Blessed to be a witness

Monday, 19th September

The Roaring Forties

The weather in Mount Maunganui sucked. Well, it blew. New Zealand is in the 'Roaring Forties', and the wind blows a lot here, and with it came rain. Sadly, therefore, we didn't get out to see much. Instead we enjoyed a bit of family life with my cousins, both first and second, and uncle and aunt, who reported a lot of water slapping against their boat as they slept.

After a lovely dinner on board the boat, our cousins took us out to the local Irish bar, and we had several drinks too many and a good laugh. I cured my hangover the next day, when the rain let up for a few minutes, by climbing Mount Manganui, a 232-metre rocky hill that I take to be the core of a dead volcano (though as my aunt said, there's no such thing as dead, just dormant). The views from the top were spectacular, but as I began to descend, rainclouds gathered again on the horizon.

More quasi-terrorist excitement was being reported in New Zealand, as a guy stole a plane from an airfield in Auckland and threatened to crash it into the Sky Tower (of which more later). He later crashed it into the harbour and injured himself. It was the result of a domestic argument; meanwhile newspapers were reporting that the Slovak guy with the not-bomb in Tauranga just wanted to go home.

And the election results came through: not quite a victory for anyone, with nearly a 50/50 split between the ruling Labour Party and the conservative National Party. Both parties are currently scrabbling around for coalition partners, and also there are 'special votes' to be counted which might tip the scales. I'm not quite sure I understand how the proportional representation system works here - you vote for a party and a candidate, and it is possible for a party leader to lose his/her seat yet still be in the running for government (a position the aforementioned Winston Peters is in), and for an individual constituency to have a higher total of votes for a winning candidate than for that candidate's party, something I believe is called 'overhang', and about which there was no hint of how this would be resolved on any of the election literature. All very odd, and proof that PR, for all its advantages over first-past-the-post, is still a bit of a bugger, and the old saw that democracy is the worst system of government apart from all the other ones.

On our last evening we hooked up with some more Phi Phi ex-volunteers, who coincidentally lived just down the street from the town. We talked about the island and shared gossip without fear of boring each other, as I'm sure we will be in danger of doing to non-participants from now on.

The next morning we were lucky enough to get a lift from my uncle and aunt, who on a speculative visit to see a larger yacht - I suppose this would be climbing a rung on the aquatic property ropeladder - and happened to be going through Auckland. On the way we passed through the town wherein the 'Hobbiton' part of Lord of the Rings had been filmed. Apparently the farmer on whose land the set was built wanted nothing more to do with it, and chucked everything away, until hundreds of people began knocking on his door asking to see it and evntually he saw an opportunity to increase his income and rebuilt the thing - at $50 a visit, I'd imagine he's doing rather well out of it.

This little chap was banging on about chucking a ring down a mountain or something

We said goodbye to my uncle and aunt at a backpackers in Auckland. It was great to catch up with physically, if not genetically, distant relatives, and I really hope it isn't fifteen years until I see them again. Strangely, it didn't feel so long for me, despite all the stuff that has happened in all our lives in the intervening time.

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