longest flight ever...
It's a long, long way to New Zealand from England. In fact it can
be described as the mother of all flights and it's certainly the
longest plane journey I've ever taken. You're in the air for about
24 hours as you cross over the many thousands of kilometres between
the two countries. If you fly via North America as opposed to Asia,
you cross the international date line somewhere over the Pacific
Ocean - this is an imaginary line on the Earth that separates two
consecutive calendar days. That is the date to the left of the line
is always one day ahead of the date to the right... confused? I
It apparently works out like this - without the date line, people
travelling west would discover that one day more than they thought
had passed when they returned home. For a person travelling in an
easterly direction, one day fewer would have elapsed than they would
have thought. The date line acts as a means to balance out this
phenomenon. On my journey into the west, it meant taking off from
Heathrow on a Wednesday afternoon and arriving in Auckland on Friday
morning - a whole day had disappeared for me!
Air New Zealand jumbo jet left Heathrow at four in the afternoon
and went 'over the top' via Greenland and Canada. Fortunately it
wasn't a continuous flight and I had the chance to get off the aircraft
for a while when it landed in Los Angeles for two hours.
this stopover was a bit of a nightmare because the American authorities
had tightened up security after the events of September 11th. For
the passengers, this meant waiting in an extremely long queue to
have our passports checked by just one immigration official. Despite
disgruntled mutterings from passengers, nobody caused a fuss - I
realised why when I saw that the immigration official was armed!
all that we weren't even allowed into the duty free area of the
terminal. Instead we were 'treated' to an extremely drab waiting
room with a leaky roof. It was not what you'd expect from a country
that prides itself on customer service.
who re-boarded the aircraft for the final twelve hour leg across
the Pacific to New Zealand were not a happy bunch for their American
experience. To make matters worse, we had to endure an alarmingly
bad Eddie Murphy movie which they had to show twice because they'd
run out of other films to show - if I could, I'd have paid the extra
three grand there and then for a first class seat to avoid the visual
Actually, I'm being slightly unfair here (not to Eddie Murphy though)
because the staff kept us well fed and watered, and the flight was
not delayed in any way. In fact, the jumbo touched down in Auckland
a full fifteen minutes early which was something I've never experienced
with any other airline.
When I adjusted my watch I saw that it was six in the morning in
Auckland. The airport was modern and extremely well laid out - inside
it certainly didn't seem like an international airport, moreover
it had the feel of a cosy regional one.
are very strict in New Zealand. This is because the country has
such a delicate ecosystem and certain foreign bodies could cause
severe damage to it. As a precaution, the aircraft cabins are apparently
sprayed with insecticide to kill off any organisms that might be
hitching a ride. Bringing meat and dairy products into the country
is strictly forbidden and even hiking boots need to be checked for
dirt. If found, they have to be cleansed there and then. Dogs also
check your bags for foods (not an altogether unpleasant job for
a dog, I may add) before they're sent through an x-ray machine.
Fines of up to $100,000 NZ dollars are waiting for anyone caught
breaking the rules. Thankfully, I got through this examination without
the marigolds being whipped out!
airport is quite a way out from central Auckland so I caught a taxi
to my hotel. On the way, the Maori taxi driver gave me a tour of
the suburbs. At the time, I was probably too groggy from the flight
to realise he'd taken a 'scenic' route which added another $10 to
little bit about Auckland...
centre is situated next to the spectacular Waitemata harbour which
contains a number of volcanic islands, including popular tourist destination
Waiheke Island with its expansive beaches and holiday homes.
Located on New Zealand's North Island, the Auckland region is surrounded
by water on either side so yachting is popular pastime. So much
so that Auckland has earned the nickname 'City of Sails'.
New Zealand's largest city and home to the country's main international
airport, Auckland is a lively and cosmopolitan place to be. Over
one million people live there (which is almost a third of the country's
entire population), so the bars and clubs are thriving places at
area also boasts some stunning scenery with volcanic hills and lush subtropical foliage surrounding the
I was staying at the four star City Life hotel in Auckland. The
hotel room had absolutely everything - television, mini-bar, living
room, cooker, stereo system and even a washer-dryer! It was also
slap bang in the centre of the city on Queen Street which was very
staying in Auckland for a few days before heading off on my tour
of the North Island. On the Friday I visited the Sky Tower, which was literally just a stone's throw from the
hotel. The Sky Tower stands at 328 metres and has some fantastic
views across the Auckland region. It's certainly not for anyone
who suffers from vertigo and even those who don't will feel naturally
apprehensive when walking across some of the glass floors that offer
views of the city hundreds of metres below. If that's not enough
of an adrenaline rush, for about $200 daring souls can literally
leap from the top of the tower and free fall the three hundred metres
to the bottom - fortunately for them, they're guided down by wires.
