My visit to New Zealand started in Auckland, which is located on the North Island. Almost all people who I met before arriving here – New Zealanders (affectionately called “Kiwi’s”) and backpackers alike – warned me about this city being an ugly hole and not representative of the country’s beauty. Everybody persisted in urging me not to spend too much time here.
However, after arrival – while exploring a bit downtown – I found that the city’s residents and shop owners were exceptionally friendly and relaxed. Such was the general consensus upon verifying my impressions in talks with other backpackers in the hostel. The Kiwi’s definitely have their way of making you feel welcome and at home. Almost everywhere they will take time to explain things, such as how to setup phone cards, book trips on bus passes and or which of the local beers are the best. Given the fact that 1.2 million people (out of 4 million total country population) live in this metropolis, I was fascinated how laid back downtown Auckland feels.
The Kiwi friendliness was a much needed relief from the stress encountered by “Virgin Blue” airline staff in Melbourne, where I boarded the plane to arrive here. The check-in agent would not let me board the plane without an outbound ticket out of New Zealand. It is one of these rules and regulations that are easily overlooked, since most customs officers don’t bother about it. Australia has the same rule, but nobody cared about such a ticket there. My fault, I shouldn’t have booked my onward ticket over the phone in New Zealand to save a couple of bucks, because the “Virgin Blue” lady was very firm that I needed some form of proof for an outbound journey or she would close the check-in counter without letting me on board.
Being my oversight and fault, I went with her proposal to buy a “fully refundable” return flight ticket to Melbourne (which obviously came at a quite expensive price, at $A 600 – or: US$480). Later, when calling Virgin Blue, I learned that “fully refundable” doesn’t mean to them that they will refund the ticket. They will give me vouchers to use on other flights with their airline, valid for the next twelve months. If I don’t use them (which is probably the case, because they don’t fly to South America or Europe), my money will finance either one of Richard Bransons’ (the owner of “Virgin Blue”) next record breaking travel adventures or the his new spaceship. There’s nothing much I can do so far to recover the money lost to “Virgin Blue” and there are a number of other backpackers in New Zealand who tell the exact same story.
It’s definitely a perfect and elaborate cheating scheme from “Virgin Blue” to up-sell. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it extortion – as mentioned by another backpacker in Auckland – they just put me with the back to the wall.
Obviously, New Zealand customs couldn’t care less about a written confirmation of my onward flight. Nor would have any other officer in any of all the other countries visited so far.
Nevertheless, I picked up my ticket for the onward trips at the Lan Chile office in Auckland. And the Kiwis – as well as the Lan Chile staff – made it easy to get over this incident and move on. More importantly, there was the arrival of Michi which whom I want to travel for a month through the country.
Jet lag is definitely the norm in Auckland and some businesses cater the night wandering Americans and Europeans in town. I had my own minor jet lag, having done Perth – Melbourne – Auckland (2, plus 3 hours) in five days. However, Michi who arrived straight from his 30+ hours flight into Auckland (which was delayed right from the start in London for three hours because of technical problems) had less problems than me to change his twelve hours of timezone shift.
So we went right away to explore pubs and food options. Next day, we wandered around Auckland and not far away – actually still in the city – we could find cows on a hill overlooking the city skyline. This made smile everyone – especially the group of Japanese tourists who would delay their tour bus because they wanted to take pictures – and the weather was actually nice with us and warmer than anticipated. We bought our bus passes and planned for the next legs of our journey. So far Auckland was definitely a nice city with very friendly people. Highly recommended!