Melbourne airport 20/05
Robin drops us at the airport, it is time to say goodbye, snif snif. It takes us ages to get to the check-in desk. A lady at the counter is asking a group of Chinese travellers thousands of questions about their trip and where exactly there are going next, weird…
At last our turn comes:
Hostess: Your tickets and passports please, are those your luggage?
Ben & Sylvie: Yes it is
H: And where are you going after New Zealand?
B&S (thinking she is interested in our travels): In Thailand!
H: Do you have a ticket to prove it?
B&S: Yes of course (what do you think, we are not stupid, lady)
H: Okayyy, wait a minute please
She goes through a little manual and then goes and talks to her supervisor. Sylvie and I look at each other thinking, what the hell is this all about? The only thing we can hear as she comes back is the supervisor saying: “Just keep going until they are back home”. Our faces contort with horror. What are they thinking, what kind of stupid new law have they come up with? The hostess comes back.
H: Where do you go after Thailand?
B&S (our faces nearly white): Kazakhstan
H: Do you have a ticket?
B&S (livid): No, we thought we would buy it when we get to New Zealand or Thailand
H: Ahhhh and after Kazakhstan?
B&S (shaky): China
H: Humm, I see
B&S (woolen legs): We are sorry but we are going around the world for 2 years on our bikes. It could take quite a while if you want to know all the countries we are going to go through.
H (starting to show a little bit of compassion): I am sorry but you cannot enter Thailand without a valid ticket that shows you will exit the country within 30 days.
B&S: Alright! It doesn’t matter, we will buy it next week before going to Thailand.
H: Yes but the problem is, if you cannot prove that you can exit Thailand, I have to assume that you won’t be allowed to enter Thailand and therefore have no proof that you can exit New Zealand. I am sorry but I can’t let you take this plane.
B&S (heartbeat at 180, purple face): But what is this all about? We haven’t had this kind of requirement before? Nobody has ever asked us for all our tickets and visas like this!
H (mischievous): Those are the new rules, look this is the May edition (we are the 2nd of May!)
B&S (our faces green): But that’s crazy! There is no way we can have all our visas and tickets in advance when we travel for 2 years!
H: I am very sorry but the rules are the rules...
A feisty discussion follows whereby we try to convince them to let us through… No results... But after 15 minutes...
H: There maybe another way
H: Your Australian visas are still valid which means you can freely re-enter the country. You could basically buy a ticket back to Melbourne thereby proving you will be exiting New Zealand within 3 months. That would be good enough for us!
B&S: Yes but look what time it is… where can we buy those tickets now? (It’s 5:50pm)
H: Humm, may be at Air New Zealand
B&S: When do you close check-in?
H: Err… 15 minutes!
B&S (the words rushing through their mouths): WhereistheAirNewZealandticketdesk?
H: Over there in the other section (basically at the other end)
B&S: Ok, can we at least leave our luggage here for 5 minutes ?
H: Sorry sir, but that is against the rules, you cannot leave your luggage unattended!
Grrrr … bloody rules, one day, we won’t even be allowed to breath!
Ben rushes through the terminal; he avoids a near crash with 2 air hostesses. He looks everywhere but cannot find the Air New Zealand desk. He spots Qantas and gives it a go. He runs towards it and nearly crash in the queue. Two women are already there, bad luck. They seem to be taking their time. Ben is boiling inside. Hurry up you ***! Another employee arrives:
E: Can I help you sir?
Ben explains the whole thing to her and that he therefore needs refundable tickets for Melbourne.
E: I am sorry, I only do domestic flights you have to wait for one of these employees. When is your flight?
B (looking at his watch): Check-in finishes in 10 min!!
She tries to hurry the other employees. The 2 *** in front of me have heard everything and are still not hurrying up! Graaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.
The second employee is finally ready to help, she knows the problem and tries to help. The tickets are expensive and we will loose 60$ when we cancel them but we have no choice. Bad luck, the credit card doesn’t work, no money left, greuuuuuuu!!! Luckily, we still have the English one. The tickets seem to take ages to print. Come on, come on, faster please, we only have 5 min left! The ticket in his hands, Ben dashes through the terminal once again. People must think he is crazy. He manages to put the tickets on the check-in counter but he slides an extra couple of meters and has to come back, out of breath.
B (triumphantly): Here are the tickets!
H: Very good, but you know you will have to pay for all those luggage in excess.
B&S (in French): no kidding, you bloody rats! (in English and with a forced smile) of course, no problem.
H: You have 25kg in excess but I will only charge you 20kg.
B&S: Oh, nice of you!
To be honest, Virgin is actually great with sport equipment, they only charge part of the weight and the excess fee is very reasonable compared to other airlines. We can’t complain. Finally we get our boarding cards and rush through customs and to the gate. Our faces are flushed red as we get on the plane but at least we made it. Sylvie couldn’t even spend our last dollars on a newspaper!
Back to Kiwiland
Auckland 02/05 – 10/05
Three hours later, we land in Auckland where it is a bit cooler. At the customs, the officer doesn’t even ask us our ticket to prove we are exiting the country within 3 months, we can’t believe it, all of that for nothing!
