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Extra Virgin -  December 2011

Totally blown away

FeatureJudging by the generosity of MasterCard, Absa and Virgin Money in the lead up to the World Cup Rugby I had high expectations as I thought if this was how incredible the journey had been so far can you imagine the spread that would be put out for us on the journey. Well as predicted I was totally blown away!

From our arrival at the airport till our last day we were looked after and spoilt. I judge a great holiday on company, scenery, entertainment and meals and I can honestly say that this experience tipped the scales in every area.

From the moment we landed we were escorted in luxury to wherever we needed to go by knowledgeable locals. They were on hand to assist, advise and educate us on all aspects of New Zealand. We were also in the company of other prize winners and we formed fast friendships that I have no doubt will continue for months and years ahead.

When it came to scenery, clearly our hosts place importance on that too when treating their guests, because they took us to the top attractions in Auckland to see scenery that gave you a great understanding of New Zealand.

Standing on the edge of the cliffs at Waitakere was great and I could have done with a deck chair and a beer and another few hours there but then I would have missed the awesome views from the summit of Mount Eden. I thought that this panoramic view of Auckland could not be beaten until we were treated to a four course meal on top of the Auckland Sky Tower. Therefore when it came to scenery they convincingly exceeded all expectations.

In terms of the meals, I have been fortunate in my lifetime, as a hotel and restaurant critic, to dine at some of the best that South-Africa and Europe have to offer. It would be expected that out of all the generous meals that were included that we would at least find one or two that never hit the mark. In this area I am hard to please as I am a fussy eater and yet again not only did we eat great meals all the time accompanied by great wines to compliment the meal but I experienced tastes and foods that in my life time I could  never afford. Imagine it if you can truffle oil and wasabi caviar on top of the best John Dorry I have ever tasted. A succulent rump steak cooked solely in fat in a secret basting left me craving it again for days after. A scallop and crab soup from the highest point in New-Zealand rated as another top dish for me. The one restaurant saw our meal being cooked by a chef that features often on the SKY cooking channels. New Zealand also compares favourably to South-Africa when it comes to top notch red wines and we never missed an opportunity there either. My friends and family cannot believe how many pictures I have returned with just on the food I ate, the hard part now is when I dine out in South-Africa to equal that standard I will need another Virgin Money MasterCard.

Finally on the entertainment side our hosts fell short in one specific area, they could not secure us an SA v All Blacks semi-final. I suppose experiencing the hospitality I had come to expect great things from these companies and I was disappointed that my team was not there to play in the Semi’s. However I proudly adopted the All-Blacks as my second team and they never let me down from the get go. Our experience started with a guided VIP tour of the stadium the day before the first semi-finals. Not only did we go to the changing rooms or to the VIP area but we also got to walk through the player’s tunnel onto the side of the field. So what could be better then going to the semi-finals, bronze finals and finals? The seats of course! Category A tickets might not mean a lot to a non sport mad individual but if you mention that you are sitting on the half way line and the players are just a stones throw away then it gives you a realistic idea on just how awesome our seats were. The atmosphere was always electric and the buzz started from an hour before the game and carried through to the end of the match and for some time afterwards. For me a bucket list moment in life was to one day see the All Blacks doing the Haka live on their home ground. Never did I imagine that my first time witnessing the Haka would be at a Rugby World Cup. Every rugby match had its moments and the matches were tight but none was tighter for me then the finals. The game was kept close and nail biting from the get go. The fire works and award ceremony afterwards was to be the climax…or so I thought. The next day we were part of the crowd of over 150000 people lined up on Queen Street welcoming the ticker tape parade. I imagine this was comparable to New Years eve on Time Square. No one could move around and I doubt they wanted to. Flags, caps and streamers were flying all around and I had never experienced such excitement contained in such a concentrated area. This really brought the most amazing end to the most amazing experience.

On behalf of my father and myself I would like to thank MasterCard, Absa and Virgin Money for giving us a prize of a life time.

As I have said before I am glad my money is invested with companies that make their clients the foundation of their business. You made us feel like royalty from the start and went out of your way to bring us the experience only a handful of fortunate few will ever experience.

My advice to the consumers out there is to use your credit card wisely but remember you need to swipe it to win it.