In just 6.93 seconds on a sunny afternoon at the Cambridge Raceway my dreams of a rags-to-riches story come to a panting, puffed out end. I am not in the money, though I don’t yet realize this. For now, and for all I know, I still have a very real chance of cleaning up. I clutch my ticket, anxiously awaiting the results.

Horses are everywhere in Cambridge, their popularity inescapable, being trumpeted before you even arrive. As you trundle along the tree-lined straight of SH1 from Hamilton, signs offering the breeding services of champion studs sprout from the greenery. An easy right and you’re on Victoria Street, Cambridge’s main drag, driving past its charming Victorian Town Hall where, frozen in brass, a life-size mare watches over her sleeping foal. A quick stroll to the rather good – though unimaginatively named – Cambridge Bakery reveals mosaics of past champions embroidered into the brickwork of
the footpath.

Today, though, I’m not here for a flutter on the fillies. Instead, I’m having a punt on the sport’s scrappy little cousin – the greyhounds.jump page

These dogs – or, more accurately, dog-shaped bullets – hoof around the track at blistering speed, the pack powering past in a barely perceptible blur. They’re so fast that, for a novice such as myself, the races border on incomprehensible. It may be all over in less than seven seconds, but I have to wait for the announcer to recite the names of the winners five seconds later to determine whether I’m now wealthy or not. I am not.

My dog picks may not have been on the money, but my spur of the moment decision to spend a couple of hours at the track certainly was. On the vast veranda of The Clubhouse, the track’s bar, restaurant and betting office, the vibe’s relaxed. Couples of all ages sit at tables wrestling with impressively-sized burgers while they enjoy a drink, kids run around on the ample grass areas, and a handful of people keep an eye on the track. It’s all very casual.

Inside is where the serious punters are. They are mainly men and are doing either one of two things: deciphering grids of puzzling numbers posted on the wall or staring intently at television sets broadcasting the action taking place behind their very backs. It’s a quick and easy decision to take my pint outside.

“Who do you fancy out there, mate?”, a cigarillo chomping gent asks once I’m settled in at a table.“The safe money’s on Pint Star,” I reply, with self-assured false confidence. Answering with no more than a good humoured grunt, he turns his attention back to the track. To his credit he says nothing when the announcer neglects to mention Pint Star’s name amongst the winners. Turns out luck hadn’t smiled on the family at the next table over either. With a mouth full of chips and a tomato sauce stained face, a small boy asks, “Dad, why didn’t your dog win?”. The boy’s father replies: “He didn’t run fast enough,” and leaves it at that.

Around the lake at Te Ko Utu park, which is just down the road from the raceway, there’s also a lot of activity. People tootle past on bikes, play fetch with dogs and find themselves surrounded by bread-hungry ducks eager to take advantage of their generosity. “Looking at your dinner, mate?”, an old fella chuckles, as I watch a small gaggle of ducks mucking about by the water’s edge.

I don’t quite know what to say to that. So I leave.

It’s drizzling when I arrive in Rotorua, the half-hearted rain doing its darndest to keep a weary sun from peeking out. As I’m not in the tourism capital of the North Island for any extreme, outdoorsy-type adventures, I’m not really too bothered, though it does put a dampener on the outdoor night market that has set up shop in Tutanekai Street. It’s encouraging to see a drop of rain hasn’t scared anyone off, as locals and visitors alike dash from stall to stall, checking out the various food, trinkets and wares on offer. It’s wet, but not cold as small groups huddle together under the awnings of nearby shops, eating kai out of styrofoam bowls, while a local muso performs lite reggae from the dry of a tent.

It may be drab and grey outside but inside, at Rotorua’s historic Blue Baths swimming pools, it’s an explosion of colour and sound as the performers of 1958 - The Musical hit the stage. I’d spotted a bright yellow flyer advertising the show earlier in the day and had decided to check it out.

I arrive early and order one of the specially-themed cocktails the house has concocted to complement the show’s run. This is delivered a few minutes later via a roller-skating waitress dressed in full 1950s garb and is a shockingly bright shade of pink. I try my best to sip it manfully but, with this particular hue, that’s not possible. As the waitress expertly sashays around the art deco foyer, I’m amazed to learn she’s only just learnt how to roller-skate. “I started last week,” she laughs. “I really wanted to look
the part.”

The musical, which was written specifically for the venue, is great fun, featuring an abundance of 1950s classics, great comedic performances and some impressive choreography. I’m glad I chanced heading along.

The next day the sun is back on full beam, so I decide to hit the beach. Mt Maunganui is just over an hour away, so I load up the Ford Mondeo Titanium I’ve been loaned and hit the road. It’s an easy drive and I soon find myself on golden sands.

It’s a weekday, but you really couldn’t tell as the beach is bristling with activity. The water’s full of swimmers splashing about and, a little further along, surfers riding the waves. I briefly think about scaling the mountain that gives the town its name, but it’s far too hot for that and opt instead to explore the baby mountain that sits opposite, dividing the pristine blue waters of the beach.

Here and there small trails dart off into the unknown. Curiosity sees me traipsing down many of these paths. One leads to a pocket of fishermen, lines out and relaxed, another to a couple of lads clambering quickly up and out of sight over the rocks, while another leads to a couple of teens, paused hesitatingly on the cliff verge and in serious discussion. One creeps closer to the edge, peers over cautiously, before carefully edging back. She swings her arms theatrically and then leaps off. She plunges into the water below with an almighty splash and an even bigger grin. Her friend jumps a few seconds later.

Later in the evening I’m down to meet friends for a barbecue in Tauranga, so that afternoon I shoot across. It's only a short 15 minute blat away so I arrive earlier than anticipated.

Moseying along the harbour’s boardwalk sees me working up a thirst, so I pop into a bar with seaside views. I find a table outside just as the gentle swing of ‘Putting on the Ritz’ starts up. I'm soon nodding along with the music. Not to the beat or melody, but rather to Fred Astaire’s crooning assertion that, “You’ll declare it’s simply topping to be there”. Right now, with the shade of an umbrella keeping the beating sun from burning me up, happily supping away on my drink, I couldn’t agree more.

Reported by Karl Puschmann for our AA Directions Winter 2019 issue

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