Mountains to the Sea (nearly) Cycle Trip – Mangapurua Track & the Bridge to Nowhere

Another beautiful morning greeted us.  Ted came to pick us up at 8am to shuttle us to the start of the Mangaparua Track which is about an hour from Ohakune.  If we had been doing the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail proper we would have started from Turoa, ridden the Old Coach Road from Ohakune to Horopito (we did it the other way round) and then carried on towards the Mangapurua Track.  However, we are a social bunch and we just picked the best bits : )

We had chosen to have guides with us for the Mangapurua Track so Ted and his mate Trevor were riding with us sharing their insight into the area as we went.

The track climbs gently from the gate at the road end through private farmland, regenerating scrub and pockets of native bush.  It wasn’t too bad and everyone coped well – the views over the Tongariro National Park where well worth it at the top.  There is another track that goes down the Kaiwhakauka Valley and at the junction of the two tracks is a carved totara pou.  This pou symbolises the ngahere (forest) and provides spiritual and cultural safety for visitors.

Not long after the track junction we got to the Trig which did require a little climb up to the top – again the views were worth it as we could see the Tongariro National Park to the east and Mt Taranaki to the west.  There are some information boards here that have pictures of the World War I returned servicemen who farmed this area between 1916 and 1942.

During World War 1, the government offered land in the Mangapurua and Kaiwhakauka valleys to returned servicemen as part of a soldier settlement scheme. In 1917 the first pioneer settlers started taking up the available holdings.

Life was difficult from the start. The land was remote, hilly and untamed. Road access was limited and the settlers had to clear their holdings of dense forest and transform them into farm land. Despite the obstacles, the returned servicemen were enthusiastic and determined. At the peak of settlement there were 30 farms in Mangapurua and 16 in Kaiwhakauka. The shared experiences – through war and these new challenges – created a strong bond, and for a number of years the community thrived.

A wooden swing bridge was constructed across the Mangapurua Stream in 1919. This connected the isolated valley with the riverboats that brought goods along the Whanganui River. However the settlers had always expected that roading access would be improved – a more solid bridge would be built and that it would form part of a road between Raetihi and Taranaki.

Planning for the new bridge started when the timber bridge began to rot. In 1936 the new steel-reinforced concrete bridge was finally opened. It was an impressive sight at nearly 40 metres above the river within the steep ravine walls. Later in the day we saw the remains of the old swing bridge from the concrete bridge that replaced it.

By the time construction was finished, many of the Mangapurua settlers had abandoned their holdings. The physical labour and economic hardship had taken their toll on the returned servicemen and their families. Serious erosion (caused by the clearing of bush), flooding and poor road access were other obstacles that the settlers could no longer overcome.

By 1942 only three of the farmers remained in the valley. They were eventually forced to leave when the government decided that road access would no longer be maintained. By 1944, everyone had gone.  Not only that, they left virtually penniless.

The concrete bridge – now known as the Bridge to Nowhere – is the symbol of that ill-fated settlement in an area known as the “valley of abandoned dreams”.

From the Trig the track heads steadily downhill, passing the only uncut section of forest in the Mangapurua Valley. The first swing bridge in the valley crosses Slippery Creek and a further 1.5 km along you reach Johnson’s.

As you move down the valley, you cross the grassy clearings that were created by the early settlers. Many of the papa bluffs are named after settlers that farmed the surrounding land. The names of these settlers also live on in the wooden signs installed along the track marking the location of the original house sites. Common features in the valley are the rows of exotic trees that mark the road and the house sites.

We stopped at Johnson’s Flat for lunch.  The original farmer Edward Johnson collected the mail twice a week from the Mangapurua Landing and distributed it through the valley.

We met a descendant of one of the returning soliders at our lunch stop.  He sets up camp every summer and just returns to his house in Raetihi every few weeks to mow his lawns.  He had the billy on and offered us a cuppa tea.  He loved to chat and we enjoyed listening to some of his stories before getting back on the bikes.

The last 13km provided some challenges with the track becoming narrow as it skirted the bluffs.  There were a number of parts where we had to dismount and walk the bikes.  There are also seven swing bridges to cross which involve tipping your bike up on it’s back wheel and pushing it over the bridges like that.  We all became quite expert at doing this by the end of the day.

Finally we made it the Bridge to Nowhere – the bridge gets more use now than it did when it was first built. It is the unofficial flagship of Whanganui National Park and a major visitor attraction on the Whanganui Journey – one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.

We still had 3km to go to reach the river where our jet boat awaited us.  We were being transported to the Bridge to Nowhere Lodge for the night.  It was a beautiful day so the ride down the river was great.  The refreshments at the Lodge were even better and after showers we enjoyed sitting on the large balcony enjoying the views up and down the river.

We enjoyed a lovely meal at the Lodge and we all slept like babies apart from the minor earthquake that happened during the night – not everyone felt it but I did.

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Mountains to the Sea (nearly) Cycle Trip – Mellonsfolly Ranch

We were really reluctant to leave the Flying Fox Lodge after our enjoyable evening and lovely breakfast but further adventure awaited us. We had to have our bags out a bit earlier so they could go across in the Flying Fox – the Flying Fox only takes 4 people at a time so it takes a wee while to get everyone and their bags across the river.

We waved goodbye to Kelly and Jane, traversed the river, collected our bikes and began the hard slog up the driveway pushing bikes and balancing bags.  

Ted was waiting at the top of the hill for us so we loaded our bags in and our bikes on and set off in the direction of Mellonsfolly Ranch.  We drove back up River Road where we had biked the day before and turned off towards Raetihi – again we had some great views of the mountains.

We stopped in Raetihi to get coffee and a snack.  We also did a bit of secret squirrel work obtaining a slice of cake and some candles so we could celebrate Steve Impey’s birthday that evening.

We stopped at the Ruatiti Domain to have a picnic lunch before the final few kilometres into Mellonsfolly Ranch.  The anticipation was building….

Mellonsfolly Ranch is home to the Old West Town, an authentic western town. Deliberately remote, Mellonsfolly Ranch is truly at the end of the road. Located on one thousand acres of unspoiled native bush in one of New Zealand’s hidden valleys. Step back in time and experience where the charm of the Old West mingles gracefully with the luxury of the Victorian Era. 

What started out as an idea to build a simple family lodge “away from it all” by Auckland couple John and Kenda Bedogni, soon snowballed into Old West Town, a thousand acre bush-clad development and home to Mellonsfolly Ranch, a Wyoming-styled western town of the late 1800s.

Mellonsfolly takes its name from the Auckland beach suburb of Mellons Bay, where John and Kenda live and developed their “labour of love”.

A passion for all things ‘western’ saw the couple scour the US for buildings and inspiration, and their attention to detail is found in every part of the retreat. Unlike a movie set constructed simply of facades, Old West Town has complete buildings, including a saloon, bathhouse, courthouse and western-style Victorian accommodation.

We were greeted by Pancho and Rosita who were decked out in there western gear.  We were taken to our rooms, given scones with jam and cream before embarking on a tour of the town.  It is WOW – the attention to detail is second to none.  Our rooms were all so luxurious and the beds so big and soft.

The have a costume room so everyone spent a bit of time in there getting appropriately attired.  You also get issued with your own gun and gun leather.  The guns are powered by gas cylinders so they make a real noise.  There were a number of shootouts in the Main Street.  The cracking of the whip also kept us entertained.

We enjoyed a lovely meal before Pancho lit the fire so we could sit around it and toast marshmallows.  Some of us then retired to the courthouse which doubled as the cinema to watch an old western.

The next morning we were treated to a cowboys breakfast – it was huge and very few of us could manage the whole lot.  Pancho then took us to do a bit of archery with mixed results : )

It was then 10am and Ted re appeared to take us back to Ohakune where we would all go our separate ways again.  It had been another fabulous trip and we were all the richer for the experience and time spent with good friends.

NZ Herald – July 2007

Way out West

By David Fisher

It’s a real head-scratcher. Why would a businessman with a legacy of conventional decisions spend $8 million to build his own town? And why build it in the style of ethe Old West? In the middle of nowhere, 40 kilometres down a metal road in a bit of country so remote it doesn’t even have a name beyond the one invented for it?

Good question, they say – ask John. But John Bedogni, one of the wealthy founders of Metropolitan Glass, can’t explain why he sank a fortune into building Mellonsfolly Ranch near Raetihi – although he will say it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Actually, there’s nobody with an answer that makes any sense.

