The decision to head to New Zealand was easy. We were so excited at the prospect of a new adventure. One that, in a lot of ways, will be far easier than boat life. A simple existence where all we have to do is walk.
First we had to fly. It feels novel to be able to go halfway around the world, almost 10,000 miles in just a couple days. We had to take 7 different flights to get from Oriental, NC to the southernmost part of New Zealand (or as close as we could get via plane), aka, Invercargill.
Our Flight Schedule
- North Carolina
For the most part, the journey went smooth. The one hiccup we did encounter could have been major. And it happened to us between the most major portion of travel, from California to New Zealand (with a stop over in Fiji).
We sat contentedly in the International terminal, excited about the prospect of our longest airplane ride ever. I was anxious about my ability to sleep. It would be a night flight and I suck at sleeping on planes. So I thought I’d pick up some sleeping pills at the airport news stand, just in case.
The desk attendant for Fiji Air got on the microphone to announce that the plane will begin boarding in just 15 minutes. Jake and I weren’t paying close attention. We lounged in the comfy chairs listening to music and reading our books. I thought I heard my name called and pulled the headphones from my ears, just in time to hear Jake’s name. Hmm, I wonder what this could be about?
At the counter, the attendant asked us to show them our return ticket from New Zealand. We don’t have a return ticket, which we explained. He told us that in order to board this flight, we are required to show proof of a return ticket out of New Zealand. Otherwise we can’t board.
OK, so lets just try to book something and then we can cancel it later. We know for a fact that you don’t need a return ticket out of the country, but in order to get on this plane, we need something fast. This is Fiji Airline’s policy. I wish they told us last month when we booked the flight. Not 10 minutes until we board.
Jake got on the phone to try to book online, but nothing was working. The airport internet was useless and once we got on cellular data, the airline booking website wasn’t working. Nothing was working. Why is it always when you really need something to work it doesn’t?
Meanwhile, the attendant has just called for initial boarding and hundreds of people are lining up.
Panic began to settle in. We decided to skip technology and just go strait to the source, to see if we could book a flight. The attendant said that he couldn’t book us a refundable ticket at the counter but could put us on the phone with their customer service people.
It was all a blur. I was feeling helpless, frustrated and anxious. The tight knot in my tummy churned. I didn’t want to panic just yet, so I pushed the thoughts out of my mind and tried to make myself useful. Jake seemed to struggle to understand the girl on the phone and communicate what we wanted. 2 fully refundable tickets from NZ back to the US. The girl informs him that they can only book a ticket back to Fiji and that there will be a small cancellation fee, of about $60 per ticket. Small price to pay to get on this flight right now.
Meanwhile, the line is getting smaller.
“6 minutes until final boarding. All passengers must board at the gate”
“5 minutes ….”
“3 minutes until final boarding ….”
Jake hung up the phone. We told the attendant (who was right there the whole time) we had our tickets. But he required proof (in the form of an email) of the purchase. Fine.
“2 minutes until final boarding ….”
C’mon…c’mon already. The email came through, finally, and I was ready to bolt to the gate when the attendant asked us to wait for a minute. He said that we can board this flight now, but we may still need to purchase ANOTHER ticket to prove that we are going back to the US. Otherwise we may not be able to board the flight in Fiji. We can, however, deal with that when we get there (thank god!)
With less than a minute to spare, we ran through the gate and down the jet way. I didn’t have a chance to situate my miscellaneous items (book, phone, wallet, bag) so it was a little cumbersome. I double-checked our tickets to see we’re at the back of the plane. It was already full to the brim with passengers. I hardly noticed any of them, my focus was completely on the location of my seat.
Because we booked our flight so late in the game, Jake and I weren’t together. Luckily, we had seats across from one another only separated by the aisle. He only had one fellow passenger next to him, my seat was in the middle section with 4 others. I didn’t care too much about it at the time, I was just glad we got onboard.
My heart was still beating fast, full of adrenaline. It took awhile to come down from all the excitement of the last 20 minutes, plus the fact that we’re on such a long flight. 12 hours to be exact. Each seat has a personal monitor complete with music, movies, television shows. A perfect distraction. What more could a girl ask for? Maybe a shot of whisky to take the edge off 😉
The first part of the ride was fun. Dinner was a yummy vegetarian pasta, served an hour after take off. I watched a couple of movies and didn’t really feel tired. There was a baby crying in a seat behind me. The young couple next to me were really cute, obviously early 20’s. That’s when I did a perimeter scan and realized that a lot of people on this plane seem really young. Maybe College-aged? That thought made me feel really old.
