Saturday, January 19, 2008

Arrived in New Zealand at Last

After the usual nine hour wait in the Los Angeles airport, I was finally on the way to New Zealand. The flight left only a little bit late, but the pilot said that we would arrive on time. It was a totally full flight, at least in "Pacific" class (otherwise known as "cattle" class) and I had an aisle seat. Unfortunately, the seat next to mine was occupied by a large heavy smoker (ahh!, the aroma of stale tobacco smoke) who had beer for breakfast. He was a pleasant fellow otherwise, but the atmosphere wasn't really conducive to sleeping. Fortunately, there was a large selection of movies and the flight was smooth and uneventful.

Start of Soapbox.
Like much of the world, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening in air travel. While the airlines have mostly eliminated the term "First Class", the difference between "Business Class" and Economy has become a huge gulf. Business class on long-haul transoceanic flights now has seating that virtually converts into a mini stateroom with a flat bed (they even supply pajamas), while economy class seems tighter and more crowded than ever. The airlines have also introduced an economy plus class where, if you pay a bit more than full fare economy, there is more space between the rows, although the seat width is no different. Although they don't admit it, it sure seems like the rest of economy has become tighter.
End of Soapbox.

Arrival in Auckland was fun. At this time of the year, Air New Zealand has three direct flight from LAX to Auckland each evening, 8:00, 8:45 and 9:30 pm. They were all full. Evidently, the two earlier flights were delayed on the ground long enough that all three arrived in Auckland at about the same time, along with several flights from Asia. I've never seen the lines so long. As I have a Returning Resident's visa, I go through a separate queue for NZ citizens and residents. Usually this means no wait at Immigration. This time it was about 20 minutes. Needless to say the visitor queue was even longer. The customs queues (four abreast) were about 100 feet long. The only saving grace was that with the immigration delays, luggage was coming out when I got to the baggage area.

Cycling in New Zealand is obviously popular. there were at least six other people waiting for bicycles to come out. They were on one on the "earlier" flights and were heading to Christchurch, but their flight was so late that they'd missed the connection. They were pretty mellow about it and even asked me to join their tour.

I sailed through Customs and MAF (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) inspections. They didn't seem concerned about cranberry jam this time and only wanted to know if I had a Mountain or Road bike (the right answer is "Road"). It might have had something to do with the volume of traffic--or maybe it was my mature bearded respectable countenance (Yeah Right!) .

As I came out of the terminal, the Airport shuttle bus was waiting, so I dragged the bike box, giant 70 pound bag with trailer, backpack and computer case aboard and off to the city we went.

I was heading to Waiheke Island and the bus drop-off is across the street from the ferry terminal. The street is six lanes at that point and I must have been a reathr strange site to be continuously running across in the traffic to the ticket building, first with my backpack and computer, then the bike box and, finally, the trailer bag.

The bus was just five minutes too late for the 10 am ferry, so I had nearly an hour to get some cash and the necessary cafe latte.

An hour and a half later, I was finally on Waiheke with friends.

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