Those at Raetihi, 40km away, can’t help, as accustomed as they are to those from the Mellonsfolly Ranch dropping into town wearing cowboy hats with six-shooters strapped to the sides of their legs.

No answers from the local police officer, who has flagged down would-be Indian chiefs with wild looks in their eyes, speeding hell-for-leather across the Central Plateau, intent on reaching the ranch.

And no answers from the staff who maintain the 14-building town, which now allows paying guests to enjoy the courthouse, saloon, general store and whorehouse. (No whores though, bemoans one Raetihi local.)

Mellonsfolly Ranch is, quite simply, one of the weirdest, quirkiest monuments to wealth to be found anywhere in New Zealand.

In the courthouse, the Bible lies open at Psalm VII, 15: “He made a pit and he digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made.” Almost two years after completion, Bedogni is still in the ditch, pouring money into Mellonsfolly Ranch without yet knowing why he built it. It’s now up for sale, for about $8 million. It never did turn a profit – but then, Bedogni never expected it to.

We blew into town jest gone High Noon. The directions to Mellonsfolly Ranch are like those for Neverland. As a Raetihi local says, you reach it by travelling beyond Timbucktoo, into the Styx and on towards the middle of nowhere.

Strapping on six-shooters here seemed as natural as slugging back the jiggers of whiskey which slid down the bar in the Lucky Strike Saloon, as natural as the town, which is so solidly and cleanly built it seems as if it were there forever.

There is no reality at Mellonsfolly Ranch. In fact, this is key to understanding the building of the town from the beginning to its glorious end.

The concept was unreal, and the four-year-long construction process with up to 40 builders living on site during the week was equally unreal. Strutting down the main street, past hitching posts and Western-style wagons, gunleather riding your waist – that’s unreal.

The more permanent refugees from reality are The Judge and Texas Rose, who checked in their names – Graeme and Joy Pointon – at the gate when they moved in to manage the town.

The couple owned 10 acres down the valley, spending weekends from Wanganui, where Judge worked as a legal executive and Tex as a council manager. They sold up, and had just bought a new house in Wanganui when Bedogni rang, offering them a job managing the ranch.

Neither had any experience in the tourism industry. “We never did our OE,” says The Judge, explaining that he and Tex met when they were 18 and 16 respectively. This is their OE.

The Judge is the frontman – he greets visitors and breaks them in with a tour of the town, telling the legend of Charles Mellon, Bedognis’ nom de guerre in the fantasy world of Mellonsfolly Ranch. The story goes that Mellon (the name was taken from Auckland’s Mellons Bay, where the Bedognis have lived for years) struck gold in the town, working the mine until it collapsed. The town that grew up around the old mine remains. By the time he is finished, the magic of make-believe has begun.

In the Marshall’s office, the Judge leans in, conspiratorially serious to ask: “Do you want to wear some gear? I never go anywhere without mine.”

He pulls his jacket aside to show a revolver tucked into a shoulder holster.

The construction is immaculate, and the details intricate. Bedogni oversaw the entire process, insisting Mellonsfolly Ranch be built with only the best materials, in the most authentic fashion possible. He and wife Kenda, the former head of Chanel in New Zealand, travelled often in the Western states of the United States, and once the folly began, loaded up containers with memorabilia and antiques which add to the feel of the town.

“I didn’t want plastic,” says Bedogni, who took a third share of $350 million when Metropolitan Glass sold out to an Australian company last year.

The details are remarkable. Rust is spray-painted on to roofs to age the buildings, the flag outside the courthouse has 42 stars on it, reflecting the United States in its pre-1900 period. Old advertising flyers on yellowed parchment are in small frames on the wall, one beneath a light switch reading: “This room is equipped with the Edison Electric Light. Do not attempt to light with match. Simply turn key on wall by door”.

The comforts are equally remarkable. All floors have inbuilt heating, the imported brass beds are sublime, a movie screen rolls down from behind the bench in the courthouse for movies or television.

In the Telegraph office, the switchboard disguises a plug for a satellite internet connection.

It’s that kind of quality that lifts Mellonsfolly Ranch beyond the cheesiness of theme villages.

It can take in up to 21 guests, hosting couples overnight through to large birthday parties and corporate conferences.
A couple married here once, riding in for 10 hours on horseback to get hitched in the main street.

Judging by the guestbooks it’s not too busy, with one large group a month for rooms that range from $200 to $250 a night, including three meals.

Tom Dickie of Taupo wrote in the guest register: “Bloody good stay. Won the shooting and the horse race.

“First man to be kicked out of the saloon.”

Ron Mitchell, who stayed in the Buffalo Bill room: “I’ve lived out the fantasy that every young boy would want (on my 60th birthday!).”

The idea, once it got under way, was that guests see nothing that wasn’t around in the 1880s, says Bedogni. Of course, he says, that’s more Hollywood 1880s than the real thing – the saloon has polished floorboards and a macrocarpa bar, rather than sawdust underfoot and a rough-cut bench.

His initial idea, he says, was to build a log cabin retreat for family and friends on the 1000-acre block of land. Then, someone suggested another building and “let’s make it Western”.

“At that stage I was probably too far in to stop. We sort of got carried along with it but I was brave enough to keep it going.”
The vision expanded with the decision to get a return on the investment by opening it up to paying guests.

“It turned from a good idea to a folly, to a grand folly.” He’s an intriguing character, is Bedogni, who paid $8 million for a wild west town, decorates his office at home with Napoleonic art, once entertained the building of a grand Moorish garden and has been a supporter of fan groups of the comic character the Phantom.

He’s undoubtedly wealthy – but untouched by affectation, unless you view a penchant for building towns as such.
There is a sense that money liberated this creature of impulse – during what he calls his Napoleonic period there must have been family concerns they would awake to find the garden resculpted into a replica of Waterloo.

Bedogni watched Western TV shows as a boy, and still owns the pair of Gunsmoke pistols he was given as a child. Ask him why he built Mellonsfolly Ranch and he says: “Good question”, then thinks about it for a bit. “Why does one do these things? If Kenda was here, what she’d say is: ‘That’s what he’s like. He gets carried away’.”

As to how much it cost, he says: “I’ve embarrassed myself”, and why he built it in such a remote location and he grins: “It’s one of the integral parts of the folly.”

Bedogni leans forward, attempts to explain, but ends by simply saying: “We’ve been on a journey.”

And: “I’m sure there were people who thought we were crazy. We probably were.”

So who would buy it? “For a lot of people it would be the owning of it.”

He’s selling it for a number of reasons, but mainly to have a rest. He and Kenda want life a little simpler.

Bedogni sees three types of buyer. Someone wealthy, who wants a private block of land with comfortable accommodation and doesn’t mind shedding a few hundred thousand dollars a year to keep it spick and span.

Possibly boutique tourism operators, he thinks, or finally one of those grand American hunters, who fancies 1000 acres that hasn’t been hunted on for 10 years.

Bedogni hasn’t made a return on his investment, and probably won’t. As he says, “It’s over-engineered, over-commissioned and over-complied with”.

Mainly, it’s bizarre. There are sheep hollering from paddocks across the valley and ponga ferns among the manuka. On the ridge opposite, a farm fence marks out the boundary between Bedogni’s Neverland and the neighbouring farm station. For all that, it’s a place where native Americans are Injuns, and where Brokeback Mountain’s love still dare not speak its name.
It has “wanted” posters in the Marshall’s office – Kid Currie is worth $18,000 dead or alive – and it’s own whiskey label, bearing the face of Mellon/Bedogni.

With its boardwalk and campfire, its water tower and balconies around the cathouse, it’s perfect for any cowboy fancying a quick getaway.

“It’s something very, very different at the end of a windy road,” says The Judge. “It was just a hole in the bush before it started.”

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Mountains to Sea (nearly) Cycle Trip – Turoa & The Old Coach Road

This year’s cycle trip was in the central North Island.  The trip over the Napier – Taihape Road was stunning with gorgeous views of Mt Ruapehu.  Neither Steve or I had driven over that road so we were exploring new territories.

We all met in Ohakune which is better known as a ski resort town in the winter although there are plenty of summer activities too.