A few hours in, the ride grew from pleasant to turbulent. I am not a fan of turbulence, as many people probably aren’t. I always imagine the worst possible outcome, some type of dramatic plane crash over the ocean, zooming at 500 miles per hour directly down to be either disintegrated by the impact or to plummet down the depths of the sea. I know, its messed up!
The cabin lights were dim and most everyone was sleeping. This is my cue to try one of those sleeping pills. It worked fast. Only 10 minutes and I was out. It was a restless sleep. Hard to get comfortable in the small cramped seat. I usually lay across Jake on long flights, but I can hardly lay on my neighbor. I’m sure his wife wouldn’t like that. And the aisle is nice, but I don’t want to accidentally get hit by a service cart or trip a flight attendant.
3 hours later and it was 4AM. The lights blinked on suddenly and it felt like a lot of commotion. An announcement: “Breakfast service will begin momentarily, please pull up your seats and drop your tray tables.”
I was slow to come to consciousness. Still completely groggy from the sleeping pill. Hunger won the battle (for now) and I eagerly wolfed down the cheese omelet, potatoes, sausage, yogurt and coffee.
2 hours later, we landed in Fiji.
From here, my only thought was to figure out this whole return ticket thing. We had several hours until our next flight from Nadi to Christchurch. But we have to go through Fiji customs first.
The airport reminded me of the Bahamas. There was a live band playing some festive music as we entered the first of several lines. It has a kind of “under construction” feel to it, with exposed concrete and ugly fluorescent lighting. There was no A/C either, so the humidity seeped into everything.
It felt like ages and I was so groggy that I struggled to keep my eyes open. When we finally made it through all that madness, we found ourselves inside a pretty cute little airport lounge. From here we scoured the place for any sign of a customer service agent. Nothing but baggage handlers, passengers and flight attendants. An older lady noticed our looks of confusion and informed us she is a concierge to the airport and brought us over to a hidden counter where a young girl sat. This is where we explained our predicament about the return ticket, and to ensure we’d be able to board our plane from here to NZ. She said, “You SHOULD be okay, but they have asked people to deplane in the past, but hopefully that won’t happen to you.”
That didn’t leave us with the greatest vote of confidence, but she said there really isn’t anything we can do. She doesn’t believe we need a return ticket TODAY, only if we were to take the flight back to Fiji (the fully-refundable one we just purchased). THEN we would need a return ticket to the US.
So we wait. And wait. We found an empty corner inside the lounge next to some HUGE windows that look out over the crystal blue water. Oh how much this reminds me of the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas. There are even some small sailboats anchored out in the bay!
Lost in our minds, we didn’t notice that our plane was boarding until a passenger accidentally bumped into me, forcing me to look up. Thank goodness, because there was no announcement and the plane was boarding quickly. We followed suite.
Here it is. The moment of truth.
We got on the plane, sat in our seats towards the back of the plane and waited. Anytime an attendant walked by, we tried to look inconspicuous. Please don’t tell us to leave, please don’t tell us to leave….please….Oh look, there’s that same crying baby from the last plane, that’s funny.
Fully loaded. Doors closed. The plane pulled away from the gate. And we both took a sigh of relief. We aren’t being deplaned. YAY. New Zealand here we come!
It was an easy 4 hour flight. We did our best to sleep but were too keyed up to do much other than look out the window at the gorgeous blue ocean below.
We landed in Christchurch around noon. This one is much larger, more modern and lovely than that of Fiji. It was a lot of zigging and zagging through various customs lines which took a lot longer. The food-sniffing beagles found Jake’s carry-on questionable. I think it was the banana he bought at the airport in California. That scent lingers and those pups have noses of steel. They were super cute, though!
After clearing with the dogs, we had to clear through a couple of different screening stations for our gear, both carry-on and checked luggage. Since we have camping / outdoor gear, we had to pull it out to make sure it isn’t contaminated with foreign soil. New Zealand takes this VERY seriously, as their most precious asset is their environment. And the Kiwi take pride in it (as they rightly should). They decided our tent needed to be sanitized but had no problem with any of our shoes, polls, or even freeze-dried food that we brought.
Bags in hand, we walked out into the airport terminal, which was buzzing with activity. It felt crowded and noisy. We made our way towards the exit when we passed a vodaphone booth. Vodaphone is like the Verizon of NZ (or maybe T-mobile). They had a Christmas special for the purchase of our SIM and installed and activated it right there for us. Couldn’t have been easier. Sweet!
From here we saw signs pointing exactly where we wanted to go; JUCY Snooze. We booked this hostel online, prior to our departure. Its greatest appeal, besides being cheap, is that it is a 10 minute walk from the airport (more like 6 minutes).
