My four-month stay in England had turned into eight years. It was time to go home! I had originally come to find out about me. I was there on a quest to find where I came from and who my father’s family were. That was December 1996, when I left for My First Solo Journey, and I had accomplished all that and more. Almost 8 years exact, November 2004, and I was finally going with a sense that I knew who I was.
It seems life is full of conflicting emotions. I was excited and happy. I was finally going to the country I missed the most. To see my family. At the same time I was probably the most sad I had ever been too. I had been in England since I was 19 years old; I was a boy when I arrived. I had changed and become a man. It also meant that every friend I had made in my adult life was there in England. I was leaving them all behind.
When I first came to England the Internet didn’t exist. Email and websites were unheard of. Facebook hadn’t even been dreamed about. There was ‘snail mail’ or expensive telephone calls. My friends from childhood had become distant. No one was to blame, it’s just the way it was. My life had been in England for so long that I was unsure what the future held. In saying that, it was not going to put me off. I wanted to go back to New Zealand.
I had spent the last month saying goodbye to everyone; my best friend Tristan in Manchester, all the friends that lived in Bedford, and down to see a few that lived in London. I visited as many people who I loved the most, as I could. It was hard going and I know I missed a few people. Not intentionally, but because times didn’t match up. In saying that, the nights of that last month all mingled together, I was surprised I was functioning properly after all the farewell drinks.
My friend, Paul, offered to take me to the airport, and he dropped me off with a quick farewell, only narrowly escaping a parking ticket from an unsmiling parking warden. As normal for me, I was about 4 hours early. I like to check in as soon as I can so my bags are out of my hands, then I can sit somewhere and read or get something to eat. I actually enjoy International Airports. There is something about them that fascinates me. The hustle and bustle, people buying last-minute from duty-free. I like to absorb the atmosphere. I got myself a drink and made a few last-minute goodbye phone calls. I was getting emotional now. It was soon time to go and it really hit me who I was leaving behind. I was starting to feel lonely and unsure. Deep down though I knew it was best.
The Air New Zealand logo made me smile as I boarded the plane. Although I was not usually fussy about which company I flew with, this time I had paid extra to fly home with Air New Zealand. I figured I was worth the expense and I had always enjoyed their flights in the past.
I sat down in my seat and did my usual when I board long haul flights. I stuck my head up like a meerkat and searched for possible empty seats to raid. I always get a window so it’s easier to sleep, but I’ve been lucky a lot and had either the three window seats to myself, or I’ve scouted a row of four middle seats that had no one on them and quickly taken those for my bed. That was my mission now. As the plane filled up I soon realized lady luck was not with me this day; not only were all the middle seats full, I had to share the three window seats with someone else too. The audacity! Did they not realize who I was? I was New Zealand’s lost son returning home! I should have been put up to business class at least!
Anyway, as my little daydream faded away I started to pay more attention to my seat, which to be perfectly honest, was fine. It was then I realized that Air New Zealand needed to upgrade their planes. It looked as though I had been spoiled on my previous long haul flights. Singapore Airlines have personal TV’s in every seat, with movies to choose that I could rewind and fast forward, and Nintendo games to play. Air New Zealand didn’t; this flight was still using central projectors. However, what they lacked in technology they more than made up for in service. The attendants were very friendly, helpful and for me, just hearing a New Zealand accent was making me smile like a Cheshire Cat!
Now, when planning a trip between New Zealand and the UK with Air New Zealand, you will probably go via Los Angeles. Unlike travelling the other way around the world, where all the stops want you to have free reign over the International Terminal, so you can hopefully spend money, they do things a little differently in America. Bear in mind this was a refueling stop.
They had us queue to enter our waiting area. We had our photo taken and our fingerprints scanned, all while being spoken to by an inhospitable person at the desk. We were then let into a holding room with lots of waiting room seating. This is where you spend the next hour or two while the plane refueled. I will try not to be too hard on the Americans, they did provide free tea and coffee, and they let us shop duty-free for a half hour window. Sadly, Duty Free was a double wardrobe in the corner, but at a glance I wasn’t that interested in deformed cuddly toys, so I just lay on the floor waiting. I wasn’t overly impressed. I am happy for security measures to protect us, but to make it that inhospitable was unnecessary.