We had engaged Ted from Tread Routes in Taupo as our guide, rental bike and luggage transport extraordinaire. He met us in Ohakune at 1pm on the Friday and sorted those that were renting bikes out. We then all jumped in the van for the trip up to the Turoa Skifield. Stage one of day one was a 17km descent down the mountain road. The weather was perfect and the mountain greeted us in all her glory.

The descent was fast with some of the guys getting up to 70km per hour on their bikes. I wasn’t that brave and had my back brake lever close at hand. It was a blast though and over all too quick.

Stage two of day one was the Old Coach Road.  Ted shuttled us to the Horopito end of the trail and we rode back to Ohakune.

The cycle trail, which uses most of the historic Ohakune Coach Road between Ohakune Station and Horopito, was opened by New Zealand Prime Minister Mr John Key in July 2010.  This part of the Ruapehu to Whanganui “Nga Ara Tuhono” cycle trail, also called “Nga Haerenga,” was the first of the national cycleway ‘quick start’ projects to be launched.

The northern end of the coach road at Horopito is the home of Smash Palace, the famous auto wreckers yard with hundreds of vehicles waiting to be restored and loved again. I think every Kiwi over the age of 40 has some memory of the movie Smash Palace.  The wreckers yard stretches some way and it is incredible how many cars are there.

The cycle trail is a mixture of new narrow track and the wide cobbled Coach Road.  The cobble stones certainly made for interesting riding, in fact it was rather uncomfortable in places!  8.5kms of the 17km’s was covered in cobblestones.

The Ohakune Old Coach Road formed an integral link between the two rail heads between 1906 and 1908, allowing through journeys by horse and coach before the rail was completed. The Hapuawhenua Viaduct was one of the final components of the North Island main trunk railway.

Along this road, drays and carts carried supplies and materials for railway construction and coaches ferried railway passengers between the steadily advancing railheads.  The first coaches ran between Raurimu and Waiouru. As the railway tracks were laid between the railheads the gap reduced, and by May 1908 the coaches were running between Ohakune and Makatote.  Once the railway tracks were connected and daily trains began running in November 1908, there was no need for the railway coach service along the Ohakune to Horopito Road.

The road was left unmaintained and became overgrown until work on the cycle trail began.  This trail is the start of the Mountains to Sea Cycle Trail which goes all the way to the sea in Whanganui.

Day one over with we enjoyed some quiet refreshments back in Ohakune before enjoying some delicious pizzas from La Pizzeria.

Murder in slow motion….

Rata and rimu are two endemic New Zealand trees with a close relationship. Rata starts life as an epiphyte (a parasite growing in the branches of a tree) – and it often chooses rimu. The rata roots then reach down to the ground and the vine thickens, slowly encasing and choking the host tree until the rata can stand alone. That’s why mature rata trees always have a hollow core – it’s the imprint of the tree that provided all the support!

Rata love high rainfall areas. The bright red flowers (seen November to January) and berries provide food for tui, bellbirds and kaka. Humans reckon rata makes the best honey. An infusion of the inner bark was used by Maori to treat rheumatism.


Early Travel in New Zealand

Travelling throughout New Zealand in the early 1800’s was either overland on foot or horseback, or by ship from port to port. Overland was difficult and time consuming and the sea service was dangerous and unreliable.  In the 1880’s a bridle trail through the Ohakune area ran from the river port at Pipiriki via Raetihi to Ohakune, and from Ohakune the trail went north through the Horopito area to Taumarunui, and east from Ohakune to Waiouru and Taihape.

By 1882 the government had decided a railway link between Auckland and Wellington was necessary.  At that time the railheads were at Marton and Te Awamutu. Various rail routes were surveyed to find the best way to connect these railheads. The central route, surveyed by John Rochfort in 1883, was recommended by the Government in 1884.  The bridle trail was then upgraded to a four meter wide dray and cart road in readiness for the railway construction.

Coaching the Gap

There was only the volcanic plateau to cross once the railheads reached Ohakune and Raurimu. This difficult section required five viaducts and three tunnels.

Construction work would take considerable time, and railways wanted to ferry passengers across the gap to trains waiting at each railhead. By doing this, Railways could collect passenger revenue to help pay for the railway construction before the line was completed.  A new road was built from the highest point on the upgraded bridle trail, west to the Taonui Viaduct and on to Horopito.

The Ohakune-Taonui-Horopito section of the road was covered with cobblestones to provide a firm surface and good grip for horses pulling coaches and construction works’ carts up the steep grades.  The stones for the road were sourced locally.

The first railway passenger coaches ran between Raurimu, Raetihi and Waiouru on February 10th 1907. They did not use the Ohakune Coach Road. From Horopito, they used Middle Road, which has become the main highway to Raetihi.  On November 8th 1908 the railway line was finished and the first passenger train ran from Wellington and Auckland. Coaches carrying railway passengers were no longer needed.

The coach road had served its purpose.

The road can be considered a most significant example of roading engineering heritage and the finest rural road constructed in New Zealand up to that time. It has great historic significance for the period it was used as the link between the two end railheads. The end of the road’s useful life froze it in time and, other than the natural deterioration it has undergone since its use stopped, it is in remarkably good condition. It has a Category I Historic Places status from Historic Places Trust.

Hapuawhenua Viaduct

The Hapuawhenua Viaduct was built in 1907-1908 as part of the final works to finish the North Island main trunk railway.

It was designed by Peter Seton Hay, Superintending Engineer of the Public Works Department, recognised as one of the most influential engineers of the period. The viaduct has a Category I Historic Places status from Historic Places Trust.

The viaduct consists of 13 concrete piers and four 4-legged steel towers resting on concrete foundation blocks. There are four steel plate girder tower spans of 11 metres, five 20 metre lattice truss spans and thirteen 11 metre plate girders. In total the viaduct is 284 metres long and at its maximum it stands 45 metres high. It is unique in that it is built on a 10-chain radius curve, reflecting the difficult landscape through which it passes.

Workers lived on site during the two years it took to construct the viaduct, enduring harsh winters, primitive conditions and isolation to complete construction in time for the opening of the railway.

The Hapuawhenua Viaduct was in use until 1987 when the line was realigned and a new viaduct was built. It is mostly in original condition, and is currently being restored by DOC and Tongariro Natural History Society to allow visitors to again enjoy this spectacular piece of railway engineering heritage.


Taonui Viaduct

The Taonui Viaduct shares many of the features of the nearby Hapuawhenua Viaduct: it was also designed by Peter Seton Hay, shares the same construction methods, and unique curved style. It practically differs only in its smaller size (140m long and 35m high), aspect, and fact that it is built on a 1 in 60 gradient.

The viaduct has a Category I Historic Places status from Historic Places Trust.

At this time, the Taonui Viaduct will not be restored for visitor use. Access to view the viaduct is being restored as a side track of the Old Coach Road.


Ohakune

Ohakune township began as a small settlement at the junction of the roads from Raetihi, Waiouru and Taumarunui.

On an 1892 map of the town, there was a blacksmith shop, Public Works Department whare, convent house, Engineer’s residence, PWD cottage, PWD store, an office, PWD hospital, a stable, a whare by the Mangateitei Stream, and a school.  Ten buildings in all.

When the railway reached Ohakune, the station was about one and a half miles away from the town on what is now named Old Station Road and Marshall’s Road.

It was around September 1908 when vehicular traffic from the present station was able to get across the Mangawhero Stream bridge and connect to Old Station Road.

When the train journey between Auckland and Wellington was a two day trip, passengers stayed overnight in Ohakune. They had to get from the station to accommodation in the town, and back again the next morning to continue the journey.  In winter the road between the station and the town was very muddy, not too bad for those in coaches, but most uncomfortable for those walking.

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Australian Tennis Open – Melbourne, Australia

We couldn’t resist another trip to one of the best sporting shows on earth – the Australian Open Tennis Championships in Melbourne.  We had planned this trip about a year ago so sorted our flights and accommodation early and then waited with baited breath for the tickets to go on sale in October.  We traveled over with some friends – formally known as Sheree and Matthew and Heidi and Matt.  Informally known as Jeffo and Harty and Mr & Mrs Shoe or their latest name The Soles : )   To explain the latter a little further – Heidi is trained in Feng Shui or Feng Shoe if you’re Steve Thomas, hence his naming them the Shoes.  In yet another senior moment he started referring to them as the Soles – soles are related to shoes so lets just leave it at that : )

We met at Auckland International Airport and indulged in a pre tour champagne before our flight to Melbourne.  We were all pretty excited about the possibility of watching Roger Federer play so named ourselves Team Federer.  Matt had presented us with our very own head sweatbands so we looked the part.

