And so we set out for two months touring New Zealand in a campervan. Every journey starts with a first step and having gone through the familiar packing routine and closed the house down into winter mode (the same as summer mode but you leave the heating on and turn the water off), our first step is into a taxi to the station and then the train and tube to Heathrow.
The by now standard (for us) photograph of the two happy travellers setting out on their trip is not quite so good as last time – blame it on the train wobbling!
Two weeks ago, Heathrow was at an embarrassing standstill because of a little snow and a lot of incompetence. Today it is operating efficiently and check-in proceeds quickly with our luggage being within weight limits (just), our pre-booked seats unchanged and our departure exactly on time.
Flying eastwards on a Boeing 777-200ER from London to Auckland via Hong Kong on Air New Zealand NZ38 is apparently the longest “same plane flight distance” in the world (i.e. a flight between two airports with a refuelling stop but without changing planes). According to Air New Zealand, the flight details are:
12 hrs 10 mins
10 hrs 55 mins
23 hrs 5 mins
but because the distances shown above are great circle distances, our route with navigation wobbles is longer but the time shorter because of strong tail winds.
Like most major airlines, Air New Zealand publishes its in-flight entertainment listings online before the start of the month and so we already know which films we want to see – and on a 24 hour flight you can see quite a lot. Unlike other airlines however, the in-flight system is up and running from the moment you get on the plane and so that boring first hour whilst everyone else gets on the plane, it takes off and reaches cruising altitude and then the in-flight entertainment system starts is avoided. The offer includes “Made in Dagenham” (very good); “Wall Street” (poor), “The American” (average); “The Switch” (ok); and “Never let Me Go” (very good). You can watch a lot of films on a 24 hour flight!
Whilst the plane refuels in Hong Kong, there is a much
valued two hour stroll around the airport to stretch our legs plus use the free internet access (unlike Heathrow where you pay). Until a few years ago, when Hong Kong airport was at KaiTak, the approach was quite exciting with the landing path weaving through skyscrapers. Now it is a straight forward approach to a new airport carved out of an
island in the Bay which is much like any large new airport in the world. However we shall always remember it for the rather strange back-ground musak constantly playing whilst we were there which included “La Vie en Rose”; “O Sole Mio” and “Santa Lucia” all played with great enthusiasm by the Chinese State Accordion Band!
One of the numerous programmes (click here to access) available on the internet shows our route and progress – below is during the section from Hong Kong to Auckland.
As in all large planes, there is an in-flight map which finally confirms that we are close to arrival in Auckland. The
airport feels very quiet and un-hassled and it takes only 30
minutes from the plane landing to get through Immigration (no queues at all), collect our luggage (on the belt as we got to it) and present ourselves for Bio-security screening.
Border Patrol, a popular “fly on the wall” programme on one of the satellite channels in the UK is about the daily life of Customs and Immigration at Auckland airport. Anyone who has seen it will know that NZ takes the protection of its indigenous flora and fauna more seriously than practically any other country in the world – travellers are not allowed to import any food and have to declare anything which may have been in contact with their own flora and fauna. Hence our walking boots, diving equipment and other items were checked over on arrival. Knowing this would happen, meant that we had scrupulously cleaned everything and we passed through without trouble, the cleanliness of our boots even receiving praise from the Inspector who said we would have been awarded a clean boots smiley sticker if they had one. I doubt that they will be so clean on the way back! (ps – when we unpack in our hotel room, to our horror we find that we have accidently imported half a chocolate bar – the evidence of this crime has been eaten!)
Taking the 13 hour time difference into account, the 9 pm Monday departure from Heathrow arrives in Auckland at 11 am on Wednesday morning and so, 30 hours and 38 minutes after shutting the front door in England when our bodies think it is 11 pm on the 4th of January but here it is just after mid-day on the 5th of January, we open the door to our hotel room – feeling tired, grubby, jet lagged, and hungry but delighted to have got here without any mishaps.