Final Thoughts on our Trip to New Zealand

by Renae

Date: Friday, February 27, 2009
Time: 11:30 am Hendersonville, NC
Location: In my recliner

We returned from our New Zealand adventure this past Monday and made it back to Hendersonville on Tuesday. We left New Zealand at 7:15 pm Monday, and arrived in Charlotte at 8:30 pm on Monday. Let me tell you–it was the longest hour and fifteen minutes I’ve EVER had! Since we didn’t have Internet access at my sister’s, and since our days were always filled with something to do, I didn’t have time to write daily journals. But I’ll catch you up on a few notable happenings here.

The Black Sand Beaches at Piha
Despite his having just been hired for a teaching position (applied Friday, interviewed Tuesday, hired Wednesday, started work Thursday!), my brother-in-law made time to drive us out to the famous beach at Piha, a surfers’ haven. When I first caught a glimpse of the breaking surf of the Tasman Sea over the mountains, I was spellbound, captivated, in love! And even more so as we drew closer. The beach was uncrowded on this particular day, with just few surfers braving the waves and just a few sunbathers catching the rays. A fine mist filled the air, making for a salty-sweet sensation from head to toe. The black sand was hot—burning hot! On our way back to the car, I had to stop and put my socks on as I was not able to carry the baby back over the burning sand. It was peaceful there, quiet. A place I could imagine retiring to, with Australia just 1,000 miles to the west. I haven’t been to many destinations in my life, but Piha is the loveliest I’ve ever seen with mountains and cliffs and lush greenness alongside a pounding surf. I long to return, to spend many relaxing hours with my feet in the Tasman, my skin under lotion and the high Piha sun.

The Skytower
The Skytower in Auckland is billed as offering the highest viewing point in the Southern Hemisphere. It truly is grand. We walked from the University of Auckland, a good 20-30 minute hike. The elevator ride to the top is brisk, climbing x feet in under a minute. We purchased the “complete” viewing experience, where for around $25 U.S. my son and I could access three viewing levels—the uppermost level, the café level and the main level. From the uppermost level, if your timing is right, you can watch bungy jumpers plummet their way toward earth from the main level. From the café level, you can enjoy coffee, beer, soup , sandwiches and snacks perched high above the city with glass windows all around.

And from the main level, you can—if you dare—stand on a section of glass floor as thick as very thick concrete and look straight down to the ground below. I wasn’t brave enough to do this; even looking from a distance made my legs feel weak. Oh—and the elevator is also equipped with a glass floor, so you can watch as you move up, up, up and down, down, down. Again, I didn’t look. On the bottom floor of the Skytower is a large gift shop with many treasures and good prices. So if you’re itching to shop, try to hold off until you get to the Skytower so you can see what’s available there.

The Eats
Did I mention that we ate lamburgers? How about “hot dogs” that turned out to be corn dogs filled with greasy, mushy mutton? My brother-in-law also treated us to venison burgers—my first time ever eating deer. It was not horrible, but I wouldn’t choose it on a menu given standard alternatives. We also tried (and loved!) hokey pokey, New Zealand’s national ice cream, and lollie cake, another NZ specialty. Interestingly, eggs in New Zealand are not kept refrigerated. If you need eggs, look for them on the shelves, not in the dairy section. And paper products in this environmentally conscious county are very hard to come by. Paper plates are very limited and VERY expensive, so get used to eating on napkins or on regular plates. Fast food places give you one napkin if you’re lucky. Coke products are expensive as well. And if you like half and half—you’ll have to wait until you return home to have it. We used real cream in our coffee; my first time opening it I was like, “What is wrong with this?” when I saw the thickened clumps at the top of the bottle. My brother-in-law assured me it was normal so I drank it, even though it sort of turned my stomach each time I poured.

The Flights Home; Back to Rudeness
For $75 NZ, we were able to purchase a “comfort seat” on our Air New Zealand flight home. This gave us the third seat in our row, so we would have more room to spread out during the flight. I thought it would be great—perhaps I could even get some sleep! But it still was not to be, as the arm rests between the seats do not go all the way up! So for me to use the extra seat to sleep, I had to put my legs under the armrest—not comfortable at all. Perhaps Air New Zealand should take a lesson from US Airways—the armrests on their seats go all the way up.