I had been following the games and the upcoming draw daily in anticipation of Roger making it through and then working out when we would be able to see him play.  We had day session tickets for the Tuesday and Wednesday and day and night session tickets for the Thursday.  Roger made it through his fourth round match on the Sunday night against the fifth seeded Kei Nishikori in five sets.  Next up he was to play the unseeded Mischa Zverev who had knocked the first seed, Andy Murray, out in the fourth round.  Unfortunately this match was played on the Tuesday night so we missed it but we had everything crossed that he would make it through which he did in three sets.  We had worked out that if he made it to the semi finals he would play on the Thursday night so we were very excited.

Tuesday 24th January

First up on the Tuesday was the women’s quarter final between Venus Williams and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova from Russia.  It was a good game but Venus was too good and won in two sets.  We have seen Venus play a few times now and she always looks lethargic on the court but can produce the power hits when required. At age 36 and after some medical setbacks she is quite inspirational.

Venus Williams

She was born in the USA and is aged 36 years old.  She is 6 foot 1 inch tall, weighs 73kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 16 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2001, 2003, 2009 and 2010.  She turned pro in 1994 and has earnt USD34 million in prize money to date.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

She was born in Russia and is aged 25 years old.  She is 5 foot 10 inches tall, weighs 72kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 8 Australian Opens with her best performance being the third round.  She turned pro in 2005 and has earnt USD6.6 million in prize money to date.

Next up was the second women’s quarter final between Coco Vandeweghe and Garbine Murguruza.  Muguruza was the fifth seed and hence the favorite but Coco came out swinging and beat her easily 6-4, 6-0.  Muguruza got pretty frustrated which didn’t help matters.

Coco Vandeweghe

She was born in the USA and is aged 25 years old.  She is 6 foot 1 inch tall, weighs 71kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 5 Australian Opens with her best performance being the third round.  She turned pro in 2008 and has earnt USD3.1 million in prize money to date.

Garbine Muguruza

She was born in Venezuela but plays under the Spanish flag and is aged 23 years old.  She is 6 foot tall, weighs 73kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 4 Australian Opens with her best performance being the forth round.  She turned pro in 2011 and has earnt USD10 million in prize money to date.

They saved the best until last in the day session with the first of the men’s quarter finals which was between Stan the Man Warwinka and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga.  As with all things Swiss we love Stan so were very excited to be watching him live.  Jo-Wilfred appeared massive on the court and I thought it would be a tough match for Stan but he played so well and beat him in three sets.  Part one of our dream semi final match up between Stan and Roger was coming to fruition.

Stan Warwinka

He was born in Switzerland and is aged 31 years old.  He is 6 foot tall, weighs 81kgs and plays right handed.  He has played in 11 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2014.  He turned pro in 2002 and has earnt USD27 million in prize money to date.

Jo-Wilfred Tsonga

He was born in France and is aged 31 years old.  He is 6 foot 2 inches tall, weighs 91kgs and plays right handed.  He has played in 9 Australian Opens with his best performance being in 2008 when he was a finalist.  He turned pro in 2004 and has earnt USD19 million in prize money to date.

That night we went to The Press Club for dinner.  The Press Club is owned by George Calombaris who is a judge on Masterchef Australia.  The restaurant had come highly recommended by some friends so we were very much looking forward to our evening.  We planned to catch the tram but a lack of patience saw the girls jump into a cab.  We told the boys to do the same but when we arrived at the restaurant and rang them they told us that they had decided to walk – they didn’t realise that the restaurant was at the other end of Flinders Street!  They then found a cab and arrived after we had been served the most delicious aperitifs ever.  I didn’t quite catch everything that was in mine but I know it had cherry liquor in it and was served over a cherry infused block of ice.

We had signed up to do the chef’s surprise degustation and every course was delicious including the chocolate forest desert that came with it’s own liquid nitrogen forest allowing the smells of the forest to waft around the table as we enjoyed the dish.  After dinner we were allowed to go down into the kitchen to have a sneak peak at the culinary powerhouse.  Unfortunately George wasn’t there that evening but we did meet a couple of Kiwi’s in the kitchen who were helping to create the culinary masterpieces.

Of course we had to keep tabs on Roger versus Mischa game during dinner and to our delight Roger came out on top in three sets.  The dream semi was on – Stan versus Roger, Switzerland v Switzerland.

Wednesday 25th January

We all walked to the tennis in dribs and drabs with Heidi and I getting there reasonably early so we could have a bit of fun with all the activities on offer on the way into the stadium.  This included being photo bombed by Rafa and scoring some more great headbands.

First up today on Rod Laver Arena was the women’s quarter final from the other side of the draw between Mirjana Lucia-Baroni and the fifth seed Karolina Pliskova.  We had seen Karolina play in the US Open where she had made it to the final and I had picked her to win this tournament.  Mirjana, at 34 years of age and after a hiatus from tennis due to personal issues including an abusive father, was making a comeback.  She is a powerful hitter of the ball and beat Karolina in three sets.  She was so overwhelmed with joy at getting through to her first semi final at a grand slam in eighteen years – her previous best performance at a grand slam was at Wimbledon in 1999 where she also made the semi finals.  It sounds like she has had a lot to deal with in her life and being able to make a comeback was extremely special for her.
Mirjana Lucia-Baroni

She was born in Germany but plays under the Croatian flag and is aged 34 years old.  She is 5 foot 11 inches tall, weighs 66kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 8 Australian Opens with her best performance being the second round.  She turned pro in 1997 and has earnt USD3 million in prize money to date.

Karolina Pliskova

She was born in the Czech Republic and is aged 24 years old.  She is 6 foot 1 inches tall, weighs 72kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 4 Australian Opens with her best performance being the third round.  She turned pro in 2009 and has earnt USD7 million in prize money to date.

The last women’s quarter final was between Serena Williams and Johanna Konta.  As we all know Serena started her 2017 season in Auckland and bombed out in the second round complaining about the wind and cold in Auckland.  She didn’t exactly endear herself the NZ public.  Johanna on the other hand won her first tournament for the year in Sydney – the Apia International.  Serena proved too strong though beating Johanna 6-2, 6-3.  I don’t think the score line was representative of the game – Johanna played well and is a strong player.

Serena Williams

She was born in the USA and is aged 35 years old.  She is 5 foot 9 inches tall, weighs 70kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 16 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, 2010 and 2015.  She turned pro in 1995 and has earnt USD82 million in prize money to date.

Johanna Konta

She was born in the Australia but plays under the English flag and is aged 25 years old.  She is 5 foot 11 inches tall, weighs 70kgs and plays right handed.  She has played in 1 Australian Open with her best performance being a semi finalist.  She turned pro in 2016 and has earnt USD3.3 million in prize money to date.

Next up was a men’s quarter final match between Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin.  Dimitrov was actually the lower ranked player at 15 but was playing well.  He had won the Brisbane International in early January beating Kei Nishikori so his confidence levels were high.  Dimitrov beat Goffin 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Grigor Dimitrov

He was born in Bulgaria and is aged 25 years old.  He is 6 foot 3 inches tall, weighs 80kgs and plays right handed.  He has played in 6 Australian Opens with his best performance being in 2014 when he was a quarter finalist.  He turned pro in 2009 and has earnt USD7.5 million in prize money to date.

David Goffin

He was born in Belgium and is aged 26 years old.  He is 5 foot 11 inches tall, weighs 68kgs and plays right handed.  He has played in 3 Australian Opens with his best performance being in 2016 when he made it to the fourth round.  He turned pro in 2008 and has earnt USD5 million in prize money to date.

We had a bit of fun on the way out of the stadium on the way back to the apartment.  The boys got picked to be part of this street performance – they were part of the ‘six rich white guys’.  Unfortunately they took a bit long with the act so we had to go but they were quite funny.

The quarter final that was featured on Rod Laver Arena on the Wednesday night was between Rafa Nadal and Milos Raonic.  It was such a shame that we didn’t have tickets to this session – we still haven’t managed to see Rafa play live and he has been on fire.  Heidi was also very disappointed not to see Milos play too as she hails from Canada.

