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Official Review by Stephen Gillam, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Eden Park is basically the home of rugby in New Zealand. It was done up really nicely for the Rugby World Cup in 2011 and it's now the country's premium stadium.
There's just one problem: the team that plays Super Rugby there (the Blues) is deadset hopeless. How would this affect the experience?
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The ground doesn't really go out of their way to get you to buy anything. Food includes your standard hot chips, corn dogs and burgers, while the alcoholic (beer and wine) and non-alcoholic (water and soft drinks) beverages are fairly standard here too.
If you want to buy something then come prepared to part with around $10, more if you're buying drinks with intent to start the night.
Given the fairly disappointing turnout, the atmosphere was actually pretty nice. The Blues' run of results in 2012 seems to have filtered out the fair weather fans, leaving the more dedicated ones to enjoy the game.
As with most New Zealand rugby crowds, the majority were very quiet for most of the game until something big happened.
I did notice an accepting feeling around the ground where the crowd seemed resigned to their positioning on the table yet still determined to enjoy the game.
Eden Park is surrounded mainly by residential buildings. Right across Sandringham Road is Papa's Wholemeal Pizza Cafe. The place smells absolutely amazing when you walk by, and is definitely worth a stop to fill up before entering the stadium.
If you don't mind a small walk to Dominion Road, that's where the fun starts. There's a whole load of dairies, Asian food bars and even a Wendy's burger joint. A slightly longer walk north will take you to New North Road (roughly where I stayed) and a few more eateries and some pubs.
Accommodations within walking distance are fairly easy to find with a few backpackers in the area.
Heading to town afterwards is easy to do, but I suggest finding transport.
In Auckland, the love of the game is clear for anyone to see. I also got a clear sense that they have a real love for their heroes.
Their knowledge of the game was as strong as any I've ever seen and the people I talked with were friendly. There wasn't any real sense of hostility either. The fans are a well-behaved lot who go to enjoy the game without causing any trouble.
Getting to the stadium can be a bit laborious if you're driving or walking. There are a few blocks you have to traverse and parking can be difficult to find if you don't leave early.
If you're taking the bus or train, that's a different story. Remember that pizza place? The Kingsland station is less than 200 metres from it and buses go down that road.
There are at least five points of entry to the stadium, which means that getting in and out isn't particularly difficult otherwise.
For the ticket I got I had to shell out $16. For what you get, that feels like pennies. The view from anywhere is nice, the noise carries well and it's a thoroughly beautiful stadium. Eden Park provides a superb value that I would gladly pay more frequently were I living in Auckland.
The highest stands were a bit of a mission to get to, but I was rewarded with a great panoramic view of the game.
There's not much to say here. The free flags were pretty cool and made the game and did inject a small amount of passion and festivity into the crowd.
Security was very easy to deal with, and they had no problems with my camera or with me ducking out to take pictures. Finding sheltered seats is pretty easy to do if the weather is particularly harsh.
There's no two ways about this: Eden Park is a really nice ground. One of my biggest regrets is not investing more time and money into enjoying the stadium and its surroundings. This is a place where you definitely want to arrive early and leave yourself plenty of time to enjoy the stadium and surrounding area. It's just a shame that the turnout is so low. I'd love to see what Auckland can produce with twice the crowd.
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