Arriving in Rotorua, my Auntie Rose welcomed me into her home, the traditional quarter-acre section. It could have been awkward meeting a relative again for the first time in so long, but it wasn't. Were people outside of Auckland naturally more welcoming, or is it just my anti-Auckland perceptions and confirmation bias? We went out to have fish and chips and met many of the locals. Regional life is all about the community, and it shows. It was amazing enough to see Rose for the first time in so long, let alone meeting the five year old cousin I didn't know I had - Timmy. I wasn't even aware of this cousins' existence prior to entering the door, and half an hour in, I'm playing lightsabers and pistols. I hadn't had much experience with children, and was delighted to discover how fun it could be - until the first half hour passed and I slumped into the chair, ready to pass out. It was hard to explain to my energetic, playful cousin that I needed to 'get off my feet' and 'take it easy' - the concepts don't seem to exist to most 5 year olds. Actually. After a brilliant night's sleep - probably due to the lack of Auckland, we were set to hit the road immediately after breakfast. Mum, Antony and I would make our way by the Honda Civic. Auntie Rose and Timmy would be traveling down to Levin to see family members. Arriving in Levin, I had a funky time with all sorts of relatives, and perhaps the most significant was Auntie Suzanne, teacher and veteran globetrotter, whom will be mentioned on many future occasions in this blog. She told me she was getting a new job and Korea, and would like my brother Antony and I to come see her. She proposed that we travel across China and Japan, see the pandas, climb the Great Wall, visit the DMZ and Hiroshima amongst other things. The prospect seemed overwhelming, and the amount of planning involved seemed incomprehensible. But all the traveling so far had given me a taste for more, and I was determined to see that it happen.
Through Manawatu-Wanganui, the final sight of green grass before Desert Road