We reached Melbourne, at what time I don’t really know, but we were right on time and sad to see 63C leave after helping us with our luggage. I may not have travelled much, but so far, I have yet to find an airport that meets Dubai’s high standards. I feel very spoilt. As we headed to the transit lounge, we had to hand in our water (I still don’t get this rule to be very honest) and mum was subjected to a random explosives check. The only thing explosive is her temper really, but since she was in a good mood we were let through with no fuss. We were hoping not many passengers would be joining us, for no other reason than the thought of that extra space an empty seat would afford. The best case scenario would be an empty seat but we were willing to settle for another version of 63C, who really come to think of it, could pass as an empty seat- he was quiet enough. Thankfully,we got the former and set out on the short trip to our final destination.
The flight seemed oddly long – I think my joints had had enough of sitting for so long. We watched the clouds change colours with the sunrise as we finally reached Auckland where we were met by the cutest doggie going around sniffing everyone’s luggage as part of his training. Now, while baggage claim usually represents the end of the airport ordeal, in New Zealand, there is one last stop – New Zealand Biosecurity. To many people this may represent an unnecessary hindrance where you need to declare if you have any kind of food, plants or even shells with you or if you have any equipment or shoes that may have soil on them. Declare or dispose – a simple rule which if violated will result (as of today) in a hefty NZD 400 fine. You may well wonder why the government cares if your shoes are soiled or not, but after our trip we realized that this is all part of the government’s attempt to protect New Zealand’s biodiversity which has been threatened due to the influx of foreign animal and plant species resulting in the extinction of a large number of native species, a lot of which are unique to the country. So if you’re travelling to New Zealand, don’t think of Biosecurity as an oh-no-now-what-do-you-want-to-check-my-luggage-for kind of stop but instead thank them for the good job they’re doing! :)
As we stepped out of the airport and made our way to the hotel, I was struck by how similar the road from the airport was to the road we had taken in Colombo. I guess it has to do with them both being lush green islands. The only difference was, of course, the weather. From 50C we had stepped into a rather heavenly 15C or so which made the scenery look all the more beautiful.
The drive home was made all the more interesting thanks to our driver, an elderly Lebanese man brought up in Jordan, now living in New Zealand with his son and German shepherd and doing this job after retiring from HP… you sure can learn a lot about a person in such a short time. Pity 63C was not more talkative. The recent grandfather then drove us past his home in a delectable neighbourhood of small houses, lawns and tree-lined streets, all shades of yellow, orange and green. By the time we reached the hotel (Crowne Plaza Auckland), we had a good idea of what tours to take and the driver assured us that the hotel would assist with our bookings and also our SIM cards. We checked in, and as he said, we received our complimentary SIM cards and were on our way- almost. Wifi is not free, unless you’re an IHG member, which you can become on the spot, for free.
Now while the whole two breakfasts thing is great to fool your body to prevent jet-lag, it didn’t keep us from being famished, so the first thing we did was look up the most halal option on the room service menu- vegetable pizza.
After a quick bite, we decided we were surprisingly not jet-lagged at all and made the most of the day by wandering around the hotel shopping complex. Now the hotel lobby is on the 4th floor, with 3 floors of the mall below known as the Atrium on Elliot shopping complex. I’ll be quite honest here when I say, stepping into the complex is like stepping into Asia. Almost all the shops (mostly clothing stores) are either Korean, Japanese or Chinese so we were a tad disappointed…because that meant no early souvenirs. The shopping complex opens out into the street as well and the shops on the street were no different. Flying all the way to NZ only to find ourselves in…Asiatown- all Ramen and Sushi? Resolved to find a way to understand this mystery, we escaped the cool night air and called it a night after finalizing our tour agenda. The first draft looked something like this:
Day 3: Sky Tower and a walk down Queen’s
Day 4: Undecided
Day 5: Full Day Auckland City Tour and Wilderness Tour
Day 6: Undecided
Day 7: Undecided
All that indecision because those are the days I was booked in at odd times for the conference… which finally reminded me I needed to practice my presentation.