We sleep in the airport as it is too late to get to our friends house, Dennis and Brigitte. After having enjoyed a lovely McDonald burger, we sleep on the benches in the arrival hall. We don’t sleep very well as flights are coming in every hour. At 8 am, we decide to take the shuttle to Howick, a suburb of Auckland. When we get there, we are welcomed by Dennis (Kiwi) and Brigitte (French), friends of friends of us in England. They invited us to stay with them this week and help us discover more of Auckland and New Zealand’s history.
After a nice breakfast, Dennis and Brigitte show us some nice lookouts on the hills around Auckland. We also go and visit the MOTAT, the transport museum. It is fantastic museum full of old cars, train, tramway and planes; Ben is very happy! We even get to do a tour on a very old tramway; this time, Sylvie is happy!
The next day Dennis takes Ben for a flying lesson over Coromandel. Ben is delighted, he loves flying in small planes. Dennis is a dentist but also a pilot, he owns a small propeller plane. Ben and Dennis are gone for the whole day, flying above Coromandel. It is amazing to see something we’ve seen from the ground, from the air, it is indeed much nicer. The view is amazing from the sky, especially on this beautiful day. We try to recognise the different villages on the coast and at the same time we check the sky for other small planes. In the meantime, Brigitte and Sylvie are visiting Howick Historical Village where volunteers helped recreate the 1840s lifestyle. The cottages were dismantled and then reconstructed to form a nice little village. The cottages have been furnished with furniture of that time. They also visit the old school, the mill and the church (where one can still get married!). The girls obviously don’t miss the opportunity to have cake and coffee.
Brigitte also takes us to the ‘Howick Little Theatre’ to see a New Zealand play about ANZAC. ANZAC army formations and units are made of Australian and New Zealand troops. The name ANZAC is the acronym for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, an army corps of Australian and New Zealand troops who fought against the Turks in 1915 at the Battle of Gallipoli during World War I. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps was disbanded in 1916 and other ANZAC formations were then created and fought during that war in the Middle East and on the Western front. Within Australasia, ANZAC came to stand not just for the troops in World War I, but for Australian and New Zealand soldiers in times of war more generally. Anzac Day is observed annually in memory of those soldiers who died in the war. It is commemorated each year by both countries on 25 April, the date of the first landing at Gallipoli in 1915 on a beach known as ANZAC Cove. (It is similar to days such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Armistice Day, Remembrance Day or V-E Day commemorated in other countries.). The play is very good and interesting for us as it shows a different side to New Zealand.
We spend the rest of the week relaxing at Brigitte and Dennis, but also finalising all the paperwork to continue our trip. We do not want to end up in the same situation as in Melbourne! We buy our flight from Bangkok to Almaty and get our visas for Kazakhstan and Kirghizstan.
But we keep the best for the end of course! Richard, a previous colleague and best mate of Ben, is coming to New Zealand for work and we manage to meet in Auckland for a couple of hours. It is weird to meet up here at the other end of the world after a year. But he hasn’t changed, he still is the funniest guy on earth :o) We spend a great afternoon with Richard and Stefan and Roger who came with him. Unfortunately, we can only meet for three hours, it is a bit short but it was worth it! May be we will see him again in China :op
We spend the evening with Sig and Emma, friends of Sylvie’s sister’s boyfriend. We came to see them before we left for Australia a month and half ago. We have a good time drinking, eating and talking like good French people would do. Unfortunately it is time for us to leave as we have a flight for Bangkok the next day. We say goodbye to Sig and Emma and go back for the last evening to see Dennis and Brigitte who organised for us to see a nice movie about 2 hilarious Kiwi twins, the Topp sisters.
Aucland airport 10/05
Sunday morning we take the shuttle to the airport, and Dennis and Brigitte come with us. We are a bit afraid that what happened in Melbourne happens again. Thanks to Ben’s Star Alliance Gold Card (expired 10 days earlier), we manage to join the business class queue. The hostess is very nice and we explain to her that we were in contact with Thai Airways in Auckland and that they agreed we would only pay half of the excess luggage, i.e. 30kg. She calls her supervisor... we sweat...
The supervisor makes his own calculation, he is very nice and considers I am still a Gold member and therefore adds an extra 20kg for free. We guess he does not understand our little paper were it says 30kg for free and 30kg to be paid (the calculation was done without the 20kg free due to the gold membership) as he takes out an extra 30kg leaving us to pay only 9kg! Ben tries to explain we had agree to pay more (yes, he is too honest sometimes) but he says ‘Don’t worry, I will call the manager’. After a while, the manager agrees for us to pay only 9kg of excess luggage, that’s unbelievable! We thanks them a lot.
Knowing this is our lucky day, we try to get in the lounge with the expired gold card and we do get in! Too bad there was no lotto stand in the airport :o) It is always nice to have a cold beer before flying.
We say our last goodbye to New Zealand before leaving for Bangkok where we meet (for the third time!) Stephanie and Yannick.