New Zealand trip – Aug/Sep 2011 (part 1)

Saturday 13th Aug, 2011

The journey starts in Manchester airport, trying to get a glimpse of the Emirates A380 that will be taking me to Dubai. However, for a plane so big, it’s very shy and you can’t see more than one of the massive, 15 million quids worth of engine at any time. Like the plane, business and first class are shielded away from the hoi poloi up a sweeping staircase at the front of the plane.

The aircraft is comfortable and a lot more spacious (though leg room is the same as others) than other planes. I get a window seat but there is little to see as we leave the UK, with clouds covering the  continents we cross. It’s a multicultural load on board and the cabin crew speak a multitude of languages. There are a few bottle-fed tots in cots but thankfully no screaming ab-dabs and the flight passes by in a blur of Hollywood films and a decent lamb curry. I take my boots off to find a nice air-conditioned breeze flowing underneath the seats, or maybe that someone has left a door open somewhere.

The flight is smooth and quiet as we make our way in the dark over empty Middle Eastern desert and then the Red Sea, with the lights of the various towns and resorts clearly visible from the 39,000 ft and at 595 mph.

Sunday 14th Aug, 2011

As we approach Dubai, orange snakes appear below, the long thin and seemingly empty highways lit-up with street lights, with the desert sand trying it’s best to reclaim the tarmac.

The flight touches down at Dubai International sometime after midnight on Sunday and we disembark quickly through the usual long faceless tunnel of a terminal to reach chaos – long queues of bleary passengers being funneled into the security scanners. It’s a bit like the London Underground in the morning; no-one really is really in charge and there are a lot of tired people trudging forward to something that you can’t see but it all seems to work. I wonder if this is where Ethan had his paddy last time the NZ Gow’s traveled back to the UK and were whisked to the front of the queue?

I finally get to the Mahramba lounge in the airport at about 1.30am. Due to a clerical error (my own) I’ve an eight hour stopover at Dubai so I’ve booked a lounge for 22 quid for four hours. The lounge is comfortable, with free food (a couple of decent curries and samosas, some dodgy looking pasta, and some passable sandwiches, cakes, etc) and drink (beer, spirits, wine, soft drinks, etc) free wifi and comfortable chairs and sofas to rest on. After sampling a few complimentary Heineken’s I manage to get some sleep for an hour or so.

It’s interesting to see the different cultures and nationalities in the airport. There’s a man dressed in white, Ghandi-esque robes and flip-flops, there are ultra-polite Japanese and plenty of Europeans, all sat in the lounge enjoying the buffet. Apparently it’s 25C outside (at 2am) but it’s cooler inside, if not a bit sweaty.

When my time is up in the lounge I go in search of the free showers in the concourse below. There are two sets at either end of the vast terminal but I need a towel so I root unsuccessfully around the myriad of shops for a while, asking a member of staff if any of the shops sell towels. She misreads my economic situation and my disheveled appearance  and sends me to the Hermes shop; clearly she thinks I’m a classy, wealthy international jet-setting type who will only dry himself on the finest silk scarves. I wait until she leaves me to browse before scuttling off to a far, forgotten corner of a gift shop and find a dusty hand towel for 4 quid.

The showers are quite clean, and quite busy but they have large individual cubicles and plenty of room. They are a God/Allah send and bring me around a bit.

After the showers I treat myself to a heavenly cappuccino from the Segafredo counter and then it’s time to board the Christchurch plane (an A777) via Bangkok and Sydney.

For this leg of the journey I’m sat next to a nice man who lives in Poole and is off to NZ for his son’s 21st, and a Serbian woman who we can make out is off to Sydney for the first time. For the entire flight she will not read a book or look at the inflight films and TV. I have no idea how she keeps sane!

After a six hour flight of films and food we fly in over the lush green fields of Thailand, with it’s many waterways and paddy fields visible as the sun starts to set. I’ve no real idea what time or day it is and we have just an hour in Bangkok airport. It is enough  time to go a way on the many travellators and marvel at the aiport’s impressive and disorientating monotony – each section is the same as the previous one. There are plenty of toilets at the aiport and a couple of duty free shops but not many other facilities for the short stoppers.

Monday 15th Aug, 2011

The flight to Sydney takes eight hours and feels like the longest of the journey. We travel over empty Australia and the sun rises at some point, sending the clouds orange and red. We fly high over the forests and bush on our descent into Sydney airport for the 45 minute stop. There are free showers at the airport (though I don’t bother this time) and the terminal is comfortable with plenty of cafes and shops. It’s enough time to buy a breakfast beer, eat a forgotten Yorkie I find in my bag, and check on the weather in Christchurch via the free wifi; it’s not good news, with almost the whole of New Zealand enveloped in snow. All airports bar Auckland and Christchurch are closed and as we prepare for take off the pilot warns that if the weather is bad we may have to return to Sydney.

