No one can go to Anglesey and not learn the meaning of 'araf': it's written on the road before every corner, at the brow of every hill, the entrance to every village and hamlet. It's Welsh for "slow", and it's what Anglesey is all about.

Located at the north-west corner of mainland Wales and separated from it by the narrow Menai Strait, which runs under Thomas Telford's distinctive suspension bridge, Anglesey is commonly treated as a thoroughfare by people heading to the busy port of Holyhead and its ferries across the Irish Sea to Dublin. We're doing much the same thing, but we have a day and a night on the island first.

We've castle-hopped through Wales, exploring those at Chepstow, Raglan, Abergavenny and Harlech, and driven past many more of the 100-plus still standing in Wales.

Yesterday we climbed all over nearby Caernarfon's magnificent fortress - "the best castle in the world", the ticket man stated proudly - where the Prince of Wales was invested in 1969. That's a lot of arrow loops and spiral staircases squeezed into three days, and the last thing we want is to look at another; but it turns out that Beaumaris Castle is special.

The seventh to be built by Edward I, around 1296, it was the last link in his "iron ring" around Wales, and he'd got the hang of it by then. It's been called the perfectly designed castle.

Symmetrical, concentric and sophisticated, it presented aspiring attackers with a series of four barriers and more than a dozen obstacles, including such cunning devices as offset gateways that forced them to turn to the right, thus exposing their unshielded left sides to the defending archers.

On a peaceful, sunny day with swans gliding on the moat, it's hard to imagine lots of noisy Russell Crowe-type action - and in fact, the castle didn't see much fighting, which is just as well considering Edward ran out of money and it was never finished.

Now the moat's still waters reflect the patterned stone walls with their wide views over the sea, autumn-gold fields and the distant purple humps of Snowdonia's highlands.

With tunnels, towers and battlements all accessible, it's more like a life-sized playground for grown-ups, though the signs warning of slips, trips and rampaging ravens suggest it's still possible to acquire real wounds here.

There have been proper heroics along the coast at Moelfre, a fishing village draped along low cliffs above pebbled beaches where day-trippers lick icecreams.

The fascinating Seawatch Centre, built around a decommissioned Oakley lifeboat, celebrates the many acts of courage by the crews of the local rescue service. Outside, a statue of Richard Evans, weather-beaten and doughty, looks out over the benignly sparkling bay - but inside, the cases of relics from 133 nearby shipwrecks tell another story.

Most famous is the Royal Charter, sunk in a Force 12 hurricane in 1859. The fastest steam clipper on the Australia run, it was carrying over £370,000 ($768,058) in gold, much of it weighing heavy in the pockets of miners returning home after wresting fortunes from the Outback's arid deserts.

Despite the courageous efforts of the men of Moelfre, of 500 on board, only 40 survived: a tragic disaster that inspired Charles Dickens to write an account of it.

Happily, exactly 100 years later, the eight crew of the coaster Hindlea were all saved in a dramatic rescue that earned Evans, the lifeboat's coxswain, his first RNLI gold medal.

A Force 12 hurricane is hard to imagine on this tranquil day, but the evidence is all around us: as we drive along the quiet lanes between hedgerows that glisten with fat blackberries, trees lean overhead, bent before the prevailing wind.

A row of sleek windmills faces west, their rotors turning lazily. Their lines are elegant, but they're nowhere near as picturesque as Melin Llynnon Mill, the only one still working in Wales and the last of 50 in Anglesey alone.

Its wooden latticework vanes are motionless today, but the oaken cogwheels and the great grindstones inside have made the flour for the scones we eat in the garden.

We meander on through the maze of lanes past fingerposts with unpronounceable names, so long that they're almost drooping at the ends - and then find the longest of all.

It's official: the Guinness Book of Records states that Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is, with 58 letters, the longest place name in the world - and now, the longest web address.

It seems a sleepy place - until my hair is parted by low-flying jets from the nearby RAF base.

I turn to another woman watching and ask, "What are they?"

She looks at me, astonished. "British," she replies.

We mosey on, past empty beaches, higgledy-piggledy villages and lush green fields scattered with dazzlingly white sheep whose tails, as everywhere in Wales, are disconcertingly undocked.

It's been a brilliant autumn day, but as the shadows lengthen, a chill creeps over the land, and we're glad to arrive at our home for the night, a pretty 16th-century longhouse.

A wedding party is just leaving, the guests chattering in Welsh, their cheeks as red as the heart-shaped balloons bobbing along the path.

There's a welcoming fire crackling in the lounge and everything smells gorgeous: the wedding lilies, the lavender soap, the hayfield outside. But the best aromas come with our home-cooked dinner of delicate cauliflower soup, lobster and lemon flan.

It's been a day of mooching and meandering. Tomorrow it's back to bustle as we tackle Holyhead's traffic and gigantic ferries - but our last day in Wales has taught us the value of taking things slowly. Araf.

IF YOU GO
* Cathay Pacific flies from Auckland to London daily. For more information or bookings.

* Whichever way you approach Anglesey there will be castles, great scenery and fascinating history: self-drive is recommended. We loved our stay at Cleifiog Uchaf, near Valley.

* For general information about visiting Wales, go to visitwales.co.nz.

Pamela Wade travelled with assistance from VisitWales and Cathay Pacific.