Arriving in Auckland, New Zealand
There are few words to describe the emotions felt when after chasing something for so long, you finally set eyes on the prize. After nearly 36 hours since having left our home, we looked out the window of the airplane and finally saw the coast line of the north island of New Zealand.
As we approached the lusciously green island and could make out the outline of the city below, I almost wept with how excited I was to finally be landing, with my family, at the destination that has taken us so long to get to. It wasn’t just the 36 hours of travel time, but the 11 years of waiting since the time that this idea first hatched. As we touched down it was clear that we were all excited to step off the plane and see what we’d gotten ourselves into.
With enthusiasm, we deplaned and hustled our way to the customs line along with an airport full of other people and settled in for the long wait. Naturally, right at this point, the children in unison decided they needed to go to the bathroom.
Sidebar: It is my personal opinion that if you’re going to be an adventurer, you can’t do it while also holding a tight leash. At some point you have to discover that we in America tend to be a bit… paranoid. Yes, bad things can happen, but despite what the media portrays, they rarely do. If you haven’t, I recommend you go read any number of travel blogs including those traveling with young families and they will tell you the world over that the world is a generally safe and good place and that the media has led us astray. *end soapbox*
At this point, we decide to be brave and let our children go on their own because we can see the signs not to far away very clearly and I’ll be darned if I’m going to give up my place in a customs line because someone has to pee! So the kids leave their backpacks with us and go running off… straight through a double door into who knows where. *small panic* Divinity and I look at each other and putting on my tough guy hat I reassure her. “Let’s give it 5 minutes, and if they aren’t back, I’ll go after them.” So in true new adventurer style, we try to do everything one can possibly do to kill time in a customs line (which is nothing) and as we mentally hit the 4 minute mark, we start to panic. We look at the doors and with no activity to be seen, I assure Divinity that we’ll wait one more minute and then I’ll go. Just then, all three children come bobbing out of the door being silly, looking refreshed, and then very happy to identify us in a crowd of thousands.
After waiting for roughly 30 minutes, we finally made it up to the customs counter. We walked up and presented each of our passports in turn, giving our best smiles and talking friendly with the attendant as I’m sure we all do as we wait anxiously to get through the gate and on with our travel. After all, this is the place where they could simply say, “We don’t like you. Go home.” But that isn’t going to happen, right?
Well, we get to Kaitlyn’s passport and we can tell something is wrong. They keep scanning it, and scanning it, and pretty soon we watch them give us the stink eye and call for security. Just kidding, about the stink eye and security, but seriously, they can’t get Kaitlyn’s passport to work right! The lady tries to reassure us as she tries again and calls for a supervisor. The supervisor checks a few things and then ushers us through to another desk where he takes a few moments, tries to scan it again and then wishes us well and on our way. I’d like to say we were perfect parents through all of this but for a very brief moment, we teased Kaitlyn that she might have to go back. Maybe it was only half teasing. 😉
Again rushing as fast as we reasonably could, we went and grabbed our luggage and got in line for the second part of customs. In this case, there were 4 lines we could have gotten in and as we all know, whichever line you get in IS the longest line. For real though, we watched the other lines move with people who were behind us in the other lines moving far ahead and out of eyesight. Apparently we picked the line that had a large group of Asian tourists in it who didn’t speak English. After 1.5 hours of standing in this line, which slowly sapped away our enthusiasm for our destination, we made it to the inspector, only to find that if there was any question on what we had in our bags, we’d be whisked away to yet another endless line.
For clarity sake, this part of the customs process is very strict. New Zealand’s economy largely relies on its export of agricultural products including both plant and animal products. They have to be extremely vigilant in monitoring what sneaks into their country on board people’s luggage, food, shoes, etc. They can’t just wave people through who don’t speak English just to keep a line moving. They had signs showing various interesting and for me unidentifiable Asian foods that were strictly prohibited and I have to support them in their thoroughness in protecting this amazing paradise.
Thankfully for us, the inspector we got was very understanding and good with the kids, and Divinity’s declaration that she had various snacks in her bag only got a few questions out of him before he kindly told us to move to the short line ahead to have our bags X-rayed just like everyone else and be on our way. 2 hours after landing, we were on our way out of the airport.
We quickly went to the Vodafone store and got our prepaid SIM cards so we could contact people in New Zealand and stepped out to find our rental car.
Jucy Fail and the Kindness of Strangers
We stepped out into the open air for the first time and eagerly looked around for the Jucy rental car company who we had booked with. After realizing that there wasn’t a sign to be seen, I pulled out my newly empowered phone and looked up our reservation which stated that we needed to call a number to be retrieved from the airport. My first sign that things were looking sour was that the phone rang and rang. Eventually, it clicked in some odd way and started ringing a second time where someone answered and informed us that Jucy closed at 6:00 PM and it was now 6:30 PM.
You mean to tell me that at the country’s largest airport, a major car rental agency closes at 6:00 PM?! The guy said this was in fact true and that I’d have to wait until morning. I was flabbergasted. I told him that this would leave my family stranded at the airport and could we please cancel this reservation so I could go get another car from another agency. I was told that if I did that, they would cancel our rental and charge us in full for the trouble. I was blown away that I had no other option but to wait until morning, and that I would still be charged for the day I didn’t rent. After reaching out to another contact at Jucy who I had booked with over the phone months before, I was again informed that this is their busy season and they have strict policies and to come back in the morning.
This is how we feel about Jucy.
I could not believe that they were so inflexible. We had another rental scheduled with them a few days later as well and I seriously considered bagging the whole thing and abandoning Jucy forever. What made matters worse was that we had to be at our AirBnB location by 7:00 PM because our hosts were busy after that. I sent our hostess (Moira) a text letting her know that we were having issues and wouldn’t make it in time and she asked us to call her. I called and explained the situation and she mentioned that she would be headed out near the airport shortly. She mentioned that she had a 7 -seater vehicle, which surely has to be rare in New Zealand and that she wasn’t sure if she could fit everything but she’d come see if she could fit us into her car. We waited 30 minutes and were relieved when she called and we found each other across a small sea of people. Divinity told me later she nearly went up and hugged the woman.
Moira was the epitome of kindness. She quickly identified that there wasn’t enough room for all of us, but that she could take the rest of the family and 3 of the 5 bags of luggage. She whisked the family away on a scenic drive to our accommodations and I was left in a much better, but still sticky predicament. Thanks to my limited but useful travel experience of the past few years, I had the Uber app installed on my phone with payment information already entered and quickly requested a ride. I watched the young driver drive around confused and he eventually stopped in a parking lot. I hauled my backpack and two large bags across the street and into the parking lot where we managed to fit the luggage snugly in the trunk. With that I was on our way at a reasonable price to join my family in downtown Auckland.
Moira and Uber saved us that day. Very tired and not comfortable with driving on the left side of the road, especially at dusk, driving a rental would have been dicey at best. To make matters more complicated, our AirBnB stay was located in downtown Auckland where parking is sparse and challenging. As Moira guided us into the small apartment to settle in, we were grateful for the kindness of a stranger who went out of her way to help us get to our destination despite having her own family to juggle. Thank you Moira for all you did to help us that day. You saved our first day in a new country.
With that, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and settled in for our first night’s sleep right at bed time for New Zealand. Sleep never felt so good.
Next up, our first day in a great place.