Kiwis offer free beds, banter and beer to Lions fans struggling to find hotels
We might have a reputation for being tough on the rugby field, but we're getting a bit of a reputation for being softies off-field.
When Greymouth rugby fan Adam Gilshnan saw that many of the some 20,000 British & Irish Lions Fans expected to travel to New Zealand for the upcoming tour were struggling to find accommodation, he set up a Facebook page, Adopt a Lions Fan 2017, asking locals to extend them some of that legendary Kiwi hospitality.
"A lot of independent travellers are coming out and finding there's nowhere to stay, particularly in the major cities, or it's priced out of their budget," he said.
The inspiration for the page came from his own experience: Gilshnan and his mates befriended some fans from Wales during the Lions' 2005 tour of New Zealand and showed them such a good time that they reciprocated when Gilshnan headed to the UK for his OE, taking him to premium football matches and "good-quality" rugby games.
While he didn't have any expectations for the page, saying he'd be happy if it helped a handful of Kiwis hook up with Lions fans, offers have poured in from around the country.
So far, more than 100 New Zealanders have offered to host fans in their spare rooms, gardens and caravans, as well as pick them up from airports and train stations, take them to games and engage in a bit of rugby banter.
Annitta Dale for one, has invited fans to "come out an enjoy the peace and quiet" at her rural Waikato home, promising entertaining conversations with her rugby-mad husband and a beer and wine fridge that is always full.
Meanwhile, Andrew Brunt is offering a spare double bed in Aotea, Wellington, just 20 minutes from the stadium via train.
"I'm going to the Hurricanes midweek game so can take you in and also more than happy to drop you in for the test and show you around during the week," he said.
The page has proved a hit with Lions fans struggling to find affordable accommodation during the June and July tour.
Kenny Millen, from Lisburn in Northern Ireland, said he and a mate would be flying over for all three tests against the All Blacks and "would love to spend some time with the Kiwis".
"Two Irish guys, fantastic banter and a phenomenal amount of craic to be had," he enthused in a post.
Peter Wakenshaw, from Bath in England, remarked on "what an unbelievably fantastic gesture this is for all who are participating.
"Well done NZ supporters, you are a credit to mankind. Let's hope the tour lives up to expectations."
An unofficial British Lions Fans page commented that the "amazing" response from Kiwis to the page has "exceeded our expectations", to which Wakenshaw replied "You may be starting something epic!".
A poll on the Adopt a Lions Fan page found that most respondents were most looking forward to meeting and mingling with opposing fans during the tour. The "craic", "thrilling test series", "travelling around a stunning country" and "being in a rugby-mad nation" were the next most popular responses respectively.
The scarcity of accommodation in New Zealand, particularly during the high season and popular events, has become a recurring issue, suggesting the tourism boom is pushing infrastructure to breaking point.
With 3.5 million short-term arrivals last year - 480,000 more than had been projected two years earlier - a lack of capacity may end up harming the nation's biggest foreign exchange earner.
In February, a group of 53 elderly American tourists were put up in an Auckland marae for a night after because all of the city's hotels were full.
Adele fans also faced accommodation woes, with the British singer's late March concerts sending hotel prices in Auckland soaring.
By mid-March, hotels within public transport distance of Mt Smart stadium were pricing remaining rooms between about $500 and $1000 a night, forcing concertgoers to look to Hamilton for a bed.
But it's not just our biggest city that's affected. Scenic walks across volcanic plateaus and through snow-capped alpine valleys are becoming congested, while small towns servicing adventure activities like jet-boat rides or guided walks are finding their sewerage systems over-loaded.
Tourist numbers jumped 12 per cent in 2016 and are forecast to reach 4.5 million by 2022 - almost matching the current population of 4.7 million.
Government research last year identified a likely shortage of more than 4500 hotel rooms by 2025, after taking into account existing construction plans for about 5200 new rooms.