenty region and the place Sam Cane calls home. The 23-year-old recently captained the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup, a far cry from his parent’s deer farm in Reporoa.
Cane has been described as a humble, well-mannered, country boy and with a work ethic second to none. He took those traits north to the seaside city of Tauranga, on the beautiful Bay of Plenty coast northwest of Repora, for the final years of his schooling before he made his breakthrough into the Chiefs side at just 18 years of age.
Feilding’s pocket rocket
Arguably the world’s best halfback, Aaron Smith was born and bred in Feilding, a rural town in the Manawatu region and 20-minutes by road from the university city of Palmerston North.
He now plays for the Otago Highlanders but when the young Manawatu halfback played his club rugby for the Feilding Yellows, he was often found on his driveway firing passes into the family garbage bin.
Known for its extensive farmers market, Feilding’s town centre is graced by Edwardian-themed buildings and red-bricked pavements full of lovely flowerbeds, and has been named New Zealand’s most beautiful town no less than 14 times. Nearby Palmerston North is home to the New Zealand Rugby Museum which celebrates the country’s rich rugby history, telling rugby tales from grassroots through to the mighty All Blacks as it pays homage to some of the great players that have worn the black jersey.
Golf is favourite pastime for many of the All Blacks. Lucky for them New Zealand is blessed with a huge number of courses, from rustic country tracks to world class resort golf courses.
All Blacks and Otago Highlanders’ Ben and Aaron Smith both enjoy teeing up around Dunedin. The Otago Golf Club was established in 1871 and is just five minutes from downtown Dunedin. The course is set in a beautiful setting, bordered on one side by native bush and on the other by Dunedin’s tranquil suburbs with expansive views of the Otago Peninsula and the hills of Mt Cargill and Flagstaff.
The St Clair Golf Course is also an incredible course that is nestled on the cliffs above Dunedin's beautiful St Clair Beach. The course has spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, its beaches and the beautiful city of Dunedin often referred to as the Edinburgh of the south. There is every chance you might bump into an All Black at the 19th hole.
Towards the end of 2017 a unique new visitor attraction will open in Auckland, New Zealand. The All Blacks Experience will be an interactive destination showcasing the All Blacks and the game of rugby like never before.
This will be an immersive experience that lets visitors really feel what it’s like to be an All Black. Bringing together stories of All Black legends and an interactive 'give-it-a-go' area The All Blacks Experience will be rugby fan’s paradise.