Some people are not so good on planes. Others manage. Me, well, I love to fly. But in all honesty I am usually asleep for most of it. I stay awake for the exciting take off and landing, and I may watch a movie if something catches my eye, but other than eating, I sleep. I don’t even drink alcohol. Actually on long haul flights I recommend NEVER drinking alcohol before or during. I did once and the head ache 15 hours in was horrendous! So there is not much to say about the flight.
Arriving in Auckland I was excited. I was feeling euphoric as I stepped onto New Zealand soil. I was so close to being home. I could feel the difference in atmosphere from being in England to here. I collected my bags and waited to be searched as I went through customs. For some reason, this is something that always happens to me, so I was rather surprised and pleased when the only thing they wanted to do was test my tent for contaminants before I went on my way. New Zealand has very strict restrictions when it comes to biological hazards, because of the isolation from other countries by the oceans any contaminant or pest brought into the country could cause a huge problem agriculturally and to our native flora and fauna. To be sure, camping equipment, boots etc get treated on the way in.
So there I was at 5:30 in the morning, standing in my home country. What next? Of course when planning a trip like this you either book flights domestically, or you pay for a bus, or if you are lucky you have someone come get you. It is a 366 km journey to New Plymouth from Auckland, and I had been travelling for 30 hours already, so which method do you think I planned for? If you guessed ‘none of them’, you would be correct. I had no idea how I was going to get home. What I really wanted was to make this an adventure and hitch, but realistically I had too much stuff and it would have been a nightmare.
So while I got something to eat, I decided to text everybody in my contacts list to let them know I had landed safe and sound. I’m not sure why, but my New Zealand friends were not overly receptive, but then I suppose not everyone was wide awake at 5:45 in the morning. Oops.
I went to an information office and started asking about flight and bus costs, and it was at this point my friend, Jay, came to my rescue. She arranged for me to get a ride from a courier friend of her’s from Hamilton to New Plymouth. All I had to do was get to the depot in Hamilton before 12:30 in the afternoon. I found a shuttle bus for $60 that would take me to the depot itself. Awesome! I got in and sat at the back by myself listening to music and watching the bright green countryside go by. I had the window open and the summer air was on my face. What a contrast to the dreary UK winter I had left behind. The only other occupants were elderly and they kept to themselves. I couldn’t stop grinning to myself.
As promised the driver dropped me off at the courier depot. From here though it got a little awkward. Either Jay had fallen asleep, or she had not been able to make contact with the driver, because when I asked for Steve, I was introduced to his partner, who gave me a very suspicious look. They didn’t know anything about me or my journey. They were very helpful in letting me keep my stuff there while I went for some food and read my book in the morning sunshine. I was getting nervous. What if they said no? I was starting to think I would have to get another bus trip to New Plymouth and 4 hours on a bus didn’t appeal to me. Either way I was getting home and as it turned out Steve was only too happy to give me a ride. I was warned that Steve wouldn’t stop and I had better have a secure stomach, and with that we were bombing off towards New Plymouth. Steve was known to do this journey in 3 hours, usually it takes about 4.
My stomach survived and I was just happy chatting away and asking questions. I watched the scenery go by and I marveled at all the vibrant colours of everything, compared to the UK it was a real eye opener. New Zealand really is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
It might be worth saying a few things about couriers about now. Never annoy one while they are on the road. Most couriers have CB radios and are on very good terms with passing truckers. A couple of drivers had the misfortune of cutting Steve up and they suffered very slow passages through some windy roads behind tankers for their crimes.
Sure enough, 3 hours later I was standing on the roadside outside the New Plymouth courier depot, the wrong side of town from my mum’s house, with far too much stuff to carry. It was at this final point that I appreciated my memory of my family phone numbers, that had not changed since I was five; “Hi Nan, Any chance of a lift?”
Nan to the rescue and within a few minutes I was walking in the front door, greeted with hugs and smiles from my mum. Home never felt this good!
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