Instead we had a booking at Flower Drum which is a Chinese restaurant in Market Lane.  The restaurant opened in Little Bourke St 1975 and a decade later shifted to it’s current premises.  About this time. Anthony Liu was appointed Executive Chef, a position which he still holds today along with an ownership stake in the restaurant.

We decided to have the four course degustation meal – again the courses are decided by the chef although a couple of us more fussy ones requested some minor amendments.  The food was lovely and the service was very respectful and polite.  We had discussed changing our booking from 6.45pm to a later time but we’re pleased we didn’t as we still didn’t finish up until after 10.30pm.

Thursday 25th January

Today we had tickets to both the day and night sessions.  The day featured both women’s semi finals and the night was the big one – Roger versus Stan the Man.

We did a bit of retail therapy in the morning and headed for the tennis for the first semi final which started at 2pm.  First up was Venus Williams versus Coco Vanderweghe.  Coco played well in the first set and won in a tie break but couldn’t keep the momentum going and Venus easily won the next two sets.  Venus was very happy to have made it to the final.  When asked to relate what it means to be a role model athlete she said “I think why people love sport so much, is because you see everything in a line.  In that moment there is no do-over, there’s no retake, there is no voice over.  It’s triumph and disaster witnessed in real time.  This is why people live and die for sport, because you can’t fake it… People relate to the champion.  They also relate  to the person also who didn’t win because we all have those moments in our life.”

Next up was Serena Williams versus Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. We were so hoping for an upset in this game but Serena reigned supreme winning 6-2, 6-1.  This set up an all Williams final and at age 35 and 36 the most senior grand slam final in the World Tennis Association (WTA) history.

They have contested 27 matches in their professional careers with Serena holding a 16-11 advantage.  The first of those contests was in the second round of the Australian Open 1998, when Venus was a the victor in two sets.  They have faced off in Grand Slam events on 14 occasions, with eight of those matches being finals.  There most recent meeting was in the final at Wimbledon in 2009.

In between the day and night sessions we spent a little time out in the international themed village – they certainly do it well with a Paris themed area, and English themed area and an American area paying homage to the other grand slams.  Champagne in the sun was the perfect lead up to the match we had hoped to see right from the start – Roger v Stan.

We had different seats for the evening session and they turned out to be the best seats of the three days – we were right behind the court.  I had never sat behind the court before and it was a treat – it was amazing to see how much spin and swing they put on the ball.  At times I thought the ball was going out but it curved back in.

Prior to the game they had a light show to celebrate Australia Day.  Rod Laver was also made a Companion of the Order of Australia at a ceremony prior to the light show.

Roger won the first two sets 7 – 5, 6-1 so we thought he had it in the bag but Stan came back and won the next two 6-1, 6-4 so it went to the fifth set decider.  The crowd were on the edge of their seats – loving both players but secretly hoping for a Federer victory.  Roger won 6-3 beating the number four ranked Stan – the crowd went wild but gave Stan a thunderous applause as he left the court too.  It had been a dream for us as Roger and Stan fans but there was more to come with Roger making his first grand slam final in eighteen months and after a six month injury break.

Roger Federer

He was born in Switzerland and is aged 35 years old.  He is 6 foot 1 inch tall, weighs 85kgs and plays right handed.  He has played in 17 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2010.  He turned pro in 1998 and has earnt USD99 million in prize money to date.

We had planned to have a celebratory drink back at the apartment but by the time we had all wandered back it was quite late and we couldn’t quite manage it.

Sadly it was time to head home on Friday.  We had an awesome few days watching the tennis and exploring Melbourne which is a great city.  The tennis viewing will have to be continued from our living rooms…..

The Finals

On the Friday night Rafa Nadal beat Grigor Dimitrov in five sets.  John McEnroe described it as one of the best matches he had ever seen, while two time Australian Open finalist Pat Cash described it as a rollercoaster.  We stayed with some friends in Auckland on Friday night and despite having one of the best wine cellars they don’t have Sky so we had to keep tabs on the score via the internet.

Rafa v Roger – the dream final for so many people.  They haven’t met in a grand slam final since the French Open in 2011.  The pair dominated the men’s game between 2004 and 2010, before Novak Djokovic’s emergence. They have met 34 times with Rafa having the majority of the success with 23 wins.  He has won 9 out of 11 grand slam matches against Roger and 6 of 8 grand slam finals.

First up on the Saturday was the women’s final, an all Williams affair.  Younger sister Serena proved too strong for Venus beating her 6-4, 6-4 in their ninth grand slam final meeting.  This win was Serena’s 23rd grand slam victory and she surpassed Steffi Graf’s record in the modern era.  She is one slam shy of Margaret Court’s long standing record of 24.  The victory also sees her regain the number one ranking which she lost to Angelique Kerber after Angelique won the US Open in September 2016.

The trophy the women play for is the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy.  Daphne Akhurst (22 April 1903 to 9 January 1933) was an Australian tennis player.  She won the women’s singles title at the Australian Championships five times between 1925 and 1930.  She was also known by her married name, Daphne Cozens.  She died in 1933, aged 29, from an ectopic pregnancy.  Since 1934 the trophy presented each year to the winner of the women’s singles at the Australian Open is named the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup in her honour.  She was inducted into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame on Australia Day (26 January), 2006.  She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013.

The men’s final is held on the Sunday night – we were back home in the Hawke’s Bay by then and were very excited to be watching Roger v Rafa at 9.30pm NZ time.  But no, our Sky decoder decided not to work so we had to resort to the iPad!  We decided to watch it in bed and Steve fell asleep after two sets – how could he do that!  I was glued to the tiny screen right to the end.  I thought Rafa was probably going to win in the fifth but things went Roger’s way and he ended up winning the last set 6-3.  The overall score was 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.  Steve did wake up for the last game and we were very excited by the result.

Federer has won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, the most in history for a male tennis player (not including the Professional Grand Slam events), and held the No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings for a total of 302 weeks. In majors, Federer has won five Australian Open titles, seven Wimbledon titles, five US Open titles and one French Open title. He is among the eight men to capture a career Grand Slam. Federer shares an Open Era record for most titles at Wimbledon with Pete Sampras and at the US Open with Jimmy Connors and Sampras. He has reached a record 28 men’s singles Grand Slam finals, including 10 in a row from the 2005 Wimbledon Championships to the 2007 US Open.

The men play for the Norman Brooke’s Challenge Cup – Sir Norman Everard Brookes (14 November 1877 – 28 September 1968) was an Australian tennis player. Brookes was a world No. 1 ranked player and later president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia. During his career he won three Grand Slam singles titles, Wimbledon in 1907 and 1914 and the Australasian Championships in 1911. Brookes was part of the Australasian Davis Cup team that won the title on six occasions. The Australian Open men’s singles trophy, the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, is named in his honour.



Rafael Nadal
He was born in Spain and is aged 30 years old.  He is 6 foot 1 inch tall, weighs 86kgs and plays left handed.  He has played in 11 Australian Opens and won the tournament in 2009.  He turned pro in 2001 and has earnt USD79 million in prize money to date.

History of the Australian Open

The Australian Open is a major tennis tournament held annually over the last fortnight of January in Melbourne, Australia. First held in 1905, the tournament is chronologically the first of the four Grand Slam tennis events of the year – the other three being the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. It features men’s and women’s singles; men’s, women’s and mixed doubles and junior’s championships; as well as wheelchair, legends and exhibition events. Prior to 1988 the tournament had been played on grass. Since 1988 two types of hardcourt surfaces have been used at Melbourne Park – green Rebound Ace to 2007 and blue Plexicushion from 2008.

The Australian Open typically has high attendances, rivalling and occasionally exceeding the US Open. The tournament holds the record for the highest attendance at a Grand Slam event.  It was the first Grand Slam tournament to feature indoor play during wet weather or extreme heat with its three primary courts, the Rod Laver Arena, Hisense Arena and the refurbished Margaret Court Arena equipped with retractable roofs.

The Australian Open is managed by Tennis Australia, formerly the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia (LTAA), and was first played at the Warehouseman’s Cricket Ground in Melbourne in November 1905. This facility is now known as the Albert Reserve Tennis Centre.