When we arrived back at LAX, I quickly found myself overwhelmed with American rudeness. Did I mention that the people in NZ seemed, in general, to be a pleasant and friendly lot? After we passed through customs and found our baggage, we took them to the US Airways counter for check-in. The lady there was most unfriendly. With nary a smile, she seemed as though it pained her to wait on us, as if we were an inconvenience to be borne. She told me to take my bags to such and such a place for check in—way down at “that wall of people,” she said. So down to the wall of people we went. The line went outside so we, too, dragged our luggage outside. But we didn’t see how we could get to the back of the line without going down the curb and into the street, which wouldn’t have worked with our luggage cart. So I raised my voice through the crowded line to ask an airport security guard who was directing the line, “Excuse me, how do I get to the back of this line?” A lady standing there in the line invited me to but in front of her, but she didn’t look happy about it. So I told the security guard, “Never mind, this lady said I can get in here.” He said, “No, you need to check your bags first.” I said that the gal at the US Airways counter told me to come here, to this wall of people. Then the lady who offered to let us cut in front of her said, “No, you need to go back to the US Airways counter and check them there.” The security guard gruffly agreed, pointing me back the other way. I was frustrated as the lady told me to come to this wall of people.

But we huffed back to the far-off US Airway counter, me thinking that I must have misunderstood. In the meantime, Matthew suddenly starts crying … I thought because I was gruff with him telling him to “hurry up, come on.” Then he pointed to his sandaled foot, where I noticed his sock was red with blood. Seems he rolled the bag over his foot and crunched his toenail. I asked if we needed to find medical help right away or if he could wait till we got rid of the bags. He said he could wait.
Thank goodness. So up to the US Airways Xray counter we went. The man told us to put our bags under the tape. Luckily, he came to look at them and said, “Wait a minute, are you going to Charlotte? You need to take your bags down there,” he said, pointing back to that wall of people. So I explained how we already went down there and were sent back here … and then he said that there was another not-very-visible Xray check-in place right BEFORE the wall of people. We found it and on to security we went.

The security people were unfriendly as well, as we placed our things in the bins BEFORE removing the bins from the pile. A guard gruffly told us to remove our things—and then stood there impatiently waiting to add more empty bins to the pile while we tried to quickly remove our items, take out single bins and place the items in the single bins instead. And it just felt like we had too much stuff – shoes, laptop, laptop case, two backpacks, rolling carryon, purse, camera, blackberry, vests — that’s a lot of stuff to take on and off in a short period of time. And we were in the lane for first time travelers and those with children.

I breathed easier once we made it though security though, knowing it would be the last time I’d have to do this for this trip. So we found our gate, grabbed some lunch, and sat down to wait. While waiting, Matthew realized that he didn’t have his Nintendo case—and with it, four of his Nintendo games. He apparently left them on the Air NZ plane. I didn’t know what to do … there was no way I could get back through security and to and from the other terminal in time for our flight to Charlotte. So I approached the US Airways desk to ask for help. The rude woman there said nothing to me, she just stared and frowned as if to say, “What do YOU want?” I said, “I’m not sure if you can help me or if perhaps you can point me to someone who can … but …” and then I explained the situation. She quickly said, “I can’t do anything for you.” I said, “Can you at least get me the phone number for the Air NZ desk so I can call them?” She said, “I don’t even think I have that number …” But then she looked on a piece of paper and said, “Call this number.” So I did. And, after five minutes trying hard to understand a very thick accent, I learned I was speaking to Air Japan. That’s when I decided to call my husband, who reminded me that the games were replaceable if we didn’t get them back … and who called Air NZ and spoke to their lost and found department.

As of this writing, we still don’t have the games. I doubt we’ll ever see them again.

I miss my sister and brother-in-law and especially my cute little niece who, I hear, continues to call for “Matt, Matt, Nae, Nae!” yet Matt and Nae don’t answer. I miss the New Zealand greenery and weather and friendly, smiling faces. I miss walking around the University, where I felt a part of something much bigger than myself. But most of all, I miss the adventure, the travel, the newness! And that’s why I’m already planning my next adventure—this time, over the summer, perhaps we’ll take the kids out West to explore the Pacific Coast or the Grand Canyon, or maybe to Banff and Calgary and the Canadian Rockies.

And of course another trip to New Zealand is also in the plan—hopefully sooner rather than later!

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