Today is the day I got a new stamp in my passport. Today is the day I entered the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. Today is the day I moved to New Zealand!
San Fran to The New Country
After boarding the Boeing 747 in San Francisco, we were told there would be a slight delay due to some sort of mechanical problem with a fuel line leak. Not only did this sound a bit disconcerting, but the plane had been sitting at the gate for hours and I would have thought the problem would have been discovered and corrected before we were allowed to board. Hmmm…. Nevertheless, we were soon on our way and left to enjoy a long 13 hours.
The safety video on the Air New Zealand flight was amusing at least to me, as I had never seen it before. Bear Grylls (of Man v Wild) and scenic New Zealand! YouTube. What more is there to say, other than why don’t United and some of the other US airlines make their videos interesting enough to make people want to watch? I had heard Air New Zealand had some interesting safety briefings, and now I’m curious enough to check a couple of the others out.
My neighbors in the seats next to me introduced themselves, and by the time the flight was over, this friendly couple had given me their card and invited me to their home in Tauranga (“any excuse to fire up the barbie,” said the wife!). The invitation even went so far as to have me stay in their spare bed and show me some good trout fishing if I get up there at some point.
The flight to Auckland was indeed a long one, but I was able to sleep for a good portion of it off and on, so didn’t wind up too badly jet lagged. Whenever I awoke, I looked outside my window and periodically saw the stars change, which was pretty amazing! One of my early glimpses was of the Big Dipper setting, which I thought weird to see happen for the first time on Kwajalein. Later I didn’t recognize any of the stars or constellations that I could see.
At 5:40 am local time, minutes before landing, the cabin lights were all turned off and I saw the dramatic and sudden appearance of Auckland’s night lights. It was rather magical, as my first view of the country I will grow to call home. I looked around a few times feeling I wanted to tell everyone “look at that! Look at that!”
Just as we had mechanical problems at the beginning of the flight, we were delayed a few minutes in pulling up to the gate as there was a problem with the automated tunnel system, or some such issue, so the pilot didn’t have the guidance he needed to get us to our gate. Oh Air New Zealand…some good first impressions I’m getting of their planes and services, but not so great impressions of sufficient maintenance. 😛
There was almost no one at customs, so I breezed through that desk so fast I barely glanced at my new passport stamp (then later drunk it in). After waiting what felt like a very long time, all four of my checked bags appeared and I made it through biosecurity with just a brief check of my hiking boots.
After getting my bags dropped off again to go the rest of the way to Wellington, I *almost* had to wind up paying full baggage fees again ($350+ instead of the much more reasonable $40 Alaska Airlines charged me in Yakima). Apparently the three bags were not entered into the system properly, likely at the San Francisco counter. I was so grateful to her for making the system work to finally accept them.
With less than an hour to go until my final flight, I asked a shuttle driver for help to the free bus transfer to the domestic terminal…and as is often the case when I ask for something, it was almost right in front of me.
I had to go through security once more, but it was much less of an ordeal than in America. In fact, it was almost more of an ordeal to me as I was so thrown off.
I saw someone ahead of me taking his laptop out, so I asked “laptop and liquids out?” And the security officer said “laptop yes, liquids no.” I then threw my hooded sweatshirt in a bin and started to take off my vest. The officer stopped me and said, “did you just come from the States?”
Really, what gave me away?!
I came back saying something to the effect of yeah, I’m used to stripping down to go through security. I don’t think he stopped laughing at me for a while.
Oh, and after visiting an ATM in the airport to get some NZ cash, I realized I like the look of my money better listed in NZ Dollars, as it makes it appear that there is more there than it’s worth.
Auckland to Wellington
The takeoff from Auckland seemed to remind me of a Kwaj view, with seeing ocean just off the runway to my left. The most obvious difference was being able to make out some land across that stretch of sea.
As soon as we took off we had a brief look at the countryside (before we flew over the ocean a little ways anyway). It was SO GREEEEEN!!! Okay, so maybe not quite the green of the UK in the summer, but this was pretty remarkable.
We saw the Bear Grylls safety video at the beginning as with the longer Air New Zealand flight. However, the TVs were then tuned to a quiz game. Many were about New Zealand, some were international, some were random. One of my favorite questions was “what pie do Americans eat traditionally at Thanksgiving?” Only my favorite, pumpkin! I also learned that Game of Thrones was the most illegally downloaded TV show in the world in 2012, and Subway overtook McDonalds in 2011 as the largest fast food chain in the world, with over 40,000 stores in 102 countries. Now you know.
Flying back over the countryside again, I saw more green. I thought if this is winter, it’s paradise! It’s as if the best winter weather was on display, and I even thought it quite balmy and refreshing when I finally got off the plane. I think I can handle this kind of winter. 😉 Still, the forecast is calling for a need of a rain coat by the end of the week….
Anyway, approaching Wellington I was struck by how prettily situated the capital is. Then I saw some of the snow-covered mountains of the South Island across the Cook Strait.
That sight literally took my breath away, and then brought tears to my eyes.
What a privilege and an honor, I thought, to be allowed to come live, work, and play in such a beautiful and friendly country.
A former co-worker from Kwajalein, who I replaced at the end of his contract and who has worked at MetService since, was there at the airport to pick me up and get me to my temporary abode. He kindly gave me some information that I think was mostly given to a mind glazed over.
I’m staying in a fully furnished apartment in downtown, and it’s pretty nice! This is just until I find a more permanent place to live in the next few weeks.
In the afternoon I did manage to get a few errands run as I wandered about, including buying a new phone (my old smart phone was dead after non-use for 2 years, and new batteries couldn’t even rejuvenate the poor thing). My New Zealand phone number makes me already start to feel some sense of settlement.
I even found a lovely little coffee and pastry stand in my wanderings, not far from my apartment building. Starbucks is just downstairs, but I held off on that and am glad I did. The little stand was run by a young French couple, and I thought it quite excellent. A few hours later, I found they were gone. They must have been quite efficient at moving the stand, as well as the several sets of tables and chairs that were outside the stand earlier. I’ll have to look for them another time.
Tonight I had an amazing dinner of New Zealand lamb rump (oh yum!) and hash browns and the only cole slaw I have ever actually liked (it wasn’t doused with vinegar and mayonnaise, barely a taste of vinegar, so I could better taste what I was eating and enjoyed it).
And the accents. Love the accents. I must stick out like a sore thumb when I open my mouth.
Enjoying news, documentaries and exploring shows, and greyhound racing (Rickshaw Rosie and Hot Muffin came in first and second) after settling in, and now I’ve got to finally get some good sleep as I’m quickly and finally hitting the wall.
More exploring and errands tomorrow.
Such a blessing to be here safely at last, with all my bags. Thank you for having me, New Zealand!