There are all kinds of lists of the best things to do in New Zealand. You can find them in travel books and all over the Internet. What is interesting, though, is the one thing you don’t find on most of those lists is the one thing you should do: Go to a rugby match. You can see New Zealand without going to a rugby match, but I am not sure you can understand New Zealand without going to a rugby match.
Rugby is the national sport. It may be the national religion. And the All Blacks are the national team. If you want to really see a haka, see the one the All Blacks do before every match. In fact, the All Blacks haka may be a good symbol of New Zealand society today. Originally, the haka was a traditional Maori war cry, dance or challenge. But when the All Blacks do a haka, they all do it, Maori, Pakeha, Pacific Islanders, everybody. They’re all one.
Even if the All Blacks aren’t playing, there should be some kind of rugby to see, whether it be Super 15 or some local match. (Super 15 is an international rugby league with five teams each from New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.)
We were lucky enough to be able to go to a Super 15 match in Christchurch. The Crusaders (formerly the Canterbury Crusaders) were playing the Stormers (from South Africa). Because of the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, the Crusaders play in a temporary stadium, but it didn’t matter.
The Crusaders are a traditional powerhouse in Super 15 rugby, and they put on a good show. Before the game, the Crusader rode around the field on his horse. Then the Maidens came out. Finally, six horsemen, with white crosses on red capes, rode around the field. It was impressive. Also, during the game, five or six gas jets would shoot up flames whenever the Crusaders scored.
I would make one comment, though. At the game we went to (in March of last year), the fans seemed a little hesitant. Maybe it was because the Crusaders, who were expected to contend for the championship1, had lost their first two matches of the season, and the fans were worried. I don’t know, but I found it a little surprising. The fans cheered when the Crusaders scored or made a good play, but they didn’t cheer to get the Crusaders to do something good. They reacted to good plays; they didn’t cheer to get them to happen.
In any case, when you are in New Zealand, go to a rugby match. You won’t be sorry.
1 The Crusaders did wind up playing for the championship, losing to the Waratahs (from Sydney) 33 to 32.