The pilot kindly flies us around Sydney as we leave Australia, so we can see the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, various stadium and some of the lovely looking beaches. The three hour flight seems a doddle after the long journeys before. There are fewer passengers and it’s the end of the road but the beginning of an adventure for everyone. The people are milling about the cabin and asking where everyone is going; one Kiwi is returning to Christchurch for the first time since the earthquake. She was brought up in the city and got married in the Cathedral in the 60s. She wonders what it will be like now. They’re all asking how England is following the riots.

As New Zealand comes into view, the mountains of the west coast are visible and snow-capped but the rest of the centre is cloud-covered. We’re soon over the snowy fields of the Canterbury plain and the Kiwis on the flight are all taking in the view from the plane windows. I guess they don’t often get the chance to see this part of their country covered in snow.

They’ve done a good job keeping Christchurch airport open in the snow and we are one of the few flights to land without problem to a deserted airport. After last seeing my luggage in Manchester it appears on the conveyor belt and I’m ready to take on NZ. After being complimented by the Bio-Security man over the cleanliness of my ‘tramping’ boots I stop being a traveller and become guest as Adam is there to greet me and I get a nice ride in his plush new (to him) off-roader through snow-covered Christchurch.

I get a really friendly welcome, especially from two excited little boys who are eager to see who has won the hair-growing competition (Ethan by a whisker!) and claim their ice cream reward. After sorting out presents for Noah (who had a birthday recently) and Haribo and Galaxy chocolate for Claire and Adam, we have pizza for tea before I flake out at 6.30pm, which is a new record for apparently for earliest to bed for new visitors!

Tuesday 16th Aug, 2011

I’m awake at 9am and there is snow everywhere as about six inches of the white stuff has fallen overnight. This is great news for my impending snowboard trip next week . We have a snowball fight in the  garden before breakfast as the kids are on a snow day from school. With a well-aimed snowball, I manage to break a snowy overhang off the roof and onto Ethan. He takes it with good grace.

New Zealand is covered in snow, even the North Island and the news shows parts of Wellington building their first snowman in the city for 40+ years. The weather here even makes it onto the BBC news in the UK. It sleets and snows most of the day, and Adam and I make an excursion to the FreshChoice supermarket for supplies. The chain has a catchy jingle of Think Fresh, Think Choice, Think FreshChoice. I hope  they didn’t pay a lot of money to whoever thought that up.

Beer is expensive, especially with the rubbish exchange rate at the moment, and I pick up a bottle of Copper’s Brewery Old Pale Ale – it’s Aussie but cheap at $4.99 for 750 ml. It’s kinda lagery and OK. I’m in bed for 9.30pm and still trying to get the bodyclock worked out.

Wednesday 17th Aug, 2011

I’m wide awake at 6am as people are getting up for work and nursery. Unfortunately, Ethan’s school is still closed despite the snow melting and it raining most of the day. Adam drops us at Northlands Mall so I can get a haircut and we can get out the house before cabin fever sets in. Ethan is allowed to spend some pocket money in the mall but we have a difference of opinion on what he can spend it on (it turns out he’s had and lost the same argument with his folks in the past over the same toy). He eventually sees my side of it and comes back to normality after watching me get a hair cut, my first in about six months and I’m really glad to get rid of all that hair! We have lunch in a NZ coffee shop and I try a New Zealand speciality – a flat white – which is ok, though let down by the coffee side of it.

After pottering around a few more shops we get a taxi back from Pak n Save where there is a bit of a kerfuffle as an old lady has collapsed and is being treated by the St John’s Ambulance, which is the NZ paramedic service. It’s pouring down now and the Christchurch fields are waterlogged. We spend the day playing cards and Lego and waiting for everyone to return home.

I try a NZ ale tonight, Wigram’s Morning Glory Golden Ale breakfast beer (juvenile names for beers is not just a UK phenomenon) which is very sharp but not bad. It would certainly wake you up in the morning. At $6.99 for 500ml it ain’t cheap (that’s about 3.70 UK [I can’t find a pound sign on this NZ keyboard!]) but it’s brewed in Christchurch so I might see if I can manage a tour of the brewery. I manage to last until about 10.30pm tonight but it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open at this point and it’s an early bed again.

Thursday 18th Aug, 2011

Ethan is thankfully back at school today and I’m up just as Claire is off to work. Noah seems to have inherited the early-morning grumpy Gow gene but Ethan is dressed for his only day at school this week and they’re out the door well before 9am. I’ve been shown the bus stop and I’m planning a visit to the Canterbury museum but it’s still closed following the earthquake so I’m off Hagley park to check out the Christchurch Arts Festival pavilion. The Arts festival is happening at the moment and Adam and I are planning on seeing a band tonight – Hera (Christchurch resident from Iceland I think, think Sixpence None the Richer, sugary, slightly twee pop with xylophones and kooky lyrics) – but I need to get out and explore, despite the heavy showers (and occasional sunshine).

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Posted in New Zealand 2011, Travel

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