So it was that the news was suddenly around Port Vila that the monopoly on planning round the world trips under the terms of my contract was broken, leaving us free to choose either the previous monopolist, a French-speaking agency or their new competitor, an English-speaking agency. In the months before the change, I think nearly everybody had seen the writing on the wall, and the English company had worked hard for possible future work. Now, here was the opportunity, and it was seized by many.
A careful choice of round the world options available, associated with desired destinations, revealed that Air New Zealand in conjunction with Cathay Pacific offered the best fit for us, and so it was that the trip was booked and duly undertaken as follows.
Checking in at Port Vila has never been arduous for those who know what they are doing, especially when travelling Business Class. Even so, it comes as a surprise to discover that the four of us accounted for the whole Business Class passenger list.
After a short wait in the departure hall and goodbyes to friends, some of whom we would probably never see again, it was time to wander through the formalities of immigration and customs. Sometimes I wonder whether informalities might be a better word here.
Not long after this, it was time to board the plane, and as we took our places we were again offered a choice of juice or champagne. Surprisingly, having chosen juice, we were not offered any more alcohol during the whole of the flight. Our opinions on in-flight drinks differ quite sharply with those of some friends who seem to think that the main reason for travelling in Business Class is the chance to drink as many different good wines as possible in the shortest possible time.
Soon after take-off, my son announced that he wanted to go to the toilet. Unfortunately, this indicated a state of health that was to haunt us most of the way back home. He had been in fine health up to this point, but there was no point in worrying now, thirty thousand feet above the Coral Sea.
The flight was otherwise pleasant and uneventful, and arrived in Auckland on time. Immigration and customs ran smoothly. Generally, there is little problem for people travelling with young children. The agricultural departments of countries are most excited because parents tend to travel with the most extraordinary things which they consider baby food but which authorities see as potential public health hazards.
Auckland City Travelodge was again the hotel of our choice, thereby joining the two earlier hotels which have received repeat business in the context of air travel. My son's continued illness meant that our activity in New Zealand was quite restricted, although he did walk some quite large distances, a great achievement for a little boy who then could not eat at all or drink much.
The BBC World Service was just starting a relay in Auckland at the time we were there, and promotion of this and all things British resulted in British Week and all that this entails while we were there. Queen Street hosted the main exhibition, including facsimiles of the Crown Jewels. I paid the entrance fee to the exhibition myself but my two sons did not. They were both given flags to wave but I was not. This is the sort of prejudice one encounters when adult.
Back at the hotel, British Week was happening too. Ordering dinner from room service resulted in a meal served by a waitress dressed as a court jester. Obviously embarrassed to be walking through the hotel in this curious garb, she explained the reason. I indicated my more normal attire, explaining that this was more normal attire for a British person.
While in Auckland, we paid the almost obligatory visit to Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World. It hadn't changed much since the last time...neither had the United Airlines bus, except that it now advertised their European services, which hadn't started the year before.