It was Alison’s idea, and big wish, to go to New Zealand. It was right at the top of her list of Ways To Spend Our Savings While We Still Can.
Me, I didn’t want to go so much. “But it’s so far away! It’s such a horrible journey!”
But she talked me round. Somewhere deep down, I always want to do what she wants to do, especially if it means doing it with her. And she also reminded me that New Zealand was where Peter Jackson filmed LOTR, so I would see the Shire, the Misty Mountains, Lothlorien and Edoras, possibly even run into Galadriel and Eowyn. How could I resist? So we booked a three-week tour of both North and South Islands with Riviera Travel. We had a really good experience in September 2016 with their Heart of Europe river cruise on the Danube, Main and Rhine. And their video of the tour to the Land of the Long White Cloud gives a really good (and faithful) impression of what it’s like.
And yes, New Zealand is very far away, and it is a truly unpleasant journey. For me, one of the worst parts of any overseas travel is getting to the airport in the first place; so we set off from home the day before and stayed overnight at one of the airport hotels. It sure takes the worry out of getting there in time to check in.
The outward journey involved a stopover in Singapore after the first 13 hour flight. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to Singapore. It rained. The Raffles Hotel is closed for refurbishment, so we couldn’t even get an authentic Singapore Sling in the place where it was invented. It has a history that reminds you of so much of British imperialism and colonialism, which always makes me feel uncomfortable. But, it had its moments. It certainly is a remarkable place. We visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, and witnessed a time of prayer which in some ways feels like a Christian monastic prayer office, but in other ways is so very different: the constant repetitive chanting, the amplified sound, the extravagant mass of images…
We also saw a Hindu celebration of their harvest festival of Pongal, with colourful dancers. Alison had a go too:
The evening of the next day we set off for our second flight to Auckland. A ten hour flight, with another five hours’ time difference, making a total of 13 hours difference from GMT. If anything this bit of the journey was even more horrible, because it was all overnight, it’s always so hard to sleep on planes, there was a fair bit of turbulence, and you arrive early in the morning feeling unrested and unrefreshed. It wasn’t like this back in Captain Cook’s day; though it’s true we didn’t have to suffer the seasickness or the danger of 18th century sea travel. Airplane meals were bad enough, though, and upset my tummy more than a little.
But how extraordinary it is, that in such a short time you can travel halfway around the world! Leaving out the overnight stops and the waiting in airports, the actual travelling time from home to New Zealand was about 25 hours: a distance of what Google tells me is some 11,700 miles (18,830 km).
And so we found ourselves on the fourth day of our trip, and our first day in New Zealand, in the city of Auckland.