LG... Life's Good
What a place! Think Lake Tahoe... But even better. Ten times better! Queenstown, New Zealand is the Southern Hemisphere's best kept secret. OK, it may not be a secret, but is definitely the most underrated holiday destination in the world. Many of my friends had told me in the past that it's awesome but they were all snowboarding junkies so I assumed it wouldn't have been as awesome for me being the sun-chaser that I am: I've never picked up a ski or snowboard in my life. Boy, oh boy, was I wrong! I've never seen such a stunning view. Ever. This is my view as I write this very blog enjoying a coffee at a little cafe Patagonia (with free, unrestricted wifi - rare here) before work. Jealous??
All the reasons why I love this place have been jam-packed into the following four minutes. If you've never been here before, do yourself a favour...
Filling out my customs arrival card when landing back in Australia two days ago was so bizarre. I said that I boarded that plane in Argentina, yet spent most of my time in New Zealand. What a strange route. Welcome to the strange life that I love! I’ve been from what feels like opposite sides of the world, from New Zealand to Argentina in just two weeks, and what a whirlwind it was.
Auckland, New Zealand
Despite feeling like I’m just next door to my home town in Melbourne, Australia, I find that Auckland has an extremely relaxed, peaceful atmosphere that’s so refreshing compared to the busy city lifestyle in Melbourne. I mentioned in my recent guide to Auckland that this is home to some of the friendliest people on earth, and it’s no lie. Despite the Maori looking like some of the scariest people (see The Haka, and even the champion Brotha D in the Wrap Up video), as soon as they open their mouths, you almost just want to give them a giant hug! Here is a video we made when we first arrived. I must say, it was hard work putting it together with every line taken from a different place across the city, so I’m pretty proud of it.
The APPT Main Event was short and sweet, with only one Day 1, which means we had a champion in just four days. It was a pretty entertaining four days, with Team PokerStars Pro Tony Hachem attempting the Haka and Daniel Neilson and Andrew Hinrichsen jumping off the Sky Tower. To top off a fantastic week, we saw the Main Event dwindle down to heads-up play between two extremely deserving people. Everyone was torn between Brotha D, the lovable and well-known Godfather of New Zealand Hip Hop, and Australian poker-scene regular Tom Grigg. It was quite the epic heads-up battle lasting more than four hours, and it was Brotha D who eventually triumphed, with Grigg being gracious about it. You can see all of this and more crammed into the following four minutes.
It was quite the ride getting to the LAPT Grand Final. After the long-haul flight from Down Under, throw in an expected three-hour drive from Buenos Aires that took twice as long because of a strike with a driver that couldn’t speak a word of English, and boy was I happy to finally arrive in Rosario and go straight to bed! Of course, it was all totally worth it. What a fantastic place Rosario is. We had a couple of days to wander the streets, and our hotel was just walking distance from the main strip, Cordoba, so there was plenty of sightseeing and shopping to be done. It was unbelievable how cheap everything is. From $60 shoes to $4 bottles of amazing local wine over dinner – we were loving life over there.
That video was made with ease thanks to our luck in finding a cab driver who just happened to live between Rosario and Las Vegas. Jackpot! An English-speaking cab driver is a rare find, so we kept him with us for about an hour to give us our own little guided-tour to catch all the sights.
I resurrected Calling the Clock after it sat off the shelf for quite some time. The first victim was Tennis Pro Gaston Gaudio, but then my highlight was on our very own PokerNews hostess Kristy Arnett with thanks to the help of the entire PokerNews team.
Throughout the LAPT Main Event, we had so much fun, as always. The Welcome Party that PokerStars threw at the City Center Casino was fantastic, with the band making use of the most bizarre things, such as plastic bags, as instruments, and cannons firing out PokerStars-themed confetti to send off Season 3 with a literal bang. We saw some of the most amazing looking women wandering around the poker room, and I met some of the most generous and lovely people. A third of the final table were local, and amazingly, in the back-to-back fashion that has existed on the LAPT, with Team PokerStars Pro Nacho Barbero winning two Main Event titles, and Team PokerStars Pro Christian De Leon winning back-to-back Second Chance side events, the LAPT Florianopolis Champion Matthias Habernig made his way to this Main Event final table. He didn’t take it down, but what an amazing achievement for him after starting off in Brazil as an unknown Austrian qualifier. The title eventually went to Peruvian Martin Sansour whom you can meet in the following wrap-up video, once again rolling our days of nonstop laughs and poker into just three minutes.