The tournament was first known as the Australasian Championships and then became the Australian Championships in 1927 and the Australian Open in 1969.  Since 1905, the Australian Open has been staged in five Australian and two New Zealand cities: Melbourne (55 times), Sydney (17 times), Adelaide (14 times), Brisbane (7 times), Perth (3 times), Christchurch (1906) and Hastings (1912).  Though started in 1905, the tournament was not designated as being a major championship until 1924, by the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) at a 1923 meeting. The tournament committee changed the structure of the tournament to include seeding at that time.  In 1972, it was decided to stage the tournament in Melbourne each year because it attracted the biggest patronage of any Australian city.  The tournament was played at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club from 1972 until the move to the new Melbourne Park complex in 1988.

In 2017, 728,763 people attended the tournament.

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Tour 18 Golf Course – Texas, USA

After 9 nights in Mexico we flew back to Houston, Texas in the US.  This was where we were flying home to NZ from so we thought we would have a couple of days golfing and shopping before making our way home.  We had only ever transited through the airport here so it was a good chance to check it out.

Originally we weren’t going to hire a car but once we worked out that Houston is huge, the public transport was non existent and it was going to be expensive to get taxis we hired a car.  This worked out really well in the end although it was incredibly daunting driving there – the freeways are huge with ramps going all over the place.  Of course everyone knows where they are going and they all fly along at a swift pace.  Doris our GPS did well although we missed a couple of off ramps due to road works etc…

Steve had found this golf course on the internet called Tour 18 where they have reproduced the most renowned holes in the history of golf.  The course opened in 1992 and along with the same concept in Dallas these were the first replica golf courses in America.  The course’s early years were filled with litigation and seemingly endless rounds of golf.  Before the course even opened, tee times were booked for almost the entire first year.  everyone wanted to play a round including celebrities like OJ Simpson, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn.

Three courses – Pebble Beach, Pinehurst and Harbour Town – sued Tour 18 for replicating their holes, but all the lawsuits brought more publicity for the innovative course.  A US district judge ruled Tour 18 could keep its replica holes as long as the course made it clear they were replicas and that the original courses were not associated with the new one.  The original owners sold the course to Arnold Palmer Golf Management in 1999.  Each hole has a sign with some information about the hole and a disclaimer at the bottom per the judge’s ruling : )

The second hole replicated the sixth hole at Bay Hill Golf Club.  The late Arnold Palmer loved this course so much he purchased it in 1976.  He considered the sixth hole to be the finest hole on the course “it lets you bite off as much as you care to chance” he said.  From the tips it is a 543 yard or 480 metre carry across a lake.  During practice rounds for the Bay Hill Invitational, John daly and Greg Norman used to try and carry the lake and drive the green.  In the 1999 Bay Hill Invitational John Daly carded an 18 on this hole.

The third hole replicated the third hole at Pinehurst Number 2.  This hole is considered by many to be one of the greatest short par four’s in all of golf.  This Donald Ross designed hole will tempt the longer hitters but a more conservative player will lay up with a short iron.  We took the conservative approach and layed up : )

They have also replicated Amen Corner from Augusta on holes five to seven.  This includes the blooming azaleas, cobblestone bridges and a white Masters scoreboard with the latest-played Masters leaders updated on it.

The ninth hole replicates the seventeenth hole at TPC Sawgrass – this is the short par three across the water to an island green.  In the opening round of the 1992 Players Championship, 64 balls were hit into the water.  The stroke average for the day was 3.79, the highest over par ever recorded for a hole on the PGA tour.  John Mahaffey called it the easiest par five on the course.  Golf Magazine’s international panel ranks TPC at Sawgrass among the 100 greatest courses in the world.  The Players Championship is considered the fifth major.  TPC Sawgrass is in Florida and was designed by Pete Dye.

We both hit great tee shots and made pars on this hole.  No donating to the golf gods in the lake : )

The thirteenth hole replicated the fourteenth hole at Pebble Beach in California.  Pebble Beach has hosted four US Opens, four US Amateurs and one PGA Championship.  Jack Nicklaus was the last player to win both the Amateur and the Open on the same course.  According to Nicklaus, the fourteenth hole is possibly the toughest par five ever played in the US Open.

The fourteenth hole replicates the third hole at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania.  This course was established in 1903 and has played host to more major championships than any other course in America.  Seven US Men’s Opens, four US Amateurs, three PGA’s and one Women’s US Open have been played there.  It is known for it’s fairway hazards and the third hole boasts the famous church pew bunkers.

The eighteenth hole replicates the eighteenth hole at Doral’s Blue Monster course in Florida.  It is consistently ranked as one of the toughest top ten finishing holes on the PGA Tour.  Two time Doral winner, Raymond Floyd, describes the hole this way, “It is the toughest par four in the world.  I have made sixes and sevens on it hundreds of times.”

It was a fun course to play and I learnt a lot along the way.

Next stop was the Premium Outlet Mall – another adventure on the Houston freeways!  After a couple of hours Steve had to go an find a mall while I continued to shop up a storm.  We eventually got to our hotel about 7.30pm.

We had dinner at a local pub on one of the nights and we would have to say we have never seen so many well endowed African American women in one place before – not only were they well endowed in the bust department but also in the booty department.  Wow they are some genetics : )

We didn’t fly out until 9.25pm on the Saturday night so Steve spent the morning watching the Ryder Cup while I pottered around.  We then went to one last shopping mall, although the suitcases plus extras were already full!  We dropped the rental car off safely and after nearly three months and about 45 rounds of golf we were ready to come home.

Houston
Houston is the most populous city in Texas and the fourth-most populous city in the United States, located in Southeast Texas near the Gulf of Mexico. With a census-estimated 2014 population of 2.239 million within a land area of 599.6 square miles (1,553 km2), it also is the largest city in the Southern United States.

Houston was founded on August 28, 1836 near the banks of Buffalo Bayou (now known as Allen’s Landing) and incorporated as a city on June 5, 1837. The city was named after former General Sam Houston, who was president of the Republic of Texas and had commanded and won at the Battle of San Jacinto 25 miles (40 km) east of where the city was established. The burgeoning port and railroad industry, combined with oil discovery in 1901, has induced continual surges in the city’s population. In the mid-20th century, Houston became the home of the Texas Medical Center—the world’s largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions—and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where the Mission Control Center is located.

Houston’s economy has a broad industrial base in energy, manufacturing, aeronautics, and transportation. It is also leading in health care sectors and building oilfield equipment; only New York City is home to more Fortune 500 headquarters within its city limits. The Port of Houston ranks first in the United States in international waterborne tonnage handled and second in total cargo tonnage handled.  Nicknamed the “Space City”, Houston is a global city, with strengths in business, international trade, entertainment, culture, media, fashion, science, sports, technology, education, medicine, and research. The city has a population from various ethnic and religious backgrounds and a large and growing international community. Houston is the most diverse city in Texas and has been described as the most diverse in the United States.  It is home to many cultural institutions and exhibits, which attract more than 7 million visitors a year to the Museum District.

 

 

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World Amateur Team Championships (WATC) – Eisenhower Trophy – Mexico

Our main reason for going to Mexico was to watch the New Zealand Men’s Amateur Golf Team compete in the World Amateur Golf Championships or Eisenhower Trophy as we know it in New Zealand.  Our friend Nick Voke was playing in the team alongside Luke Toomey and Ryan Chisnall.  They are great young lads and it is always a pleasure to watch them play and share a bit of banter along the way.

This tournament is a biennial event which was first played in 1958.  The trophy is named for Dwight D. Eisenhower, the President of the United States when the tournament was first played, who was a keen amateur golfer.

The tournament was held from the 21st to the 24th September and played on two different courses along the Riveria Maya coastline on the Carribean.

Mayakoba El Camaleón Golf Club

The Mayakoba course was designed by Greg Norman’s design company and opened in 2006. The only PGA sanctioned event is held here in November each year. Just like the chameleon from which the course takes its name, this Riveria Maya layout winds its way in two large 9 hole loops through an ever changing landscape of thick tropical jungle and mangrove forest, with a number of man made lagoons and canals coming into play on all but three of the holes. There are also a number of subterranean caves (called denotes) incorporated into the course design.

The OHL Classic at Mayakoba is a PGA Tour golf tournament which was played for the first time in the week of February 19–25, 2007. It is the first PGA Tour event to be played in Mexico this century.

