Day 15, 16 & 17 – New Zealand (5, 6, 7, June 2000)
On 5th June we landed in New Zealand and spent 3 days zig zagging across the two islands.
Two personal moments stand out for me from these days in NZ. The first was a shock to system. We had just covered 2 weeks in the warm and humid Pacific Islands. And then our first day in New Zealand had us being choppered straight from the airport up to the ski fields of Coronet Peak in Queenstown where it was, well, very cold – naturally.
I am no ski bunny and always choose hot over cold. To add to the shock, immediately after we landed in the snow I was guided to a snowmobile the advance team had thoughtfully arranged for me to shoot from the back of. So, in a borrowed ski jacket, we zoomed off in front of a skier who made a rapid decent down the slopes.
The weather was closing in and the wind chill of sitting on the snow mobile was almost unbearable. I was hanging on for dear life, sitting backwards, bumping down the slopes. On top of that, I was trying to do what I was actually there to do – take great shots of the skier Torchbearer. After 2 minutes I couldn’t even feel my fingers. I had to visually look at my trigger finger as it pressed the shutter button to confirm I was even taking a photo. The viewfinder was completely fogged up. So, with one hand holding on for dear life, the other was pointing the camera in the vague direction of the skier, hoping that at least one frame would be in focus and maybe even have the torchbearer in the shot too.
Looking at the shots I took I’m amazed I got more than one useable image. And also a little annoyed they don’t portray the pain I went through to capture them!
My second bone to pick with New Zealand is its police force – or one policeman in particular. It was in the afternoon in Auckland and we were running along a dockside area. Crowds were low (as happens occasionally – sometimes just because the public are not aware which route the Flame was taking). The torchbearer at the time was New Zealand’s most medalled Olympian (4 Golds) Ian Ferguson. As usual, we had a couple of local police motorcyclists riding beside the torchbearer to keep the crowds clear and the route secure.
Although at this location, there were no crowds. Running alongside the torchbearer, I was grabbing shots. Its a challenge. Run ahead. Turn around and grab a few frames. Then run ahead again to line up another few shots. All while carrying a small backpack with extra lens, batteries and essentials, and a second camera dangling around your neck. I sensed that one of the NZ police motorcycles was always very close to me. Closer than usual. But I kept up the run-turn-shoot, run-turn-shoot rhythm.
Then this cop started stopping in front of me, essentially blocking my shot. I ran ahead to get more distance. Then I felt the front tyres of his bike nipping at my heals – actual rubber on the soles of my feet. I almost tripped. I stopped running . Turned around and this cop also stopped. I shook my head at him and ran on. I had a job to do. Then he did it again. Recovering from a stumble, I stopped, and he blocked my path. ‘What are you trying to do?” I shouted . He said nothing. I ran on and he adopted the same tactic, blocking me, trying to trip me with his front wheel. Exhausted and fed up I grabbed my two-way radio and said ‘Command, can you do something about this cop – he’s trying to run me down!’.
It was a crazy situation. There I was, wearing head to toe official Olympic Torch Relay uniform, with a Torch Relay team radio on my hip and this cop was acting like I was a suicide belt wearing terrorist.
There was some crackle over the radio as our police team connected with the NZ police team to tell them to give me priority. Then he did it again. Now I was pissed. I stopped dead. He stopped, blocking my path. “Listen to your fucking radio – they are telling you to stop getting in my way” “MORON!”. I yelled. Not really worrying about being arrested at that moment. He looked blankly at me, still not understanding what the situation was. A few metres ahead the relay stopped and we regrouped and waited a few seconds to let everyone catch up and move back onto the normal road route. Out of breath and emotional, I walked back to the media truck and jumped on board to calm down. The motorcycle cop stayed with the relay for the rest of the day, still looking blank.
I never did get a good shot of Ian Ferguson thanks to this ignorant cop.