Monday, 13 October 2008

21st - 23rd Sept - Travelling

I'm going to split these entries out into manageable chunks, as otherwise it will take me forever to write, and you will have a very long essay to read at the end! I will post them in time order, so you will need to read from the bottom up...

The journey out to New Zealand was a long one; we got a taxi from our flat which only cost us half what it should, as we diverted to pick up another passenger whose taxi had broken down (it rather amused me that the driver asked us a number of times whether we minded, and thanked us for helping out, as though we would turn down the chance of halving a rather large fare!), then a coach from Bristol to Heathrow. Two hours on a coach shouldn't be that long, but it drags when you know that you are going to be spending a good chunk of the next day or so sitting down! We arrived at Heathrow, found our terminal and check in desk, and were then told that our plane was delayed by two hours. Now, another two hours wasn't that much in the grand scheme of things; Air New Zealand gave us £7 each to spend in the airport restaurants/bars by way of an apology (though £7 doesn't actually go that far at airport prices!), and as the reason for the delay was a severe technical fault in Hong Kong which had had our original plane grounded, I was rather pleased that they hadn't decided to go ahead, and end up with us making an emergency landing somewhere over Siberia.

We took off at just after 11pm, UK time. Despite all of the planning that I'd put into the holidays, I still had butterflies, very similar to the ones I'd had before setting off to backpack around Australia, and for exactly the same reasons. We were very much stepping into the unknown - apart from "in the campervan", we didn't even know where we were going to be spending the first night, or in what state we would be when we arrived. My big fear was that there would have been some sort of communication error, and I was going to have to, whilst jet lagged, persuade a recalcitrant clerk that we had paid for a campervan for three weeks... In fact, the whole holiday was completely up in the air, which, despite being what we wanted (I'd resisted the travel agent's wishes that I pay for hotels all the way round), still gave me a few jitters.

The flights from London to Hong Kong, and then from HK to Auckland were pretty uneventful - we met probably the only unpleasant Kiwis on the whole trip in the form of two ladies in the seats in front of us (One leant her seat back as soon as she was allowed, and as I had put things in the pockets and was slumped down in my seat, she hit my knees very hard. When I complained, she and her friend grumbled about us all the way to Auckland... Fortunately, we did not see them again once we were out of the airport...). The landing in Hong Kong was interesting - Hong Kong being a sea-based port, the airport was right out in the harbour, meaning that, as we could only see out of side windows, it looked very much like we were coming in to land on the water. It did occur to me on how much trust we put in complete strangers - I had never met the pilot or crew of the plane before that day, and probably never would again, but we all trusted implicitly that they would get us (and our baggage!) to our destination in one piece.

The whole journey, from flat to Auckland airport, took approximately 33 hours, and, though I dozed for about 7 of those, it was very long, and still not over, as we had to get through customs, and find our van...

Going through New Zealand customs was an interesting experience - they have very strict rules on the import of any food, plants or animals, and this is the only airport where we were met by food sniffer dogs rather than drugs ones... The two dogs we saw were incredibly cute; one black labrador which wasn't much older than a puppy, and one basset hound, where we had to put our hand luggage on the floor as he couldn't reach them when we were holding them. Both dogs seemed to love their jobs, particularly the part where they (with their handlers) jumped up on the carousel in order to check the bags coming off the plane. Fortunately, nothing suspicious was found in our bags (I declared the two packets of sweets that we brought with us!), and we got out into the terminal with relative ease.

Next job was to find a SIM card for our phone (far cheaper than activating roaming on our UK based phones), which was not a problem at all, and contact Maui, the campervan company. They directed us to the shuttle bus, which had a very friendly and garrulous Maori driver, and, after quite a long wait in the Maui offices, we were introduced to the van which was to be our home for the next 16 days. This was a 2 person van, not as big as some of the ones which we see driving round the UK (no extra part over the driver's seat), but certainly bigger than any vehicle I'd driven, so I very generously let John take the first turn driving, and off we set to find food and our first planned campsite...

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