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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

05 June 2004

RTW 04: New Zealand

New Zealand (Queenstown, Auckland) 27/05/04 – 05/06/04

It isn't hard to see why this is the place the people behind the Lord of the Rings films chose as their setting. It is like England, but with all the urban development brushed aside. If I was to live anywhere in the world other than the UK, then my top choices would be either here or Canada.

Most of our time was spent in Queenstown, which is best known for extreme sports, none of which we tried. Our experience was considerably more sedate, going for walks around the town, a day trip to Milford Sound and an organised Lord of the Rings tour. A significant chunk of it was somewhat tangential to the films, with places that sort of looked like bits of the film.

That included a few of the more sylvan sites (Lothlorien, Amon Hen, and the place where they run away from orcs), but only from a distance, as they were off-limits private land. We also saw Isengard, or more specifically, the background to Isengard. In the film, Isengard itself was a computer generated image slapped on in the studio. However, it was worth the money for the beautiful scenery, and informative guide.

As it turned out, we went on our own tour to a genuine Lord of the Rings location, just outside Queenstown, called Deer Park Heights. For some reason, a black dog followed us the whole way there. Deer Park Heights itself is an animal park, reminiscent of the petting zoos over in the UK, but wound around a large hill. Inside, you can see horses, sheep, kune kune pigs and ostriches. At the top of the hill, there is a random Korean prison (a leftover film set), and the aforementioned Lord of the Rings location.

In the distance, you can see the Remarkables, a mountain range. There is also a small body of water, which in the films is passed by the refugees from Rohan on their way to Helm's Deep. You can also see the rocky outcropping, where a worg jumps out to attack (unfortunately our camera ran out of battery at that point, so we didn't get a picture).

We also briefly had a look around Auckland, but mainly just a few bars, along with the Rangitoto volcanic island off the coast. It was in Auckland that strengthened my impression of New Zealand as more 'British' than Australia, in the same way that Canada feels more 'British' than the USA. That was partly the architecture, but also the people, who seemed less loud and in your face.

Muay Thai

The first thing I saw when I stepped off the bus in Queenstown was a poster proclaiming 'Return of the Kings - New Zealand K-1', which sounded rather promising for a martial arts fan like myself. It was to take place at an events centre a short bus ride away. There weren't any big names present (though there was an exhibition by some random Japanese bodybuilder, for some reason), but I was still looking forward to it. At least this time no large thais would be turning me away - though I did wonder if perhaps there would be a big Maori instead.

As it turned out, the K-1 title was a little misleading. It wasn't a K-1 tournament: there were just two K-1 fighters in it right at the end. First, Andrew Peck (who looks to have a decent record in K-1) then Hiriwa Te Rangi (not so easy to find anything about - one loss in MMA to Chris Haseman is all I found on him).

Anyway, onto my enthralling fight report. The night started off with a bunch of athletic looking girls and one bloke in tank tops and loose trousers standing in a line in the middle of the ring, which I presumed meant they would leap into awesome kung-fu action once the clock hit 7pm, which was the scheduled start time. It got to 7 and...they did a boring dance routine. One woman twirled a stick, raising my hopes slightly...then dropped it. And got out some bits of cloth to spin about.

After that rather poor opening, the fights got underway, and it wasn't a bad start. The taller guy flew straight at his opponent, laying him out three times in the first round, winning by TKO. The techniques were less crisp and a lot slower than I'd seen in Bangkok, but there was a considerable size difference, and I wasn't really expecting the skill level to be as high as it had been in Thailand. They also didn't seem quite so hardcore, with the second fight ending when one fighter gave up after apparently just being punched on the jaw - must have been something more serious (maybe a cut?), but from my cheap floor seat, looked pretty innocuous. Also, the ref actually called 'break', which I didn't see once in Thailand!

Plenty of Maoris were featured throughout, producing some of the best action of the night, as most of them were big, powerful, aggressive fighters. Also, there was a female fight, which was slightly marred by the unfortunately less than discerning crowd who outright laughed at points, but the fighters themselves put on a good show. The local girl in the blue corner was particularly impressive, with potent front kicks and total dominance of the clinch, proving a worthy winner on points.

On a more random note, there was a bizarre 'celebrity' fight, featuring four blokes, one dressed as Elvis, and tag team rules. However, it did appear that at least two of them knew how to fight, although any pretence of real competition disappeared in the third round when they all piled in, then started doing pro-wrestling style body slams and bouncing off the ropes either end. Even more bizarre was the aforementioned body-building demo by a Japanese guy - Hiro something - to the sound of 'The Final Countdown'.

Still, the ladies in the crowd seemed to like it, and he gave a few of them a close up demonstration. Although at this point, I wouldn't have cared if a boxing kangeroo got on stage, as I was annoyed at missing my $4 bus, meaning (so I thought) a $20 taxi. Turned out that I managed to get a $5 taxi, but didn't know that at the time.

There were also two title fights, firstly for the 'Super Middleweight South Island Championship', and then the main event, the two K-1 fighters going for the 'WMC (WMBC? Something like that) Super Heavyweight'. The smaller guys were infinitely better, with the advantage switching rapidly throughout the five round match, and both fighters receiving several standing counts.

The big guys failed to impress, though Te Rangi go in a beautiful spinning backfist and Peck responded with some nicely executed headkicks, but they spent most of the match sizing each other up and backing off. By the fifth round, they were literally lolling about on the ropes (especially Te Rangi), and neither seemed at all interested in the supposedly prestigious title they were fighting for.

Other interesting parts were a couple of guys who did the full muay thai thing, wai kru, head thingy, music etc, and a bloke who looked karate-like, throwing a load of spinning hooks etc against a much tougher looking thai boxer, but still winning (though to be fair his opponent was incredibly slow and seemed to only have one move, a knee).

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