Day 3. Monday. Hello Kiwi-land!

Trip Start Oct 09, 2010
Trip End Oct 31, 2010

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Flag of New Zealand  , Auckland,
Monday, October 11, 2010

6am, Monday. We're somewhere over Australia.

Although the flight from Singapore is during night hours we hardly sleep again, our body clocks have not adjusted and in my mind it should be about tea time on Sunday afternoon. It’s 4am in Singapore and we’ve passed Darwin now so it should be about 6am on the ground. It’s 8am in Auckland. My body is confused, I’m tired, we’ve been travelling for 28 hours. By the time we reach New Zealand we would have crossed 11 time zones and I can already feel the exhaustion set it. But I’m fuelled by my excitement, won’t be long now. 4 more hours and we’ll be there.

Breakfast is served: fruit, cereal with milk, scrambled eggs with chicken sausage, tomato and potatoes, bread rolls, and finally some coffee/tea.

As we get into New Zealand you see miles and miles of green farmland, I imagine Scotland should look like this. Far in the distance I can see the Sky Tower, we are really here! 11:50 am and we’re on the ground. It’s 00:50 back home. From now on every time I send an sms home I’m either getting up or going to bed, my days are now my family’s nights and vice versa.

The international airport is small by our standards, but the country only has 4 million inhabitants and the tourism industry is not massive. NZ is an island on the very edge of the map, so the airport is really sufficient and meets its demand. In fact, it was voted one of the top 10 airports around the world.

We’ve done our homework on this part, what to expect at immigration, what we could and couldn’t bring, etc. The Kiwis are very environmentally minded, they deport people on a daily basis if they threaten the country’s resources in any way. No fungus goes undetected, trust me. Getting our passports stamped was no problem, but the big hurdle lay just beyond: Bio Security.

This is the lovely section where you declare any items that may pose a threat, even if it doesn’t. This would include your typical foodstuffs, raw materials, perfumes, alcohol, tobacco, any item that is brought into the country in large quantity, basically anything that would warrant an inspection by a customs official. And don’t even think of not declaring, they have x-ray equipment that can pick out a needle out of a haystack so you will get caught. And fined. Or even sent home.

So it’s here at this lovely section where we anxiously await our turn. An Indonesian couple in front of us has had their luggage confiscated because it was full of ants. They had the option of having the items fumigated by Customs (at own cost) and delivered to them 3 days later, or it would be confiscated and destroyed. Either way they had to leave the airport empty handed and with only the clothes on their backs.

Another lady across from us has multiple packages in her suitcase, wrapped tightly and without any indication of its contents. The parcels are opened and inspected one at a time. In full few of everyone else, of course. A third lady has her shoes taken away, because the soles are very muddy. Customs cleaned the mud (at her cost) and the shoes were returned to her on the spot. She was free to leave.

We are here because Dirk has brought some fishing equipment, and we both have hiking boots. By law all camping/hiking/fishing equipment must be inspected, even if it’s brand new. Fortunately for us the only item that interests our Customs Officer is Dirk’s fishing net. But he had the good sense to clean it thoroughly with boiling water and to make sure that it’s properly dried. Our inspection doesn’t take more than 5 minutes, and after another x-ray scan we are also free to leave the airport. We give a collective sigh of relief, we knew we didn’t have any illegal items but some passengers really have a hard time and Customs can make your life miserable if they feel like it. They take their jobs very seriously, nothing is more important than protecting their border. Lesson here is to make sure you are 100% clued up about what you may bring into the country and to declare absolutely everything (especially if you are unsure if you should).

A few months earlier I had booked a great hotel for us for our first night, I knew we would be tired and would need a good night’s sleep before the Big Road Trip starts. I’ve booked a shuttle to take us from the airport to the hotel for $46 with Shuttle United, and we meet up with our driver as we enter the Arrivals Hall. Dirk is under the impression that we will be staying at a B&B outside of town, I kept the hotel as a surprise for him. We start making our way into the centre of town, and we stop at a hotel one block down from the Sky Tower. Dirk looks all relaxed, like we’ve stopped to pick up more passengers. But I smile and say that this is our hotel for the night, and you should’ve seen his expression…just priceless!

The hotel is called the Rydges Harbourview. It’s in the very centre of the city, at the corner of Kingston and Federal Streets. With the Sky Tower only one small street block away, and Queen Street (the main shopping street of the city) within 5 minutes walk, it really is in a prime location. The prices of the hotels reflect this; this is 5-star territory with the Hilton next to us and the Crowne Plaza opposite us. Our hotel was semi-closed for a few months in 2009 due to renovation and refurbishment. When they reopened in March of 2010 they ran massive specials, I swooped in on one of these at the end of March and managed to secure a Superior King Room with dinner and breakfast for $220. This may sound like a lot of money, but it’s about what you would pay at the Holiday Inn, meals excluded. So I was happy to pay the rate and spend the night in a very up-market hotel.

