I did it.
I traveled solo internationally to the south island of New Zealand and came back both mentally and physically intact. Well, as intact as a mad baby boomer can be. Whatever.
I know it wasn’t a huge stretch. New Zealand shares an ocean with my homeland of California, it’s language is one I speak (except with a way cooler accent), and the crime rate is pretty much at a “sleep on the street and still be safe” level (mostly).
This is the first of many posts on New Zealand, because as you know, I’m a very human traveler and the mis-adventures must accompany the adventures in honest storytelling.
I need to preface this post by saying that I had high expectations of New Zealand. Having been #2 on my bucket list (It would just be too sad for me to go to Tahiti alone which as you know is #1, and you also know I have no illusions about actually getting there with my Wyatt Earp type hubby) for most of my adult life creates, over time, no small set of ideals. Now couple that with the cost of such a trip and the amount of gorgeous photos on the internet (learned through experience they are taken by professionals at a special time setting I don’t have, or Photoshop enhanced) and the bar is so high I had already started mentally preparing myself for some degree of letdown.
New Zealand in reality blew away anything I could have ever dreamed of. Like the Grand Canyon, there is no photo or prose that can accurately capture the ridiculous amount of beauty that has largely remained unarranged by the hand of man (I spent most of my time in the “bush”). Now add the beauty of the people of New Zealand (referred to as Kiwis going forward), and it is a place at “bucket list with value added” status. The stuff dreams are made of. Truly.
My trip however was not without a few hiccups.
My first stop on the itinerary of my two week adventure trip with a company specializing in the small group south island bush experience was to be spent in Kaikura, which just mere days before I arrived had been hit with a devastating earthquake. My heart broke for them.
Since I am from California, I am familiar with Earthquakes, even the occasional devastating one…which makes me also savvy of aftershocks. And since I was flying into Christchurch (which is just south of Kaikura and still recovering from a devastating Earthquake of it’s own) and spending a night there, I was a little on edge.
Much less devastating but still unnerving, my flight had left LAX 2 hours late and subsequently Qantas held a flight for me from Brisbane to Auckland (not on my original itinerary and definitely not on my checked luggage), and when I had to catch a puddle jumper sized plane from there into Christchurch, I had the sinking feeling my checked luggage hadn’t made the same trip.
BUT, my Qantas experience didn’t take away from the beauty of Australia that I managed to capture from my airplane window and boded well for the coming attractions of what I would find in New Zealand. This is an aerial photo taken outside of Brisbane but I’m not sure if it is the Coral or Tasman Sea…(untouched by special timing or Photoshop).
CRINGE WORTHY MOMENTS –
- My hubby had purchased a special international data plan for me that should have more than covered my communication needs whilst on my adventure. As soon as I touched down in NZ, I got a message on my phone that I had used 80% of my international data plan. Turns out all those games I played waiting at the airports were not on a very strong wifi. Dang it.
- My first experience going through customs without a traveling companion was much more embarrassing than anticipated. My hands were full with passport, associated custom claim forms, phone with proof of return air booking, two outerwear jackets, and carry on pack…which did not make for a smooth transition from customs officer to inspection officer. You know how in comedic movies the clumsy actor drops some of his stuff and then as he walks forward to pick it up he kicks it even further away? Yep…that was me, and I was as surprised as anyone at my spontaneous Jim Carrey like performance. The customs officer watching me even left her post to help me move forward by carrying some of the stuff I kept dropping and kicking, that’s how pitiful I looked. Sigh. I never realized before how much of a pack mule my hubby is.
I didn’t have the luxury of sitting around a few days until my luggage showed up, nor could I afford to replace all of the specialty clothing I had packed in the “only slightly larger than carry on sized” polka dotted suitcase I affectionately call Dottie. Because Dottie is more than just baggage, she is like a very large purse to me. A friend really.
And she accessorizes what’s left of my city girl psyche. You know…like Legally Blonde or something. I may be a late blooming outdoor adventurer, but dang it, I’m holding onto a little of my inner Barbie.
I filed a claim for my missing Dottie and hailed a taxi to my hotel which was about 20 minutes away. Thankfully, Maryvale Manor did not disappoint.
Truly lovely place and after 17 hours of waiting/flying/waiting/flying/flying, I was so happy to take a hot shower and have a cup of…tea.
My first inkling that I “wasn’t in Kansas anymore Toto” was the conspicuous lack of coffee amenities. 17 days later when I returned home, I kissed my hubby, my dog, and my Keurig in that order. Not sure of the order if the Keurig had met me at the airport.
