It only turned out to be 24 straight hours of travel.
I was totally unsure how long it would actually be (I could NOT get my mind around the time and date change particulars to calculate it) and just how terrible it would be for a plane-o-phobe like myself to be so long entrapped in the flying tube, but it wasn’t THAT bad. There was a little last minute packing hecticness, but a reassuring airport send off from a dear friend helped to keep me calm when last minute jitters threatened several times to bring on hyperventilation. I changed planes in LA, in what must surely be the WORST airport I have ever encountered. Totally separate terminals, no transport between them, no INFO indicating you must schlep yourself and your bags to another building (or, in my case, SEVEN terminals away. Alongside the sidewalk outside baggage claim. Dodging frantic travelers, their luggage carts, and inhaling exhaust from idling vehicles the entire way.) It was also the first time anyone’s tried to put me through one of the body radiating nudie machines, too, which I politely requested an alternative to, and they sent me through the regular metal detector. I had to have hand inspections done of my bags because I could not have any more bomb-looking stuff in my carry-ons if I had a REAL bomb along: I have two battery backups, one of which is solar; a transformer to plug into my rental’s cigarette lighter that can also be clipped directly onto the auto battery, so has the alligator clips to accomplish that; my senondary monitor; my actual laptop; power cord adaptors for at least 8 different devices – I looked either like a terrorist or as if I was on my way to re-animate Frankenstein’s monster.
Anyway – the Quantas flight from LA to Auckland on an Airbus 330 was blessedly empty – alas, I had PAID extra for the favor of requesting a window seat, thus giving me just one extra seat next to me, though I enviously watched many in the center stretch out flat along all FOUR empty seats and conk out. Alas also, the fourteen hour flight had one crying baby and one crying toddler in my center cabin area of about 15 rows who screamed every time she was re-directed by her mom away from the 1st class cabin/told to stay in her seat/told to be quiet/hungry/asked to eat/tired/asked to sleep/wet/poopy – in other words, she cried, screamed, shrieked, wailed, or ran up and down the aisles flinging her hands wildly and knocking into anyone or thing on either side for literally 11.5 hours of the flight.
BUT – no murders were actually committed (though I am sure many contemplated it) and we arrived at about 9:30am into Auckland. My window seat was also over the wing, limiting my visibility, but it was green and hilly – the perfect image of Hobbiton, for those who have seen/recall the landscape in that part of the movie. My bags received a mighty sniffing from an adorable retriever who picked up easily on the ghost of the ham remnants brought along as a snack that I’d been obliged to dispose of before going through customs. While the very nice Kiwi woman handler was extracting the now-empty but still hammy Tupperware container from my backpack, another customs agent standing immediately adjacent took it upon himself to extract my passport and claims form from the transparent pocket they could be seen in and check my document. Efficient, but sort of shocking! But everyone was very friendly and I swear it seemed as if only 20 people or so had come over on the plane, as the huge and gleaming airport had just as many (if not more) staff than arriving passengers being processed.
I swiftly found a cheapie ‘pay as you go phone’ for about $40 USD at the Vodafone kiosk conveniently sited right outside customs and was on my way with a new New Zealand telephone number and bus ticket to town in about 12 minutes total. The bus – which wended its way through INSANE highway traffic; even the either Kiwis or Aussies [didn’t hear them speak enough to distinguish which] in front of me were clutching the rails in front of them in panic as cars cut in front of the bus willy-nilly and trucks seemed about to hurtle without looking/stopping from side roads. I’d researched ahead of time the closest stop to my B&B – the Super Shuttle was $55; the bus $16 – and clicked the ‘stop’ beeper once we got close to the right street address. I just had to haul my 70 pounds of luggage (oh yes, I know; I weighed those babies to be sure I was under weight restrictions!) about the length of 30 buildings and I was at my B&B.
I thankfully caught the lady of the house about 10 minutes before she left to do errands, and was able to get right in to my room, shower and log onto the internet, suck down some restorative instant mochaccino (better than it sounds) and homemade cookies (heavenly) from the little beverage station. It steadied me, and I mean that literally – when I went to Europe too, I had the same symptoms: lightheadedness and bobbing and weaving due to lack of sleep, or stress, or merely the physical drain of travel. I stowed my umbrella and camera and headed out to explore.
The day was been changeable, though largely overcast with a few breaks of sun, spitting occasional rain and a few scant times starting to turn into REAL rain just long enough for me to whip out my umbrella (the only one on the street doing so – I must have immediately marked myself as a wuss tourist). It’s also a lot colder here than at home, even though it’s not COLD, per se. But maybe in the upper 60s with a near constant breeze (occasionally really cranking up to hard wind) and varying degrees of moisture left me bundling up for most of the day and huddling deeply into my jacket (again, as locals blithely jog past me in just a pair of scanty running shorts and perhaps a tank top.)
This place is – upon first impression – quite astounding. It takes elements of several places with which I am familiar and fuses them into something completely new. It smacks of England, and Hawai’i; the area I grew up in in upstate New York, and San Francisco.
The neighborhood I am staying in, Mount Eden, has a surfeit of the historic homes in spades that appear elsewhere in the city — adorable clapboard cottages decorated with gingerbread trim, paired with arts and crafts windows, and what appear to be stone roof tiles (?) and somewhat grim looking matching stone chimneys. Nearly every place boasts lovely, blowsy, very English-cottage-looking gardens, so the air everywhere is scented with roses, jasmine, other spicy scents that appear to come from the trees; flowers I don’t know how to identify…
Hills jut up suddenly, like moles kick up dirt clods on one’s lawn – there’s almost no land transition, it’s just -BAM!- towering green hill plopped down right thar yonder. The bays surrounding the city are the turquoise of the Caribbean in some places, with volcanic mountains ranging along the horizon, partly shrouded in mist and fog and clouds. The people ARE friendly – a nice older airport custodian man gave me a cheery ‘and how are you today, young lady; well?’ as he took a sip from the water fountain next to me – and their accents are charming (it took me a solid minute to filter through what he said to translate it out out of heavy Kiwi accent into my American brain). And yes, the boys do appear to be just as cute as they were rumored to be – I saw at least 10 guys today (several of whom were jogging shirtless – oh, the hardship!!) that I thought, “Well, HELLO there!” about – at home, I might possibly see that many fetching gentlemen in a very lucky year.
Yes, I did weary, especially considering my 4-ish hours of sleep in 48-ish hours – and my feet were killing me by the end of the day, and I got sort of lost, and following the main roads to try to keep onto my planned route necessitated walking alongside pretty heavy (stinky) Friday afternoon traffic, and there aren’t a whole lot of crosswalks, and it is VERY confusing to try to keep track of which direction cars might be threatening you from, so I have just been erring on the side of caution and either 1) waiting at the light for the green man, or 2) in areas without a cross-walk, just waiting ‘til there is absolutely NO traffic (or skating behind a local who makes a dash for it). But still – my feeling is one of awe. (And wishing I packed more warm clothes. I cannot even imagine using the short sleeved blouses I brought!)
I ate lunch/dinner at a food hall recommended by my Lonely Planet guide – a petite portion of a deelish lamb kebab sandwich, and two pieces of rose-flavored Turkish Delight, followed by one pint of ale at an Irish pub on my way back to my B&B.
I am typing this on my bed, and the window in my bedroom is flung open, admitting fresh and cool air but no bugs that I’ve yet seen – that plus a comfy bed promises a decadently excellent night’s sleep – so on that note….