Once upon a time you had to be seriously hardy, brave and rich to see the great wonders of the world - the Pyramids and the Sphinx, Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, the Acropolis in Athens - so only a privileged few were able to enjoy their splendours.

These days the wonders of global tourism have allowed millions of more ordinary people to experience these treasures and marvel at the skills of the people who created them.

I know it is fashionable in some quarters to sneer at mass tourism - and it does have its downside - but personally I think the more people who can see for themselves these pinnacles of human endeavour - however fleetingly and superficially - the better.

Certainly the moment, a few years ago, when I was able to stand at the base of the Great Pyramid at Cheops and touch its warm 3000-year-old stone blocks with my hand is an experience I will never forget. I may have seen the pyramids on countless occasions in films and documentaries, I may have read their story in many books and magazines, but to be there, see for myself their towering presence and know that they were standing here long before humans reached New Zealand, was still extremely moving, even inspiring.


And it's still not especially easy to get to these places. Going to Egypt, for instance, remains far beyond the financial resources of a lot of New Zealanders and, anyway, the nature of the country puts a lot of people off.

Of the many countries I've been to I think Egypt would qualify as the most difficult with its constant dirt, noise, patchy services, press of people, grasping hands and perpetual demands for money. On top of that, things were a bit tense as a result of terrorist activities - an explosion at Sharm el-Sheikh threw the family back home into a panic - and there were armed guards and security checks everywhere.

But it was well worth the effort. Being able to go into some of the extraordinary tombs the pharaohs carved into the living rock of the Valley of the Kings, and then see the stunning artefacts they had buried with them on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, was simply awe-inspiring, and I fully appreciate how lucky I was to have the opportunity.

For those for whom Egypt itself is out of reach, however, there is now a next best thing: the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. Some of the items on display are eye-popping, others are moving and the whole exhibition is close to overwhelming.

If you want to get a taste of the magnificence of the ancient pharaohs, but can't see yourself ever making it to Egypt, get a cheap airfare across the Tasman and take in this extraordinary exhibition.