Friday, November 20, 2009

Tramping in the Tararuas

The other weekend I was fortunate enough to spend three days tramping in the Tararuas, to the north of Wellington, with my friend Noam and his fiancee Rachel. We did the "Jumbo circuit", which starts near Masterton, following a loop from the valley floor up to the summit of Mt Holdsworth and back down again through the bush. It's actually possible to do the whole circuit in one exhausting day, but we did it in a relaxed fashion over three days, spending most of the time wandering up along the ridges.

Here are some photos. Most are courtesy of Noam, and are superior in both technique and technology to the couple from my camera. Click to enlarge to full size.

Patches of snow still lingered on some of the ridges amidst the wind battered tussock.

The green folds of the Wairarapa plain look idyllic in the later afternoon haze when viewed from above. Great photography from Noam.

This is a kind of lookout point at around 1,350 metres above sea level, about halfway between Powell Hut and the summit of Mt Holdsworth.
Noam arrives at the lookout point, with the south Wairarapa plains in the background.
The action and effects of the wind can be seen in this photo of Noam's.

Mountain tarns on the ridgeline on the way out to Angle Knob, from where we could see both the Pacific and the Tasman.

These mountain flowers (native daisies?) have an amazing plastic-like appearance that makes them appear almost artificial.

In the centre of the photo, people walking along the ridgeline down from the summit of Mt Holdsworth give an idea of the scale of the landscape.

Reaching the summit of Mt Holdsworth at 1,470 metres with the lower hills and the Wairarapa plain spread out behind.

Serried ranges of hills unfold westward towards the sun in this view from Angle Knob, around an hour's walk along the ridgeline from Jumbo Crossing. The faintest hill in the distance is Kapiti Island, and the adjoining blue is the sea.

And In a Calmer Moment

OK, some analysis in a calmer moment now. The game was a thrilling rollercoaster of emotion. It wasn't until Bahrain were awarded a penalty early in the second half that I realised how much the crazy hope that we might do it after all had taken hold of me. At that moment it all drained away, and I was making a monumental effort to achieve Zen-like calm, telling myself that at least it had been a great occasion and we'd been competitive. Then Mark Paston saved, and I was leaping all over the place again.

Technically, it wasn't great football, but tightly-contested World Cup ties often aren't. There was about as much hoofing the ball up the field as you'd see in a Six Nations rugby match, but you couldn't fault the commitment or the tension.

There were several outstanding performances from New Zealand players. Goalkeeper Paston was of course everybody's hero for his penalty save and a generally assured performance. Just to catch the final flicked-on header of the game from a long Bahraini free kick without the collective quivering nerves of 35,000 people causing him to drop it was an achievement in itself.

Ryan Nelsen was, as they say, "immense" at the heart of the defense, making numerous intercepts and haranguing his fellow defenders when they wandered out of position. Leo Bertos somehow managed to make Ricki Herbert's structure look reasonable by haring up and down the field to both make attacking thrusts from midfield and also cover off the right side of defense. Chris Killen had a couple of dangerous shots, held up the ball well, and ran all over the place, pressuring the Bahrain defence into mistakes.

Rory Fallon of course scored with a bullet-like header, but looked a bit off the pace in general play. After a quiet first half, Shane Smeltz did some very nice things in the second, but he remains an enigma in front of goal -- by my count he failed to convert at least four reasonable opportunities to score.

Commentary in the Monday papers gave Ricki Herbert the benefit of the doubt: the win showed his tactics had been a gamble that paid off, they said. I'm still not sure we wouldn't have been better off playing a more traditional structure. The defense and the midfield got in each other's way at times, and it was unclear if there was an actual plan in attack. What helped was that the much colder conditions meant New Zealand could chase the ball round, playing an English-style pressing game (Greece 2004 occasionally sprang to mind). They also had a physical advantage, and the Bahrainis were intimidated enough to not even try to fire in first-time balls from corners and free kicks -- something I thought was a surprising concession.

You had to feel a little sorry for Bahrain. They were clearly the more skilful team, and played a lot of neat passess and touches. Whenever they went down the right side they looked extremely dangerous. But after the missed penalty they visibly dropped, and by the end of the game seemed to be panicking. Their defence lost its shape, and had New Zealand been a more ruthless team, they could easily have won 3-0. The Bahrain players' tendency to topple over at the merest hint that someone had touched them won the ire of the crowd. On the other hand, the had the New Zealanders' timing been slightly poorer with some of their challenges -- at least a couple of them two-footed -- we could have been in big trouble.

Apologies for all the posts on football -- there are still a couple more to come, as I make early predictions for next year's World Cup and look at who it would be good for New Zealand to play. Then it will be back to tales from South America and thoughts on development.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Zealand Qualifies for South Africa 2010

I still don't really disagree with any of what I wrote in the last couple of posts, but right now I'm about as ecstatic as only a football fan whose team has just made it to the World Cup can be. I don't think I've whooped that much since I was a teenager.