Blessed to be a witness

Thursday, 15th September

A very small plane

I love to travel, but it's nice sometimes to stay in one place, and just do a few mundane things. And it's even nicer to see how local people live and share time with them. Our friends' flatmates very kindly agreed to put us up for a couple of nights, which was gratefully received, especially because they are so nice, and such good company. We ate dinner and chatted and watched TV, which carries a lot of UK and US imports, albeit really full of ads.

We visited Te Papa, the national museum. It's a big modern building, similar to the similar one in Canberra, though not quite so avant garde in its external architecture. This one is a bit more random inside, with no obvious linear flow through the exhibits, that are in vague subject groupings such as 'The Natural World' and 'Passport' (dealing with immigration). I usually judge a museum on whether or not I've learned anything new when I've left, and this therefore didn't disappoint. It also had some pretty unusual 'rides', such as a sheep shearing exercise involving a fake sheep covered in bar codes and a handheld scanner, or a virtual bungee jump wherein the victim is strapped in and inverted while a filmed bungee jump is played around one - none of which we bothered going on due to the added expense, except for the earthquake simulator. This was a little wooden house on rails that shook around in a supposedly accurate recreation, which I found a little eerie. There was also an exhibition about tsunamis, which occasionally hit New Zealand. Ironically the museum is built directly on a fault line, so I wondered what would happen if there was an earthquake while you're in the simulator. The building is, however, built on rubber supports to minimise damage, and one of the exhibits is the foundation of the museum so you can be reassured.

Our final day was spent on a big walk with our Phi Phi mate. We went up to Victoria Peak above the city, with amazing views, then down a very steep gravel track, some of which had to be negotiated on rear ends, down to Oriental Bay, which sports a man-made beach on which optimistic people were sunbathing and some even swimming. Actually it was reasonably warm in the sun, but I hate to think of what the water temperature was. We then carried on down to the parliament building, known as 'the beehive' for obvious reasons.

Early the next morning, our mate's flatmate amazingly kindly drove us to the airport, well out of her way. We then boarded the smallest plane I've been in for decades - a dinky little 16-seater prop plane with only one seat either side of the aisle. The pilot was the cabin crew, and it was he who stood in the rain greeting us, and moved our hand luggage out of the way of the emergency exits. Despite being rather slow, and climbing solidly for a good half-hour, the flight wasn't too bumpy, and we ended up dropping out of a low cloud cover over Lake Taupo, a huge volcanic caldera slap-bang in the centre of north island. Our destination was Mount Manganui, where my uncle and aunt and cousins live - the sisters of the cousin I visited in Canberra.

We investigated taking a coach the two-and-a-half hours north, and discovered that the bus would have been about $120, while hiring a car for a day would be $125 (albeit plus a minimal amount of petrol), so sacrificing the extra €7, we went to Avis. Because we'd spent time faffing around in the airport, despite taking the lowest price-bracket, we were lucky enough to get "the last cab on the rank", as the gentleman in the office told us, so were chuffed to take charge of a brand-new 2-litre Toyota Camry with cruise control, that went like something dirty off a digging implement, to M's occasional consternation.

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