Another highlight while in Rosario, was when Kristy took the PokerNews cameras to the hotel to film a Sunday Grind with player manager Dan Frank and Team PokerStars Pros Victor Ramdin and Gualter Salles. I guess you could say Salles suffered a bad beat only seconds before our arrival, as his laptop screen was shattered when we got there. You’ll have to wait for that video to come out soon!
Auckland, known as the “youngest city in the world,” is the largest city in New Zealand, with 1.3 million people calling it home. It is one of only a few cities that sits on the shores of two major oceans and is dotted with extinct volcanoes. New Zealand, despite being comparable in size to Great Britain or Japan, has a population of only four million – one of the world’s least-crowded countries – making it a sanctuary for those seeking peace and relaxation, or, on the flip side, a playground for a thrill-seeking adventure. Throw in some of the friendliest people on earth, and one of the most elite poker tournaments in the Southern Hemisphere, and you have yourself one hell of a vacation destination.
- Language: English, but Maori is the native lingo
- Currency: New Zealand Dollar
- International Dialing Code: +64
- Weather: Cold!
Getting There and Around
If you’re coming from the US, you’ve got at least 12 hours of flying to do. Air New Zealand is your best, and by far the cheapest option. Don’t be fooled by the cheap fares – I’ve spent a lot of hours in the sky over the years, and they’re definitely up there as one of my preferred international airlines.
The airport is about a 30-minute drive from SKYCITY Auckland, the PokerStars.net Asia Pacific Poker Tour Auckland host casino, costing roughly NZ$70 for a taxi. The venue is so well located, only minutes away from the harbor, that most places to see are within walking distance. If you’re not interested in braving the cold, then a short taxi ride won’t cost much.
Auckland has also been labeled the “City of Sails,” with more boats per capita than any other city in the world. Eat your heart out Monaco. So with the mass of small islands and volcanic fields surrounding the city, why not jump on a yacht to get around for the day?
Here's a tour of the city we did last year straight from the airport.
I can’t say I enjoy having my accent mistaken for that of a New Zealander. I’m not denying that Aussies sound a little strange at times, but the New Zealand accent has a particular twang that just makes everyone laugh, that is, if it’s not attached to a Māori, as they’re the only people it suits. Aussies love to make fun of the Kiwi accent, so much in fact that a YouTube video known as “Beached As” went crazily viral, and I just had to put together a little remake last year.
You don’t need to travel far when seeking adventure in Auckland. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the SKYCITY building since directly above it is the Sky Tower, offering a 200 meter jump for a creative way to de-tilt on dinner break.
If you have time for a day trip, take a short ferry ride across to the stunning island of Waiheke, that is home to 92 kilometers of stunning beaches, vineyards, and seaside villages. Taking a few happy-snaps is the most you’ll get out of the beaches at this chilly time of year, but with over 30 vineyards to visit, you could make quite a boozy afternoon out of the trip. My favorite wines are produced in New Zealand, so I can’t leave without trying some direct from the vineyard. If you just want the fun and none of the responsibility of finding your way around, then taking a tour such as Wine on Waiheke is just what you need.
New Zealand is most famous for its extreme sports and fantastic ski seasons, so during these winter months the mountains are full of tourists seeking their share of fun in the snow. If you do have more than a day free to venture out to the slopes, then Queenstown on the South Island is the best place to go. If you don’t want to travel too far, head somewhere such as Mt. Ruapehu, the North Island’s premier skiing destination. It’s an active volcano (yep…) situated halfway between Auckland and Wellington, about a four-hour drive from Auckland city.
If you’ve ever seen the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team, then you’ve witnessed the extremely intimidating Haka and will 100 percent click on the below video to amuse yourself again. If you haven’t heard of it, do yourself a favor. It’s a traditional Māori dance to acknowledge achievements or to give a warm welcome, but I wouldn’t want to be faced with this kind of hello in a dark alley.
I can't wait to head to Auckland once again for the PokerStars.net Asia Pacific Poker Tour's fourth season. If you're not lucky enough to join us yourself, then you can catch all the live updates and videos right here on PokerNews.