After an unsettled sleep on the flight from Singapore, I awoke to find us flying across northern Australia – which was incredible. It went on for hours and there was very little sign of life down below except for stations/ranches scattered across the desert. We also flew high above Brisbane. The map on the seat-back video made the view far more relevant. As we crossed the Tasman Sea my sense of anticipation grew and grew. Finally the map showed us reaching the coastline and sure enough down below I could see land. We looped around the south west of Auckland, flying low over the low density housing that characterises New Zealand suburbia. After landing, it took an age to get through immigration because 3 other 747s had all landed at the same time and so there were about 1000 people to process. After immigration it was time for customs, and I dutifully declared the Wotsits, Nik Naks and Carling Black Label that I was carrying for Bob and his colleague Phil. New Zealand must be about the only place where your baggage is x-rayed on arrival as well as departure -looking for food or any bio-security risk. There are heavy fines for not declaring foodstuffs. After boarding the airport bus to Auckland, I sent a text to Bob and we arranged to meet at the Sky Tower in the city centre – it was lunchtime so he could meet me quite easily. Finally, after passing through suburbia (and a diversion to a petrol station to fill up – slightly bizarre) we arrived in downtown Auckland. Bob arrived soon after me in his rather flash car and took me down to the Viaduct Harbour area. This is the marina right in the city and was developed for the America’s Cup race which had occurred a year or two previously. It had been 6 months since Bob had left the UK and it was great to chat to him again. He was obviously loving being in NZ. We had lunch in a bar looking out over the marina in bright sunshine. Superb. Bob dropped me off in town and we arranged to meet up after work – I then found an internet cafe and caught up with emails etc. By now I was pretty much dead on my feet so was glad when Bob arrived to pick me up. He took me back to his apartment close to the city and I had a nap while he went to the gym. When I woke up, Bob’s flatmate Cam was around and so we chatted for a while. Bob then drove me round parts of Auckland and we went for food by one of the beaches at Mission Bay. Despite my earlier nap, I was still tired and Bob had work the next morning, so we returned to the flat. Cam had kindly made the sofabed up while we were out, so I was soon fast asleep!
In July/August 2003, while still working for Atkins in Birmingham, I had amassed about 4 weeks in annual leave and needed a long holiday. As I wasn’t going to be able to take off 4 weeks without at least a couple of month’s notice, I fixed on a departure date at the beginning of November. This timing suggested the Southern Hemisphere, since most places I wanted to visit in the Northern Hemisphere would be heading into winter. As I had a friend/ex-colleague living in Auckland, a visit to New Zealand seemed the best idea. Getting ready for the holiday was quite fun – I had to buy a digital camera and decided I would need an MP3 player, since I was planning to travel on public transport most of the time. As there was lots I wanted to see and I was limited by timetables, I planned most of the trip before I left. I’m sure many peop le would prefer to leave things open, but I’m a person who doesn’t like to miss things and a fixed itinerary was the best way of achieving that.