We booked a private room for 4 nights. The place is extremely sleek, very European, modern and minimal. The bright purple and green colors were charming and it was all brand new construction. Though the room was tiny, it was absolutely perfect, complete with a bite-sized bathroom, a little wall-mounted flat screen and a queen sized bed. Besides, we’re used to tiny spaces. 😉
It was still early in the afternoon but both of us were so exhausted. All I wanted to do was sleep, but we know we have to fight it as long as we can, just to get on local time. We showered, walked around the hostel and found a little strip mall across the street with grocery market and restaurants.
We opted to get some food at the market and eat in the room. Then we proceeded to watch good bad television. We were surprised to have a TV at all, and happy to see that it was very similar to Iceland. 8 channels, half of them from the UK, 3 of them are local, NZ and 1 from Asia. We were sound asleep by 7PM.
HAPPY NEW YEAR 2017!
Just like last year. We tried to ring in the new year but just crossed the Gulf Stream into Bimini, completely exhausted from the voyage. We only lasted until 10PM.
The Southern Hemisphere
It’s hard to believe that its a new year. What better way to celebrate than to be in a new country, a new hemisphere actually. And we’re about to embark on a new way of travel too. Lots of firsts.
Jet lag was in full effect now. We slept for 12 hours but it did very little to make us feel refreshed. I think I’m more exhausted today than I was yesterday.
We decided to spend the morning in the hostel’s lounge / kitchen arena. It is GIGANTIC, hence the term arena. Its really kind of amazing actually. This is the type of place Jake and I want to build someday on our “Bosco Ranch“.
The kitchen is HUGE! Several cooking and cleaning and food-storage stations, a great big lounge with hammocks and chairs and tables and a nice patio outside with much the same. Jake whipped up a delightful couscous with dehydrates strawberries and granola for breakfast. Not bad considering its all stuff we brought (i.e. camping meal style). Might as well start to get used to it, am I right?!
Now that we are officially here, we only have one major goal. We need to purchase hut passes for use of the extensive hut system in the backcountry of New Zealand. Its actually quite amazing. There are some 900 huts of varying degrees of history, quality and size. Some are tiny little “barely-there shelters”. Others are massive 40-person resorts. And there all makes and models in-between. And for a mere $90 NZD / pp (which is around $65 USD), you can have unlimited access to most of these huts for 6 months. For $120 NZD you get an entire year! Its ABSOLUTELY worth it!
The other items on the docket include fuel, a dish towel (which we forgot to pack), and I decided that I need another shirt. I only brought 2 t-shirts, one of them is perfect quick-dry material. The other is nice, but not good for hiking long distances. It stinks when its sweaty and wet. This shirt will either get mailed home, or be a good “rest day” shirt.
In a few days, we catch a flight. Obviously we cannot fly with fuel, so that must wait. Our camp stove is the MSR Whisperlight Universal. We brought 1-30oz canister and 1-20oz canister, from which we will fill with fuel. We are on the lookout for white spirits, aka white gas, aka Coleman fuel. It is supposedly the cleanest burning fuel for the stove.
With a quick online search, Jake found a solution for 3 out of the 4 items on the docket. A store called Macpac, a few miles from here, carries outdoor gear AND supposedly sells hut passes. This would be our task for the day.
It was sunny and hot. Almost 100 degrees F (about 35 Celsius). The walk down the main street was lovely. We strolled past cute gardens, houses, streams and parks. We made sure to dressed from head-to toe in sun clothes, almost completely covered. It sounds strange, but after life on the boat, exposure to the sun can be hard on the body. My only regret is that I thought I should “break in” my new sandals on our leisure walk. That was a mistake.
We left the neighborhood and entered a busy street lined with Asian food markets and shops. It wasn’t exactly “pretty or fancy” but it was interesting. Then we saw a huge building that looked to be a mall. And thats where our store is. The Macpac is sort of like an REI in New Zealand. They have outdoor gear galore, but at greatly inflated prices.
We found everything and then some. The dish towel was huge, we can cut it down. I found a perfect shirt and because it is “Boxing Day” (New Years Special), everything was 40% off. BONUS! When we checked out, we asked about hut passes and the girl said she only had one. So we bought one. Figured we could get another one later.
I paid the bill and walked out of the store, feeling good. I was expecting to spend over $150NZD but the bill came to $65NZD. That didn’t make sense though, but maybe the hut pass was on sale? I looked at the receipt in greater detail and saw we were only charged $5NZD for the hut pass. That isn’t right.
