As this was to be a budget trip so far as possible, we drove to Auckland. This was a journey
much like any other road journey to Auckland, with stops in all the usaul places, those
being Taupo and Hamilton in most cases. In Taupo, my foot slipped off the pedal of the car at
one point, causing me to leave a note to the windscreen of the car in front. There didn't seem
to be any damage and the owner never contacted me. On to Auckland, where we stayed a night
in a motel close to the airport, before being given a lift there to catch our flight.
What do we say? It was good to flying again: it was good to have the space that Business Class offers, too. The flight seemed shorter than I had remembered on other journeys from Auckland to Melbourne, possibly because this was a planned journey, not a prelude to a longer journey and one that we hadn't chosen to make.
Australian customs isn't bad. So long as you have the visa, it's fine. I suspect that without a valid visa, it could approach nightmare status. However, the four British citizens and one New Zealander in our party entered with no trouble at all. From there, it was a taxi ride to the centre of Melbourne, to an establishment of modest price which we had booked on the world-wide-web. This was a first for us. I am bound to say that the constraints of price and location meant that the choice offered to us was not wide. I do not recommend the place we stayed, but it did offer everything that was advertised. I do not like sharing bathrooms or other facilities, but this was to be our lot. Still, it was to be merely a place to sleep, so I guess it wasn't going to be too bad. It wasn't too bad, especially seeing as we were so tired most nights.
My wife is set on planning as much as possible for us to do when we go on holiday, so we did indeed spend a busy time in Melbourne and surrounding districts. My son wrote at some length about our Melbourne holiday, and I am drawing quite heavily on his account to remind me what we did there.
How quickly we forget what we do everywhere. I am pleased to have written down most of what I have done over the past thirteen years, at least so far as travel is concerned, so that it is not exactly lost. Travel has really slowed down in recent years, however, as a family has started to grow up and start school while the expenses of being a proper adult, whatever that means, have meant that there is less free cash to go on travel.
Anyhow, we were thrilled by many of the places we wnt in and around Melbourne. The first afternoon we headed for the majestic museum, with all the things outside that one could hope for: bright banners, steps, pillars and suchlike. Inside, it was a regular museum, containing items displaying national history, natural history and science in all its glory. One exciting place was the planetarium. There are not nearly so many of these as one may imagine, yet they are very popular indeed. Plantetaria are also noted for having a small seating capacity, but I suppose that most people who want to go to them will have done so, because they do have a fairly large number of shows each day.
The show which we saw did not really seem to exploit the full power of the star projectors, describing as it did the theory of dinosaur extinction, claimed to have occurred sixty-five million years ago. The effects were quite something to behold.
Melbourne has a public transport system which they want people to use! This may seem a strange thing for me to comment, but it is nevertheless worth saying. Many cities have a public transport system where the casual viewer may wonder whether it is really there for the people or not. High costs and different agents running different networks ofetn cause headaches, but in Melbourne it certainly seems to be the case that The Met wants people to use it. They have an astounding system of trams throughout the whole of the central business disttrict and into many suburbs, along with buses, local trains and all thgat one might desire. Once we had sorted out how the system held together, there was no stopping us!
Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary was our main stop the following day. This is a wildlife park with many native creatures. Not far from central Melbourne, it was very popular with all of us.
The Puffing Billy Railway was a great attraction, too, being a restored section of steam railway running through the Dandenongs region. The notes about the railway state that it does not run on total fire ban days, so that we were fortunate to go when we did. Just a couple of weeks later, fire bans were in place throughout much of Victoria, and with good reason too. Startling pictures of bush fires were broadcast to us on the news, brought more to our attention by the fact that the places metioned, which had been just names last time, were now names that meant something. In some cases, they were places we had visited.
Another major attraction of going to a major city was the opportunity to visit a zoo. One of the questions posed in the Oxford University scholaship papers in 1978 was "What is the purpose of a zoo nowadays?" and I invite you to reflect on the question. Certainly a zoo is no longer the animal freak show it was when I was a child. You don't see too many chimpanzees having tea parties any more, though I remember when I was a child that the chimps' tea party pulled an enormous crowd. Nowadays the establishments go to great pains to make the animal habitat as close as possible to their original surroundings. This is all to the good, though sometimes it does mean that the animals are all but invisible to the visitor. We had a bright and exciting day, looking at all there was time to see.
New Year's Eve meant that we had again reached the end of the year, marked by the opportunity to share a picnic in the park with two of our friend from Vanuatu, now retired and returned to Melbourne. It was lovely to see them again and remember old days and old friends together. Our boys probably didn't remember them, but were happy to run around the park, play with the ducks, eat the food, behaving fairly well as we talked the afternoon away before we parted company with our friends and went up the Rialto Tower, claimed by many to be the tallest tower in the Southern Hemisphere. Whether this is true or not, it is certainly the tallest tower in Melbourne, offering great views all round.
Still tired, we decided that this was not the night for a party for us, and we retired early, for we had another year ahead of us. In 1996 we had flown 19,041 miles, which we might once have though to be a very long way, but which now seemed mundane.