Wednesday, January 11th and Thursday, January 12th, 2023
The time was nearly upon us. After more than a year of planning, it was finally time to go to New Zealand. We had booked our tickets many months before and, for a long time, it had been something that, like the light of a train in the distance that is heading your way, did not seem to be getting any nearer.
As always, Lucie had a short, but comprehensive list of what we needed to take. Because everything has to come on the motorcycle with us, we do travel light and what we take has been honed to a minimum by previous experience. It looked like quite a lot ….
…… but it all fitted into our two small bags, so we could travel with just hand-luggage. My helmet was even in the red one !
The combined weights (Lucie has a special spring-balance to check …) was under 14 kilograms, including the helmet ! My jacket and HOG vest, which I would wear to travel, weighed almost as much as the heavier, green, bag !
In the middle of Winter, getting up at four o’clock in the morning seemed a bit harsh, but the moment had come. We could now hear the whistle of the theoretical train and it was about to flatten us. We had at least packed (well, Lucie had) as you can see above. So , after her coffee we had just enough time to “winterise” our home by fiddling with the thermostats before walking down the stairs. Our good friend was already waiting there to take us to the airport.
The trip through the still sleeping city went off smoothly and quickly. We picked up our luggage and said goodbye.
It was only after our friend had departed that a closer look at our tickets revealed that our departure was not at 07:30, as we had thought. but at 07:55. When you travel to New Zealand, you are required to fill out an electronic visa (NZeTA) – and pay a fairly hefty fee to get it …. This fee is slightly less if you download an App – so, to save a few crowns, I had done that. However, the need for the airline to verify that you have the NZeTA, before they will let you on board, meant that, despite only having hand-luggage we had been unable to check-in online.
We had, as a consequence, incorporated a time reserve and our early arrival meant we suddenly had an awful lot of “extra” time. However, much of this evaporated standing in a rather long line for check-in at Lufthansa.
At check-in, they did want to see our NZeTA – but that was the ONLY place – and that includes immigration at Auckland, where anyone showed any interest in it at all.
What would a holiday be without me doing something stupid ?
Thanks to Osama bin Laden and his merry men, we still had to take off our boots at security. Tying them back up would have been a bit tedious and I would have loosened them on the flight anyway, so I tucked the laces into the boots and just put my feet in them. On the jetway, as we were about to board, literally 15 metres from the ‘plane, I managed to catch a loop of lace in the hook of the other boot – and over I went. A bag in each hand meant there was nothing I could do to stop myself and I hit the wall, with a loud metallic “clang” and went sprawling ignominiously along the floor. Embarrassed, more than hurt (or so I thought) I leapt to my feet and waved away the several passengers who had recovered from the alarming clang and were rushing to help me. Naturally, when I tried to get up, I was still tangled up and was forced to hit my head on the tube to prevent a second sprawl ! Lucie, who had been slightly slower to react, DID see that bit and said afterwards she had been momentarily afraid that our long-planned vacation was about to end whilst we were still in Vaclav Havel Airport. At the time I did mainly feel only embarrassment, adrenaline will do that for you, at least. So under my wife’s slightly steely gaze (she had suggested retying my boots properly) I boarded the ‘plane.
The first flight, to Munich, took only an hour. But then we had a wait of about three hours. We replenished our water supplies and, I suppose it goes without saying, no boot removal was required at security, because there was not any checks.
The only check at all was the Passport Control. Electronic, bio-metric checking was available for EU Citizens, a variety of disparate nations such as Brazil, but NOT for UK Nationals (despite my electronic and bio-metric Passport). The EU is obviously still sulking with us British, so I had to line up with “others” in the old-fashioned way and, for my trouble actually received an Exit stamp. In solidarity with me, Lucie queued with me – but received no stamp !
Maybe I will arrange the Czech passport for myself – or maybe the EU will cave-in, who knows ?
The first long flight, of 11 hours and 40 minutes, to Singapore, went quite smoothly. As ever, I fell asleep quite quickly, but soon woke up again because it was day time. We spent the rest of the time, watching movies (a good selection on Singapore Airlines), eating and standing in line for the toilet because we drink a lot to keep hydrated. The cabin crew were most welcoming and attentive and the food was actually good. It was about as good as a long flight can be. Only being “trapped” in the window and middle seats spoiled it, as getting in and out was not very easy.
We arrived in Singapore at what was around eight in the morning. The boats in the wide harbour were very picturesque in the early morning light.
We rolled off the plane laughing, we were halfway there. The length of the flight and the time difference meant that the terminal was largely empty. My left knee, which had born the brunt of my tumble in Prague, was pretty stiff and painful though and I was glad our transfer gate was fairly close. We replenished our water supplies, had coffee and Lucie found a smoking room right across from our gate. This was open-air and it was like entering a sauna. The wait was not very long, but we did have to go through the security inspection (including boot removal) again. This time they did not even ask us to take out the iPads and toiletries, but my glasses case, which I forgot to remove from my pocket, got its own, personal, trip through the X-Ray machine and a swab for explosives…. Not wanting to risk any comments from Lucie (her eyes said it all, anyway) I obediently retied my boots and we boarded our second flight in good company with a lot of happy Kiwis returning home.
The second flight, of 9 hours and 50 minutes, to Auckland, was in a slightly newer Singapore Airlines ‘plane, which was a little more comfortable.
Luckily, this time we had aisle and middle seats, so getting in and out was easier. Because I was “slept-out”, I watched a couple more films, but we both noticed, with a few hours to go, that our legs had become a bit swollen. This was a bit uncomfortable for both of us – but it did take my mind of of my aching knee. When we started the descent prior to landing, neither of us could wait for the hotel bed where we would finally be able to stretch out comfortably.
We landed at about midnight local time. Those lovely Kiwis had provided a special fast passport control for the English, so absentmindedly I used it before realising Lucie could not. Not a way to win friends, I can tell you. Luckily she passed through “her” line fairly quickly !!!
New Zealand imposes a heavy tax on the importation of cigarettes – but paying it is cheaper than buying them, so Lucie had brought her supply for the holiday. We had filled in a Customs Declaration and talked to a nice Customs Officer (of about “our” age) about it. She called someone on the telephone to come and collect our cash, inspected the soles of our hiking boots for foot-and-mouth disease microbes and sent us onward to line number one. At that line, they scanned our stuff through a machine and, before we knew it, we were outside – without having paid anything. So, just like in Australia, we had got away with it despite being honest.
I got some money from an ATM and our driver, booked through booking.com, duly arrived and whisked us smoothly to the Auckland Rose Park Hotel (102 Gladstone Road, Parnell, Auckland) in a nice Toyota hybrid. Even on the deserted motorway, at midnight I could not help but notice he stuck religiously to the 100 kph speed limit. Speeding fines in New Zealand are harsh !
We had originally planned to go into the city by train, but we reconsidered it, whilst still in Prague, due to the lateness of our arrival time. The train was supposed to be cheaper than an airport taxi, but if it is, we will probably never know. The transfer cost, at time of writing, about $NZ 88 and was well worth it for the convenience.