NZ Day 28: Taking off

We had a little time to kill, so Kerry and I walked downtown to a cafe and snacked while it rained outside. Eventually we moseyed back to the hotel, and the shuttle to the airport arrived. The driver knew the dimensions of the boxes ahead of time and the van was large enough, so that went smoothly.

The attendant at the airport was another matter. She argued with us for quite a while about whether we could get our boxes loaded on the plane and how much it would cost. She could not believe that the rules allowed it, and I had to patiently make my case over and over again until she kicked it up the food chain, and her boss waved us through.

The transition can be jarring sometimes. I work in an industry that is obsessed with optimization, in an area teeming with startups all wrestling to eat each others’ lunch and be “disruptive”. Meetings and deadlines and design specifications fly fast and furious and you can damage your reputation by being just a few minutes late, or not knowing your area of expertise down to the fine details when someone needs an answer. But I have to take that entire mode of thinking and shove it into a luggage compartment, and just go with the flow: If five people need me to explain the same thing five times, in a reasonable and patient voice, then that’s what I’ll do. If it takes all day, I’ll just get myself a sandwich and pace myself, and chop doggedly at the red tape until it stretches just enough. That’s just the way it has to go. No use getting imperious or upset.

The transfer to the international flight in Auckland was even more hurried than the first one. The design really was a bit ridiculous and I hope they improve it. The flight itself was just as cramped and uncomfortable as before; a kind of endurance test. Apparently I smelled so much from my earlier exertion with the bike boxes that the woman seated near me asked to transfer to another seat. Well, she didn’t tell me as much, but the way her face wrinkled up when I shifted around was all the signal I needed.

I know it’s a miracle that we can cross around to the other side of the Earth in less than a day, but even making the journey in first class is extremely uncomfortable, for the simple fact that you cannot lay down anywhere, for even a moment. Unfortunately, it’s not economical to build a plane that offers that kind of space. For every three stacked compartments where a person could lay flat, you can insert at least six seats. Airlines would have to double the ticket price at least, and no one would pay the difference. Plus they’d have to completely retool the interior of the plane to use it for shorter trips.

I can see the reasons it sucks. But yeah — it still sucks.

Anyway, we arrived in San Francisco without incident, unloaded our boxes in a haze, and called a shuttle. About an hour later we were standing in the driveway, and shortly after that we were attending to our respective cats, and starting to relax.

Time for a trip wrap-up!

What were the highlights of the trip?

Kerry and I both agree on the three highlights of this trip: Matapouri Bay, Hobbiton, and the Whanganui canoe trip. We could have spent an entire week just hanging around totally relaxed in Matapouri and another entire week on the Whanganui, canoeing and camping and hiking in those amazing woods. But the schedule didn’t allow it.

Below that top three I’ll add three more things: The Tongariro crossing, the Whangarei kayak trip through the mangrove forest, and the day we spent meandering around Waipu on our bikes, bothering the horses and sheep and picnicking and enjoying the unbelievably great weather.

Seriously, there are so many amazing natural activities all over New Zealand. We didn’t even go bird watching, or skydiving, or see the dolphins, or White Island, or go into any of the big caves, or go surfing, or walk through the Goblin Forest, or ride the old train tracks, or see ANY of the icy terrain of the South Island…

So how was it, cost-wise?

Kerry and I both had plenty of savings. What we were short on was time. This is probably typical for software developers wanting to travel. The upshot is, we paid for a wide variety of experiences, and crammed them all into one month. Snorkeling, boat rides, kayaking, canoeing … all things that required custom equipment and/or transport that we had to rent. If our bicycles hadn’t been highly customized we would have probably rented those too.

Camping in New Zealand is easier than in neighboring Australia, though it still varies by region. That was irrelevant though because Kerry and I didn’t even bring tents or sleeping bags. Our route lined up consistently with towns large enough to sport hotels, and since it was the tail end of the tourist season we booked almost every stay well in advance. Between food and lodging, and with the currency exchange, we averaged about 1.5 times the amount we’d pay back home. The quality of the rooms varied wildly, but the food was always good.

If we’d brought camping equipment and used it, New Zealand would have been less expensive than any European country — even the ones like Denmark and Sweden where camping is cheap, because of the reduced cost of food and other supplies. But without that camping element, New Zealand was pretty darned expensive.

Also, there was the paradoxical effect of the shuttle system. We had to pay oversize luggage fees to get our bikes into the country, and spend extra days at the beginning and end dealing with them. Between the fees and the hotel stays, and the extra food we surely ate because of pedaling around, it probably cost us more to travel through New Zealand by bike than it would have cost us just arriving on foot and taking the shuttle between attractions. The shuttle network in New Zealand really is quite marvelous, and if I’d known that in advance I would have taken the following advice:

Bring two folding bicycles to New Zealand. The kind that fit inside an ordinary suitcase. Plan on taking the shuttle between every town with every attraction you’re keen to see, and once you get into town, unfold the bikes and ride them around. Then fold them up again at the end of the day and proceed to the next town.

That way you get the mobility and range of the bikes, but you don’t have to deal with the endless hills between cities.

Would you go again if you had the chance?

You bet! If I was doing the North Island again, I’d bring folding bikes like I described in the answer above. If I was doing the South Island, it’d be a toss-up. The middle section of that island is flat enough to be pleasant biking, and there are a lot more places to camp so we could bring camping gear and enjoy it. But there is also a train that runs the length of that island, and we’d probably use shuttles to cross most of the mountains between the interior and the West coast, so bikes might not be the best call there either.

There is just so much variety in New Zealand that it’s silly to spend the majority of one’s time there bicycling. Yes, I would totally go back — but not primarily as a bicycle tourist.

Kerry agrees with this. She’s been to Europe and India, and was impressed at how different New Zealand was from those places, but aside from a few days that were truly enhanced by having bicycles, she could have enjoyed New Zealand just as much by renting an RV or taking the shuttles on foot.

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