My lack of travel savvy and old school authoritarian upbringing compulsively ensured I followed the rules of the adventure company that asked you only bring 2 carry-on sized bags (silly me, it turns out nobody else did). In hindsight, I so wished I had packed like a Legally Blonde type city girl.
CRINGE WORTHY MOMENTS –
- Why oh why did I opt for the lesser expensive electrical adaptor? I plugged it into the wall outlet and felt quite smug about my planning. Then I plugged in my US iPhone plug with a USB port and the adaptor promptly fell out of the wall. I stared at it in disbelief. I had to find some random things to stack and prop the adaptor up to the wall outlet, then plug in my appliance to the adaptor. This turned into a nightly ritual for me during the trip, and since wall outlets are at much different lengths from the nearest surface, it was not an easy feat. It was also the first thing I threw into the trash upon landing at LAX.
- Why oh why hadn’t I packed my jammies into my carry on? With my Puritan upbringing I could not walk around my room in the nude (and I wanted to enjoy the sights outside anyway), so back on with the clothes I had worn for the last day and night already. Yes, the ones I also slept in that night in the event of an aftershock and I had to exit my room with haste. Planning people, planning.
The next early morning I had a cup of tea (ok, now I’m starting to get concerned about my daily requirements of caffeine) and took another expensive taxi ride back to the airport where I’d hoped my prayers would be answered and Dottie would be there. I was already feeling a bit cross from a lack of coffee and the thought of spending the next 17 days in an outfit not appropriate for hiking, biking, and kayaking.
I arrived at the airport and reported to the Qantas lost baggage claim area (I’m making that sound easy to find, it wasn’t) and handed the clerk my receipt of the claim form for the missing Dottie. This is how the conversation went after she looked up the claim number.
Clerk – “This claim was filed yesterday.”
Me – “Right, yesterday.”
Clerk – Hands paper back to me and says, “Well, there has been no activity on it yet.”
Me – “So when can I hope to see activity on it?”
Clerk – “When they find your baggage.” And gives me a dismissive look as she turns back to her phone.
Me – “Could it have come in on a later flight last night or an early one this morning and it just hasn’t been logged in yet?”
Clerk – “Probably not.”
Me – “Really? Could you look in your newest batch of homeless luggage and see if it is there? I’m desperate as I am being picked up this morning and won’t be back to Christchurch for 2 weeks.”
Clerk – Takes a long look at me. Luckily, I would find out that this person was not atypical of Kiwis, and likely was from Australia (according to Kiwi sources). “You know, luggage looks the same and I wouldn’t know what I would be looking for. You need to wait until there is activity on the claim.”
Me – “First of all, I won’t know when there is activity on the claim because I will be out in the bush off the grid wearing exactly what I have on for the next 2 weeks. Secondly, my little suitcase has white polka dots on a black patent leather background with a red ribbon tied around the zipper pull. Can you please just give a little look? Please, I’m begging at this point.”
Clerk – Groans, turns off her computer, and disappears through the door that I envisioned housed a warehouse full of luggage, but in reality couldn’t have been much larger than a small room. She promptly returns through the door carrying my beloved Dottie. I gleefully provide my luggage tag and virtually floated away rolling my beloved behind me.
It pays to accessorize.
Before leaving the hotel that morning, I had used some of the 20% I had left on my international plan to contact the adventure company and let them know to pick me up at the airport instead of the prearranged hotel. I checked the time on my barely recharged phone and noted I still had an hour before being picked up.
CRINGE WORTHY MOMENT –
With Dottie in tow, I headed to the nearest place that emoted a coffee aroma and checked the menu. I assumed that the menu was like Starbucks, it said a shot of espresso under where the house coffee of the day was delineated – I happily ordered it and thought that my morning was turning out to be a rousing success.
When my name was called, they handed me an extra tiny shot glass of espresso. The panicked looks from my tiny little shot glass to the menu and over again instantly gave me away. I realized that everyone in the small shop was staring at me. I took my tiny little shot glass, grabbed a napkin, and sat down with grace and dignity and sipped it as if it was a proper cup of coffee with a shot of espresso IN IT.
No Toto, we are most definitely not in Kansas anymore.
To date – Qantas has an open claim on my dear Dottie, which really is no matter since after my trip home with them left me stranded in Melbourne for 13 hours at night with no Aussie money …they are dead to me.
Until next time dearest when the adventures and mis-adventures of a city girl turned late blooming international intrigue seeking mad baby boomer in New Zealand begin…