Curling sticks at the ready

By Michael McHugh

Michael McHugh heads into the cold of Central Otago to visit the triumphant winners of the National Bonspiel.

There’s no doubt Central Otago in the dead of winter is cold, real cold. Driving through the Maniototo on the way to the National Bonspiel (a curling tournament for the uninitiated) it felt as though we were in a black and white photograph as our gray car blending into the spectacular frozen landscape. Through the small breaks in fog we caught glimpses of field after field of solid white, like a freezer compartment.

The roads were icy and traffic drove gingerly up and over the hilly region. Once reaching the Idaburn Dam in Oturehua in Central Otago we could barely make out the teams of people gathered for the National Bonspiel. We could hear muffled voices, but it was only once we got much closer to the ice could we see the teams in brightly coloured home knitted hats and jerseys.

These curlers were focused and despite the thick fog the event attracted more than 260 participants, coming from away as far as Auckland. 
As I slid across the ice in my new rubber soled ugg boots, I realized the teams actually went on and on for what seem like miles. By now the cold, and many years of living in a city with fairly temperate weather, prompted a retreat to the warmth of the car and slow trip back to Cromwell. But I was enthralled by what we’d seen, and I resolved to return the following day. I am so pleased I did. 

The next day the weather had cleared and it was quite a different experience. The teams were precisely lined up beside side each other with tables of beer and refreshments often at the end of each run.

Broom sticks and other equipment lay at the edge of each run, and children holding onto chairs glided around the ice watching and listening to cheers from the winning teams. 

The 115-year-old The Alpine Curling Club, from nearby St Bathans, were the proud recipients of the Snuff Box trophy after winning their first National Bonspiel.  A perfect eight wins from their eight games. 

As I returned to Alexandra to go ice-skating it hit me again what a wonderful place the South Island of New Zealand is, even in the cold.


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