From 2007–2012, it was an alternate event played the same week as the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and a counting event for the FedEx Cup, but like other alternate events it only counted for half points. In 2008, the prize fund was US$3.5 million (with a first prize of $630,000), making it the richest golf tournament in Mexico. Fred Funk won the inaugural 2007 event at the age of 50 years, 257 days, making him the oldest player to win a PGA Tour event in 32 years. Graeme McDowall of Northern Ireland won the event in November 2015.

Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club

Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club is a gorgeous course designed by P.B. Dye and was ranked by Golfweek Magazine as top 16 Caribbean & Mexico Courses in 2012. Home of the Canadian Tour and host site of the PGA Tour Monday Qualifier. It was opened in 2005
Playa Paraiso Golf Course characterised by its vertical movement and distinctive natural rockwork making this course a true and one of a kind in the Mexican Riviera Maya.

The Iberostar Paraiso Course was attached to the resort where we stayed which was handy.  The Mayakoba course was about twenty minutes down the coast and the tournament organisers provided free buses to get there and back.

The day I went to Chichen Itza, Steve went and watched the boys play a practice round at Mayakoba.  The daily temperatures were about 30 degrees but the humidity was very high so it didn’t take long before you were dripping with sweat.  Thank goodness for the sea breeze.

The team’s schedule was a late round at Mayakoba on day one, an early round at Iberostar on day two followed by two late rounds at Iberostar and Mayakoba respectively.  The team did really well and finished in a tie for 6th with the USA at 15 under par.  For a more detailed blog about the tournament check out http://www.nickvokegolf.com

Like most resorts on the Riveria Maya the Iberostar was all inclusive of food, drink and various activities.  It was great not having to deal with money for ten days.  There was even a coffee shop, a taco bar and a burger bar which were all included.  There were also 6 speciality restaurants which you had to book for.  We managed to get to the Mexican, Brazilian and Mediterranean ones which were all very nice.  They even had an American diner style restaurant which was fun.


The gym was amazing – it would stand up against a big city gym no problem.  It was incredibly hot though – it was air conditioned and felt cool when you walked in but there were no fans circulating the cool air so you were dripping within minutes.  They say it’s good to sweat but holy moly!

The pools were huge and we were occasionally joined by some creatures of the reptile nature – they were quite at home sunning themselves by the pool as was I but I’m not sure how comfortable I was with them being so close!


There were many Coati roaming around the resort.  They are part of the raccoon family and can grow to the size of a large house cat.  There tails can be just as long as their bodies and they hold them erect with a little curve at the end.  In long vegetation the erect tails are used to keep the troops together. I thought the erect tails looked like a long necked bird so it took me quite a few double takes to get used to them.

Coatis are omnivores; their diet consists mainly of ground litter invertebrates, such as tarantula, and fruit.  They also eat small vertebrate prey, such as lizards, rodents, small birds,, birds’ eggs and crocodile eggs.  The snout, with a formidable sense of smell, assist the skilled paws in a hog-like manner to unearth invertebrates.

The peacocks also strutted around like they owned the resort even taking themselves into the bar on a whim.


We played the Iberostar golf course on the Monday after the tournament.  Unfortunately they cored the back nine greens that day so we could only play the front nine twice.  We have played here before a few years ago.  It was great being able to play the holes that we had just watched the boys play – of course we played off tee boxes much more suited to our abilities!

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Chichén Itzá – Mexico

Last time we visited this area in Mexico I didn’t get a chance to visit Chichén Itzá so this time I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.  It is known as one of the seven wonders of the world.

Chichén Itzá is about a three hour drive from where we are staying so I chose a tour that was leaving early in the morning to beat the crowds and the heat of the day.  I had one of those nights sleep that you have when you are catching an early morning flight – I was awake about 2.20am worrying that I would sleep through the alarm and then when I went back to sleep I had some weird dreams.  All’s well that ends well – I didn’t sleep through the alarm and made my 5.50am pick up.

We got shuttled to a central meeting point before hopping on a bigger bus to head to Chichén Itzá.  Our guide for the day was Marcos who is an archeologist.  He did his masters on Chichén Itzá with a focus on proving that there were many other races and cultures on these lands before they were discovered by the Spanish.  He spoke Spanish and English and switched between the two with ease as there were both English and Spanish speaking people on the bus.  When we got to Chichén Itzá we were split into two groups – English speaking and Spanish speaking so that was good.  Marcos lead the English speaking group so that was great.  He had warned us about how hot it can get there and he wasn’t wrong. It didn’t feel super hot but I was dripping within minutes.  

The stepped pyramids, temples, columned arcades, and other stone structures of Chichén Itzá were sacred to the Maya and a sophisticated urban center of their empire from A.D. 750 to 1200.

 

Marcos described the Mayan people as short with very round heads that sit very close to their shoulders.  There are about 3 million Mayan people in a large number of communities around the Yucatan Peninsula.  He said to have a look around the hotel where we are staying and you will see lots of them – now that he mentioned it, I understood who he was talking about.

Viewed as a whole, the incredible complex reveals much about the Maya and Toltec vision of the universe—which was intimately tied to what was visible in the dark night skies of the Yucatán Peninsula.

The most recognizable structure here is the Temple of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo. This glorious step pyramid demonstrates the accuracy and importance of Maya astronomy—and the heavy influence of the Toltecs, who invaded around 1000 and precipitated a merger of the two cultural traditions.

The temple has 365 steps—one for each day of the year. Each of the temple’s four sides has 91 steps, and the top platform makes the 365th.

Devising a 365-day calendar was just one feat of Maya science. Incredibly, twice a year on the spring and autumn equinoxes, a shadow falls on the pyramid in the shape of a serpent. As the sun sets, this shadowy snake descends the steps to eventually join a stone serpent head at the base of the great staircase up the pyramid’s side.

I got my birthdate translated using the Mayan calander – see below for an explanation as to how it works.  I think I will be trying to figure it out for the rest of my life!

Marcos talked about all these mathematical wonders and also demonstrated the sounds that could be heard by clapping your hands while standing in different positions around the Temple.  It was quite incredible – it sounded distinctly like a bird chirping as it reverberated off all the structures.  One clap caused 7 echoes – the number 7 having some significance I relation to the practice of Reiki which uses 7 prongs to massage the head.  

The Mayan’s worshipped the rattle snake because it shed it’s skin every 260 days symbolising the continuation of life.  Interestingly the Tzolkin calendar described below has 260 days.

The number 9 symbolises Men – multiply anything by the number 9 and then add up the result and it will equal 9.  The number nine represents the sun.

The number 13 represents Women – 365 days in a year divided by 28 days in a women’s cycle equals 13.  The number thirteen represents the moon – there are 13 full moons each year.

The Maya’s astronomical skills were so advanced they could even predict solar eclipses, and an impressive and sophisticated observatory structure remains on the site today.

This great city’s only permanent water source was a series of sinkhole wells. Spanish records report that young female victims were thrown into the largest of these, live, as sacrifices to the Maya rain god thought to live in its depths. Archaeologists have since found their bones, as well as the jewelry and other precious objects they wore in their final hours.

Chichén Itzá’s ball court is the largest known in the Americas, measuring 554 feet (168 meters) long and 231 feet (70 meters) wide. During ritual games here, players tried to hit a 12-pound (5.4-kilogram) rubber ball through stone scoring hoops set high on the court walls. Competition must have been fierce indeed—losers were put to death.

In the ball court, Marcos made one of our group, Andrew, walk down to the other end and when he got to the little stone pillar he was to turn around and measure three steps back towards us and stand there.  Marcos then called his name in a normal tone – he didn’t shout.  Andrew was to raise his hand when he heard his name – on the second go, he raised his hand.  He was standing about 165 metres away so that was quite amazing.  The King used to sit at the end where Andrew was to watch the games – the visitors used to sit where we were.  Apparently this sound travel phenomena only worked one way – the King could hear the visitors but they couldn’t hear him.  Good strategy.

The other thing that Marcos believed was that the winning captain actually got sacrificed not the losing one as the information above says.  He believed it was an honour to die and supported the Mayan’s beliefs about offering sacrifices for the continuation of human life. 

Where the King would sit


Chichén Itzá was more than a religious and ceremonial site. It was also a sophisticated urban center and hub of regional trade. But after centuries of prosperity and absorbing influxes of other cultures like the Toltecs, the city met a mysterious end.

