Blessed to be a witness

Tuesday, 20th September

Hail and high fodder

Our exploring of Auckland was prevented by the ghastly weather. Also knackered were our hopes of swimming with dolphins, which has been a dream of mine for more than thirty years, and one of M's too, so we're both pretty disappointed, but what can you do?

My uncle recommended that in Auckland we have a meal at the revolving restaurant in the 328-metre high Sky Tower - since it cost only slightly less go up to the observation deck with no food. the building had survived as the tallest building in the southern hemisphere despite the threats of the deranged pilot the other day. We braved a massive hailstorm, during which I believe lightning was actually striking the tower, to go up it, and watched the weather descend around us as we rotated 360° in an hour, watching the lights dim, if not the sun set, due to the clouds.

The meal had pretensions that its quality couldn't quite live up to. I ordered the 'tasting menu', which comprised three small portions of, respectively, venison and quince on a bed of mash: though the venison was beautifully rare, the mash was stone cold; warm duck salad that was overwhelmed with shoyu (strong-tasting Japanese soy sauce) with very little duck, it too was cold and the greens a little soggy; and deep-fried spinach and ricotta ravioli, which was bone-dry and overdone. Still, it was filling and cost only $35, which is quite steep for New Zealand but pretty cheap by Irish standards - €18 for the best view in the house.

After one-and-a-bit rotations of the restaurant, we descended by a lift that had a glass panel in the floor, revealing a Star Wars Death Star style lift shaft, lit with coloured neon lights all the way down, that I stood on going "oooh!" This was a somewhat slower descent than the guy I saw today who jumped off the top: not a suicide, but a ride where one freefalls off it attached to a cable that somehow slows you down before you splatter on the pavement below. It looks a trifle scary and I'm glad it's too expensive for me to have a debate with myself whether I have the courage to do it or not.

We then went for a game of pool, but I felt rather unwell (not due to the meal, I hasten to add - I was feeling iffy beforehand) so was in bed by nine and slept right through to eight the next morning. Our last day was spent pottering around the shops, unable to sightsee because of the persistent rain, and then we travelled to the airport and got the night flight to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.

I left New Zealand with the feeling that I'd love to return. It's spectacularly beautiful nearly everywhere - the size and shape of an upside-down Italy (albeit with a broken ankle) but with a population only the size of Ireland, which allows vast swathes of wilderness to remain. One guidebook said "New Zealand is what most of the rest of the world would be like if overpopulation and overdevelopment hadn't happened". This is perhaps hyperbole, but the writer has a point, especially regarding South Island. It has, or rather had, depending on how the post-election coalitions worked out, one of the most tolerant governments going, proving that you can be a progressive government, yet have sound fiscal acumen. And something that made a huge difference, unlike our experience in Australia, was that we encountered warm and friendly people nearly everywhere we went, even though they do have a peculiar accent, that makes them say things like (when wishing to consume a popular takeaway dish on a wooden platform attached to a house) "lit's eat fush and chups on the dick". And they call flip-flops 'jandals' which is frankly ridiculous.

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