Another activity on offer involves climbing (when I say climbing
I mean with harnesses and ropes) up a radio mast to an upper observation
deck where you'll grab an unrestricted 360 degree view of the city.
If that's not your cup of coffee, then you can enjoy one in the
Sky Tower's restaurant which is a good place to get your bearings.
Also, there's a great restaurant in the Sky City complex below that
serves up a tasty full English breakfast.
If those Sky Tower activities don't sound exciting enough, you can
also do a bungee jump from the harbour bridge!
By early Friday afternoon, jet-lag began to kick in and I felt completely
worn out so I went to sleep at my hotel. I woke in time to get to
the nearest Irish Pub to watch the New Zealand All Blacks take on Canada in the rugby world cup.
The partisan local crowd were left unimpressed by their team's performance
as they only beat the Canadians by 62 points. In New Zealand, you
quickly learn that rugby is everything - football doesn't even rate
a mention in the country. In fact, footie is probably behind cricket
in the scale of things. After the All Black's victory I was treated
to drunken Haka by some of the more merry Kiwis.
off Friday night with a quick tour of some of the excellent bars
in the America's Cup village down by the harbour. All the luxurious
yachts were moored up in the marina and it's a really cool place
to chill out. Most of the bars down there are designer ones but
you'll find the odd place that serves up a decent beer. Sadly for
me, none of them served up any Guinness
Saturday began with a rather tasty full breakfast at the City Life
hotel. I decided to pay a visit to Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World -
the place is basically an underwater zoo built in old storm water
tanks. The late Kelly Tarlton was a famous Kiwi diver and he created
the aquarium to bring the underwater world he'd seen to as many
people as possible. I think the Antarctic part is a nod to the part
New Zealand played as a staging post for many of the expeditions
to the frozen continent. The first exhibition you encounter is dedicated
to those who explored the Antarctic. You see recreations of the
huts the polar explorers used in the early twentieth century and
read about the exploits of British explorers like Scott and Shackleton.
The huts even come with authentic items from the period and you
can even hear the howling Antarctic winds beyond the hut walls.
next attraction is surely one that kids (of all ages) will love
- you get into a snow mobile and take a ride through a colony of
King Penguins. They're great fun as you watch them waddle awkwardly
across the ice and swim gracefully through the water. Penguins are
surely the coolest of creatures (forgive the pun).
you get to see the underwater bit of the exhibition. You walk beneath
the water through a tunnel with a transparent ceiling. As you stroll beneath the
water, you find yourself surrounded by sharks, stingrays and all
manner of sea life. It's quite an awesome sight to see predators
like the sharks up close. Kelly Tarlton's underwater world is well worth
a visit but be warned - the aquarium may not look far on the map
but the winding coastal route certainly tires you out.
bash the Boks
That night (or, more precisely, morning) England took on South Africa
in the World Cup and any self-respecting Englishman has to watch
that. I watched our lads put in a great professional performance
and the Springboks never looked likely to get anything out of the
resolute English defence. The game ended 26-6 in England's favour.
The next day I was stunned to read the vitriolic analysis of England's
performance in one of the New Zealand daily papers. However, my
outrage subsided when I discovered the journalist who'd written
the drivel was a South African. Face it pal, winning ugly is still
After another tasty breakfast, I had a few hours to kill on Sunday
morning before I had to pick up the hire car. I decided to visit
the Auckland Domain - this is a vast park area that must have been
conceived in Victorian times because it bears the features of many
of the traditional English parks.
The Auckland War Memorial Museum can be found within the parkland
but the one building that really captured my imagination was the
Botanical Gardens. The Victorian glass greenhouses were brilliant
and the flowers within them beautiful. I remember there was a statue of a cat trying to catch a butterfly outside the greenhouses.
It was most odd to see this as I'd never seen statues from that
period portray such a whimsical scene - most statues were classic
in style or reflected notable people like Queen Victoria or Captain
The park area was a great place to relax and enjoy a hot chocolate
in lovely surroundings because there was café right by the
Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to get a good look at the
War Memorial Museum but it certainly struck me as a grand building
that had loads of interesting things in it. If you ever visit Auckland
- check it out!
I headed over to Avis to pick up my hire car which was a Rav 4 four-wheel-drive.
The tour I'd organised involved me driving my way through both the
North and South Islands.
I've always believed that you see more if you've got control over
your means of travel plus it meant I could do a bit of exploring
in the beautiful New Zealand countryside.
As I left Auckland behind I was really looking forward to the next
SECTION: The Road
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