Sunday, 23 November 2008

Cousins Reunited

My cousin, Jonathan Steel, lives in Karaka, near Auckland, having emigrated with his family about 15 years ago. He and I hadn't seen or spoken to one another for over 20 years, but I 'phoned him a couple of weeks ago to tell him that Chris and I were about to visit New Zealand. He and Joanna, his wife, took time off work, and were at the Airport for the arrival of our flight at 11.00 on Thursday (20th November). I booked a campervan for the duration of our visit, as we planned to tour the country, following the ALGIM Conference. (Although, we'd have hotel accommodation at the Conference, it proved simpler to hire the camper for transport throughout our visit, rather than mess about with other arrangements.) Jon and Jo took us to the Hire Depot, and patiently waited while we completed the paperwork and had everything explained to us. Then Jon rode with me, and Chris rode with Jo, back to their house where we were invited to stay for the next two nights. Their Guest Room, however, was already in use by a friend of Jessica, their daughter, visiting from Thailand, so we were sleeping in the 'van. No shortage of space for parking, 'though, on their 6 acre plot! Then, the four of us visited Jon's local Pub – the ideal way to relax after a long journey, in my view - before returning to the house in time for Jo to help Jessica put her horse through its paces. Jo has been involved in competitive riding since before they migrated from the UK, and Jessica now rides dressage. Jo cooked us a lovely meal then, after a bit more catching-up with family news, Chris and I had an early night.

We spent Friday with Jon's family and, asked what we'd like to do, we chose a drive north through the lovely countryside to relax at a hot springs spa, stopping en-route for a fish and chips lunch (wrapped the proper way - in newspaper!) In the evening, I played ten-pin bowling with Jon and Chris at Jon's local Bowling Alley. Having bragged about how good I used to be, I was roundly beaten by them both. We rounded-off the day with a curry, and were joined by friends of Jon and Jo.

After breakfast, on Saturday, we said our farewells and headed off for the Wairakei Resort, Taupo, where the ALGIM Conference was being held. We drove via Rotorua and stopped-off at the "Rainbow Springs" Nature Park and walked around its various attractions - all in or around the springs – various species of fish, birds, trees and other flora and fauna, including, of course, kiwi.

Having arrived at the Resort, and booked-into our rather nice accommodation, Chris and I joined ALGIM Committee Members and other international guests at the House Bar, from where we were taken to dinner at the Beach Brasserie at Manuels Hotel on the Taupo lake-front. Lake Taupo is the biggest inland lake in the southern hemisphere, roughly the size of Singapore, and formed less than two thousand years ago in a volcanic explosion.

On Sunday the ALGIM Team and international guests had a 9.00 start for the day's sightseeing. We viewed the Huka Falls, and the Wairakei Power Station from various vantage points. The Power Station is the second Geo-Thermal Power Station to be built in the world, in the '50s. It currently supplies around 3.5% of New Zealand's energy, but 60% of electricity in New Zealand is generated by natural resources, and projects in-hand will see 90% of energy production for the North Island in Taupo. New Zealand is a "nuclear free zone", which was a brave move, antagonising, as it did, nations like the USA which was used to parking its ships at New Zealand ports, but is no longer allowed to as it won't say whether they carry nuclear material. We then toured up the Waikato River by Jet Boat, and crossed to the Orakei Korako Thermal Park – a "prehistoric" landscape of bubbling pools, geysers and other geo-thermal wonders. We powered back up-river in the Jet Boat - powered by twin 350 Chevvy V8 engines, developing 750 bhp between them - doing some "boat acrobatics" along the way. Apparently, the Jet Boat was invented by a New Zealander, named Hamilton, who wanted to reduce his 20 minute boat journey home from work as his local pub, in those days, closed at 6.00 pm! On the way back to the resort we stopped to see the 2.00 pm opening of the Aritatia Dam on the Waikato River. A condition of its planning consent was that it should be opened four times a day so the river could follow its original course. To stand downstream of the dam, and see the empty river fill, in a matter of minutes, to a twenty foot deep raging torrent is amazing. We returned to the resort to meet ALGIM's President, Mike Wanden, over drinks prior to the Conference Opening.

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