We made it! After hanging out in the LAX lounge for way too long, we got piled on to the plane and girded ourselves for the long flight. The seat configuration was very different than what we had experienced on American business to Australia. The American business seats were much more pod-like; these seats were longer and narrower. They looked way worse when we first got on.
Now, I know that sounds ungrateful, so don’t get me wrong, I was saying a big “hallelujah” to being in business, but they just didn’t look as comfortable.
We settled into our seats and watched the very informative “know your seat” instructional video that was provided. It was actually quite informative and I learned a lot about the seats. In fact, my initial judgment about the seats was dispelled by some of the very cool engineering that had been thought of. First, the table came out with a button push and could slide forward allowing your buddy to come and sit on the foot stool and you could eat dinner together. Clever. Next, the seats would move forward and turn into a lay-flat bed with a nice memory foam cover on it. You needed help to do it, but it was also quite clever.
So now that we were educated, off we go about 30 minutes late. We had some dinner and some nice New Zealand wine, watched a movie, took an Ambien and settled in for a sleep. The beds were very comfortable and I ended up sleeping about 6 hours; Susanne got about 4. Not too bad.
We landed in Auckland and made our way through immigration. If you have never been to New Zealand they are very serious about biological hazards coming into the country. There are signs everywhere. If you have a pair of used hiking boots you have brought along and don’t declare them, they quite sternly inform you that you will be fined $400. Despite my propensity to break rules, I declared them. Thankfully I had cleaned them well before leaving having known that despite the Kiwi’s overall friendly demeanor, a pair of dirty boots was going to make for an unpleasant start to the trip. No thanks.
We made our way through customs and found the domestic recheck desk where we deposited our bags with the very helpful woman at the counter. She asked if we wanted to take an earlier flight which we agreed with happily.
We ambled over to the domestic terminal, stopping at the coffee wagon just outside the main door and got a couple of “flat whites.” They were wonderful. For whatever reason, New Zealand has wonderful coffee. Susanne thinks it’s partly their spectacularly good milk.
We chilled for an hour and then boarded the plane. Last row. Bummer. Downside of changing your flight. Thankfully we were the only ones in the 6 seats in the back row and it is only a 1.5 hr flight.
I moved over to the other window because the flight flies right down the spine of the South Island and I knew the views were going to be really great. They were! It was a beautiful day and views of Mt. Cook and the glacial valleys were spectacular.
Coming to New Zealand is always a deeply emotional thing for me as a good part of me has been shaped by my experiences here. The first time I was in New Zealand was in 1981 when I spent almost a year traveling around Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and some Pacific Islands. My friend Tasha and I hitchhiked all over New Zealand for about 3.5 months. And not to sound like the old guy that I am, but back then, nobody in the US even knew New Zealand existed. It was an incredible way to experience the country and the people. Over the 10 months hauling my backpack around the world, I spend $3000. A far cry from my whining about the business class seats. Doh!
In 1986, I spent almost 5 months doing field work for my Masters degree in New Zealand. It was incredibly rugged and at time dangerous work. A helicopter would fly me up to some remote peak and drop me off with some pre-arranged pick up point about a week later. This was long before cell phones, so if I somehow managed to fall off a 3000′ cliff the odds that they would ever find me were essentially zero. But, hey, I was young and stupid back then. Now I am old and stupid. I can still close my eyes and visualize some of the crazy helicopter flying we did even after all these years–I loved it.
Which brings me into the landing at the Queenstown airport. I had never flown into the airport before and the descent is not for the faint of heart. We were on an A320, a pretty good size plane, and for it to get to the runway, it has to descend down and through the narrow mountain valleys surrounded by amazing rough peaks. I don’t think they send newbie pilots in to do that landing.
The main mountain range around Queenstown are the Remarkables. And every time I see them, they are just as remarkable as ever.
We picked up the car and headed over to the hotel. For whatever reason, I just don’t have any trouble getting my brain to switch over to driving on the left side of the road. I do however constantly turn on the windshield wipers instead of my blinker.
We upgraded our room to a lake view, but it wasn’t ready yet. I was hungry so we went down and had some greasies and piss (fish and chips and beer) at the restaurant and then went for a walk along the lake. The weather was very pleasantly warm and we were glad to be here.
The room turned out to be just ok. Really small and nowhere to put any of our stuff. The shower is weird and I caused a big flood. Doh. But all in all, we are only here for a night before heading out tomorrow.
We will just chill tonight and try to get some rest.