Sunday, October 2, 2011

New Zealand trip, day 2: Friday into Sunday

Sunday, October 2

I spent the rest of Friday in the LA airport and boarding the plane to Auckland. It turned out that J was indeed an aisle seat--which made me look stupid when I asked the Qantas guy if there were any aisle seats open instead of the seat American Airlines had assigned me--but was ultimately very welcome news and worth looking stupid in front of a complete stranger.

I've decided Qantas is my favorite airline, for these reasons:
  • The employees are exceptionally friendly and helpful, from the customer service over the phone to the flight attendants to the captain. They all seemed genuinely interested in doing what they could to serve us.
  • They have a rule against Furbies.
  • They gave us a menu and meal schedule at the beginning of the flight. It was so nice to know we'd get dinner in the first 3 hours, "Refresh" (a bag of goodies) shortly after that to get us through the night, snacks throughout the night as needed, and breakfast within the last three hours of the flight. And the food was good and decently nutritious! And getting a goodie is just plain exciting, no matter who it comes from.
  • They gave me a miniature paddle with which to stir my tea.
  • They gave us lots of presents throughout the flight. It started with a blanket, pillow, toothbrush and toothpaste, headphones, and blindfold in each seat. Later they gave us meals, the Refresh bag, and periodic snacks, including an apple.
  • Their in-flight magazine featured parts of the world other than the Caribbean.
  • The pillows were actually substantial. Mine was almost too fluffy.
  • They have cool accents.
  • I even remember liking them when I was little. I think they gave me a coloring book and crayons, and probably a pin, too. (Do you sense a theme of gifts?)
Saturday flew by. Literally.

Sunday morning we touched down in Auckland. The hallways leading into the baggage claim and customs area are really cool. They have big murals of different naturey scenes and have complementary nature sounds playing in the background. Another section was decorated to imitate a rugby stadium and included audio of cheering fans.

I had to write my country of birth on my immigration form, and the immigration guy seemed excited that I was born in Papua New Guinea, and we struck up a conversation about PNG while he stamped my form and passport.

In the Auckland airport, I used an ATM for the first time in my life, so I could pay for a bus ticket to New Plymouth. I hopped on the airport shuttle bus which brought me to Manukau City Centre, basically a mall. Have you ever walked into a mall, after not showering and not really sleeping for 36 hours, pulling two suitcases and carrying a backpack? I have. It feels a little weird, and I got some strange looks. But it was a comfortable place to grab a kebab to eat and camp out for a few hours while waiting for the bus to New Plymouth.

Then I hopped on to an InterCity bus to New Plymouth, where my brother and the rest of Team Cat Biscuit live. Before this trip, pretty much all I knew about New Zealand was that it's beautiful. Auckland looked okay, but didn't live up to the country's reputation of beauty (mostly because it basically just looks like a city). But once we got out into the countryside, I saw why New Zealand has this reputation. I wouldn't let myself fall asleep because the view was stunning. We drove through rolling green hills with vibrant green grass--the kind that almost looks fuzzy--dotted with grazing cows and sheep. My favorites were the lambs who had been sheared but still had woolly legs. It was kinda like bellbottoms for sheep. After several hours we went through a tunnel and were suddenly surrounded by lush, green mountains. There were a few rocky cliffs, but mostly they looked like massive piles of trees and ferns. Then, around another bend, the Pacific Ocean appeared . . . steely blue water with white foam.

Here's a picture from where we stopped for dinner. I took quite a few
pictures from the bus, but it's hard get not blurry ones. More will be
going on Facebook later, as I have time.
The bus ride was almost seven hours in all, and only the last hour or so was too dark to see out. So, although it made for a grueling day, it was a great way to see a good chunk of the north island. We finally arrived in New Plymouth at 9:00 p.m., about 45 minutes late, and Josh and Julia were there to welcome me and usher me into a cab (another first!). In a few minutes, we were home at last and feasted on vegan lasagna, roasted vegetables, and apple pie that Colby and Cheryl had made. Then I took a shower and went to bed--two highly welcome things after 36 hours of travel.

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