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Full Circle

Day 144: Wellington, North Island

Auckland, New Zealand 
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Cycling through the Domain, Auckland, past a few of New Zealand's fifty million sheep - thirteen per cent of world wool market.
Michael Palin - Full CircleIt looks different, for a start. Auckland sprawls horizontally, lazy with space around its bays and off-shore islands. Wellington is compact and vertical, compressed into a horseshoe of land at the head of a ten-mile bay and below a range of low, sharply sloped hills. Some of them are so steep that on Mount Victoria wealthier citizens have their own cable cars.

This verticality leads to fanciful comparisons with San Francisco. Wellington certainly seems to be making strenuous attempts to promote an image that is more in keeping with the affluent, liberal, middle-class sophistication of the American Pacific than the old, grey, British empire.

There is the almost inevitable arts festival in progress, and the gastronomic badges of the new Pacific Rim are proudly worn - espresso coffee bars, imaginative cooking (I have goat's cheese with honeycomb for lunch), superb wines from across the Cook Strait. Gay and new age bookshops jostle Salvation Army hostels. Walls, painted in bold colours - slabs of azure blue, crimson and canary yellow - stand out hard and bright in the keen sunlight.

Climb up the hill to the suburb of Kelburn, which has a fine view and attractive tree-lined streets of clapboard houses, with gabled balconies, cantilevered terraces, dormer windows, secluded gardens and shady verandahs. Stroll back through the Botanical Gardens to find an open-air jazz concert in progress. Couples with picnics laid out in front of them, sit beneath Phoenix palms listening to numbers like 'You can't play the blues in an air-conditioned room'.

Perhaps the D-J was right this morning. It has felt pretty close to a day in paradise. But something is missing and the New Zealanders know it. They want more than all this. In the bedrooms of the comfortable villas of Kelburn, teenagers are making plans to get out - to Africa, America and Europe. Young New Zealanders want excitement.

This morning's New Zealand Herald carried a story of two men who broke into a sex-shop and escaped with an inflatable sheep, a blow-up doll and a store dummy. The report notes that police have reassured the public that 'the dummy was dressed'.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 144
  • Country/sea: New Zealand
  • Place: Wellington
  • Book page no: 200

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