Arriving in the Land of the long white cloud
Traveling can often be a strange mix of experiences, sometimes brought on by lovey serendipity and other times by unfortunate turns of events. Our arrival to New Zealand fit a bit more with the latter, though by day’s end we were marveling at how wonderful complete strangers often are.
After a 13 hour flight on the heels of hours killed at the functional but uninspiring airport in Santiago, we arrived to Auckland at the break of day, weary and cramped but energized about the beginning of the second leg of our journey. We whizzed through the snazzy high tech customs area featuring a fully automated visa process requiring passport scans and blinding photography. After fetching our checked baggage, thankfully having arrived unmolested and intact, we wove through the arrivals zone to the final stage of our entry process. Here we found a set of self-serve luggage X-ray machines fed by hungry conveyor belts. These devices were accessed after a somewhat intense visit with officers on the lookout for harmful biological agents such as nuts or fruits arriving undeclared to the archipelago. Given the importance of agriculture to the economy, New Zealand has some of the world’s most robust safeguards against unintended foreign invaders including a complimentary shoe scrubbing if suspect footwear might be carrying pesky soil spores. At this point we had a few guilty beads of sweat on our brows because we had packed a few food items for our time at our departing airport. By the time we reached the biohazard inspection area we started to take the NZ authorities at their word that we had better not be packing any foreign food. This was made most startlingly clear with the 20 foot poster at customs that suggested we declare or discard every last organic particle we may have stashed away, right down to mints and gum. After nervous looks left and right, we pitched into one of the large “Get rid of it before we find it and then charge and jail you” bins a threatening dry soup mix, a vicious baggie of cut up carrots and a few potentially destructive tea bags. This was as close to being drug mules as we ever wanted to get as we watched the stern but polite officer examine our bags and then ask us to show her the few sea shells we had collected on Chile’s beaches. No stone left unturned.
After making it out of the arrivals areas without any warrants for our arrest we collected our thoughts in addition to a colourful range of free visitor brochures we discovered at the helpful visitor reception area. Armed with information about our local transit choices, we opted to get into the city via their well thought through, door to door, share a van service. Here we were very happy to ride along with our very first authentic Auckland resident. Though a very friendly and helpful person she let us down with her Kiwi street cred as it turns out she was an expat Canadian having just arrived back home from a multi day flight from Halifax. Freakin Canadians everywhere.
Our day got a bit bleaker when we rolled up to our Booking.com rental accommodation. So far on the trip we had had great luck using various on-line booking services for both housing and transportation. That all came to a screeching halt in the pretty little harbour neighbourhood where we had reserved a snug house for a few days of city sightseeing. After spilling our luggage out of the vehicle onto the public sidewalk (footpath in Kiwi speak) we peeked over the front hedges to see some murky figures in the house we thought we were about to occupy. Never a good sign, but especially when witnessed with bleary eyes and minds that had been awake 24 hours. Being slightly confused but still optimistic that a comfy bed and soothing shower awaited us, we furtively approached the house determined to accomplish a SITREP. Before we could mount the few steps up to the house we were met on the porch by a pleasant looking young woman who had a curious expression no doubt wondering about the intentions of our four person squad. We asked if this was a Booking.com house and she affirmed it was. The catch was that she was already firmly installed in the unit with her visiting, frail gran and a new born baby. Not that we had thoughts or hopes that anyone would be evicted from the house but if there was a future court battle pitting our plight against theirs it is hard to imagine a more sympathetic collection of people to be up against. There was zero chance we would be enjoying this house. To her great credit Michelle ended up being hugely helpful and generous with her time and cell phone. Turns out it was a classic double booking situation, something that occurs time to time in the still buggy world of globalized e-commerce. As it happens, the owner lives in the UK and it was only through Michelle’s good graces that we were able to sort out the confusion and get shifted to one of the owner’s other properties down the north shore.
Later we reflected how fortunate we were to have been treated so well from a complete stranger. We had arrived unexpectedly on her doorstep and it would have been easy for her to say “sorry I can’t help you” but instead she served us coffee, gave us the WiFi pass and called another continent to put us in contact with the owner. We look forward to a day when we are able to pay this type of kindness forward.