We've reached Auckland - our last stop in New Zealand - and are staying with Kate's cousin, Judy and her partner Gavin. This is the view from their balcony. Dreadful isn't it?
As you can see the sun is shining. That shouldn't be a cause for particular comment in Auckland but it is at the moment. The weather in the North Island has been dreadful with torrential rain and flooding. It particularly affected the far North which, if you've been paying attention, you'll realise is where we've been. Driving down earlier in the week we passed new inland lakes and watched thundering waterfalls in spate. The main highway north was closed which meant a lengthy detour.
On the way down we visited the Kauri Museum. The kauri is New Zealand's largest tree and the second biggest, by volume, in the world. It can live for thousands of years and whilst not especially tall - 30 or 40m or so - they have huge trunks - the biggest record was over 20m in diameter - and their branches don't start until some way up. So to see an old kauri is to see a huge cliff-like expanse of bark rising up in the forest before branching out into a great wide canopy.
Unfortunately there are very few old kauris left. Unlike the world's biggest tree, the sequoia, kauri wood is of very high quality and was much sought after for all sorts of uses. Kauri logging was a major industry in New Zealand and huge numbers of trees were cut down before they became protected.
The museum is all about the tree and the logging industry. Back breaking and dangerous work out in the remote bush. It brings home both how recently New Zealand has been settled by Europeans and how, despite its relatively benign climate and fauna, difficult and hazardous an undertaking it was.
This is re-emphasised in the Auckland Maritime Museum which has a section on the journeys undertaken by the early settlers. 3 or 4 months spent on a cramped sailing ship with a whole family sharing a bunk. Minimal sanitation, rampant illness and disease and all knowing that, even if they survived the trip, there was an uncertain life ahead and little or no prospect of going back home. I suppose it also brings home how desperate life must have been in the UK and other places if people were willing to endure such privation and take such risks in search of a new life.
Today, by contrast, New Zealand is a delightful place. Scenically wonderful. Prosperous undoubtedly but relaxed and unassuming. Stephen Fry is currently here filming 'The Hobbit' and he was interviewed on one of the papers. Asked what he liked best about New Zealand he replied it was the peoples' self-effacing nature which, unlike the British, doesn't disguise an underlying arrogance and cynicism but is very genuine and unaffected.
So not a bad place to spend 6 weeks and Judy and Gavin's balcony is a good spot on which to end our stay and they have epitomised the generosity and friendliness that we've experienced with just about everyone we've met. Tomorrow, Kate's birthday, we head off to Australia which might be a bit hotter in several different ways!