During the 1400s people abandoned Chichén Itzá to the jungle. Though they left behind amazing works of architecture and art, the city’s inhabitants left no known record of why they abandoned their homes. Scientists speculate that droughts, exhausted soils, and royal quests for conquest and treasure may have contributed to Chichén Itzá’s downfall.

Recently this World Heritage site was accorded another honor. In a worldwide vote Chichén Itzá was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

The New Seven Wonders of the World were announced on July 7th, 2007 in Lisbon, Portugal after seven years of publicity and promotion.

* Chichen Itza, Mexico

* The Great Wall, China 

* Petra, Jordan 

* Christ Redeemer, Brazil 

* Machu Picchu, Peru 

* The Roman Collesseum, Italy 

* The Taj Mahal, India

From its abandonment during the 15th century, Chichén Itzá underwent a process of gradual deterioration until the first excavations at the site began more than a century ago. Nevertheless, the excellent materials and building techniques used by the Maya in the construction of the buildings secured that the architectonic, sculptural and pictorial essence of Chichén Itzá would be conserved through the centuries.

Chichén Itzá is protected by the 1972 Federal Law on Monuments and Archaeological, Artistic and Historic Zones and was declared an archaeological monument by a presidential decree in 1986.

The site remains open to the public 365 days of the year, and received a minimum of 3.500 tourists per day, a number which can reach 8.000 daily visitors in the high season. This means that the site needs constant maintenance and attention in order to avoid deterioration of its prehispanic fabric.

Yucatan is the only state in Mexico where two institutions are involved in the management of archaeological sites: the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), which is in charge of the care and conservation of the archaeological site, and the Board of Units of Cultural and Tourism Services of the State of Yucatan.

The Maya Calendar 

The Maya calendar is a system of three interlacing calendars and almanacs which was used by several cultures in Central America, most famously the Maya civilization.

The calendar dates back to at least the 5th century BCE (Before Common Era) and is still in use in a few Mayan communities today.  The Mayan calendar moves in cycles with the last cycle ending in December 2012. This has often been interpreted as the world will end on 21 December 2012, at 11:11 UTC.

Doomsday Prophecies

The last day of the Mayan calendar corresponds with the December Solstice, which has played a significant role in many cultures all over the world.

Not a Maya Invention

The Maya didn’t invent the calendar, it was used by most cultures in pre-Columbian Central America – including the Maya – from around 2000 BCE to the 16th century. The Mayan civilization developed the calendar further and it’s still in use in some Maya communities today.

Wheels Working Together

The Mayan Calendar consists of three separate corresponding calendars, the Long Count, the Tzolkin (divine calendar) and the Haab (civil calendar). Time is cyclical in the calendars and a set number of days must occur before a new cycle can begin.

The three calendars are used simultaneously. The Tzolkin and the Haab identify and name the days, but not the years. The Long Count date comes first, then the Tzolkin date and last the Haab date. A typical Mayan date would read: 13.0.0.0.0 4 Ahau 8 Kumku, where 13.0.0.0.0 is the Long Count date, 4 Ahau is the Tzolkin date and 8 Kumku is the Haab date.

The Haab

The Haab is a 365 day solar calendar which is divided into 18 months of 20 days each and one month which is only 5 days long (Uayeb). The calendar has an outer ring of Mayan glyphs (pictures) which represent each of the 19 months. Each day is represented by a number in the month followed by the name of the month. Each glyph represents a personality associated with the month.

The Haab is somewhat inaccurate as it is exactly 365 days long. An actual tropical or solar year is 365.2422 days long. In today’s Gregorian calendar we adjust for this discrepancy by making almost every fourth year a leap year by adding an extra day – a leap day – on the 29th of February.

The Tzolkin

The divine calendar is also known as the Sacred Round or the Tzolkin which means “the distribution of the days”. It is a 260-day calendar, with 20 periods of 13 days used to determine the time of religious and ceremonial events. Each day is numbered from one to thirteen, and then repeated. The day is also given a name (glyph) from a sequence of 20 day names. The calendar repeats itself after each cycle.

The Long Count

The Long Count is an astronomical calendar which was used to track longer periods of time, what the Maya called the “universal cycle”. Each such cycle is calculated to be 2,880,000 days (about 7885 solar years). The Mayans believed that the universe is destroyed and then recreated at the start of each universal cycle. This belief still inspires a myriad of prophesies about the end of the world.

The “creation date” for the current cycle we are in today, is 4 Ahaw, 8 Kumku. According to the most common conversion, this date is equivalent to August 11, 3114 BCE in the Gregorian calendar or September 6 in the Julian calendar.

How to Set the Date

A date in the Maya calendar is specified by its position in both the Tzolkin and the Haab calendars which aligns the Sacred Round with the Vague Year creating the joint cycle called the Calendar Round, represented by two wheels rotating in different directions. The Calendar round cycle takes approximately 52 years to complete.

The smallest wheel consists of 260 teeth with each one having the name of the days of the Tzolkin. The larger wheel consists of 365 teeth and has the name of each of the positions of the Haab year. As both wheels rotate, the name of the Tzolkin day corresponds to each Haab position.

The date is identified by counting the number of days from the “creation date”.

A typical long count date has the following format: Baktun.Katun.Tun.Uinal.Kin.

Kin = 1 Day.

Uinal = 20 kin = 20 days.

Tun = 18 uinal = 360 days.

Katun = 20 tun = 360 uinal = 7,200 days.

Baktun = 20 katun = 400 tun = 7,200 uinal = 144,000 days.

The kin, tun and katun are numbered from zero to 19; the uinal are numbered from zero to 17; and the baktun are numbered from one to 13. The Long Count has a cycle of 13 baktuns, which will be completed 1.872.000 days (13 baktuns) after 0.0.0.0.0. This period equals 5125.36 years and is referred to as the “Great Cycle” of the Long Count.

End of the World?

Will the world will end on 21 December 2012, at 11:11 UTC?

The Mayan calendar completes its current “Great Cycle” of the Long Count on the 13th baktun, on 13.0.0.0.0. Using the most common conversion to our modern calendar (the Gregorian calendar) the end of the “Great Cycle” corresponds to 11:11 Universal Time (UTC), December 21, 2012, hence the myriad of doomsday prophecies surrounding this date.

Mayan Culture Today

The Maya kept historical records such as civil events and their calendric and astronomical knowledge. They maintain a distinctive set of traditions and beliefs due to the combination of pre-Columbian and post-Conquest ideas and cultures. The Maya and their descendants still form sizable populations that include regions encompassing present day Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico.

The Platform of Venus – this is a square shaped platform with steps on all four sides, each with balustrades ending in serpent heads, and whose bodies are represented in the upper section as being plumed and sinuous in form, and combined with fish figures.  Mythical creatures, (a combination of jaguar, eagle, serpent and human forms), adorn the center of the side panels.  In each corner, there are glyphs associated with the planet Venus.  Owing to its position within the plaza, it was probably used for ceremonial purposes.

Tzompantli is called The Wall of Skulls, which is actually an Aztec name for this kind of structure, because the first one seen by the horrified Spanish was at the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan.  The Tzompantli structure at Chichen Itza is very interesting Toltec structure, where the heads of sacrificial victims were placed; although it was one of three platforms in the Great Plaza, it was according to Bishop Landa, the only one for this purpose the others were for farces and comedies, showing the Itza’s were all about fun.  The platform walls of the Tzompantli have carved beautiful reliefs of four different subjects. The primary subject is the skull rack itself; others show a scene with a human sacrifice; eagles eating all human hearts; and skeletonized warriors with arrows and shields.

The Temple of the Warriors complex consists of a large stepped pyramid fronted and flanked by rows of carved columns depicting warriors. This complex is analogous to Temple B at the Toltec capital of Tula, and indicates some form of cultural contact between the two regions. The one at Chichen Itza, however, was constructed on a larger scale. At the top of the stairway on the pyramid’s summit (and leading towards the entrance of the pyramid’s temple) is a Chac Mool.  


A Chac Mool is the term used to refer to a particular form of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican sculpture depicting a reclining figure with its head facing 90 degrees from the front, supporting itself on its elbows and supporting a bowl or a disk upon its stomach.

Along the south wall of the Temple of Warriors are a series of what are today exposed columns, although when the city was inhabited these would have supported an extensive roof system where they would have held a market for trading various goods.

The Temple of the Jaguars is attached to the Great Ball Court

   

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