Getting there is half the fun

posted in: Life and things | 0

Peter and I have just returned from a long-awaited holiday to New Zealand. Or Aotearoa if you prefer the Maori name. It was a small group bus tour, travelling in a full-size coach which normally seats around fifty. But this coach has roomy, single seats like airline business class seats, ten to each side. Everyone gets a window seat. In keeping with that theme, hotels were all 4+ stars. Most meals were provided but sometimes we made our own choices, especially at lunchtime. And while the tour itself included plenty of sights and adventures, we could pay extra for things like bungy jumping, jetboat rides and flights for an aerial view.

Global Pacific’s Ultimate website explains the details.

We’d been on one of Global Pacific’s ultimate tours before, a 10-day trip around the South Island in May, and had a great time despite the weather, so it was a no brainer to book a trip around the North Island and see the South again in more clement times – plus a few extras that hadn’t been in the 2019 tour. Covid, of course, led to the cancellation of the trip a couple of times. But at last, the day dawned and we were OFF!!

Getting there is half the fun, Isn’t it? Back in the good old days you could rock up to the airport just before the gate closed and sashay up to your seat. None of this passing through security. And we had PEOPLE where you checked in. They took your bags and printed out your boarding pass.

But I digress.

Let’s start at the beginning, when we arrived at Hervey Bay airport for our flight to Brisbane to catch a flight to Auckland the following day. We expected to hand over our bags and collect boarding passes for both flights. Then all we had to do was stay overnight in a hotel near the airport, catch our flight and pick up our bags at Auckland airport.

But that was BC. (Before Covid).

Instead of having our bags checked through to Auckland, we had to collect our luggage at Brisbane, take it with us to the hotel, and do the check-in thing for Auckland the next day. Hey ho. Luggage was collected. Now to make it to the local Ibis, which is visible from the terminal – but separated from that building by the multi-story carpark and a couple of major access roads with no footpaths. We wandered up and down for a while, burdened with suitcase, carry-on and coats. We asked Google Maps, which seemed to think we could walk along the roads. We tried the booking confirmation and the hotel website for instructions about how to get there, No dice. Eventually we rang the hotel, having found the phone number on the website, not the booking confirmation.

We had to go through the carpark, following signs for ‘hotels and convention centre’. I should have used a piece of string, like Theseus in the labyrinth. After only a couple of missed turns, we arrived in one piece at the hotel. Or two pieces, I suppose.

Like most hotels, the Ibis wanted a deposit as well as our room rate just in case we were a couple of aged rock stars intending to trash the joint. They only wanted $1. But it had to be a separate transaction to the room payment. And, of course, while the hotel took the dollar in a nanosecond, it would take up to five business days to get a refund. Peter was not pleased about any of it and (typically) made sure management knew. Maybe they could put a phone number on the booking confirmation? And maybe some basic instructions about how to get there from the domestic terminal? I sat on a bench and pretended it had nothing to do with me.

We had discussed going over to the terminal for dinner but fortunately, the hotel has a restaurant. In keeping with the Ibis image, it’s hardly five star but it was food. After an ordinary meal and a couple of drinks to settle the nerves we went back to our very basic room, watched a bit of telly and tried to sleep. We had to be up at six to catch a shuttle bus from the hotel to International.

A rough night was had by all.

BNE control tower, Brisbane CBD in the distance and a Qantas plane on its way out, taken from the IBIS hotel room

The shuttle bus from the IBIS to the international terminal on the other side of the airport cost $8 each. We could have gone back to the domestic terminal and caught the free service but… Pass. There was a German couple on the bus, sitting several rows away from us, who chatted for the whole trip, loudly enough for everyone to hear. I wondered what they could possibly have to talk about – and hoped they weren’t going on a bus tour in New Zealand. Yes, I’m judgemental.

Only a few short years ago you lined up at the Qantas check in counter and the nice person at the desk checked your passport and printed your boarding pass, then processed your baggage. Not anymore. It’s all self-service. Except it’s not. We went to the business class kiosk and fortunately a Qantas person did the whole thing for us. It’s not hard, just if you don’t travel every week it’s a bit confusing. That done, we went to bag drop off and ended up getting help from another lady as we navigated the process.

Off to security and immigration. Security has become a self-feeding industry. And the rules seem to change at a whim. Last time we went away in June we didn’t have to take out our laptops/tablets, This time we did. The scanner was sure I had something hidden at the small of my back so I was patted down. At least it was better than Peter. The scanner in Hervey Bay was sure he had something at his wrists. He was wearing a short sleeved shirt.

You have to wonder if the cost of all this processing is worth it. I suppose if they stopped and then there was a terrorist attack, that would answer the question. But I can’t help feeling they need to find better ways.

Immigration using the new computer system was a doddle. Provided you put your passport in the right way up.

So. Here we were in the Qantas lounge waiting for our flight to Auckland, where we will be picked up (THAIN / VAN DER ROL sign) and taken to the hotel. That would be nice.

The Qantas flight to Auckland was pleasant. Lunch was okay without being brilliant. I did some writing and watched the first half of Minions: the Rise of Gru. (Snort if you wish) I’ll watch the rest going home.

Arriving was a whole different story. NZ has a biosecurity section as does Australia. We’re okay with that and we had nothing to declare. But a couple of other flights had arrived at the same times as ours so there were a LOT of people waiting to get past one of the eight desks. The whole process took well over an hour. Not enough staff, you see.

A limo took us to the hotel and we chatted with the nice young driver. He drives limos as a part time add-on. His real job is in security at the airport. He confirmed the biggest issue was finding staff – nobody wants to work at the airport because of the strange hours. Besides, it’s easier on the dole. He told us we would find businesses all over NZ advertising for staff. He was right.

Many of the eateries around the hotel were packed, as was the hotel. That was because the women’s rugby world cup was to be played the following day (NZ won). One very popular restaurant, packed with people and others waiting, had a sign up saying it was closing at 7:30 because of staff shortages. The proprietor must have been heart-broken.

We decided against dining in the hotel that evening. Everything was horribly expensive. Eg Beef cheek was $32, which might have been acceptable but if you wanted vegetables, potatoes cost another $16 and green beans another $16. A glass of wine was around $17. We passed and went over to the casino where we found a basic eatery with simple food where a glass of wine cost $11. The cunning plan, of course, wasthat we should spend all the money we saved on dining out playing the poker machines or the gambling tables. We’re too old to fall for that. 🙂

We met our fellow travellers at the ‘meet ‘n greet’ dinner at the hotel, in the restaurant we’d walked out of. We didn’t have to pay, of course (except for wine) but we found the food to be ordinary, not what we’d come to expect.

Tomorrow we would be hitting the road – but before I cover that, there was one diversion. That’ll be next time.

By the way, if you’ve happened upon this page by accident and you’d like to read more about the tour, go to the tour page where you’ll find the rest of our adventures.

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