Yesterday, Cheryl Praeger arrived in Auckland on an overnight flight from the ICM in Korea. She is here for a meeting on Science advice to Governments, involving international scientific organisations (including the IMU) as well as government scientific advisers from a number of countries.
Because she arrived so early, her hotel room was not yet ready, and so Rosemary and I suggested that she come to our room to leave her belongings. Cheryl was keen to come when we suggested doing the Coast-to-Coast Walk – indeed I can think of few better ways to cope with a change of time zones.
There are few countries the size of New Zealand that can be walked across in a few hours; indeed, in most of New Zealand this would be out of the question. But Auckland is on a very narrow neck of land, and a 16km walk takes you from Viaduct Harbour on Weitamata Harbour, on the Pacific Ocean, to Onehunga Lagoon on Manukau Harbour, on the Tasman Sea. When I was in Auckland on the Forder lecture tour, I walked across and back before lunch.
The path takes in the summits of two of Auckland’s largest extinct volcanoes, Maungawhau (Mt Eden) and Maungakiekie (One-Tree Hill). It was a day of breathtaking clarity, warm in the sun though the air was cold; we went much slower than on my previous trip, stopping to look at things and potter round interesting sites.
At the end, the new electric train service took us back from Onehunga station to Britomart Travel Centre in under half an hour.
The most remarkable incident of the walk occurred in Cornwall Park, below Maungakiekie. We had had an excellent lunch in the Aspire Café in Manukau Road, but decided to defer coffee to the restaurant in Cornwall Park. But the restaurant seemed to be closed. So we went in to the tourist information office next door, to ask whether there was anywhere else we could get coffee.
There was one person there, Philippa Price, whose job title is Cornwall Park Information Centre Manager, but the only person she was managing was herself. On such a beautiful day, the park was crowded with tourists, and she had to deal with all who came to the information centre: one to register a dog with the Cornwall Park Dogs scheme, others just asking for directions, and so on. So she would have been perfectly entitled to say “No, the restaurant is closed for refurbishment, I’m afraid”.
What she actually said was “I’ll make you some”. Between other jobs, she brewed up a pot, sat us down at a table in one of the many rooms in the Information Centre (illustrated with stunning photographs of the park), and stopped to chat when other business allowed while we drank it. And at the end, she wouldn’t charge us anything for it!
I had on my Prague MCW T-shirt, and the word “Combinatorcs” seemed to ring a bell; she was sure she had seen me before. We established that it was probably when I talked about infinity on the BBC Horizon programme. Talking about other media appearances, I mentioned that I had been on the Kim Hill show when I was here on the Forder tour. She is a great fan of Kim Hill, and indeed of the radio in general, her window on the world, and before we left she had found the podcast of the interview.
It proved, if nothing else, that I don’t handle fame well. My two companions are probably more famous than I am, and I felt a little embarrassed about being in the limelight.
A final note on geology. There are about fifty extinct volcanoes in the Auckland volcanic field, a World Heritage Site for its combination of natural and cultural features. (Different authorities quote slightly different numbers.) It is near-certain that there will be another eruption one day; the Auckland City Council website estimates that an Auckland resident has about an 8% chance of experiencing one in his or her lifetime. Almost the only other things that experts agree on is that the next eruption will not be one of the existing volcanoes; it is completely unpredictable where and when it will be, and it is likely to cause very severe disruption and loss of life.