Winter is here and so are the Lions. Which means that for the next month and a bit the television news mix is locked in: boat racing, rugby, weather, rugby, boat racing, weather, and, time permitting, updates on world leaders who roll asleep on to their phones.

To the tens of thousands of Lions fans flooding this proud surviving promontory of the great continent Zelandia, a very warm welcome.

A welcome, too, to those of you who know care nothing for rugby but wanted an excuse to escape from the endless fingernail on blackboard that is the British general election, aka Grim and Grimmer.

As the appointed spokesperson for everyone in New Zealand I'm delighted to say that we couldn't be happier to host you. Do you have any spare pseudoephedrine? We've really gone the extra 1.60934 kilometres to make you feel at home.


We've temporarily switched driving to the left side of the road. We've put pictures of the royal family all over our glossy magazines.

We've invented a new lager in your honour, Lion Red. We've added the Union Jack to a corner of our flag. We've even installed a new prime minister, who is English.

As you travel the land of the flat white cloud, don't hesitate to engage us in some of our favourite topics. How New Zealand reminds you of sleepy seaside Britain in the 1950s, we like that.

Whether or not we know of Doug from Timaru or Daphne from Dargaville, who you met one time at a bed and breakfast in Essex, that's always good - and the truth is we probably do.

But most of all, please engage us in long and heartfelt conversation about the injustices of Tana Umaga's 2005 tackle on Brian O'Driscoll: this is by some distance the most interesting chat subject ever.

New Zealand rugby crowds are not the greatest singers - most of us aren't sure how the national anthem goes, though we know most of the words to Slice of Heaven - so we look forward to a good old leonine serenade. You Irish have your Fields of Athenry.

There's the majestic Flower of Scotland. The spine reliably tingles to a rousing Welsh Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land Of My Father).

And England supporters have, naturally, the 19th-century African-American slave spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.


For those of you on your first trip to Aotearoa, a whistlestop guide to the main centres.

The tour kicks off tomorrow in Whangarei, an enclave within the Northland kingdom of Winston, which many expect soon to fall to his crown prince Shane Jones.

You'll be visiting Dunedin, of course, which is basically Scotland with better beer and people who can catch rugby balls. They're pretty happy at the moment because Ed Sheeran is playing some concerts there as a gesture of sympathy over the city missing out on a Lions Test.

You'll be visiting Christchurch, of course - a proud city, as you will no doubt know. It is difficult to overstate the resilience and stoicism shown over the years by the people of Canterbury in enduring the Wizard of Christchurch.

Wellington! To its devotees the place is an idyll built on fine conversation, cafe culture and above-average beards; to its detractors it is essentially a long question from an audience member at a writer festival in city form.

Then there's Hamilton. The gardens are good. Wearing hats in restaurants is bad. And of course Auckland, the great, bloated, bloviating, oxygen-sucking behemoth of the land, and which has haughtily snaffled two of the three tests.

Through the middle of the city courses our own Tiber, our own Thames, which we call State Highway One - though to be honest it's probably safer to swim in than our actual rivers.

Some Aucklanders spend so much time in their motor vehicles it feels as though they are living in their cars. And others are living in their cars. Unbeatable indoor-outdoor flow.

If you're staying in a hotel in the Super City - so named in an attempt to make the Blues rugby team better at rugby - note that a new council tax means the beds are now approximately 10% smaller.

Our politics are for the most part reasonably pedestrian, if often inseparable from rugby, as most conspicuously manifest in the way that All Black coach Steve Hansen and finance minister Steven Joyce are merging into the same person.

Our senior MPs are determined to keep visitors nourished and would love to share with you the national dish of pizza topped with copious tinned pasta.

Please tip generously. If you're freedom camping, ask anyone for directions to one of Gareth Morgan's houses. Loads of space.

As for the rugby itself? Best of luck. There has been speculation around your side's ability to achieve harmony, but I for one am confident there is every reason to expect unity between the five constituent nations of the British isles: England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and New Zealand.

But in truth, the greatest welcome for you must be the blinkered, weirdly complacent blanket of over-confidence about the All Blacks' prospects that is currently flapping around New Zealand. You're probably going to win. Haere mai.