I pulled the pass from the bag and read the label. It wasn’t a hut pass, but a hut ticket. And it is only good for one night in any hut falling in a specific category. Shoot, this is not what we wanted. But apparently its non-refundable so I guess its my first souvenir from New Zealand (or maybe I’ll give it to someone along the way?)
The only other place that sells hut passes nearby is several more miles in the opposite direction from where we are, so we decided to skip it and save it for another day. By now the sun was high in the sky. Hot. So so hot. My skin felt like it was melting off my body (under the sun clothes). And I noticed now just how much my feet were aching AND burning. From exposure to sun and walking on concrete all morning.
We took reprieve under the shade of a large tree in an even larger park. It was so lovely and felt great to sit and soak it in.
The walk back was not so pleasant. It was hot and there was no shade to hide under, so we had to just battle through. We did stop at a larger grocery store, called New World Market. This place had a lot more selection than the Countdown. We picked up a few fresh goodies (fresh veggies, potato spinach curry salad and cold drinks). And we sat on a bench just outside to wolf it down. It was tasty and delicious, though not enough to really fill us up. A good lunch snack.
By the time we got back to the hostel we were both fried. Dehydrated, tired and burned. It was about 10 miles of walking, which isn’t a lot really, but it felt like a lot. And it hit us hard. I’m worried about how we’re going to walk every day (with our heavy packs)? Now I’m nervous
We did nothing on day 2, and it was everything we imagined it could be. Sore feet, burnt hands and toes. The sun was way more potent than we realized. The lazy day was necessary. We sat around the common area to read and hang out. We watched some good, bad TV (our favorite stations are the UK ones). And we napped.
The one thing we did accomplish is booking a hostel in Bluff. Bluff is the southernmost point of New Zealand, and where the beginning of the Te Araroa journey will commence. The lady on the phone was so cute and sounded really excited when she learned our plans.
Day 3 – ANTARCTIC RESEARCH CENTRE
Its our last full day in Christchurch. It’s also gray and raining, so not exactly the best weather to walk around outside. But that’s okay, its perfect for us. We don’t have to go very far to get to the Antarctic Research Centre (happens to be just behind the hostel!).
Jake and I are obsessed with Antarctica. We’ve discussed different ways that we could spend 6-months or a year working there. We think it would be a really unique psychological experiment in human sensory deprivation, especially during the winter months. Plus, I could get really good at astrophotography! I know it sounds crazy. Who would want to expose themselves to -40 degrees through -100 degrees, weekly hurricane force weather storms, and complete darkness for months-on-end? Jake and Jill DO!
The museum was quite impressive with its real-life simulations of the freezing cold weather and strong storms (they had a storm-room where you can test this out). We learned a lot about the first explorers in the 1900’s and Scott Base. There was a really fun exhibit of blue penguins, which are super adorable. Did you know that you can’t tell the sex of a blue penguin without a DNA test? These penguins were tagged to mark their gender and all of them are native to either Antarctica or New Zealand. However these have life-long injuries that prohibit safe reentry to the wild, so they now live here.
After walking through about half of the museum, we saw that there was an area to meet and pet Alaskan Huskies. How cute is that?!?! We couldn’t resist some puppy love and had to go out in the rain to meet these cuties.
The New Zealand-Antarctica project has been around for many years and is essentially like a giant science experiment. Scientists and Engineers research samples of ice core, water, ocean coral, ozone and weather studies, even electricity. They do everything in their power to leave zero-footprint. We learned much about the changing climate and how significant of an effect it has on the continent and ecosystems of Antarctica (which are quite diverse). There was an exhibit to show how the sun rotates around the earth and how the continent is exposed, or not exposed for so long. Apparently the ozone is so thin above Antarctica, the risk of exposure is the greatest of anywhere else on the planet.
I’m most obsessed with the “under-the-sea” stuff. Just like on the boat.
Did you know there is a phase between the liquid and solid state of ice? Liquid, is water, solid is ice. But theres another phase that is like a sludge, living under Antarctic ice.
Its also kind of amazing that the Southern ocean is home to more animal ecosystems than anywhere, from krill and whales to seals, seagulls, penguins, squid and heaps of other fish. Its also the most untouched by man, so its in a better health-state than any other.
OK so we loved this place. We picked up a few souvenirs at the gift shop, including “trail pup“. With one more puppy petting visit and a quick stroll we were back at the hostel.
And that is that. We spent the rest of the day packing up our bags, figuring out food and any other potential items we might need. Tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn, we head to Invercargill and then to Bluff. From there, we begin the Te Araroa.