It’s after 13:30 now, but our room is not ready yet. So I do the paperwork, we leave our luggage and head to the Sky Tower. What an amazing feeling, to realise where you are, how far you are from home and that the trip has actually started. The excitement is huge, it’s almost like having your lifetime’s Christmas Eve’s rolled into one. We definitely have big expectations for this trip!

The Sky Tower is one of the biggest attractions in Auckland, and probably its biggest icon. Full admission to all the levels of the Tower is $28 per person. The Sky Deck is the uppermost level at 220 metres (or 722 feet). There’s a lightning quick lift that takes you from bottom to top in only 40 seconds, so fast that your ears actually pop!

But what a view, wow. From the observation decks you can see 360 degrees; the whole of Auckland is before you with some markers of important buildings, so that you know what you are looking at. Certain sections of the floor is made of glass, so that you can see all the way down to street level. It’s ridiculously high and initially I’m a bit scared to stand on it. You almost expect that the glass won’t be able to carry your weight.

The Sky Tower offers several options if you are hungry, from the fancy-schmancy Orbit Revolving Restaurant, to the Observatory Buffet Restaurant, to a light snack and a cuppa tea at the Sky Lounge. We had dinner included in our room fare at the hotel so we didn’t eat at the Tower, but the Gouwsies ate here on their way back home and said it was delish!

Back on the ground floor of the Tower is a massive gift shop, only slightly more expensive than elsewhere. The local i-site is also located here, where you can stock up on free brochures, pamphlets and maps on anything and everything in New Zealand.

Back to the hotel around 15:00. Our room is still not quite done, we wait in the lounge for 30 minutes and are finally taken up to our room. Room 1309, overlooking the harbour and marina from the main window and Sky Tower from the side window. It’s a beautiful room, newly refurbished, really classy. I think they upgraded us because the rooms on the 12th-14th floors are more expensive than the rates I paid. But I was nice to the receptionist lady and didn’t kick up a fuss when our room wasn’t ready, and it now seems that we were rewarded for our patience. We unpack a bit, have a bath and waste an hour, but we are both too tired to go out into the city, as we had planned to do. The bed looks far more inviting,  so we opt for a nap around 5ish. I open my eyes after 7pm, it feels like only a few minutes had passed.  It takes us a good 40 minutes to get up and get ready for dinner, I actually feel numb all over. Almost like I’ve had surgery and the anesthetic has not worn off yet. Like I mentioned previously, I’ve already paid for our meals, so there’s no question that we have to eat. We last ate on the plane, so we’re feeling a bit hungry anyway.

The STK Bar is the hotel’s only restaurant and seating capacity is limited. We manage to get the only vacant table around 20:30.  Our waiter is serving at least 10 other tables, mostly larger groups and/or families. It takes him forever to bring the menus, take our order, and probably another 45min to bring our food. Our meals are yummy, smallish portions but obviously prepared by a professional chef. I’m glad we’re not paying separately for our meal, I’ve glanced at the menu and this place is not cheap. On average a person would pay about NZ$60 for a main course and a drink, R350. No extras, no dessert, no coffee afterwards. Naturally it’s only the finest salmon and the best steak, but it’s a bit steep for my budget. So lucky for us we ate for free, all prepaid at a very good rate.

23:00 and dinner is over. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed this late at a restaurant, but evidentially this is how the posh people live. Steven & Kim will be arriving from Sydney in less than an hour, there’s no way I’ll sleep before I hear from them. So we go out to search for a shop, we need milk to make coffee in our room. We stumble onto a small supermarket just opposite the Sky Tower, run by some Middle Eastern guy. Pakistani, I think. Here I get my first glance at what normal things cost, R25 for a litre of milk? But this is the very heart of Auckland, and this man is open at an ungodly hour, so I guess it’s his right to ask an inflated price (if it’s even inflated, how would I know?).

Back in our room and settled in bed, we catch a bit of TV (yes, they have Super Sport here), read a bit and wait anxiously for the sms to come. It doesn’t.  Eventually, more than an hour late, I get the message I’ve been waiting for: they’re here. But there’s a problem, Steven’s suitcase was left behind in Jo’burg. The following day we would also learn that there were massive problems at the Sydney airport; they were almost deported because they arrived in Sydney on one day and their connecting flight left the next day. Sydney is not a transit airport, so if you stay in the airport past midnight you need a visa. Even if you never actually pass immigration and leave the airport. Are you friggin’ kidding me??? Nobody ever told us anything about this, and it ended up causing huge drama, lots of unnecessary stress and a pile of extra money.

But moving on….so we are now all in Auckland. We’re over at Rydges in the city and the Gouwsies are staying at a hotel close to the airport. We are meeting up at noon at the campervan rental place (they call themselves "Jucy Rentals") not far from our hotel.

I toss and turn for a while, unable to fall asleep. I’m sleep deprived but my mind just can’t switch off. I watch the clock strike two, and finally feel the beginnings of a snooze. I settle in for a nice long sleep….
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