Sunday, October 16, 2011

New Zealand trip, days 14, 15, and 15 again: Hamilton and home

Friday, October 14

Last night we said goodbye to our Wellington roommates--Fabio and Nick were the only two left from that first night in the hostel. This morning we caught an early-morning bus from Wellington to Hamilton, and the day was mostly spent driving. It's worth noting that our first bus was a double-decker. Yes, we sat on the second story.

The point of going to Hamilton was to spend the night near Auckland without being in Auckland because of all the Rugby World Cuppers there for the final few games. We have heard that Hamilton is a good place to live, but there's not much to do there. We arrived late afternoon and, after checking in to the hostel, the only thing we did was walk down to a lake which was maybe a mile away. Then we made dinner, I rearranged the contents of my luggage and carryons, and we're going to bed early because my bus to Auckland tomorrow leaves at 5:45 a.m.
The lake in Hamilton

Saturday, October 15, Take 1

This morning we got up an an ungodly hour, tried really hard not to disturb our sleeping roommate, and walked to the bus station with all our luggage in tow. Normally, 5:45 a.m. is not my friend. Today, though, it was at least better than 4:55 a.m., which is when we initially thought my bus was leaving. There was no point in Josh paying for a bus fare to Auckland, only to immediately turn around and go right back the way we came, all the way to New Plymouth. So we said goodbye in Hamilton; I got on the bus, and he hitchhiked back to New Plymouth. 

Most of the people on the bus had been on it all night, so they were mostly asleep or highly groggy when I boarded. Sleeping on buses is impossible for me, so I stayed awake and soaked up the last few hours of New Zealand scenery. 

The bus went to Manukau Centre where I did not go inside again with all my luggage again, but instead caught the first bus to the Auckland airport international terminal. The Qantas desk wasn't open quite yet, so I killed time for an hour before checking in and proceeding to security. Then I still had a few hours until the gate opened for my flight to Los Angeles. Fortunately, Auckland airport has an awesome passengers' lounge with comfy chairs and plenty of electrical outlets. There's also a large, lighted sculpture in the middle of the lounge, and the color of the light gradually changes, and it plays nature sounds. How cool is that?

On the screen that shows each departing flight's status, they have little directions out to the side for the passengers. For a long time it just said "Relax" next to mine since boarding time wasn't for a while. Closer to time, it changed to something like, "Gate opens in 50 minutes," and later, "Go to gate." Quite helpful!

Another thing I like about Qantas is the way they board. First they allowed families with children and anyone needing special assistance. Then the first class and other important people. Then they started boarding from the back of the plane and worked their way up. That makes infinitely more sense to me and is so much more efficient than loading the front first and moving back!

On a large plane, you know how you have the two sets of seats along the window, with another row of four or five seats in between? Well, I was in the middle section . . . all by myself! So I could stretch out and even lie down. I took a 30-45-minute nap, had a snack, then slept for another four hours straight, which is unheard of for me on planes!

Sulley with the paddle Qantas gave us for stirring tea/coffee.

Saturday, October 15, Encore

Saturday was so cool that I decided to do it again, this time starting the day in Los Angeles instead of Hamilton. One perk of the return trip is that the flights got progressively shorter. First, because the winds were in our favor, so each of the longer flights was shorter (LAX to AUK was around 13 hours; AUK to LAX was more like 9 or 10). And second, because the longest one was first, the second one was only a couple hours, and the third was under an hour.

I would like to point out that I've been in large airports where the primary language was not English, that were significantly easier to navigate than LAX. Some signage and friendlier staff would be helpful. Just sayin' . . .

Since I was back in a hemisphere where it was autumn instead of spring, I had to get a pumpkin spice latte from a Starbucks in the airport. It was tasty and delightfully fallish!

While boarding flight #3, I ran into a friend from home, so we got to catch up for a few minutes while walking down the jetway. Apparently we were also at LAX at the same time but didn't know it. Also, they did give us drinks this time on this flight, which was nice. Then we landed, all my luggage landed with us, a friend picked me up from the airport, and I got to go home. 

And that concludes my adventures in New Zealand. Can I go back?

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